‘Noble-Hearted Ladies’: Women's Response to the Spanish-American and Philippine-American wars, 1898–1905

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University of New Brunswick


In 1898 the United States declared war on Spain, aiding the Cuban people in their fight for independence from colonialism. The Spanish-American and Philippine- American wars (1898–1902) ushered in a debate over imperialism and overseas expansion. The Anti-Imperialist League was created in response by a group of prominent men concerned with keeping the country true to its founding, republican principles. Historians have analyzed the men involved, but the voices of women have remained largely unheard. At a time when women were entering public life through reform activism, and concerning themselves with the country's well-being, it is essential that we listen to their voices in order to gain new perspectives on why Americans supported or opposed imperialism. An analysis of material from the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, suffragists and the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and anti-imperialist organizations from 1898–1905 begins to reveal women's response to these wars. It appears for the most part that women's reactions were bound to the various agendas of their organizations. Specific causes like suffrage or temperance required a narrower focus, and many were not in a good position to take up the cause of the Filipinos or publicly oppose the government. Women, like the Anti-Imperialist League, were ultimately more concerned with the effects of imperialism on their own causes and the country, than with supporting the cause of Filipino independence. Women activists were unprepared to respond strongly against imperialism in 1898, but their experiences laid the groundwork for a strong female role in the fight for peace during later conflicts.