PANEL: Battling Feminists and Reds: Anti-Feminism and Anti-Communism in the Twentieth Century

Saturday, March 2, 2013 10:00 AM

Interpreting Women’s Activism in Red Scare America, 1919-1929

Erica Ryan

In the Red Scare that followed World War I, antiradicals, anti-moderns, and
antifeminists expressed their conviction that just like Bolshevism, feminist activists
would bring disorder and unrest to the United States. This phenomenon is best
exemplified in the experience of Louise Bryant, an American radical, activist, writer,
and the wife of America’s most prominent “Bolshevik,” John Reed. Anxious Americans
tried Bryant in the court of public opinion for her radicalism and her sympathy for Soviet
Russia. In this case and in many others, Americans used discussions about women as
a privileged site through which to discuss what they saw as a larger social and cultural
struggle between Bolshevism and Americanism, between social radicalism and social
conservatism. This relationship between sex disorder and political disorder, one framed
by the dislocations of wartime and the specter of internationalism, marked Americans’
thinking on gender norms and family life as well as on politics and citizenship in the
decade to come.

Erica Ryan is a Sarah Lawrence College alumna, and she holds an M.A. in History and Ph.D. from Brown University. She is an Assistant Professor at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, where she teaches U.S. History, Women’s History, History of Gender and Sexuality, and World History. Her work War on the Family: Sex, Gender, and Americanism, 1919-1929 is to be published in Fall 2013 by the Temple University Press.


Defining Family, Defining Nation: Gender and Patriotism in 1960s California

Natalia Mehlman Petrzela

In 1968 California, Republican Max Rafferty built his U.S. Senate campaign
around an attack on the “cowards and Communists” populating California’s educational
institutions. Nearby Rafferty’s Los Angeles campaign headquarters, officers of Women
Strike for Peace, a radical feminist-pacifist group, spoke in a disarmingly similar idiom.
In response to the vandalism of the group’s office, the group issued a press release
demanding to know the “identity of these ‘brave’ men who hide behind the ‘curtain’
of violence and death threats… They are cowards.” Across the political spectrum,

California’s burgeoning and diversifying populace considered the very fabric of American
patriotism and morality under siege, and issues of gender and family were at the
forefront of these concerns. While historians have begun to identify how the coalescing
Right married concerns over sexual morality and patriotism, this paper is unique in
exploring how these anxieties mobilized citizens of all political stripes, thus explaining
the depth of the social transformations afoot in the late 1960s.

Natalia Mehlman Petrzela received her B.A. in History from Columbia College, and her Ph.D. in History from Stanford University. She currently works as Co-Chair of Education Studies at Eugene Lang College, The New School in NYC. She has two works under review at the moment, her book manuscript Schooled Right: The Educational Origins of Modern Conservatism and her article “The Roots of Polarization: Max Rafferty, Education, and the Roots of Modern Conservatism”.


Red Feminism? Debating ‘Family Values’ in New York State, 1970-1980

Stacie Taranto

New York State, especially New York City, was a key center of modern feminism
– but, perhaps because feminist reform was so strong there, the state was also home
to a growing conservative “family values” movement in the 1970s. These family
value conservatives were disappointed to see the Democratic Party, by the 1970s,
increasingly advocate using taxpayer dollars to finance feminist-backed initiatives such
as sex education programs in public schools and Medicaid-financed abortions at the
state level. Conservative family values women campaigned against these initiatives by
branding them not only “anti-family,” but as communist. The women’s activism helped
give conservative Republicans in the state an electoral base and set of issues to usurp
power from both Democrats and more powerful pro-feminist moderates in their own
party – trends in the state of New York that also occurred on the national level during
the 1970s as the political right embraced a limited, conservative definition of the family
that is still at the center of its political rhetoric and policies.

Stacie Taranto received her A.B. in History from Duke University, and both her A.M. and Ph.D. in history from Brown University. She currently works as an Assistant Professor of History at Ramapo College of New Jersey, where she teaches a variety of U.S. History and Women’s History courses. She currently has a book manuscript under contract, Kitchen Table Politics: Conservative Women and Family Values in the Seventies.

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