PANEL: Uses of Space: Women’s Global and Local Resistance

March 2, 2013 4:45 PM

This panel will be moderated by Dr. Rona Holub, chair of the women’s history department at Sarah Lawrence College. 

From Stella Wright to Stellar Homes: Black Women’s Activism and the Newark
Tenant Movement 1969-1974

Victoria McCall

This paper explores the meanings and significance of the landmark rent strike at the Stella Windsor Wright Homes in Newark, New Jersey, which took place between 1970 and 1973. Situating the strike within the context of space and resistance, she shows that housing and housing rights for Stella Wright tenants was about more than housing; it was about the creation of a fulfilling, free life. She answers questions such as: how were residents advocating for their own space? What were their demands? How
does the Newark Tenant Movement add to Newark’s Black Liberation historiography? And, importantly, what could be learned of poor women’s activism from the strike.

Victoria McCall is currently pursuing her M.A. in Women’s History from Sarah Lawrence College. She received her B.A. from Temple University and her M.S. from Chestnut Hill College with a concentration in Secondary English and Special Education. She is currently working as a Kindergarten Instructional Assistant and has experience teaching special
education and high school English.


Resistance Through Movement: South African Women Negotiate Space

Catherine Newton

This paper examines South African women’s experiences of resistance under the apartheid regime. In South Africa, the struggle between the oppressive white minority government and the black majority often took the form of spatial negotiation. Apartheid in South Africa was most strongly characterized by a desire of the white minority government to control, legislate, and monitor black people’s location in space. Evident in legislation, policing and prosecution records is the desire to control and supervise black women’s movement. In response, their resistance appropriately takes the form of purposeful movement. Women refused to carry passes as they moved in and out of cities illegally. Domestic servants decorated their back rooms and broke rules to shelter relatives and friends, excerpting control over their immediate environment. In the most extreme instances, women escaped prison and chose to live in exile to continue revolutionary work. In all of these ways and many more, women moved purposefully in and around their daily spaces and even across and out of the country despite the government’s concerted efforts to confine them.

Catherine Newton received her B.A. in Philosophy from Kalamazoo College in 2009, and it currently working towards her M.A. in women’s history from Sarah Lawrence College. In the summer of 2010 she worked for RADDHO, the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights, where she worked directly with abused Senegalese women.


“What Could You Do With a Dollar?”: Italian American Women’s Wage Earning in
Northeastern Pennsylvania, 1929-1941

Emma Staffaroni

This paper uses oral history and local sources to explore the experiences of
young Italian American women during the decade after the Great Depression. When the Depression of 1929 struck Northeastern Pennsylvania, coal mining towns like Carbondale – and its large population of Italian-American residents – underwent significant industrial reorganization and transformation and transformation. As a result,
first- and second-generation Italian-American women experienced shifts in their identities. Where most had been confined to traditional roles, leaving the wage-earning to men, the 1930s marked the first time that these women acted as sole or primary breadwinners in their families. The extensive oral history of Joan Festa Staffaroni, native of Carbondale, lays the foundation for this research. The presentation will show that wage-earning – for Joan, her sisters, and many others in this context – created conditions in which a woman could claim personal and political space in strategic ways.

Emma Staffaroni is working on her M.A. in Women’s History from Sarah Lawrence College. She earned her B.A. from Boston College in English, Education, and Women’s Studies. She is the 2012 recipient of the Gerda Lerner Prize in Women’s History.

Get Me Bodied

by Victoria McCall

Arguably, we are more in touch with our bodies than ever before. But at the same time, they become alienated products, texts of our own creative making, from which we maintain a strange and ironic detachment.”

–Susan Bordo

I hated my body. A firm believer in the body as a site of struggle and resistance, I
hated the projection of femininity my body exuded. Slim, slight, and shapeless, it was
simply too gendered. Often men appeared overly chivalric, “Miss, can I help you with
those?” “Ma’am would you like to sit down?” “But you’re so… (Insert adjective to
describe petiteness).”

Flawed logic followed: slenderness equals femininity equals weakness. I wanted
power. I wanted curves (you know because real women have them). Furthermore, I
wanted the embodiment of the black aesthetic.

I decided to manage my body and to manipulate it to reflect my body politics. So,
I dieted, transforming myself from a faithful vegetarian to an undue carnivore. My diet
consisted of (thanks to my undergraduate school’s meal plan options) two large double
whoppers with cheese meals a day for lunch and dinner. For a late dinner I ate two
double cheeseburgers and a small fry.

Unfortunately, my determination to contour, reorganize, and redefine my body was
unsuccessful. I did not gain weight nor did I feel more powerful. Conversely, I became
lethargic. I was consistently short of breath. I felt horrible. A visit to the physician’s
office confirmed that I at the age of twenty-one had signs of high cholesterol.

This is not a fable I want to use as a moral compass for the decisions we enact upon
our bodies. Rather, I hope that this anecdote causes us to see how language and actions
we believe can allow us to concretize and control our bodies are done in a detached
manner. Essentially, I am left struggling with this idea, that our bodies are simultaneously
a part of and apart from us all.


Victoria McCall is a second-year graduate student in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College.