Chloroform and the Civil War

By: Colleen vonVorys-Norton

One of the biggest advancements in the 19th century was in the medical field. Most of the advancements came from medical advances needed on the battlefield. This is especially seen during the Civil War when there weren’t many registered or trained surgeons. This meant that many of the wounds were treated from manuals. Both the Union and Confederate had a manual, though there are some differences in them since they were written by different doctors. These manuales cover a wide range of topics. For example the Confederate manual covers everything from the clothing allotment for each soldier to how to know when to amputate a limb.  One of the emerging fields in medicine was anestesia. Historically there was nothing really to help patients deal with the pain during surgery. Doctors realized that chloroform was efficient at making people unconscious or desensitized. It’s discovery is credited to Samuel Guthrie in 1831 and like most medical treatments, it was first used by the rich and the military.

The administration of chloroform is one of the differences between the Union and Confederate manual. For example, the Union mentions using it in passing. They are focusing more in those sections on what the treatment is and just has chloroform in passing. Interestingly, the Union prefered ether to chloroform because “being the least liable to destroy life.”¹ At this point, doctors were beginning to become hesitant to use chloroform since some individuals were dying from it. But this did not stop it completely in the war effort. In fact, it was believed that  “anaesthetics sometimes, and especially chloroform, prevent the union of wounds by adhesion, or by ‘first intention’”¹. In layman terms, they believed that using chloroform actually helped wounds heal faster and with less amounts of scar tissue.


Gettysburg Amputation, courtesy of Warfare History

The Confederate side however was very adamant about using chloroform. Not only were they explicit about it but they also had two chapters in their book not only about their views on it, but also exactly how is should be used. They believed that they reason that some people were dying from it was because it was used carelessly. This is why they went into specific detail on how to use the drug. They note that it should be used in careful amounts because the patient at times may not be able to pull the rag away if the drug becomes too much. But in general they “do not hesitate to say, that it should be given to every patient requiring a serious or painful operation.”² Where the Union was more careful with its usage, the Confederacy used it not only for surgeries but also for when they were cleaning painful wounds or even just to calm patients. Since chloroform was used so frequently, they outline specifically how it should be used properly. The device that they talk about parallels the shape and design of the anaesthetic mask still used today.


Chloroform mask. This was connected to a bottle that contained the chloroform and it would drip onto the cloth. courtesy of Medical Antiquities

Even though the medical world no longer used chloroform in general anesthesia, it is still very important to see just how far medicine has come in just a few centuries. Looking at something that is taken for granted in present day has dangerous roots but it because of those deaths that medican advanced to the way it is. Even though it is not commonly recognized, times of war advance the medical field quickly because doctors need to find new ways to fix a variety of injuries and this was especially true during the Civil War. Especially in a day and age where something like germ theory is taken so lightly, it is important to look back a few centuries and see just how far humanity has come in such a short amount of time.


¹ Hamilton, Frank Hastings. Practical treatise on military surgery. San Francisco: Normal Publishing, 1989.

² Chisolm, Julian John, and Ira M. Rutkow. A manual of military surgery: for the use of the surgeons in the Confederate States Army: with an appendix of the rules and regulations of the Medical Department of the Confederate Army. San Francisco: Norman Pub., 1989.

How the failure of reconstruction in the 19th century led to the rise of the KKK in the early 20th century

By João Cunha

Image result for the auxiliary government kkk cartoon

The Ku Klux Klan was a political force in the 1900’s as this cartoon proved. As the cartoon was titled “auxiliary government” which referred to how the Klan and the local government were intertwined. This advancement of white supremacy wouldn’t have been possible without the failure of reconstruction in the 19th century. As Wilbur Miller  noted, “Reconstruction succumbed to traditional American racism, localism” (Miller, 10) The idea of “redeeming the south” became something of an obsession by white Southerners after the CIvil War, as a way of maintaining their supremacy. However they cleverly used state’s rights with their racial ideology to gain sympathizers throughout the country in the 1800’s and even in the 1900’s. As James Moore explained, “The sources of their initial popularity are readily apparent…they had expelled hated carpetbag governments from the South, and reestablished white supremacy on the wreckage of a defunct Radicalism” (Moore, 357). Southerners by linking big government and tyrannical overreach with white supremacy were able to gain popularity even among historians decades later. As Moore pointed out, scholars filled the redeemers with “eulogies” for the first “four or five decades after reconstruction” (Moore, 357). So with this tacit support from Northerners, and middle and upper class whites, the South post-1877 began to roll back a lot of the post-Civil War laws.

That’s why this political cartoon is important as it explains the relation between the local government and how it is run in Southern states by this racial structure. The cartoon itself seems to be a critique of this white supremacy, as there is a skull and crossbones on the upper right and left sides of the picture. In addition the supreme wizard is holding a mace, and another weapon in either hand, depicting the KKK as a violent menacing organization. The other members aren’t even depicted as people but rather as monsters such as a goblin, cyclops, etc. The setting seems to be ominous with all these figures, weapons, and images which implies that the person who drew this cartoon is a critic of the KKK’s power in his state of Kentucky as it was originally printed in Louisville. This rise of government support of the KKK was quite common by the 1920’s, as this was the era where the KKK had the most political power.

As the launch of The Birth of a Nation proved, the idea of Southern redemption had made it into pop-culture. As even Woodrow WIlson the president of the United States at the time watched the movie and praised it afterwards. In fact he was even quoted in the actual film!


This quote actually appeared in the movie The Birth of a Nation. Wilson describing the KKK as the “veritable empire of the south” proves how ingrained the idea of Southern pride was to racial superiority. Even the president couldn’t separate the two as he mentioned the white men’s “self-preservation” as why the KKK had come into existence.

This cartoon not only depicts what is going on at a local level but it is also takes shots at the national government as well, as they didn’t try to stop this in that era. The cartoon was a warning that the government of Kentucky was no longer ruled by noble men, but by racists and abhorrent people. This sign of skull and crossbones isn’t just a symbol of a warning but of a death as well. The potential death of a democracy unless these racists were forced out of government. In this sense this cartoon was a call for the reign of white supremacy to end and to denounce the KKK as well.

Works Cited

Wilbur R. Miller, Revenuers and Moonshiners: Enforcing Federal Liquor Law in the Mountain South, 1865-1900, 1991.
James Tice Moore, Redeemers Reconsidered: Change and Continuity in the Democratic South, 1870-1900, The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 44o. 3, 1978, pp. 357-378

Racism in 19th Century Theater

The 19th century was a time for artistic and cultural innovation just as much as it was industrial. With the opening and renovations of playhouses from The Walnut in Philadelphia to The Park in New York, theatre was turning from a bottom class way of passing time to an art form middle and upper class patrons were drawn too as well. Early on, there was no inherent ‘American’ play. Like much of the culture at the time, England and Europe was looked to for theatre, which is why Shakespeare and other European melodramas and romantic plays dominated the scene. However, after the Civil War and even before with the election of Andrew Jackson,nationalistic themes and feelings swept the country and it was portrayed in the theatre as a result. Art is a representation of the time, and prior to the Civil War, a major exploit in the entertainment industry was the ‘Indian’ character. Meant to exhibit a generalized view of native americans, the ‘Indian’ character figure was often misrepresented in racially insensitive ways. James Nelson Baker is credited for writing the first play that includes native americans in his work The Indian Princess. This play is considered to be a precursor to the Pocahontas story that is later known to be seen as an american classic. The Indian Princess is a groundbreaking play, for including native americans as main characters but does so in a way that is meant to overshadow the horrific and negative impacts of colonialism onto the natives. Pocahontas is seen in the play as the spiritual and exotic figure who can heal the wounded and ill soldiers, and brokers peace and a solidarity between her people and the english. This creates a false narrative of how the interactions between the natives and the settlers happened. Myron Matlaw comments in his critique of 19th century plays that

“Over fifty such ‘Indian’ plays appeared before the Civil War, and they remained popular”.

American culture and more specifically american theatre in the 19th century always had a racialized character, the only thing that change who was portrayed was the Civil War. Before the Civil War, President Jackson’s policies and the conflicts with native tribes made the Indians an easy target and it was the public sentiment gave playwrights the go ahead. However after the Civil War, racial angst and hatred transitions from Indians to the black community, which is why we see the rise of the ‘blackface’ performances. Eric Lott describes blackface minstrelsy as something

“the culture that embraced it, we assume, was either wholly enchanted by racial travesty or so benighted”.


Having real African Americans perform and take on legitimate roles on the stage during the 19th century would have been unimaginable and very likely illegal too. It was not until William Henry Lane, better known as his Master Juba, would be the first black performer to actually take to the stage and wow audiences with his extravagant and masterful tap dancing shows.

The people, the audience to these plays and performances, needed their beliefs about race represented in their everyday entertainment, and this came through the incorporation of exaggerated and racialized characters in the 19th century theatre scene.

Baseball and Race barrier in the 19th Century

By Andres Rodriguez

Negro League player 1880

Unidentified Negro Ball Player- 1880 Baseball Hall of Fame

The game of Baseball was invented sometime in the late 19th century. Although there is no concrete evidence of when or who exactly invented Baseball, it only took a short amount of time to be considered America’s pastime. The picture of the identified negro ball player is a very symbolic, especially for black people living in America at the time. There is not an ample amount of photographs taken in the 19th century of negro ball players. No surprise but racism was still occurring in both social and political contexts. This photograph is very symbolic in a sense that it gave black people a sense of equality and identity. Not only can white people play baseball but so can black people. According to Devon Carbado’s Racial naturalization essay, one of her arguments is about racism and the naturalization process for American Identity thru exclusion and inclusion. While this picture is symbolic for the black population, this is just another example of how negros where being excluded but also included  due to the way they look. In a time where Jim Crow laws were beginning established in the America, baseball was also effected by Jim Crow laws.  Black people were discriminated due to the dominant “superior race.” Devon Carbado mentions in her essay that “De Jure Racial Naturalization occurs when race is intentionally and explicitly used to establish an American identity” and she also gives an example of the Plessy vs. Ferguson Case that gives racial segregation to be constitutional. (Carbado 15) Black people were faced with racial segregation in America after the 1896 case of Plessy vs. Ferguson. The picture was dated in 1880 so it was around the time where Jim Crow laws were being established in America. Black people who did see this photograph did feel a sense of American identity even though the Plessy vs. Ferguson case formally excluded black people from obtaining identity. Black were included in America but also excluded by Jim Crow laws.

Although black people were segregated in America in the late 19th century, baseball helped black people become less segregated in a social sense. After the 19th century, baseball was only getting more popular and Jim Crow laws were still in place, negro ball players were formed and later established its own league, the negro league. It is important to mention the 20th century because the color barrier was coming to an end in baseball. According to Donn Rogosin, author of Invisible Men: Life in Baseball negro leagues, he writes about the overall lives of negro ball players and the impact it had on the black population in America.

“the importance of the Negro leagues transcended the world of sport. A small group of black men, with remarkable skills, reached far above the menial and the mundane…When their baseball victories came against white opponents, they undermined segregation itself” – Donn Rogosin, Visible Men: Life in Baseball Negro leagues

Negro leagues were established in the 20th century but if it was not for people like the one unidentified negro player it helped give hope for the black population in America.

The photograph of the unidentified negro ball player was very symbolic. It was taken in 1880 where Jim Crow laws were starting to be established thus undermining black identity in America. This photograph helped black people gain a sense of identity. They were not black people playing baseball, they were just people playing baseball. It became America’s national pastime where anyone could play baseball regardless of race.


Devon W., Carbado. 2005. “Racial Naturalization.” American Quarterly no. 3: 633. JSTOR Journals, EBSCOhost (accessed December 17, 2017).

Rogosin, Donn. Invisible Men: Life in Baseball’s Negro Leagues. U of Nebraska Press, 2007.

Unidentified Negro Leagues Player photograph, 1880. Baseball Hall of Fame archives.


It’s All Fun and Games Until You’re the Cartoon

By: Melissa Wilson

Political cartoons have been analyzed centuries after they were published because they serve more than one purpose of humorizing a political event. Every detail the illustrator adds into the political cartoon serves a purpose. Political cartoons are found in newspapers and online articles commenting on issues and uproars in the country. The “main purpose, though, is not to amuse you but to persuade you” into agreeing with their stance on the said issue. The cartoonist goal is to persuade their audience by changing their opinion on a political issue.

In much of the 19th century, there was a huge upheaval in women fighting for equal rights, especially in the political setting. “The campaign for women’s suffrage began in earnest in the decades before the Civil War,” women wanted the voting restrictions expanded to not just all white men. The women of the 19th century wanted to steer away from the idea of “true womanhood” where a wife should be submissive to her husband, and always tend to the home and children. Seneca Falls convention in 1848 took place in New York. Leaders of the convention agreed “American women were autonomous individuals who deserved their own political identities.” During this time the women wrote The Declaration of Sentiments, modeling the Declaration of Independence, stating,

 “all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Obviously, if there is one side to the fight, there is the opposing side; the white males who did not want to share the vote with the women. Thus began endless political cartoons between pro women’s suffrage and anti women’s suffrage.

There was a major pushback from expanding that right to all women. In the late 19th century, Puck magazine took advantage of the new printing technology and reinvented what political cartoons meant to Americans. “Puck played a critical transitional role in the evolution of American humor” with their exaggerated, yet influential political cartoons. When the suffragists were gaining more publicity, Puck magazine weighed in on the situation.

08118097ac499acc40106aa18ed539f0--voting-booth-wonder-womenTitle: “A Squelcher for Woman Suffrage” By C.J Taylor
Published: Keppler & Schwarzmann, 1894 June 6.
Caption: How Can She Vote, When the Fashions Are so Wide and the Voting Booths are so Narrow? 

“A Squelcher for Woman Suffrage” the title alone answers how society felt about women voting. Referring to her as a “squelcher” is a colloquial term for a loud noise, such as a squelch. This infers that the women protesting for their right to voice just sound like a hi-pitch frequency noise, and nobody is listening to the suffragists. The woman depicted in the cartoon is wearing an elaborate dress with a petticoat and a hat and the colors are loud and bright. This would typically be worn to a formal event, but the cartoonist depicted in this attire because in the men’s minds voting for women would be a formal outing out of the house for them. The men in the cartoon are shocked and angered by the woman because she is holding up time for other voters. As she looks at the ballot box that is “narrow” the sign reads “ballots must be prepared in these booths”.  This explains why the woman cannot fit because her dress is too large and she is also illustrated too tall to fit inside the booth, as well. The thought of these men in the late 19th century is that women were more concerned with fashion then they were with politics. The fear was that women actually knew nothing about politics and they would be easily persuaded to vote for certain candidates based on bribery and pure ignorance. The woman in the cartoon only concerned with fashion would be deemed ‘unfit’ to vote for the future leader of the country.

3b48924rTitle: Unconcerned By n/a  Illus. in: Puck, 1899 Jan. 11, p. 16
 Copyrighted by Keppler & Schwarzmann
Caricature of women’s suffrage showing women lounging in Woman’s Ultra Country Club.
 This record contains unverified, old data from caption card.

Another way white males would depict women would be that they were unconcerned with politics altogether. The women depicted in this cartoon are at a country club, therefore they are wealthy women, who have nothing better to do with themselves but lounge around and gossip with other women. The caption was difficult to make out but it seemed to be a conversation between two women gossiping about another woman. All the women have their feet up and are dressed formally at the country club. This depiction of women shows that they have nothing better to do with themselves insinuating they are only fighting for their right to vote because they are bored. The idea the cartoonist was trying to convey was that if women really wanted to be apart of the political conversation, they would spend their free time reading the newspaper and paying attention to what was happening in the political sphere. They would not use their husband’s money and lounge around all day at the country club without any responsibilities.

Majority of the political cartoonists were men, and they were appealing to many of the males that read their magazines or newspapers. Women suffragists were an easy target to satirize in political cartoons. But it did create the conversation about whether women should be allowed to vote or not. The 19th amendment that allowed women to vote happened in the early 20th century, but they received plenty of backlash leading up to that moment. It goes to show the impact political cartoons had on society and how exaggerated and offensive they can be to all different groups in the United States. Staff,  “The Fight for Women’s Suffrage” 2009.

Library of Congress Staff. “It’s No Laughing Matter”

Alex Dueben “Puck Magazine and the Birth of Modern Political Cartooning” SEPTEMBER 10, 2014

Illu n/a “Unconcerned”  Puck Magazine. 1899.
Illu Charles Jay Taylor. “A Squelcher for Woman Suffrage” Puck Magazine. 4 June 1894.

The Devil Lies in Plain Sight – The Significance of Dracula on England in the Late 19th Century

By Jelson Mendoza


Vampirism, specifically found in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” in the 19th century among other contemporary horrors represented a complex fear among the British public of invasion, violence that could occur at any moment and racial and sexual impurity. It then becomes no surprise that the notion of Vampires and the Dracula mythos exist parallel to the gruesome story of Vlad the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia.

The Man behind the Myth –

To give a shortened description of how Vlad became the  origin of the Vampire legend, one would first have to look to his father, Vlad II and his background with the Order of the Dragon. The Order of the Dragon were a group of Christian rulers who vowed to fight against the Ottoman Empire and its incursions into the Christian world in areas such as Wallachia and Serbia in the 15th century. When the Ottoman Empire betrayed a peace maintained by Vlad II, his son Vlad III (whose last name was Dracul meaning “Son of the Dragon) rebelled against the Ottomans in vicious and bloody conflict. Eventually, Vlad III gained a reputation for the horrifying practice of impaling his opponents on stakes and leaving their corpses out to dry. Rumors were also spread that Vlad the Impaler drank blood and indulged himself in cannibalistic tendencies. Lastly, in discussing the context and history of Vlad the Impaler it is important to recognize Transylvania’s position as ethnically diverse and stepped in a history of conflict between those groups and foreign invasions,

“The ancestors of the Romanians first appeared in the high mountains of South-Transylvania towards the end of the eleventh century. They were shepherds who migrated in from Wallachia and lived in scattered settlements in the mountains. They were distinguished from the Roman Catholic Hungarians and Saxons by belonging to the Greek Orthodox religion. Towards the end of the fifteenth century, Transylvania had a population of about 800,000, of whom 65% were Hungarians, the rest split evenly between Saxons and Romanians.” (Benda)

England and The Vampire – 

In the context of the late 19th century, England found itself like many other European nations on the precipice of war with the German Empire. In fact, Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula” emerges in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War which occurred in 1870 and demonstrated the rise of a unified German state able to rival that of France. Therefore, the notion of the vampire is innately tied to the fear of an invasion similar to the Prussian (or German) takeover of areas such as the Alsace-Lorraine and the loss of their “blood heritage” as French. By the 1890s, although the European powers could not have envisioned the scope of the First World War, tensions had steadily risen to the point that many contemporaries saw war as inevitable,

“No one can look carefully into the present state of Europe without feeling firmly convinced that it cannot continue long in its present condition. Every country is maintaining an armed force out of all proportion to its resources and population….The nations of Europe are, in fact, all living in a state of constant preparation for instant war….This war of giants will have Russia and France on the one side; Germany, Austria, and Italy on the other.” (Alison 755-756)

Within this atmosphere of military preparation, no other monster could be as appropriate as one that strikes in the night as Dracula had towards the people of England. In particular, the victims of Dracula in the novel (for the most part) were women and by extension a source of life that could be corrupted and made impure by him.

“There was a deliberate voluptuousness that was both thrilling and repulsive.
And as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal till I could see in the moonlight the moisture
Then lapped the white, sharp teeth.
Lower and lower went her head. I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited. ” (Stoker)

This notion of impurity as Stoker described to be, “both thrilling and repulsive” ties with the emerging concept of race and sexuality that took place in the 19th century as a whole and across the globe. Readers in England for example would be privy to stories from America and the Caribbean of slave revolts and moral degradation in places like the Five Points and in some way be prone to imagine a sense of escalating danger that cannot be actively seen or fought.

England also served as an interesting birthplace for the modern vampire as its history is intricately tied to Christianity and fears regarding witches. Explicitly, as Christianity rose in prominence, the notion of sin and the night (i.e witchcraft) became synonymous with the religiously motivated desire to hunt down supposed witches and heretics with the intent to kill them. At the crossroads of these two ideas, the immortal vampire provides the response to the fear of seduction that comes in the night to turn God fearing individuals into pawns and cannot be killed by simple torches and other tools used by mobs such as the one that formed in Salem, Massachusetts in 1693.


Women are essential to the legend of Vampires as their murder demonstrates a loss of identity and purity that can be drawn in parallel to the Christian notion of sexual purity and race in the context of countries like America. (Source – 

In conclusion, the image of the vampire as it emerged from England at the end of the 19th century demonstrated a culmination of the racialized and sexual fears and anxieties of society in the shape of a monster that comes at the night and leaves death in its wake.












Bibliography –

Alison, Archibald . “The Online Books Page.” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine archives. 1893. Accessed December 16, 2017.

Benda, Dr. Kálmán. “A SHORT HISTORY OF TRANSYLVANIA.” A SHORT HISTORY OF TRANSYLVANIA. 1988. Accessed December 16, 2017.

Stoker, Bram, and Tudor Humphries. Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Place of publication not identified: Dorling Kindersley, 1997.



Altos, the Female Belt and Their Place in the 1990s

By Nadine Blank

The 1990s is an era that lives on in many of our hearts, even if some of us weren’t alive for most of it. Listening to music can especially give those of us who might not remember much of that time an image of the zeitgeist of the 1990s in America. While many issues plagued the 90s (and that era is indeed remembered for all of them), one significant topic that countless faces of the music industry addressed was the idea of feminism and femininity, and all the dimensions that reside within these concepts. Many artists, such as Britney Spears and the Spice Girls, decided to own the sexuality that male society had already attached to them and make it their own. They often played it up and used sexualized music as an outlet to declare freedom and agency. However, there were many more facets to feminist, “girl power” 90s music. One of these sub-genres was that of many indie, rock, and country artists that happened to make top-40 radio. This sub-genre included women with strong, often low, unique vocals that demonstrated power and a refusal to remain quiet. These women often sang a variety of songs on more than just the usual topics of love and sex. This specific niche of popular female artists in the 90s express, reject, and modify ideals and expectations of what it means and feels like to be a woman even to this day.

(Shania Twain, “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!” 1997)


This first track, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” by Shania Twain, is a classic country-power-pop anthem that many continue to appreciate for its feel-good tone and message. While the overall theme of the song is arguably cheesy and possibly naïve, Twain’s chorus brings up an especially important inconsistency between the idea of a lady versus a woman. Twain wants to “forget I’m a lady,” but she also claims in the same chorus that she feels like a woman. In this context, Twain seems to be commenting on a more structured ideal that embodies “ladylike” behavior. She even goes as far to say that she has the “prerogative” to shed her expected role as a “lady,” and this freedom makes her feel more like a woman than anything else. As far as musicality, Twain has a fairly lower alto voice, which in general is associated with the older connotation of “women” rather than younger “ladies,” which are oftentimes associated with the higher soprano vocal range. Shania Twain, however, owns her alto voice and enjoys what comes with feeling like a woman.


(Alanis Morissette, “Ironic,” 1995; directed by Stéphane Sednaoui)


The second song, “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette, begins quietly, almost sweetly, with only her voice and a guitar to accompany her. In the above music video, the singer is a seemingly delicate woman, wrapped up and protected from the world and snow around her. When the chorus hits, however, what appears to be her alter egos take over with louder, more striking vocals, and they seem much happier than the woman singing daintily. As the song continues, the alter egos riding in the car continue with much less “dainty” behavior, with one passenger even attempting to hold her whole body out of the car window and becoming covered in snow. Additionally, while the lyrics of the song are fairly cynical and defeatist, the alter-egos are taking them in stride and not allowing this to engulf their personalities. Both the context of the video and the content of the song exemplify a response to the sexualized movement happening in 90s music at the same time. It reminds the audience, through visuals, non-romantic lyrics, and strong, almost stubborn-sounding vocals, that a woman does not need to sexualize herself—that it is her choice. Alanis Morissette herself seems to have a broad understanding of this fact and the different forms of female empowerment, having released her raspy, “sexy” belt, “You Oughtta Know” on the same album, Jagged Little Pill.


(4 Non Blondes, “What’s Up,” 1992)


This playlist ends with a ballad full of profound, untraditional female vocal power: “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes. Like “Ironic,” the song begins with an acoustic guitar, but a slow, marching beat and bassline soon follow, and the singer begins a solemn lament of what society is doing to women. The first verse creates a visual of the infamous glass ceiling as, “ trying to get up that great big hill of hope for a destination.” Her voice is full and deep, not delicate or fragile in the slightest. If there were any doubts in the singer’s vocal ability, they would be gone by the second verse, when she sings of how hard she tries and that she prays “every single day for a revolution.” Her belt is rough and robust, showcasing the pain of being a woman in the world while defying expectations of her. She hits incredible notes while still maintaining a deep, soulful tone. The power in the song in conjunction with the sadness and pain creates a multidimensionality for not only the song but the woman singing and her inherently feminist cause.

Empowered Sexual Agents: Black Female Rap and R&B Artists in the 1990s and early 2000s

By Daria Martin

In the 1990s and early 2000s, black female rappers and R&B artists reclaimed their sexual autonomy through their songs which celebrated black female sexuality. For modern consumers of music, looking back to this era creates a nostalgia and sense of pride in the women who molded an industry to accept women for daring to express their desire for sex.

In attempting to create a mix of three songs which encapsulated a theme present in the 1990s, I began to question in what ways have female artists challenged the categorization scheme where black male rappers dominated the genre through the use of misogynistic lyrics. This question propelled me to look at the iconic group known as Salt-N-Pepa, which are one of the most successful all female rap groups in history. Their clever lyrics and sexual honesty challenged the norm where black male rappers controlled the confines of the genre with their sexually explicit and objectifying lyrics about women. “Shoop” was one Salt-N-Pepa’s most successful singles, and was a precursor to songs by other black rap and R&B artists and groups who were unapologetic in creating music which put the artists in the position of sexual agents. Salt-N-Pepa paved the way for TLC and Missy Elliot, whose respective songs “No Scrubs” and “Work It” similarly employed lyrics that celebrated female sexuality. Salt-N-Pepa, TLC, and Missy Elliott are just a few examples of artists and groups that sought to create music that allowed women to represent themselves as empowered sexual agents rather than powerless objects of male desire.

Salt-N-Pepa:  “Shoop” (1993) ft Big Twan

“Shoop” challenged the categorization schemes of gender and sexual expression where women were excluded from being sexual agents. According to pop reviewer for the New York Times Ann Powers, “The trio balanced its amiable eroticism with a wholesome self-respect” (Powers, 1999). This is evidenced by the lyrics “I’m not shy so I ask for the digits- a ho, that don’t make me.” Cheryl aka “Salt” is unapologetic in her pursuit of men, and asserts that her forwardness doesn’t make her a “ho.” Additionally, Salt-N-Pepa flips the script by objectifying men: “You’re packed and you’re stacked ‘specially in the back, Brother, wanna thank your mother for a butt like that.” Salt also alludes to wanting to perform oral sex in the lyric “lick him like a lollipop should be licked.” Additionally, this song specifically highlights the appeal of black sexuality through the metaphor of food: “Chocolate dip, honey dip, can I get a scoop?” suggests that Pepa is wanting to get with men of color, either of a chocolate or honey complexion. This plays into a reversal of the categorization schemes because men are now the objects of consumption by women. “Shoop” was one of the group’s most successful singles, and was a precursor to songs by other black rap and R & B artists and groups who were unapologetic in creating music which put the artists in the position of sexual agents.

TLC: “No Scrubs” (1999) directed by Hype Williams

TLC’s “No Scrubs” is also representative of empowered black female sexuality. “No Scrubs” is a relatable anthem for women who were tired of the misogynistic efforts of men to exploit women for their financial success. The women of TLC, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas denounce the act of catcalling and the type of men who harass or try “to holler” at attractive women from the passenger side of their friend’s car. The women are proud of their sexual appeal, and assert within the song that they are unwilling to settle for men who they consider “scrubs.”  TLC explains that “A scrub is a guy that thinks he’s fly, He’s also known as a busta, Always talkin’ about what he wants, And just sits on his broke ass.” These women know they they’re “looking like class” compared to men who are “looking like trash” and are are unwilling to get with deadbeat men.

The music video for  “No Scrubs” won the 1999 MTV Video Music Award for Best Group Video ( The video features the three group members in platform boots and metallic leather outfits, representing the futuristic aesthetic of the late 90s and early 2000s that was connected to styles associated with the new millennium. The video also suggests that modernity encompassed the agency of empowered women who were unafraid to assert themselves sexually. This was showcased by the use of sexual gestures in the video, including Chilli grabbing her behind as she sings that she wont get with a “deadbeat ass” as well as when T-Boz grabs her crotch while singing that scrubs wont get any “love” from her. The crotch grabbing gesture suggests that love in this sense is really sex, and that women will not let men have access to their bodies who do not meet their financial standards.

Missy Elliott: “Work It” (2002)

“Work It” was Missy Elliott’s most successful single, and according to critic John Bush, the song “turns the tables on male rappers, taking charge of the sex game, matching their lewdest, rudest rhymes, and also featuring the most notorious backmasked vocal of the year” (Bush, All Missy Elliott does not shy away from sexually explicit lyrics in the song, as she says that she can “put the pussy on like [she] told ya” and asks her partner:  “Listen up close while I take it backwards, Watch the way Missy like to take it backwards, I’m not a prostitute, but I could give you what you want.” In alluding to her genitals and preferred sex position, Missy Elliott normalizes sexual desire, asserting that she does not need to be a prostitute in order to enjoy sex. Elliott also raps the lyrics “You think you can handle this badonkadonk-donk, Take my thong off and my ass go boom.” This lyric served to popularize the term “badonkadonk” to describe the sexual appeal of large butts, and further accentuated Elliott’s fearless expression of sexual autonomy. Missy Elliott’s “Work It” continued the legacy of other black female rappers and R&B artists as she sought further success in the early 2000s.

Works Cited:

1999 MTV Video Music Awards.

Bush, John. “All Music Review of Missy Elliott’s album, Under Construction.” All

Elliott, Missy. “Work It.” 2002.

Powers, Ann. “POP REVIEW; Spice Girls: Salt-n-Pepa, Still Talking About Sex.” The New York Times. 19 March, 1999.

Salt-N-Pepa ft Big Twan. “Shoop.” Produced by The Island Def Jam Music Group. 1993.

TLC. “No Scrubs.” 1999.


The Political Work Done by Gangsta Rap

By: Luke Wiley


The term “gangster” was introduced in the early 20th century as a way to label individuals that were gang affiliated, typically given to immigrant or racial groups that participated in criminal activity in cities across the United States. However, as the century wore on, the marker underwent a subtle change in its makeup. The word was shortened to “gangsta,” a common term in African American Vernacular English. While the meaning behind the word and the activity suggested by it remained relatively the same, the groups associated with the term were markedly different. During the 1980’s, the term began to be associated with African Americans growing up in crime-ridden cities, most of whom were gang-affiliated with either the Bloods or the Crips. In this specialized context, the hip-hop subgenre, “gangsta rap,” was born. Pioneers of the genre include Schoolly D, Ice-T, and NWA, each being the subject of substantial media scrutiny for their lyrics. Gangsta rap of the 1980’s and 1990’s was characterized by its violent nature and criminal themes, as the label suggests. Despite the controversy that gangsta rap was the focus of, the subgenre was extremely commercially successful, transcending the context in which the music was created to reach people from all walks of life, specifically middle-class suburbia. While the artists performing gangsta rap may have become popular in the entertainment sector, their music also did important political work by highlighting the inequality that exists in the United States.

(Gets Boys, “Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta” 1992)

One of the most popular tracks by the Houston-based group Geto Boys gives examples of what one has to do in order to be a gangsta. With descriptions of various criminal activities, including murder, theft, and drug trafficking, one may think the song describes the typical life of an everyday thug. However, when J. Prince enters on the last verse, he raps from the point of view of the President of the United States, suggesting that he is the original gangsta. Despite his “democratically” elected position, the president’s gangsta status is bolstered by his exploitation of “you know who” in the “poor community.” As suggested by Robin Kelley, the gangstas of the cities know that the true original gangstas are the ones in positions of public power. By highlighting this notion, those in disadvantaged communities can better combat their social situation.

(Body Count, “Cop Killer” 1992)

Ice-T, a pioneer of gangsta rap and often labeled as the creator of the genre, understood the role that his music played in the social sector. On his album, O.G. Original Gangsta, Ice-T introduced heavy-metal band Body Count, who released the song “Cop Killer” on their debut self-titled album. Ice-T and Body Count attempted to bring this important political issue to a group that would otherwise not listen. Ice-T has said that the song is sung from the point-of-view of a person who is “fed up with police brutality” (Hang the MC), mentioning individuals like former LAPD police chief Daryl Gates and famously brutalized victim Rodney King. “Cop Killer” sparked significant media controversy, with condemnations coming from as high up as George H.W. Bush, the sitting president at the time. While the song itself is not gangsta rap, Ice-T’s political message embedded in the lyrics of “Cop Killer” was characteristic of his music in the 1990’s.

(Coolio, “Gangsta’s Paradise” 1995, dir. by Antoine Fuqua)

Coolio’s landmark track was featured on the soundtrack of the movie Dangerous Minds. While this musical commercialization disconnected the message from the larger hip-hop culture (Rhyme & Reason), Coolio’s track played an important role in both the film and society at large. Throughout the 1990’s, various performers and songwriters had romanticized the gangsta image. However, despite the seductive nature of the commodified gangsta, Coolio presented the general public with a realistic image of what the lifestyle was like. The ironic title, “Gangsta’s Paradise,” suggests that there is a blissful element to the gangsta experience. This irony is further highlighted by the music video, which takes place in a desolate school landscape; the setting is meant to be representative of the school that someone in a gangsta’s paradise would attend. Coolio’s plea to the public to realize that the gangsta lifestyle is not desirable is evident throughout the song and music video.


“Hang the MC: Blaming Hip-Hop for Violence” interview with Ice-T by Matthew McKinnon for CBC News

Unspoken Message in 90s Song

By Peter Chien

Throughout the 1990s, there were numerous event involving racial conflicts and stereotypes towards gender and between races. As we browse through music videos and songs from the 90s, it was not hard to discover some additional message beyond their lyrics and title. In fact, most of the popular hip hop the word hip hop is not capitalized; neither are most musical genres. songs on the Billboard back in 1990s were the songs about love. In other words, most of them describe romantic relationships. As we dig further into the lyrics and music videos, we can also find some links towards deeper messages behind the song. In “the Blues,” by Tony Toni Tone, the producer and artists used various hidden perks to demonstrate how African Americans were being treated unequally in the Caucasian dominated society. Also, “So You Like What You See,” by Samuelle, portrays how the law enforcement and medias’ responses towards the riot were caused by racial conflicts. Moreover, in the song “I’ll Be Good to You,” by Quincy Jones, various symbolic techniques were used to demonstrate how stereotypes and racism are sins. All three songs demonstrate how African American society was struggling to adapt while trying to fit themselves into the white dominated society. The music video producer and artist may use various links to tell the listener to think beyond the lyrics themselves. Therefore, a simple love song that seems to be about relationships can be interpreted in different angles. By doing so, those songs could give deeper meaning and messages to the real society at that time period.

Tony! Toni! Tone! “The Blues.” The Revival. By D’Wayne Wiggins, Timothy Christian Riley. 5 Mar. 1990. Ed Eckstine.

This song will give a first impression of a love song when you read its lyrics. However, while reading it repeatedly, along with the music video, I observed some different meanings behind it. In the lyrics, a main theme is they will “spending all my time pleasing you, all you ever give me is the blue,” which indicates that no matter how hard they try, it eventually become useless. Also, extending to another piece, “every day, every night, all you ever give me is the blues” tells us this type of emotional state occurs all day. In other words, they been treated like that in their daily life. As we look into the music video, there were only two groups in the video. One is the band playing music and the other was an African American girl with a pure white dress, white hair, and white shoes. One thing that caught my eyes was that the two groups were never in the same frame in the video. This might imply the author was trying to portray this song was much more than just a love song. If we looked at the song as African Americans’ trying to please and fit in Caucasian society, this song would potentially be telling listeners how much African American struggle in the white dominated society.

Samuelle Prater “So You Like What You See.” So You Like What You See. By  Denzil Foster, Smuelle Prater,Thomas McElroy. 30 Oct. 1990. Thomas McElroy.

The music video starts by showing a photo shoot. In one of the themes, there are signs of a riot. This can link to the riot outbreak in California. It seems like Samuelle was trying to say a majority of people only believe what they see on the news media. Moreover, the news was beautified and well covered – just like professional photo shoot. Therefore, people won’t be able to understand the real situation regarding the riot. Also, in the lyrics, “every day now I can feel you watching me from after… why you’re so into me in such a way,” can be seen as the police in the riot. The law enforcement would just stand aside and watch, instead of immediately stopping the riot. At the end of the song, it says, “now it’s time you get with the program and learn to leave forcefully”, this is another piece which shows the end of the riot will be stopped by heavy force without negotiation. This song can be viewed as how police force, media, and public reactions contributed to the riot.

Quincy Jones “I’ll Be Good To You.” Back on the Block. By George Johnson, Louis Johnson, Sonora Sam. 22 Sep. 1989. Quincy Jones.

This song’s music video starts with a bunch of green apple rolling on the floor, which can be seen as a symbol for knowledge, immortality, temptation and the fall of man and sin. Throughout the video, there were various themes that dance from different races and genders mixed up in pairs to create a symbolic meaning of the society. Moreover, it symbolizes stereotypes. In other words, this type of technique might be used to express the conflict of different stereotypes in races and genders. In the lyrics, “we’ve been together so very long… take a stand, now and let me know how,” this piece shows us the society is trying to erase the conflicts due to stereotypes. Additionally, this can be viewed as a representation of the state of society, regarding their stands on racial difference and stereotypes. Therefore, this song can be viewed from the angle of how those people want the society to understand them in order to ease the prejudice.