Women played critical roles in making African nationalism ideologically and practically possible in South Africa. They not only participated in organisations, institutions, and campaigns that were well-documented by contemporaries. Some also documented themselves-- inscribing their ideals of nation, race, and citizenship in speeches, portraits, and writing. These women travelled around the country and, in a few influential cases, around the world-- theorising African women’s struggles in South Africa with reference to struggles elsewhere, especially across the black Atlantic. Yet they generally authorised their public engagements in terms of their commitments as mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters-- proclaiming an interest in ‘social’ rather than ‘political’ work. Women’s familial modes of public engagement led South Africa’s first wave of feminist historians to see them as marginal influences on the making of an essentially patriarchal nationalism. But a survey of rich journalistic sources from the 1930s suggests that nationalist women were not uncritically defending patriarchy when they organised around domestic concerns. Rather, they were concerned to create a new sort of African family-- both capable of protecting its privacy and a model for new forms of public life that could nurture an African nationalist body politic.