Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in History (MA)

Degree Level





Todd Cleveland

Committee Member

Richard Sonn

Second Committee Member

James Gigantino II


Activism, Apartheid, Feminism, South Africa, Women's Rights


In the historiography of South Africa’s recent past, focus has been most heavily placed on apartheid and the anti-apartheid movement, with much emphasis placed on male involvement and men as the primary agents of change in the country. Women are largely viewed as playing a supportive role to male activists throughout the movement, and far less has been written on female involvement or women’s activism in its own right. Running parallel to the anti-apartheid movement, however, was a women’s movement characterized by women across the racial and socioeconomic spectrum struggling to secure their own rights in a very hostile and patriarchal political climate. The struggle of these women for their country but also for their own political rights has been largely overlooked in the existing narratives regarding South African history, as it has been overshadowed by the greater independence movement. By utilizing previously unused or undervalued sources including an array of oral histories as well as South African newspapers and organizational materials from important groups such as the Black Sash, I intend to show how influential South African women were on legislation passed under and immediately following apartheid, as well as their impact on the broader national struggle. I will also highlight the many formal and informal ways that these women carved out their own spaces, and the moments when their efforts transcended racial and class lines in an effort to build a brighter future for all South African women.