This dissertation examines how gender and race structured citizenship and the right to vote in the French empire, using the post-World War II debate over the limits of colonial female suffrage to examine the entangled history of gendered and racialized citizenship. Starting in the late eighteenth century, the French colonial system marginalized women in the empire while simultaneously justifying the imperial project as a way to raise women’s status. As females and as non-white imperial subjects, women’s doubled exclusion from full citizenship transformed their potential enfranchisement into the ultimate showcase for the civilizing mission that legitimized the French empire. However, the actual enfranchisement of such individuals raised troubling questions: would giving colonial women the right to vote in French elections mean that the civilizing mission had “worked” or, conversely, suggest that it was never needed to begin with? The French difficulty in answering this question was emblematic of a larger crisis of imperial legitimacy that was restructuring the French empire and the modern world. Using examples and archives from the Antilles, Senegal, Cameroon, Algeria, India, international institutions like the United Nations, and transnational feminist groups, this dissertation shows how politicians and activists from across the metropole and colonies shaped new conceptions of feminism, rights, and sovereignty. By connecting modern Europe, the global francophone world, and the international sphere, "Without Distinction" contributes to transnational histories of nineteenth- and twentieth-century empire as well as studies of how the racialized and gendered limits of citizenship have shaped modern democracy.



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