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Ida Vera Simonton's Imperial Masquerades: Intersections of Gender, Race and African Expertise in Progressive-Era America



Ida Vera Simonton, a New York socialite, visited the French colony of Gabon in 1906 and 1907. Her subsequent narratives about her stay demonstrate a very ambiguous view of the horrors of European colonialism that she claimed to despise and the amoral nature of Africans. Simonton ultimately employed her stay in Gabon to claim a right to form female self-defence squads in New York and to act as an independent defender of white women. By carefully shaping her public persona to alternately appropriate discourses of masculine regeneration through empire and to highlight her female vulnerability, she made herself into a provocative spectacle. In an ironic twist, given how much Simonton embellished on her own experiences, Broadway producers in 1925 plagiarised her 1912 novel Hell's Playground in their successful play White Cargo. Simonton successfully sued for damages, thus upholding her highly edited version of her trip in law. Her writings expose the intersections of racial anxieties, gendered visions of empire and feminist aspirations in the United States during the Progressive era.