March 5

Blog #150 – Final Exam – En-gendering the Causes of 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, I am asking you to use 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.  TR’s 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 hopefully 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 (and also paid a substitute to take his place).  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 around 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” for the people who are “freed”
  • glory
  • revenge for the destruction of the U.S.S. Maine
  • motivated / inspired / enraged by yellow journalism in the newspapers of Hearst and Pulitzer

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 by bending or breaking ethical norms seemed to corrode the traditional manly sense of honor and integrity; some 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 (traditionally the man’s responsibility).  In this new era, women’s virtue was considered by many to be superior to men’s because of all the economic, social, and political problems that men’s “virtue” had caused from 1865-1898 that the Progressive Era would try to solve was trying to solve.   I mean, let’s remember that many middle and upper class white 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 (which is normally anti-imperialist compared to its counterpart, Judge). 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

Done by artist Louis Dalrymple, published in May, 1898.  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 11:59 pm, Sunday night, March 12.

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

An article on how the Span-Am War led to American empire –

An analysis of the American / British alliance that grew out of the Span-Am War as shown in cartoons –

Posted March 5, 2023 by geoffwickersham in category Blogs

59 thoughts on “Blog #150 – Final Exam – En-gendering the Causes of the Spanish-American War.

  1. kaii mitchell

    I think that the whole gendered lens, and the cries to bring back manly and masculine men, played a big role in the Spanish-American war. The lens very effectively paints the picture of how the very conventional and traditional ideology of masculinity and femininity, had a heavy influence on the political decisions made at the time. Men saw themselves going from fighting in wars, to working “soft jobs”, while many women played a key role in this point of history. The article’s causes were essentially all rational and accurate. The demand for men to participate in conflict and have their masculinity recognized undoubtedly made the feeling of the need to go to war with the, undoubtedly Spanish far worse. President Roosevelt is a wonderful illustration of this because he grew up in a generation that did not participate in a war like his past descendants. Ultimately, during this period, many people definitely wanted the conflict since it was being glorified and an incredible honor to fight in the war for your country, to show your
    While seeing history through this sort of lens can be really toxic, there are still some pros as well as cons to it.

    The main strength of the gendered lens is that we can see the mentality of men during that time period. Many felt so insecure about themselves, that they put their own selfish needs above the safety of others, to feel the same sort of validation, hence making it seem like they were fighting for the wrong reasons. On the flip, this very well could also be seen as a weakness of the lens. It could heavily paint men in a bad light, with a very broad brushstroke. Looking through an en-gendered lens, men could be seen as extremely selfish and careless, as well as fighting without a good cause.

    In the cartoon, a cuban woman is seated on top of a frying pan that reads “Spanish misrule” next to a fire that reads “anarchy” consuming, what I can assume, is cuba. The pro-imperialism cartoonist chose to present Cuba as a helpless woman to show that America had a moral obligation to save Cuba from Spanish rule and total anarchy. The caption helps to back up this claim by saying “The duty of the hour – to save her not only from Spain but from a worse fate.” Seeing it through a gendered lens, helps you understand even more as to why it matters that Cuba is being represented as a woman in the cartoon. Cuba is a woman, so she is a damsel in distress, and incapable of saving herself. She is someone who obviously needs the help of a strong prince. Which in this case, Uncle Sam is her supposed prince charming. This gender lens demonstrates how the cartoon imposes a viewpoint onto the reader’s eyes and how different lenses affect the reader’s perspective.

  2. Brock Kusiak

    I think that gender played a significant role in affecting the decision to go to war with Spain. Many of the men that would fight in the war grew up with their grandfathers telling them of battles of grandeur. This war would become a fantasy come true for all who once thought the fairy tales of old were impossible. Post civil war America had a sort of crisis of manhood as many historians call it. Not so different from today, the elder generations of that time would complain that the nation had become too frail and slothful in their mentality because of the newer generations. Also during this time was an era of great reform for Women’s social involvement and their role outside their normalized sphere. In 1893, a depression would serve a blow to the nation’s economy. This growing need for redemption would spark support for the war, along with more political causes such as the humanitarian crisis, U.S.S Maine explosion, and yellow journalism.

    A strength of the gender lens is that it reveals causes and motivations for certain ideas or movements that many other lenses are generally unable to do. It’s effective at explaining the more mentally instinctual origin of the inner workings of society. The American archetype of a hyper masculine man is a great example. The gender lens is able to explain how the aggressive and tough American is part of our country’s foundation. A weakness of the gender lens is that it’s much too specific in some cases, rendering it generally inapplicable to many situations. It struggles to find meaning in more general instances such as larger political issues or wars caused by more practical reasons like resources or protection rather than imperialism.

    The cartoon I chose to interpret was the one depicting the rough riders. The cartoon puts the militiamen right in the center,drawing them much larger than the Spaniards they are trampling over. They are wearing large hats and are shown slinging guns; very reminiscent of romanticized depictions of the very American cowboy. The main goal of this cartoon is to show the favored and glorified masculinity that many desire. By showing these men as giant, mighty warriors, the author is reinforcing the long lived “American rebel” stereotype. The Spaniards in the cartoon are depicted racistly. Their small stature within the cartoon could be a way to contrast them from the glorified Americans, or a part of it could be the stereotype that foreigners are physically smaller in stature compared to Americans, making them seem “lesser”.

  3. Camryn J

    1. I think I do agree with some aspects of gendered interpretation of the causes of the war. I think men, both past and present, make decisions to try to affirm their masculinity. Though in our present day it might look different, I can completely see how affirming one’s masculinity would have been shown through not shying away from war. As mentioned in the article, historians describe a crisis of manhood due to innovation. Men transitioned from being strong and working through rough jobs to being soft. I see how this could affect the motivation of men to participate in the war. I do find this notion of masculinity to be too simple to be the only cause of the war. Keeping in mind how much goes into war both politically and economically, I am hesitant to think a return to masculinity was such a driving factor.
    2. I think looking through a gendered lese can help people understand the intricacies of historical events. In our APUSH studies it’s often difficult to completely understand people’s past motivations and thought processes. In the context of the Spanish American war, looking through a gendered lens can help us better understand what drew men to participate. Looking through the lens of things like gender can also help us to better understand the implications of other developments. Like stated in the article, technological innovation played a role in the changes in the jobs and attitudes of men. Looking through the gender lens provides context to changes in society at the time. This lens has also been helpful with other past topics, such as immigration. On the topic of Americanization, the textbook stated the differences in what was culturally expected of women in America versus other countries caused tension between immigrant men and women. I don’t see a direct problem with gender lens, however, I do think disregarding other intersections with gender such as race, economics, and other political topics may lead to misleading conclusions about historical events.
    3. The frying pan held by the hand seems to be serving up Spanish misrule. The women in the frying pan holding the Cuban flag represent the Cuban people being in the hands of Spanish misrule. The pan is being held/cooked over flames with anarchy and destruction under it. Within the gendered lens spanish misrule could have specifically been targeted and taking advantage of Cuba’s women. I think the cartoon could have been used to motivate and call men to fight in the war. Depicting Cuba’s women being helpless and harmed by the Spanish would urge them to take the role of protecting them.

  4. Luci Kucab

    I agree with the gendered interpretation of the causes of the Spanish American War. At the time men were having an identity crisis. Many men during this time period hadn’t been involved in a war, like the previous generation, and therefore felt a lack of opportunity to prove themselves. The author defines the men depicted in cartoons at this time as “resolute males stand ready to right or to rebuke those who break the codes of chivalry”. Due to the comforts of an industrial America, men became soft and sluggish. They cheated their way through business and politics, losing sight of the chivalrous, honest ideals previous generations of men tried to uphold. These men may have felt more pushed to go to war by the up and coming “new woman”. This was the idea that the superiority of feminine virtue was needed to calm down the “corrupt male”. This didn’t go over well with many men at the time and provided another cause for the civil war (wanting to win back/ assert dominance and chivalry).
    A strength of using this lens is that readers/ interpreters are exposed to a part of time where men were not the war heroes of the country. Women were making an up and coming stand which frightened men into self doubt. This is a special lens because we don’t often view men as the underdog of this time. Although it can be positive to read through this lens, readers may get the impression that men were extremely selfish and insecure at the time. While some of that might be true, not all men went to war to prove themselves. This wasn’t the only dominating cause at the time and it’s important to use a variety of lenses to gather different perspectives.
    (I chose the first one with the woman in the frying pan) – Looking at this cartoon from a non-gendered perspective my first thought/ interpretation is that Cuba is suffering from Spain’s absence of government. Looking at It through a gendered lens, I am drawn to the fact that Cuba is portrayed as a woman. At this time women were seen as helpless/ defenseless and unable to provide for themselves. This woman is stuck being cooked in Spanish misrule. This shows an opportunity for the American men to come save this helpless woman and rescue her chivalrously. You can see several small men at the bottom rushing into the fire. Seeking that opportunity to save her. This cartoon is pro- Spanish American war because it depicts an American need to help/ save Cuba from Spain.

  5. Renna Robinson

    I agree with the idea of a “crisis of manhood” being a primary contributor to the start of the Spanish American war. This gendered interpretation takes into consideration more than just the economic and social goals that the United States had with Cuba, but with an idea that is much less talked about but equally as important as anything else. So many men at the time hadn’t ever had the opportunity to fight in a war, but had grown up learning about the Civil War by way of stories which portrayed American heroes fighting for the good of all citizens in America. These men were raised on the idea that physical and military strength defined who they were, especially while learning about old war heroes. It should be no surprise that men raised practically addicted to the idea of war would eventually wage one regardless of the conflict and the possible consequences of war. When learning about wars I usually don’t consider the ego of men and their desire to be more “tough” than other men or nations, but it is an idea that is helpful to keep in mind and probably had a huge impact on the Spanish American war.

    This gendered view of the Spanish American war is strong because it is a reasonable and logical explanation for why we went to war. Without considering this lens, we may not realize how desperate so many men were to go to war and prove their worth. Men were stuck in their “soft” occupations, wanting to get out and do something more “manly” to fulfill the idea of what a man should be to them. While this is one possible explanation for the war, it might not be an important factor at all, which is a weakness of this lens. Other identified reasons for the Spanish American war included acquiring new markets overseas, which would boost our economy, getting bases for the growing Navy, or helping the people in Cuba who were seen as unable to establish their own democracy and in need of a more “democratic” nation to come in and save them. There are so many other reasons that could be huge for some people that it is difficult to point to the gendered lens being the most accurate or important.

    In the cartoon, Cuba is shown as a helpless woman with the U.S. coming in to save her, as the caption states. The U.S. would be a more powerful country coming to rescue the poor woman who could not help herself, representing Cuba and the people there who were viewed as unable to help themselves or establish their own fair government.

  6. Gillian Erickson

    Even though there are many lenses to interpret the Spanish American war, I do agree with gender lens interpretations. In my opinion I believe that during this time a man believed their “manhood” was very dependent on fighting in wars. Basically this war depended very much on the actions of men and women of this time. Before this war men were longing for a war such as the civil war. And once the Spanish American war hit, men finally got their way to show their manhood like they had wanted. In addition, women of this time also play a huge role in the gender lens of the Spanish American war. The article also discusses “new women” which showed women who argued for more political rights and the necessary challenge of common gender roles of the time. To bring this back to the men wanting to prove their manhood, the women that were taking a stand and doing the challenging made the men question their courage and courageousness, making it more difficult for them to honor their name, family, legacy, etc. which was a part of “manhood”

    There are some obvious advantages and disadvantages of using this lens. Some strengths of using this lens is that it provided more information and motives on the common gender roles of this time. Also, using this lens can provide a more unique portrayal of this war and causes of it. A disadvantage of using this lens is that there are more obvious political and economic reasons for starting this war like more economic opportunities, and to all in all stop the Spanish empire in the western hemisphere region.

    My interpretation of the cartoon of the rough riders is that we obviously see Theodore Roosevelt directing the “rough riders” in a battle against the Spanish in the Spanish American war. In my opinion this cartoon shows a bit of patriotism or nationalism since we see all the men being led by the American flag and they are much bigger than their opponent. This connects to the gender lens since Roosevelt and the men following him portray the looks of a resilient, masculine man which connects to what I discussed in the earlier question about the gender roles of men during this time. I believe a man’s manhood was very much portrayed by fighting in wars and protecting their country and that is exactly what the cartoon portrays, therefore connecting gender interpretations of this time to the cartoon.

  7. kiera s

    As the article mentioned in many cartoons created at the time people that were opposing war or indecisive about it, like McKinley were dressed up as women. The men in the cartoons were always portrayed that they were willing and ready to fight. In the article, it says, “because it had become necessary to fight if we would uphold our manhood”. I think the men feel a need to do something the women can’t do which is protect the country because now that the women are starting to do more rigorous jobs and stand up for themselves, many men feel threatened. Another thing is many men had older relatives who fought in wars growing up, so these men now feel a need to be a part of a war to help protect the country for a sense of belonging.
    I think using this lens there are many different strengths and weaknesses. One strength of using this lens is that we can get a better understanding of why people acted how they did. For example, we can see that some of the men may have felt threatened by women and they felt a need to go to war to show they can protect the country which was something women were unable to do at the time. Also, many men felt bored and useless in their typical factory job that they would attend to. This lens also has some weaknesses to it. First, many men with a strong patriarchal view can be seen as bad people nowadays, especially people who we thought were good before looking into this lens. Another weakness is that if someone were to only look at this lens they would have many thoughts that could be proven wrong by looking through a variety of lenses.
    In the second cartoon with the Spanish military and the rough riders, the rough riders are visibly portrayed as larger than the Spanish men. The rough riders are not only bigger by height but they look much stronger than the Spanish men that are on the bottom of the image. The rough riders are also wearing what looks like traditional western clothing like cowboy boots, and hats. I think having the rough riders dressed as they are and the size they are is the author trying to show what a “true” masculine man looks like. As the article said about some men being dressed as women in cartoons this is similar to the Spanish in this cartoon because are seen as smaller and not as capable of things.

  8. Sammie Koch

    I Personally do believe that the gendered interpretation of the causes of the Spanish – American war were very important, they played a huge part, and also should be looked into more deeply. The men of America during this time period were beginning to be perceived as “soft”; to avoid this continuance, the men exercised their right (one which women did not have) and they chose to partake in the new war as soldiers.this belief from the article brings back the ideals of separate gender spheres for men and women and their place in the world. The men were taught to fight for their country as warriors and the women were taught to care for the valiant men.
    One strength of this gender lens is it truly portrays the ideals and thoughts of Americans in those days. Without this we would never know that the men thought of themselves as weak and soft. It really gives a sense of how society’s priorities have ebbed and flowed over the course of time. I think one weakness of this interpretation is that it portrays that every single American man at the time felt the same way. When in reality, many men had opposing views and saw themselves as strong and patriotic men without feeling the need to fight a war.
    I will be interpreting the second cartoon of the “Rough Riders”. In this cartoon, the American men are seen as giants stomping over the Spaniards with ease. The Americans are pictured wearing farming clothes and cowboy hats. This cartoon displays the gendered lens very well because it portrays the Americans as Big strong Burly men with their dominance asserted over the enemy. I believe that the man in the blue in the front is none other than Teddy Roosevelt judging by his facial hair and the American flag in hand. It looks almost as if Roosevelt is waving on his army of men and calling them towards the battlefield. TDR looks like he is encouraging and also leading these men into the war and also being corrupt by the gendered lens of manhood. It also appears as though the Spaniards beneath the feet of the Americans are wearing stereotypical Mexican clothing including their colorful clothing pieces as well as sombreros. This cartoon shows that the Spaniards are absolutely no match for the big strong manly Americans. I believe that this cartoon portrays the craving for male dominance during the war extremely well.

  9. Anaiah Green

    1. Yes I do because men usually have these kinds of “savior” beliefs. They have to be the man that swoops in and saves the day. Also many men just wanted a war. This new era of women made them feel like they needed to do more. Jobs were scarce and hard to come by. A man usually was the main provider and prided themselves on being able to carry their family on their back. They weren’t able to do this. But there were other reasons not told why a lot of men wanted to go to war during that time period, not just this “Gender interpretation” Men felt that because previous generations of men had gone to war and they hadn’t they needed to go to war to prove themselves. I do think that gender was a main cause of this but I also believe that many other things played into it.
    2.I think that using this lens is a strength because it really can pinpoint the tension there was with men and women during this time period. It shows and proves how men can get ahead of themselves and feel like they need to prove something and how that can actually affect the country rather than thinking logically. I was also wondering why it was ever so serious and the lens just showed me the thinking behind such an irrational event. I think a weakness to using this might take off other focuscess of what could be the main cause of the war could be. It’s possible that there were many “main factors” that played into the cause of the war. I felt like the situation didn’t need to escalate this far over men being sad about their threatened masculinity.
    3. It shows a man’s hand holding up a woman in a frying pan over what seems to be a burning cuba. I think the man holding the woman in general shows that Cuban men hold up Cuban women. It expresses typical gender roles that were norms in this time period. This can be to uplift or protect them from danger, I think in this case it was showing how men protect them from danger. Then the frying pan being taken away from the fire. The fire was a representation of Cuba falling and being colonized I believe. The women in the pan show how women were going to fall too without the men to protect them. So the man saves woman from the colonization in cuba. The picture also depicts women as helpless and reliant on a man.

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