February 9

Blog #142 – En-Gendering the Spanish American War

Throughout the year, we use different lens with which to analyze certain events – we can analyze events or people’s actions through an economic lens or a political lens or a social / cultural lens.  During our Reconstruction unit, we used a racial lens to look at how Reconstruction policies affected free Blacks.  Now, we turn to American imperialism and instead of analyzing American foreign policy, or our relationship with other nations, through a diplomatic lens or a commercial lens, we are using the lens of gender to explore the Spanish American War.  This angle was originally presented by historian Kristin Hoganson in 1998.  To help you answer the questions raised by this blog, you’ll need to have read the article, “En-Gendering the Spanish American War”.

The Image-Makers' Arsenal in an Age of War and Empire, 1898–1899: A Cartoon Essay, Featuring the Work of Charles Bartholomew (of the Minneapolis Journal) and Albert Wilbur Steele (of the Denver Post) |

The question that this gender lens attempts to ask is, is there another way of looking at the causes of the Spanish-American War?

First, some context for Teddy Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba during the war.  He was part of a generation of Americans who were raised on glorious tales of Civil War gallantry told by the veterans of the war.  His generation of men aspired to have their own fight where they could test their courage and honor, and the Spanish American War provided such a chance without the grizzly slaughter of four years of a civil war.  Also, TR’s father had not fought in the Civil War being too busy making money.  Furthermore, TR grew up as a very sickly, asthmatic child who was very fragile until he reinvented himself in his 20s out on the Great Plains in North Dakota raising cattle in the summers.  It’s likely he never thought that when he was a boy listening to stories of valor at Gettysburg would he get a chance to do the same thing and face an enemy with bullets flying at him.  Lastly, when the war started, TR resigned his post in the McKinley administration as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to form his own militia unit for the war which was dubbed by the press, “the Rough Riders” but he called this militia unit the Children of the Dragon’s Blood.  TR would also later go on to defend what he would call “the strenuous life” which included playing manly sports, continual exertion, challenging nature through hunting and exploration, cleaning up corruption, busting trusts, and waving the ultimate symbol of his manhood, his “big stick” in the international arena.

So why did America come to the defense of the Cubans in 1898? The article lists the following possible reasons:

  • commercial rewards of empire
  • an extension of a global Manifest Destiny
  • a quest for naval bases
  • humanitarian concerns for the Cubans
  • a chance to enact some Christian “uplift”
  • glory
  • revenge for the destruction of the Maine
  • motivated by yellow journalism

The World from New York, New York on March 9, 1898 · Page 1

But the article proposed another cause – a crisis of upper and middle class white manhood.  There seemed to be threats to traditional notions of manhood all around – the creature comforts of an industrial America were making men “soft” and “sluggish”; making money no matter what seemed to corrode the manly sense of honor and integrity; men lost their jobs, their self-respect, and their independence and vitality because of the Depression of 1893; but possibly most shocking was the rise of the “New Woman” who wanted the right to vote and participate in politics.  In this new era, women’s virtue was superior to men’s because look at all of the economic, social, and political problems that men’s “virtue” had caused from 1865-1898 that the Progressive Era would try to solve when it occurred a few years later.   I mean, let’s remember that women were leading the reformist charge during that era.

Let’s take a look at another cartoon from this time period.  Here’s a cartoon from Puck.

Amazon.com: Spanish-American War 1898 Namerican Cartoon By Louis Dalrymple From Puck 1898 Urging War With Spain To Save Cuba Poster Print by (18 x 24): Posters & Prints

The caption reads, “The duty of the hour – to save her not only from Spain but from a worse fate.”  After reading this article, I’d like you to interpret this cartoon through the gendered lens mentioned in the article.

Your job – answer the following questions:

  1. Do you agree with this gendered interpretation of the causes of the Spanish American War?  Why or why not?
  2. What is a strength of using this lens?  What is a weakness?  Explain.
  3. Interpret the cartoon above of the Cuban woman in a frying pan (or the one below of the Rough Riders) using the gender lens.   Describe in detail how you can use gender to interpret different aspects of the cartoon.

A minimum of 400 words total for all three answers.  Due by class on Friday, February 11.

Spanish American War Political Cartoon High Resolution Stock Photography and Images - Alamy

An article on how the Span-Am War led to American empire – https://www.bunkhistory.org/resources/1785

An analysis of the American / British alliance that grew out of the Span-Am War as shown in cartoons – https://visualizingcultures.mit.edu/civilization_and_barbarism/cb_essay02.html

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Posted February 9, 2022 by geoffwickersham in category Blogs

56 thoughts on “Blog #142 – En-Gendering the Spanish American War

  1. Loghan Smith

    I agree with the exposition of the Spanish American War. Strong Armies and strong men in the war have been the true leaders of America for most of its time being. They were worshiped and became too a basic standard of true “American Masculinity”. A good example of this would be former president George Washington who like other men in his day, he fought for America. After his brawling days were over after he was elected our first United States President. He is not the only president to have any type of background relating to the war or any battles in general. The study explained how the upcoming generation of men had not sacrificed themselves and fought in the war. It irked them because they were extremely anxious to prove themselves as true men. The political cartoons showed men who were in and in agreement with the war as the top idea of manliness and that men who were against the idea of war were feminine and known as the weak link. Both sides are very convincing and persuasive in my opinion.
    The Spanish American War was also triggered by other things aswell, but looking at the gender aspect of all causes is the most important. There’s a diversity when thinking about the strengths of using a gender lens. Looking through the gender lenses and sometimes adding the race aspect into play, can add different views and aspects into certain issues. It can also simplify complex and detailed topics that not everyone can understand on the first couple of reads or research. A weakness of looking through gender lenses is that everything you think of and interpret could be completely wrong and the exact opposite. We are used to our modern mindset, and it can be challenging to put ourselves in shows from over one hundred tears ago. No one can be completely sure or certain because they simply have an opinion, some might call it an educated guess. I personally interpret that the men were very heroic and fighting to the description of true masculinity. Their opponents being petite Spaniards are weak and cowardly. I also interpret that the American men running with the large American flag connect the idea of patriotism and masculinity combined. The Americans were holding up their large flag while their opponents, the Spaniards, had dropped their flag onto the ground to show the act of surrendering to save what they had left. These historical and political cartoons could have definitely changed the mindset of many men during the era of the Spanish American War because they were embarrassed to be seen as anything but a real American man. They wanted the opportunity to prove themselves more than anything, it was their number one priority, and this was the perfect chance.

  2. John Foret

    I somewhat agree with this gendered interpretation of the causes of the Spanish-American War. Gender definitely did play a role in wanting men to join the war, for they would often be labeled as feminine or as a woman if they wanted peace. We saw this when McKinley was being dressed up as a woman when he didn’t want war. Men would want to show their masculinity by joining the war and did not want to be labeled in this stereotypically feminine, peaceful sort of way. As historians concluded, there was also this “crisis of manhood” that the industrial revolution was making men soft and sluggish, and the “New Woman” threatened their masculinity. However, I believe that there were definitely a lot of other causes for the Spanish-American war. Don’t get me wrong, I do think gender played a significant role, but other factors such as the belief that explosion of the U.S.S. Maine was caused by a Spanish mine, as well as America wanting to protect her private investments in Cuba definitely played a big role.
    A strength of using this lens is that it shows us what people were really thinking back in this time period. Gender roles have always played an important role in society no matter the time period, so it definitely is important to see how gender affected the Spanish-American War. A weakness of the lens is that we are not looking at the whole individual. People could have had tons of other reasons to want to go to war besides the feeling of being obligated to because of their gender. Another weakness of the lens is it is only focusing on why the war happened and why people wanted to join the fight from one viewpoint. As I said previously, there were definitely other factors contributing to America’s aggressiveness such as the explosion of the Maine which caused distrust toward Spain. Besides, America may have just been personifying its expansive mindset by wanting to gain new territory, and it just got its reason.
    Using the lens, we can see that the message the cartoon is trying to display is it is men’s responsibility to save the Cuban woman. She clearly represents the damsel in distress being put in danger by the Spanish rule. The caption reads “The duty of the hour – to save her not only from Spain but from a worse fate.” The burning letters “Anarchy” on the island represent the turmoil Cuba is going through. The women is being cooked over the fires of Anarchy, so it is the American man’s responsibility to save her from her fate.

  3. Lilly Dimmer

    (added more words because I thought the word count was 300)
    I do agree with this gendered interpretation of the causes of the Spanish American War because In this time, men definitely did feel threatened with their masculinity. They also thought that they needed a new way to prove their manliness, even if it was not the best way. Men were becoming emasculated because of this new women’s movement, and now women were all of the sudden moving up on the power scale and men felt that they needed something to prove that they were still masculine enough to fight a war and be manly.
    A strength of using this lens is that you can see how things might’ve started with the simplicity of gender equality. If we didn’t look at the Spanish American War with this gender lens, we wouldn’t have seen the big amount of sexism beneath it and even all of history. The Spanish American war was all just for men to prove themselves worthy enough to fight, and women were not involved at all.. We can also see the sexism in other parts of history too by looking through this gender lens. But, a weakness of looking through this lens could be for the same reason. Maybe it is worse to see the sexism in history. Maybe we want to think that the people who made America today weren’t sexist and that they had all genders in mind when creating and founding America. We want to see how every gender was involved, and we don’t want to make another gender feel bad about learning history. We also want to teach Americans how great America is, and not make it seem like the founding fathers were just sexist.
    You can use the cartoon, “Off comes his coat – now look out” to see how gender was a big part in people’s way of thinking, especially in America. In this cartoon, Uncle Sam is seen to be ripping off his coat, which is something a woman back then couldn’t/wouldn’t do and she would definitely be shamed for doing. The American symbols like the eagle and the American flag around Uncle Sam are also showing this vision that only men are surrounded by these fundamental aspects of America, and not women. These symbols around Uncle Sam also show that the person representing America is a strong, dangerous man, surrounded by the symbols of America and there is no place for a woman in that cartoon.

  4. Angus MacDonald

    I believe that gender roles were a huge factor in the determining causes of the Spanish American War. Because it had been a very long time since the last major war, men wanted to prove their worth and masculinity, and with no wars on the horizon, it was a major detriment to their masculinity. And the rising of “New Women” certainly did not help. These “New Women” were taking over many of men’s jobs and making them less and less useful. Slowly over time men started to feel less and less useful to their country. When a conflict with Spain started, the men tried their hardest to turn it into a war and show that they were worthwhile. As the men went out into war many women had to go back to their old roles of taking care of the house and kids while the men were gone.

    One of the strengths of using this lens is being able to see things through the eyes of different genders. You could see the possible reasons for why the men wanted to start a war and defend their honor. Using the gender lens just gives us an overall better insight into what was really going on. This lens can also be applied to multiple times in U.S history. The biggest weakness of the lens is that you only get one small perspective. You miss out on many of the other reasons that the Spanish war may have actually started. Looking at the perspectives on men vs women doesn’t tell the full story. There obviously had to have been many other factors involved for a full on war to break out, and for both sides to actively engage in the war

    I analyzed the cartoon of the Cuban woman in the frying pan. In this cartoon I see the Americans trying to save the Cuban land from Spanish misrule, specifically men. Here we can see the Cuban land in anarchy symbolizing that Spain did not take good care of Cuba, and it would be better off in our own hands. This cartoon connects heavily to gender lens because we can see a Cuban woman being held back by a frying pan. It seems as if a man is assimilating this Cuban woman into American culture, only to make them do common house chores such as cooking and cleaning, hence the frying pan.

  5. Nils Ericsson

    I agree with the gendered interpretation of the causes of the Spanish American War. During this period of time, masculinity was called into question as the “New Woman” became a symbol of change in America. The “virtues” of men had caused economic, political, and social problems since the Reconstruction period until 1898. They were not the heroes who fought for the Union in the Civil War, rather, these men had no heroic feats and caused problems for the nation. Men had lost all of their individualism, respectability, and honors as they were focused on making money with whichever means. Women were gaining traction with the right to vote and they were getting involved with politics, which threatened the men during that time since women were supposed to be at home. The Spanish American War provided an opportunity for men to regain their masculinity. Men “opposing war or indecisive about it…are dressed as women,” while true men “go to war to protect the principles of chivalry and the women who embody them; dishonorable, cowardly men ravage women or become them.” In this sense, Cuba was viewed as a damsel in distress who needed to be saved by a heroic man.
    The strength of using this lens is that it brings new ideas into views when taking into consideration the causes of the Spanish American War. Although there were different reasons why America went to war, no one has ever examined it through the gender lens. A weakness of this argument is that it is a generalization of men and women as whole without giving thoughts to the individual. People could go to war for different reasons, and not everyone would care to go to war to save a country when he/she has his/her own issues to deal with.
    The first cartoon plays on the idea of gender roles. The woman represents Cuba who needs help from America as she is fighting against Spain’s misrule and anarchy. America had a duty “to save her not only from Spain but from a worse fate,” so the cartoon is calling on men to save Cuba. Cuba is presented as a helpless woman. The hand holding the pan represents a man’s hand therefore, man is viewed as the more dominant gender. It is men who caused the suffering, but only men can save them too. People in America had the duty to protect Cuba and make them become civilized.

  6. Jake Rosenwasser

    Personally, I do believe that gender played a significant role in the cause of the Spanish-American War. Men started to think less of themself during the Industrial Revolution because they were losing jobs. Men wanted to gain their self respect back. A way for men to gain their respect back was the war. They wanted to be labeled as strong, brave people, and them wanting peace would cause people to label them as feminine. The men wanted war to prove they were masculine. Men who didn’t want war were often considered feminine, and these men wanted to be remembered as people who “saved” their women from countries such as Cuba and Spain. For example, McKinley was made out to be a woman by cartoonists because he didn’t want war. Or another example, Roosevelt idolized war heroes in his childhood, and when he was older his ideals matched theirs. Men wanted war to achieve their masculinity, and men wanting war was a major cause of the war. However, in my opinion, the gender interpretation wasn’t the main reason the United States went to war with the spanish, and without this interpretation, I do still believe the war would’ve happened.
    The strength of using gender as a lens is it gives you the full story. Without this lens, the idea that men wanted to go to war in order to preserve their manhood would not exist. Previous parts of the story that were left out in the past, are now brought back into light and included in the story. The gender lens gives us an ulterior motive for the Spanish-American war that was not previously thought of. A weakness of the lens is that it’s a small lens and it doesn’t cover all causes of the war that were vital to the war. For example, the gender lens mostly ignores imperialism (which played a crucial role in the Spanish-American war).
    The gender lens can be used to describe the Puck cartoon in the article. It shows Roosevelt’s Rough Riders as larger than their opponents. The men are portrayed as very brave, and strong. This shows that men who fought in the war were more powerful, and validates the gender interpretation that men went to war in order to obtain masculinity. The cartoon’s depiction of the larger than life Americans also is meant to show America as a superior country to Spain. Another way the gender lens can be used is there are no women in the cartoon, as that would go against the lens which talks about not going to war as feminine.

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