This is a comprehensive and evenhanded treatment of the women’s movement in Brazil. June Hahner defines her objective in the preface: to examine the growth of women’s rights activities in Brazil from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1930s (p. xii). She seeks to illuminate changes in the social, economic, and political situation of women; the strategies, struggles, and ideological positions of feminists; and the relationship between feminism and social change.
She solidly delivers on these promises. In five well-written chapters, Hahner gives an account of the emergence of pioneer champions of women’s rights, the opening of access to higher education for women, and the rise and eventual success of the suffrage movement. She offers few real surprises, but she has provided a valuable service in bringing together so many primary and secondary sources for her study, based on 15 years of research. The account is nuanced. Hahner carefully analyzes the changing political, economic, and cultural context in which the women’s movement developed in Brazil.
Hahner’s focus is on urban upper-and middle-class women, and the intersection of gender and class is a consistent theme throughout the book. This is one of the book’s major strengths. Another is Hahner’s comparative perspective, drawing parallels with the women’s movement in other Latin American countries, the United States, and Europe whenever possible. A valuable epilogue brings the story up to the present, completing the sensitive contextualization that characterizes the analysis throughout. This final section includes a much-needed summary of the evolution of the women's movement after the end of military rule. It also strengthens the book by reinforcing the comparative analysis of how different political and economic conditions influence women’s political strategies.
What it lacks in inspiration this book makes up for in readability, broad scope, and articulate contextual and comparative insights. It is a useful read for any social scientist, historian, or feminist.