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Special Issue Articles

Vol. 4 No. 1 (2022): American Studies as Vulnerability Studies

Suffragists and Russian Suffering : Vulnerability in Early Progressive US Movements

November 15, 2021


This article analyzes American pro-Russian revolutionary newspaper and magazine articles, biographies, political speeches, poems, etc. between roughly 1880 and 1917. It asks what strategies American social progressives, including suffragists and feminists, developed to create empathy for the Russian revolutionaries, and the Russian people more generally, at a time when the American authorities, as well as the public, was rather anxious about foreign and domestic radicalism. The article identifies suffering Russian women at the center of narratives that intended to create sympathy for the Russian Revolution. Particularly vulnerable female bodies were used as veneers to draw the American audience and the world into supporting the revolution. The article approaches the topic of vulnerability through the work of literary scholar Thomas Laqueur, and specifically his analyses of suffering as a literary trope, to explore the narratives' particular structures and the kinds of Russian vulnerabilities that the writers presented. It analyzes the affective attachments to the bodies at the center of these narratives, and the subsequent imaginaries they inspire, thereby crucially influencing American cultural and political imaginaries as such through the application of Laqueur's ideas. Additionally, the analysis will focus on the question why suffragists and feminists were so particularly invested in the creation and dissemination of these humanitarian narratives, suggesting that the support of Russian revolutionary women was as much in solidarity with the Russians as it was a means to further their own causes and ideas, including women's emancipation.


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