“The First Thing We Cry About is Violence”: The National Black Women’s Health Project and the Fight Against Rape and Battering

I am pleased to share my latest peer-reviewed article in the Spring 2022 issue of the Journal of Women’s History. This article is based upon a chapter from my recently defended dissertation. A modified version will appear in my forthcoming book, tentatively titled Between the Street and the State: Black Women’s Anti-Rape Activism Before #MeToo.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the National Black Women’s Health Project (NBWHP) conceptualized gender violence within the Black community primarily as an issue of Black women’s health. Like other gender and racial health disparities, rape and battering derived from systemic oppression and could be treated through politically engaged “self-help” counseling. This stood in contrast to the narrow framing of gender violence as a crime issue in mainstream American politics and feminist anti-violence groups. The NBWHP’s unique interpretation compelled them to oppose the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, now understood as a touchstone of carceral feminism. Attending to their overlooked activism prompts a rethinking of the intertwining of the anti-violence-against-women movement and the US carceral state in the late twentieth century. It also shows that anti-violence organizing rooted in Black feminist politics survived the conservative turn of the 1980s.

The full article is available here:

Wiesner, Caitlin Reed. ““The First Thing We Cry About is Violence”: The National Black Women’s Health Project and the Fight Against Rape and Battering.” Journal of Women’s History 34, no. 1 (2022): 71-92. doi:10.1353/jowh.2022.0001.

I’m happy to offer comments and answer questions about this article via email.

Review of “The Feminist War on Crime: The Unexpected Role of Women’s Liberation in Mass Incarceration” by Aya Gruber

The editors of Feminist Formations recently solicited my review of Aya Gruber’s fascinating new study The Feminist War on Crime: The Unexpected Role of Women’s Liberation in Mass Incarceration (2020).

You can find the full review here:

Wiesner, Caitlin Reed. Review of The Feminist War on Crime: The Unexpected Role of Women’s Liberation in Mass Incarceration, by Aya Gruber. Feminist Formations 33, no. 1 (2021): 279-282. doi:10.1353/ff.2021.0013.

This important book is available for purchase from the University of California Press.

Voice of America on “Women March 1820-2020”

As the Andrew W. Mellon Predoctoral Fellow in Women’s History, I have served as a curatorial scholar for “Women March, 1820-2020.” This exhibit was created by the New-York Historical Society’s Center for Women’s History to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. “Women March” showcases how diverse groups of women collectively organized for legal and social equality a century before and after winning the right to vote. Voice of America interviewed me about the creation and impact of the exhibit. Click here to view.

Breaking the Silence: An Interview with Caitlin Wiesner

Last year, I was awarded the John Whiteclay Chambers II Graduate Fellowship by the Rutgers Oral History Archives (ROHA). I recently sat down with Kathryn Rizzi, Assistant Director of ROHA, to discuss the importance of oral history to my own work on African American women’s anti-rape activism and how oral history methods can illuminate marginalized histories in unexpected ways. Click here to listen.

John Whiteclay Chambers Oral History Lecture

I was the grateful recipient of the 2019 John Whiteclay Chambers Oral History Fellowship. The award supports graduate students as they conduct oral history interviews for their dissertation research. In addition to generous financial support, the fellowship also gave me the opportunity to share the findings of my interviews with members of the academy and those on the outside. On December 14, 2019, I delivered the second annual John Whiteclay Chambers II Graduate Fellowship Lecture. My talk, titled “Breaking the Silence, Healing Themselves: Black Women’s Stories from the Anti-Rape Movement” explored the interviews I conducted with nearly a dozen black women who were active within rape crisis centers between 1974 and 1994. These interviews play a crucial role in my forthcoming dissertation ” “Controlling Rape: Black Women, the Feminist Movement Against Sexual Violence, and the State, 1974-1994,” which examines African American women’s anti-rape activism in the context of the War on Crime.

This event was co-sponsored by the SAS Executive Dean’s Office, the Department of History, Rutgers Oral History Archives and Rutgers Living History Society.

Amicus Brief Challenging Trump’s Transgender Ban in the Military

I was honored to be part of the team of historians and graduate students that composed the amicus brief filed in support of the plaintiffs in Jane Doe 2. et.al. v. Donald J Trump. This lawsuit is currently challenging President Trump’s near total ban on transgender military servicemembers. The brief traces the history of discrimination against minority groups within the United States Armed Forces- namely, African Americans, women, immigrants, gays, and lesbians- under the specious claim that full inclusion of these groups would compromise “military readiness.” The Trump Administration’s attempt to exclude transgender people from military service is latest iteration of a longstanding historical pattern.

You can read the full amicus brief here.