This article uncovers the little-known story of how the novelist Pearl S. Buck used her authority as a popular expert on China to pose a direct challenge to her white middle-class American readers in the post-suffrage era. Through provocative comparisons between Chinese and white American women, Buck alleged that educated white women had failed to live up to their potential, and she demanded that they earn social equality by advancing into male-dominated professions outside the home. Although many of her readers disagreed, the novelist’s challenge was welcomed by the National Woman’s Party (NWP), which sought to abolish all gender-based discrimination and preferential treatment through the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). This story revises our understanding of the post-suffrage era by showing the vibrancy of feminist debates in the final years of the Great Depression, and it provides a new way into seeing how racialized thinking shaped American conceptions of women’s progress between first- and second-wave feminist movements.

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