Bryan Stevenson: On Equality and Social Justice

Bryan Stevenson: I know this to be true

On Equality and Social Justice

Book Reviewed by Hank Bitten, NJCSS Executive Director

I am a history teacher who wanted to learn about the perspectives of racial inequality and social justice as a result of the events during the summer of 2020. Although I have a strong content background in the history of African Americans, slavery, reconstruction, prejudice and discrimination, constitutional law, the economics of poverty, and human rights, I never taught a course on social inequality, criminal justice, or how to address problems in this area.

A former student, Dr. Christopher Borgen, who is a law professor at St. John’s University, introduced me to the Equal Justice Initiative and its founder, Bryan Stevenson. After visiting the EJI website and learning from others that Bryan Stevenson was a past speaker at an NCSS convention, I read his book, all 66 pages in about 30 minutes!

The book was different from what I was expecting. When I read the description on the Amazon website, I was expecting stories of convicted felons on death row who were falsely accused and then represented by Dr. Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative. Instead, I discovered that I shared the same hopes, values, and mission as Bryan Stevenson, even though our life experiences were very different. The things we shared were loving grandmothers, disappointing high school educational experiences, religious faith, and a calling to help people by making a difference in their lives. My world view that we are placed into situations by circumstance (or divine intervention) was reinforced in the 66 pages of what I read.

Bryan Stevenson lived in a rural town in southern Delaware from 1959 until he graduated from Eastern University (PA) in 1977. He attended the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard where he earned a Master of Arts degree in Public Policy and a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School. After moving to Atlanta, he was an attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights in 1989 he founded the non-profit law center, Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery. His life’s work is committed to eliminating life-without-parole sentences and capital punishment for juveniles. The Equal Justice Initiative have won reversals or release for 135 wrongly convicted death row prisoners.

The EJI opened the Legacy Museum in 2018 in Montgomery, Alabama to focus on racial inequality and the challenges of race discrimination in the criminal justice system in the United States. The current digital exhibits on racial justice, Reconstruction, and criminal justice reform are informative.

As a white, middle class, educated person living in a suburban community, my wife and I taught our children and now we are teaching our grandchildren that the police are your friend.  We instill in them that if you are ever in trouble to seek the advice of the police who are easily recognized by their uniforms. This is teachable because all of us deserve to be treated equally! The book provides examples of how “our society applies a presumption of dangerousness and guilt to young black men, and that’s what leads to wrongful arrests ad wrongful convictions and wrongful death sentences, not just wrongful shootings.” The example of injustice is the story of Walter McMillian who was sentenced to death in 1986 for the murder of Ronda Morrison, an eighteen-year old white woman. He was treated unfairly because he was targeted, the victim of false testimonies, convicted of a life sentence by an all-white jury, and then this sentence was changed to the death sentence by judicial override.  This short book emphasizes the power of mercy and redemption and how simple interventions based on perseverance can lead to justice and goodness and change lives.

The K-12 educational experience of Bryan Stevenson gave me a different perspective of my own experiences. I was educated in the Paterson Public Schools from 1952-1964. I went to overcrowded schools, we were attacked by black teenagers from the other side of the real estate dividing line, lacked a college preparatory experience even though I was in the Academic program, and skipped two years graduating at age 16. Bryan Stevenson’s experience was similar and yet opposite. Although he went to school a decade later, his mother and grandmother were anxious every day about his experiences in an integrated school. Both of our mothers and grandparents were influential in teaching us to read (newspapers and encyclopedias) and we were both the first in our families to attend and graduate from college.

The second perspective I gained from this book was first introduced to me in Race Matters by Cornell West. I read this book in the 1990s and the narrative demonstrated by African Americans through all the years of segregation, insecurity, and prejudice is one of love, hope, and a desire for acceptance. During the current national dialogue of racial inequality and social injustice, I think back to my first years as a teacher at Martin Luther High School in Maspeth, Queens. This was the year of the strike by teachers in the New York Public Schools and the year that neighborhood schools ended and busing to integrated schools began. As a new teacher, I was instructed to start an African American History course, even though college courses in this field were rare and not part of my education. As a result, I learned with my students, enrollment increased to multiple sections, and my students taught me about their experiences in East New York, (and other communities), threats against them on public transportation, and the difficulty in finding work. I also learned about the experiences of their parents in the workforce at a time when the Bakke decision by the Supreme Court challenged the validity of minority quotas.

The third perspective, the one that motivated me to write this book review, was the role and influence of the church and the driving values that motivated the life work and decisions of Bryan Stevenson.  I discovered in this narrative the importance of social and emotional learning, that solutions are always a process rather than an answer, and the importance of teachers in educating students.

It is important for teachers to understand the narrative of fear.  This is evident in the restrictions of the plantation, denial of literacy, and Jim Crow segregation.  It is also evident in the classification of drug addicts and users as criminals instead of individuals with a sickness or mental health condition. Fear is a powerful force in the human condition. We are taught to fear the consequences of breaking laws and rules as well as fearing failure.

It is equally important for teachers to teach and be a voice of hope and help. The social studies teachers I am privileged to know want to make a positive difference in the lives of their students. This is why civic education and historical context is important to them because the context supports equality, freedom, respect, justice, respect, and human rights. These are the threads that weave every day in the lessons of ancient societies, the Enlightenment, totalitarian rulers, colonial America, abolition, suffrage, Reconstruction, the New Deal, Fair Deal, Great Society, and the American Dream.

The impressive personal story of Bryan Stevenson is one of notable accomplishments but the difference he has been able to make in the lives of people through the Equal Justice Initiative is very similar to the impactful stories of teachers.  Although our calling is to teach social studies, we are also teachers of life skills, the extraordinary lessons of handling crises, and how to persevere through the frustrations of declining test scores and disappointments. Teachers are always modeling resilience, perseverance, and help.

Another lesson that was reinforced for me through this book was the concept of leadership. Leadership in the classroom is demonstrated by getting our students to support common goals of listening to others, searching for the truth, asking questions, doing our best, and supporting each other.  Bryan Stevenson also includes speaking out for what is right!  This includes making our classrooms and schools free from fear and anger, free from complacency and ignorance, and places where students feel comfortable to ask questions, learn different perspectives, and respect the competing ideas that are inherent in a democracy.

There are many lessons throughout this book and they will speak to each person in a different way. Regarding civic engagement, it is important to follow the calling in one’s heart in addition to their cognitive knowledge of what needs to be changed. It also means to think small when there are big problems. Bryan Stevenson lives in a state with a very high poverty rate and a record of harsh punishments against people. The lesson I came away with is to make a difference where I can, even if it is in the lives of just a few. For your students, let them know that they are witnesses to everything they see – bullying, sexism, injustice, inequality, favoritism, patronizing, cheating, lying, exaggerating, complacency, etc.

The book takes only a few hours to read but the messages in the book will last a long time!

Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941, by Dr. Stephen Kotkin, Princeton University

Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941 By Dr. Stephen Kotkin, Princeton University

Application to European and World History by Hank Bitten

The opening sentence, the thesis statement, by Dr. Kotkin is capitalized: “JOSIF STALIN WAS A HUMAN BEING.” This is supported by the evidence that he carried documents wrapped in newspapers, was an avid reader with a personal library of more than 20,000 books, and a man who enjoyed his tobacco from Herzegovina. Throughout the book there are the details of the floor plans of his apartments and hunting lodge, passion for his 1933 Packard Twelve luxury car and relationships with his mother, two wives, and children.

1933 American-made Packard Twelve

This is a fascinating read about Stalin, the ‘seemingly humane man’ and totalitarian ruler, his handling of the failures in agriculture and limited successes in manufacturing, propaganda and party purges, solidification of Party power, perspectives on capitalism, fascism, socialism, and communism, and the threats the U.S.S.R. faced from Germany, Japan, the long civil war in China, and even the small independent state of Poland. As a teacher of U.S., European, and World History, I likely spent too much time on the impact of the Great Depression and the rise of dictatorships than on the global perspective of the new Soviet empire and Japan’s vision in the Far East. The advantage of Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941 is that it provides teachers with examples for decision-making lessons in every year from the first Five Year Plan until the evening of Operation Barbarossa.

The eloquently phrased statement below by Dr. Kotkin is an argument for high school students to analyze and debate. History is about thinking and students need to investigate sources, determine their reliability, and develop their own thesis statement.

“A human being, a Communist and revolutionary a dictator encircled by enemies in a dictatorship circled by enemies, a fearsome contriver of class warfare, an embodiment of the global Communist cause and the Eurasia multinational state, a ferocious champion of Russia’s revival, Stalin did what acclaimed leaders do: he articulated and drove toward a consistent goal, in his case a powerful state backed by a unified society that eradicated capitalism and built industrial socialism. “Murderous” and “mendacious” do not begin to describe the person readers will encounter in this volume.  At the same time, Stalin galvanized millions.  His colossal authority was rooted in a dedicated faction, which he forged, a formidable apparatus which he built, and Marxist-Leninist ideology, which he helped synthesize.  But his power was magnified many times over by ordinary people, who projected onto him their soaring ambitions for justice, peace, and abundance, as well as national greatness.  Dictators who amass great power often retreat into pet pursuits, expounding intermittingly about their obsessions, paralyzing the state.  But Stalin’s fixation was a socialist great power.  In the years 1929-36, covered in part III, he would build that socialist great power with a first-class military.  Stalin was a myth, but he proved equal to the myth.” (p. 8)

It is difficult to find humor in a book about a leader responsible for killing (and starving) millions of people but Dr. Kotkin finds the right time to tell us about the goodwill tour of Harpo Marx.  In the middle of a counterrevolutionary terrorist plot against Stalin, a possible war with Japan, and FDR trying to save American capitalism from default. Harpo Marx (an American comedian) while interacting with a Soviet family in the audience has 300 table knives cascade from his magical sleeves! (p.145)

The lessons for teachers and students are enriched by the details in this book. For example, Dr. Kotkin’s analysis of the failures of the collective farms in the first four years of the First Five Year Plan provide factual data for teachers and resources for developing engaging decision-making activities for students.

In 1929, the USSR had only 6 million out of 60 million workers employed, an unemployment rate of about 90%! Livestock and grain prices crashed as did the U.S. stock market with a 25% decline in four days of October. But in the USSR, there was a surprise harvest of 13.5 million tons. This led to forced collectivization of 80% of the private farms and the deportation of kulaks as Stalin understood the importance for agricultural security in an insecure state. Food was essential to the industrialization of the Soviet Union and for the police, army, and ordinary people. By contrast, a Soviet worker needed to labor for sixty-two hours to purchase a loaf of bread, versus seventeen minutes for an American. (p.544)

“But the dictator himself would turn out to be the grand saboteur, leading the country and his own regime into catastrophe in 1931-33, despite the intense zeal for building a new world.  Rumblings within the party would surface, demanding Stalin’s removal.” (pp. 70-71)

Decision Making Activity:

Should the USSR focus on agricultural reforms before starting a program of industrial reforms? (1929-1934)

The decisions facing Stalin had to be overwhelming:

  • His government faced increasing debt
  • There was no organized educational system to assimilate the diverse population
  • He needed to increase agricultural productivity
  • The Communist Party was divided between followers of Trotsky and Stalin
  • The military did not have any airplane or pilots
  • Peasants were quitting the collectives by the hundreds of thousands in search of food with millions facing starvation.  
  • There were violent protests against local officials as one-third of the livestock perished and inflation soared.
  • Cholera epidemics killed about one-half million and the catastrophe in the Ukraine resulted in 3.5 million deaths, 10% of the population.

“Collectivization involved the arrest, execution, internal deportation, or incarceration of 4 to 5 million peasants, the effective enslavement of another 100 million; and the loss of tens of millions of head of livestock.” (p.131)

Decision Making Activity:

With military expansion in Japan and Germany, civil war in China, and the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, should Stalin and the USSR focus on investment in military technology and building an army?

The research of Dr. Kotkin offers teachers a treasure of statistical data and insights into these critical years of Stalin’s survival. In 1931, “Japan had 250,000 troops (quarter of a million) in the Soviet Far East and Stalin had 100,000 with no fleet, storage facility or air force.  At best they could transport troops on five trains a day.” (p.84). Without exports and with severe budget cuts, the USSR manufactured 2,600 tanks by the end of 1932. This was possible because Stalin secretly increased the budget for military spending from 845 rubles to 2.2 million.

The construction of the White Sea-Baltic Canal (1933) was a significant investment for exporting minerals and increasing state revenue. Stalin’s infrastructure projects illustrate his understanding of the importance of industrialization. Unfortunately, the White-Sea Baltic Canal was less than fifteen feet deep in most places, limiting use to rivercraft. Stalin was said to have been disappointed finding it ‘shallow and narrow.’”  In 1937, Stalin celebrated the opening of the Moscow – Volga River canal with a flotilla of forty-four ships and boasting that Moscow was linked to five seas. (White, Black, Baltic, Caspian, and Azov). Sadly, it was built with Gulag prisoners and according to Professor Kotkin, 20,000 perished. (p.404)   Stalin also started The Great Fergana Canal (1939) and the Moscow subway system.

The White Sea-Baltic canal system

The personal accounts from diaries and interviews is a reason for teachers to read this book. For example, Stalin’s wife, Nadya, was diagnosed with angina and a defective heart valve. Although Dr. Kotkin notes that Stalin was not a playboy, as was Mussolini, Stalin’s flirtation with a 34-year-old actress after the November 7 Revolution Day parade pushed Nadya over the edge. Her body was found in a pool of blood in her room on the morning of November 9 by Karolina Til, the governess of young Svetlana, Vasily, and Artyom. The cause of death was reported as appendicitis, although it was a suicide.  In the middle of this personal tragedy, 9-year-old Svetlana wrote:

“Hello, my Dear Daddy.” I received your letter and I am happy that you allowed me to stay here and wait for you….When you come, you will not recognize me. I got really tanned. Every night I hear the howling of the coyotes.  I wait for you in Sochi. I kiss you.”  Your Setanka.” (p.135)

Another example of the ‘seemingly human qualities’ of Josif Stalin is a description of an evening birthday celebration for Maria Svanidze, governess, Svetlana said she wanted to ride on the new Moscow metro and Stalin and the family walked on the newly opened subway.  It was dark.

Moscow’s subway system

“Stalin ended up surrounded by well-wishers.  Bodyguards and police had to bring order.  The crowd smashed an enormous metal lamp.  Vasily was scared for his life. Svetlana was so frightened, she stayed in the train car. We ‘were intimidated by the uninhibited ecstasy of the crowd,’ Svanidze wrote. “Josif was merry.” (p.234)

By 1933, Stalin’s fortunes were changing for the better. This is why history is often unpredictable. The collectivized fall harvests were good and the unbalanced investments of the first Five-Year Plan finally produced results.  Socialism (anti-capitalism) was victorious in the countryside as well as in the city. The USSR joined the League of Nations, Harpo Marx toured the USSR, and the United States sent Ambassador William C. Bullitt to Moscow.

Decision Making Activity:

Did the United States and other countries extend diplomatic recognition to Stalin and the USSR prematurely?

Although Stalin refused to pay (or negotiate) the debt of 8 billion rubles owed to the United States since the end of World War I, he announced debt forgiveness of 10 million gold rubles to Mongolia on January 1, 1934, about 45 days after President Roosevelt agreed to formal recognition. (p.196) In 1983, the USSR repaid its debt to the United States.

The anti-terror law to protect the security of the Soviet Union led to the arrests of 6,500 people following the death of Kirov, a member of the politburo.  Gulag camps and colonies together held around 1.2 million forced laborers, while exiled “kulaks” in “special settlements” numbered around 900,000.  But the state media was able to boast that there were less murders in all of Soviet Union than in Chicago (p.286) For the two years 1937 and 1938, the NKVD would report 1,575,259 arrests, 87 percent of them for political offenses, and 681,692 executions.” (The number is closer to 830,000 since many more died during interrogation or transit.) (p.305)

Decision Making Activity:

Did Stalin have a reason to fear for his power or did he desire the personal power of a despot?

First, the economy between 1934-36 was relatively good as the Soviet Union escaped the tremendous debts of other countries during the Great Depression because of its limited exposure to global trade, a planned economy, and the famine ended.  Stalin was suspicious of the imperialists in Britain and France, feared they would establish an anti-Soviet coalition, and attack through Eastern Europe. He needed to isolate or eliminate potential threats in the military and friends of Trotsky whose publications presented Stalin as a counter-revolutionist and one who betrayed the teachings of Marx. The Soviet empire (USSR) is a large country and assassinations are difficult to prevent.

The influence of Trotsky continued for more than a decade after his exile. Trotsky headed the Red Army until 1925 and everyone worked with him. In 1936, the NKVD arrested 212 Trotyskyites in the military, including 32 officers. (p.350)  “After a decree had rescinded Trotsky’s Soviet citizenship, he had written a spirited open letter to the central executive committee of the Soviet…asserting that ‘Stalin has led us to a cul-de-sac….It is necessary, at last, to carry out Lenin’s last insistent advice: remove Stalin.” (p.372) Who could Stalin trust?

In the Middle of the Thirties the World Changed

Dr. Kotkin offers a detailed analysis of how these civil wars impacted the geopolitical balance of the new class of world leaders in Britain, France, and Germany along with the poor military record of Mussolini in Ethiopia.  The Spanish and Chinese civil wars in the east and west presented challenges and opportunities for Stalin. Stalin sent 450 pilots and 297 planes, 300 cannons, 82 tanks, 400 vehicles and arms and ammunition. Stalin is the leader of the politburo but none of his top leaders had a university education.

Although these two conflicts are different, they are caused by extreme poverty and the failure of government to solve the social and economic problems. They also involved foreign interference, although in the Chinese civil war, Japan occupied significant areas of the country. Although communism was a political presence in both civil wars, it did not follow the revolutionary reforms of Lenin or Stalin. The situation in Spain likely clarified Stalin’s world view regarding his fear of conspiracies from within, the consequences of a long conflict, and the complexities of revolutionary movements.

An example of scholarship I found useful is the removal of Spain’s gold reserves, estimated at $783 million, dating back to the Aztecs and Incas. (p.343) A significant portion of this money flowed to Moscow financing the costs of new armaments. A second example is the tragic record of genocide resulting in the execution of more than 2,000 prisoners in Madrid’s jails. The human rights abuses involved the evacuation of several thousand innocent people. I was not aware of this organized attempt by Spanish communists and their Soviet advisors. (p.350) but important to classroom instruction.

The madness continued “On April 26, 1937, the German Condor Legion, assisted by Italian aircraft, attacked Guernica, the ancient capital of the Basques, at the behest of the Nationalists, aiming to sow terror in the Republic’s rear.  The attack came on a Monday, market day.  Not only was the civilian population of some 5,000 to 7,000 (including refugees) carpet-bombed, but as they tried to escape, they were strafed with machine guns mounted on Heinkel He-51s.  Some one hundred and fifty were killed.” (p.407)

The Basques surrendered.   Every effort was taken to keep Soviet involvement from the people, although Trotsky was able to influence. “He sent a telegram from Mexico to the central executive committee of the Soviet, formally the highest organ of the state, declaring that ‘Stalin’s policies are leading to a crushing defeat, both internally and externally. The only salvation is a turn in the direction of Soviet democracy, beginning with a public review of the last trials.  I offer my full support in this endeavor.” (p.434)

Kristallnacht (November 9-10, 1938) is only 18 months into the future.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso, 1937

Some 10,000 miles away in China, the USSR is confronted with the Nanking Massacre, invasion of Mongolia, and continuing fighting between Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong. But in 1936, there was an attempted coup in Tokyo. There was much confusion regarding who in the military was behind this failed attempt because it was clearly anti-capitalist but according to Richard Sorge, the Soviet intelligence officer in the German embassy in Tokyo, it was not connected to any communist or socialist organizations.  Stephen Kotkin provides substantial research on the work and missteps of Richard Sorge providing insights into how Soviet intelligence worked during the Stalin years, especially in Berlin and Tokyo. For example, Sorge photographed the full text of a secret document and sent it to a Soviet courier in Shanghai who eventually got it to Moscow stating that “should either Germany or Japan become the object of an unprovoked attack by the USSR,” each “obliges itself to take no measures that would tend to ease the situation in the USSR.” (p.356)

The Capture of Chiang Kai-shek

Stalin in the middle of his “House of Horrors” and the purges of 1937-38 discovered that history would test him as a diplomat, military strategist, and intelligence gatherer even though he had no experience in these areas. One of his first tests came to him on a cold December morning with the capture of Chiang Kai-shek, age 49, in central China. This was a turning point.

“At dawn on December 12, (1937) his scheduled day of departure, a 200- man contingent of Zhang’s personal guard stormed the walled compound.  A gun battle killed many of Chiang’s bodyguards.  He heard the shots, was told the attackers wore fur caps (the headgear of the Manchurian troops), crawled out a window scaled the compound’s high wall, and ran along a dry moat up a barren hill, accompanied by one bodyguard and one aide.  He slipped and fell, losing his false teeth and injuring his back, and sought refuge in a cave on the snow-covered mountain. The next morning, the leader of China-shivering, toothless, barefoot, a robe over his nightshirt-was captured.” (p.360)

The detailed and descriptive connections that teachers love to share with their students, especially Zhang Xueliang’s relationship with Edda Ciano, Mussolini’s daughter and the wife of the Italian minister to China, make the story of history very realistic and relevant!

Decision Making Activity:

Should Stalin support Chiang Kai-shek or order him killed based on Shanghai Massacre in 1927 with the execution of thousands of communists?

If Chiang Kai-shek is killed, will Japan extend its presence in China?

If Chiang Kai-skek is released, will he defeat Mao Zedong, someone Stalin considered influenced by Trotsky?

In the middle of this turning point situation and the continuing fighting in Spain, Stalin’s House of Horrors executed 90 percent of his top military officers in the purges of 1937-38, about 144,000. “Throughout 1937 and 1938, there were on average nearly 2,200 arrests and more than 1,000 executions per day.” (p.347) “The terror’s scale would become crushing.  More than 1 million prisoners were conveyed by overloaded rail transport in 1938 alone.” (p.438)

“Violence against the population was a hallmark of the Soviet state nearly from its inception, of course, and had reached its apogee in the collectivization-dekulakization…They would account for 1.1 million of the 1.58 million arrests in 1937-38, and 634,000 or the 682,000 executions.” (p.448). The news of Hitler’s territorial acquisition of Austria (March 12, 1938) and annexation of the Sudetenland (September 30, 1938) will occur within a few weeks and months.

For teachers looking for an inquiry or research-based lesson on Stalin’s purges, consider this statement by Dr. Kotkin: “World history had never before seen such carnage by a regime against itself, as well as its own people-not in the French Revolution, not under Italian fascism or Nazism.” (p. 488) The madness was similar to the spread of a virus with one arrest infecting others. It only required an executive order (or consider it a ‘prescription’) to cure the infection of suspicion.

On the Eve of Destruction

By 1938, Stalin had 11 years of experience as the absolute leader of the Soviet government. During these 11 years he had changed the domestic policy of the Soviet Union. In 1939, Time Magazine honored him as Man of the Year for his accomplishments. The issue characterized Stalin as a man of peace by comparing him to Mussolini, Hitler, and Roosevelt. He was also Man of the Year in 1943. Your students will find this interesting!

Time Magazine’s Man of the Year issue for 1939

This is the year Stalin celebrated his 60th birthday (Dec. 18, 1878) and it is also the time when the world changed.  Stalin would begin a journey where he lacked experience and because he arrested and executed 90% of his top military leaders resulting in no one to go to for diplomatic or military advice. Stalin was left with Peter the Great and the realpolitik of Bismarck for the play book on how to handle Mussolini, Hitler, and Chamberlain, Churchill, and Roosevelt.

“Germany’s mobilization was so sudden, ordered by the Fuhrer at 7:00 p.m. on March 10, 1938…Events moved very rapidly.  On March 12, a different Habsburg successor state vanished when the Wehrmacht, unopposed, seized Austria, a country of 7 million predominantly German speakers.  It was the first time since the Great War that a German army had crossed the state frontier for purposes of conquest, and, in and of itself, it constituted an event of perhaps greater import than the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which helped spark the Great War mobilizations of 1914.” (pp.558-559)

The Soviet Union had a border on the west of almost 2,000 miles and a 2,600-mile border in the east with China. The Soviet Union had an inefficient transcontinental railroad, a small air force, an army that did not understand the Russian language, 6,000 nautical miles of coastline, seaports that were easily blocked by mines or ice, and a small navy! Stalin understood the fate of the Soviet Union as Japan had 300,000 forces in Manchukuo and 1,000,000 in northern China and controlled Peking, Tientsin, and Shanghai in less time than it took me to write this review! (p. 457)

The brilliance of this book is in the details and interesting personal stories. In the context of writing about Stalin’s introduction to foreign policy, Dr. Kotkin describes the life of Benito Mussolini in vivid detail with comparisons to Stalin and Hitler.

“On a typical day in 1938, spent an hour or two every afternoon in the downstairs private apartment in the Palazzo Venezia of Claretta Petacci, whom he called little Walewska, after Napoleon’s mistress.  The duce would have sex, nap, listen to music on the radio, eat some fruit, reminisce about his wild youth, complain about all the women vying for his attention (including his wife), and have Walewska dress him. Before and after his daily trysts…the duce would call Claretta a dozen times to report his travails and his ulcer.” (p.525) 

“Stalin’s world was nothing like the virile Italian’s.  Women in his life remained very few. He still did not keep a harem, despite ample opportunities…..If Stalin had a mistress, she may have been a Georgian aviator, Rusudan Pachkoriya, a beauty some twenty years his junior, whom he observed at an exhibition at Tushino airfield.” (p.525)

Decision Making Activity:

Faced with these rapidly changing events as a result of the decisions of Japan and Germany, what should Stalin do?

  1. Seek an alliance with another state?
  2. Change the budget priorities from rebuilding the infrastructure of the Soviet Union to military spending?
  3. Begin a campaign of disinformation to the Soviet people about the international threats?
  4. Double down on finding Trotsky and have him executed to avoid an internal threat of revolution?
  5. Name a possible successor, should something happen to Stalin.

Throughout the book there are provocative claims that should challenge AP European History students to think: For example: “So that was it: Germany foaming at the mouth with anti-Communism and ant-Slav racism, and now armed to the teeth; Britain cautious and aloof in the face of another continental war; and France even more exposed than Britain, yet deferring to London, and wary of its nominal ally, the USSR.  Stalin was devastating his own country with mass murders and bald-faced mendacities, but the despot faced a genuine security impasse: German aggression and buck-passing by great powers-himself included.” (p.593)

Investigate or Debate:

Stalin passed the supreme test of state leadership in 1939.

Stalin failed the supreme test of state leadership in 1939.

The first argument should investigate the evidence regarding the risks and rewards of selling resources to Hitler and Germany. Did this enable Hitler to become stronger or did it enable the Soviet Union to gain trade revenue to rebuild its military and infrastructure? The lessons of geography, imperialism, alliances, and military preparation from 1914 are complex and difficult for a state leader to master. 

Hitler needed the resources of oil, steel and grain and the Ukraine in the Soviet Union was the treasure. Poland understood Hitler’s motives and knew that an attack on the Soviet Union by Japan would likely extend their short-lived independence.   Dating back to the end of World War I, Polish forces still occupied the western Ukraine along with German troops. If the Blitzkrieg was to take place in six months, Germany needed these troops. Meanwhile, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) desired independence and Pavel Sudoplatov, from the Soviet Union, blew up Yevhen Konovalets, the OUN leader, with a concealed time bomb in a box of chocolates in a Rotterdam restaurant. In two years, he will get to Trotsky. (p.596)

Students should also use the analysis and end notes in this book to determine if Stalin made the right decisions regarding who he trusted.  Could he trust President Roosevelt? Neville Chamberlain, Adolph Hitler? Richard Sorge? Edouard Daladier?  Stalin: Waiting for Hitler. 1929-1941 is a debater’s dream with 160 pages of notes and a Bibliography of almost 50 pages in size 3 font!

The year, 1939 marked the opening of the World’s Fair in New York City with thousands of visitors; it is also the year when the Nazi’s smashed Jewish owned stores, businesses, and synagogues in November 9-10, killing at least 100 innocent Jewish people.  Was Stalin the best person to stop Hitler or did his silence empower him? There is evidence in the book to support both arguments.

These are challenging events for students to grasp and some of the best lessons for historical inquiry and “What If” scenarios. To emphasize the complexities of role-playing history in real time, consider that Lithuania relinquishes the deep-water Baltic port of Memi (Klaipėda) to Hitler’s ultimatum and Romanian businesses negotiate partnerships with Germany providing access to the unlimited oil supplies in the Ploiesti region. (p.613). During these fast-moving events, Stalin promoted Nikita Khrushchev to the politburo (p.605), Alexi Kosygin as commissioner of textile production, and Leonid Brezhnev to party boss in his region. (p.603).

“Khrushchev had to authorize arrests, and, in connection with the onset of ‘mass operations,’ he’d had to submit a list of ‘criminal and kulak elements,’ which in his case carried an expansive 41,305 names; he marked 8,500 of them ‘first category’ (execution). At least 160,000 victims in Moscow and Ukraine, would be arrested under Khrushchev during the terror.” (p.520)

We are now on a countdown of less than six months to Blitzkrieg and two years to Operation Barbarossa.

Historical Claim: “The Fuhrer really be stopped or even deflected?” (p.641)

The arguments below are a sample of the resources in the narrative of Dr. Kotkin’s book.

Hitler’s rearmament starved Germany of resources. This limited Hitler’s ability to fight in a long war and it negatively affected the German people.  Hitler could not risk a war with the Soviet Union if his intention was to dominate western Europe.

Three weeks before the planned attack on Poland, Stalin entered into official talks with Germany on August 11, 1939 and by August 20, an economic agreement was finalized.

Mussolini did not sign the Pact of Steel until August 25, less than one week before the invasion.

France had 110 divisions compared to Germany’s 30, with only 2 considered to be combat ready. (p. 680)

The invasion of Poland was planned for August 25 but Hitler got cold feet after he gave the final order.  Would Hitler risk a world war over Poland, which he could also obtain by negotiation or ultimatum?

Italy also desperately needed resources. Mussolini told Hitler he needed 7 million tons of gasoline, 6 million tons of coal, and 2 million tons of steel.

The history of the world might have taken a different course. For example, one week before the blitzkrieg of Poland, the Soviet air force fired on Hitler’s personal Condor by mistake when it was flying to Moscow with Joachim von Ribbentrop aboard to sign the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. They missed. (See another example on page 10 about Rudolph Hess’ plane crash in Scotland and the failed assassination plot against Adolph Hitler in Munich)

On September 1, 1939 the blitzkrieg began. “The Germans in Poland, by contrast, had lost between 11,000 and 13,000 killed.  At least 70,000 Poles were killed and nearly 700,000 taken prisoner. The atrocities would continue long after the main combat was over.  More than a million Poles would be forced to work as slaves in Germany.” (p.688) The day before Hitler gave the order to double the production of the new long-range ‘wonder bomber”, the Ju88 for use against Britain.

Frozen in Finland

On the afternoon of November 26, 1939, five shells and two grenades were fired on Soviet positions at the border, killing four and wounding nine. “An investigation by the Finns indicated that the shots had emanated from the Soviet side. They were right.  “The Finns maintained that Soviet troops had not been in range of Finnish batteries, so they could not have been killed by Finnish fire, and suggested a mutual frontier troop withdrawal.” (p.722) The Soviets never issued a formal declaration of war. Hitler would now see the strength of the Soviet armor, even though the Finns were still using 20-year-old tanks from World War I. (p.726)

The Winter War of 1940-41 is a significant event in the timeline of World War II. Unfortunately, it is one that most teachers and students overlook because of the fast-moving events between Blitzkrieg and Barbarossa. The Red Army suffered frostbite in the -45-degree weather, guerrilla attacks with flammable liquids stuffed in bottles and ignited by hand-lit wicks (Molotov cocktails), and stuck on the ice of frozen lakes. (p.727) Would the history of the 20th century be different if Stalin defeated Finland in a matter of weeks and Hitler and Mussolini saw the strength of the Soviet military? Would the history of Europe be different if Finland maintained its independence? Students need to investigate what went wrong with the strategy of the Soviet Union to control Finland and the Baltic Sea. Winston Churchill had limited knowledge of Stalin and the Soviet Union when he made the statement below. In fact, he only gained popularity as few months before as a result of Hitler’s Lebensraum. Given this understanding, how accurate is his statement below?

Winston Churchill stated it clearly on January 20, 1940: “The service rendered by Finland to mankind is magnificent.  They have exposed, for all the world to see, the military incapacity of the Red Army and of the Red Air Force.  Many illusions about Soviet Russia have been dispelled in these few fierce weeks of fighting in the Arctic Circle.” (p.740)

“Finland paid a heavy price for the avoidable war.  Nearly 400,000 Finns (mostly small farmers) upward to 12 percent of its population – voluntarily fled the newly annexed Soviet territories for rump Finland, leaving homes and many possessions behind, and denying the NKVD victims to arrest.  Finland suffered at least 26,662 killed and missing, 43,357 wounded, and 847 captured by the Soviets.” (p.748) Finland lost its independence to Nazi Germany.

“Still the Soviets lost an astonishing 131,476 dead and missing; at least 264,908 more were wounded or fell to illness, including the frostbitten, who lost fingers, toes, ears. Total Soviet losses neared 400,000 casualties, out of perhaps 1 million men mobilized – almost 4,000 casualties per day.” (p.748) On March 5, 1940, Stalin approved the execution of 21,857 captured or arrested Polish officers.

Another “What if” situation, similar to the shooting down of the plane taking Ribbentrop to Moscow in August, occurred only two months after the blitzkrieg and during this winter war in Finland when “Georg Elser planted a bomb in one of the columns right behind the podium of the Munich Beer Hall where Hitler was scheduled to speak on November 8, 1939. It was a year-long plot planned by Elser. But fog forced Hitler to travel from Berlin to Munich by a regularly scheduled train.  He began his speech early and left ten minutes before the explosion. Eight were killed and 60 were wounded.” (p.700)

If you enjoy these unexpected stories, Dr. Kotkin offers another bizarre account, involving Rudolph Hess, which took place during the Attack on Britain in 1940.

“On May 13, although details were scarce, he (Stalin) learned of a sensation reported out of Berlin the previous night: Rudolf Hess, deputy to the Fuhrer within the Nazi party, had flown to Britain.  “Late on May 10, a date chosen on astrological grounds, in a daring, skillful maneuver, he piloted a Messerschmitt Bf-110 bomber across the North Sea toward Britain, some 900 miles, and, in the dark, parachuted into Scotland.  His pockets were filled with abundant pills and potions, including opium alkaloids, aspirin, atropine, methamphetamines, barbiturates, caffeine tablets, laxatives, and an elixir from a Tibetan lamasery. He was also carrying a flight map, photos of himself and his son, and the business cards of two German acquaintances, but no identification.  Initially, he gave a false name to the Scottish plowman on whose territory he landed; soon members of the local home Guard appeared (with whisky on their breath).  The British were not expecting Hess; no secure corridor had been set up.  Hess was among the small circle in the know about the firmness of Hitler’s intentions to invade the USSR.” “Hitler stated that Hess had acted without his knowledge, and called him a ‘victim of delusions.’” (pp.866,67)

On the eve of the Battle of Britain and Fall of France, Dr. Kotkin offers a view of the Soviet home front. Stalin, a leader with no military experience, worked aggressively since 1936 to build the largest army in the world. Considering the debt of the Soviet Union during the 1930s, what price did the people pay?

(I apologize that I cannot verify the accuracy of the data below but offer it for the purpose of discussion regarding the changes occurring in the Second Five Year Plan with an emphasis on industrial production.)

Soviet Union GNP, 1928
Soviet Union GNP, 1937

source: (R.W. Davies, Soviet economic development from Lenin to Khrushchev, 40.)

“The Red Army was expanding toward 4 million men (as compared with just 1 million in 1934). Some 11,000 of the 33,000 officers discharged during the terror had been reinstated. Consumer shortages had been worsening since 1938.  At the same time, alcohol production reached 250 million gallons, up from 96.5 million gallons in 1932.  By 1940, the Soviet Union had more shops selling alcohol than selling meat, vegetables, and fruit combined.” (p.781)

Britain, France and the Fate of the Soviet Union

As the war intensified in 1940 with the attack on France, Stalin was forced to reassess what was developing. He knew, or thought he knew, that the Soviet Union would be safe from German invasion for resources as long as Hitler was fighting in western Europe. But the battle in France began on Mother’s Day and ended shortly after Father’s Day. (May 10 – June 25) The French air force was no match for the Luftwaffe and the French had done little regarding the installation of antitank obstacles and bunkers in the Ardennes. (p.766) “The French lost 124,000 killed and 200,000 wounded, while 1.5 million western troops were taken prisoner; German casualties were fewer than 50,000 dead and wounded.” (pp.767)

What did Stalin think?  Stalin depended on the French military and Germany fighting in western Europe. Did Stalin connect the missing pieces of the puzzle regarding the importance of Russian oil and supplies to Germany’s power? Between July 10 and the end of October 1940, Germany bombed Britain. The British lost 915 planes but the Germans lost 1,733 planes, almost double the number. (p.794)

The only silver lining in the storm clouds over western Europe for Stalin was on August 20, 1940. After five years of failed attempts to get Leon Trotsky, including the discharge of 200 bullets into his bedroom on May 27, 1940, Ramon Mercader managed to smash a pick into his head.  Nearly 250,000 watched the funeral possession in Mexico City. For Stalin, the revolution was now complete!

Decision-Making Activity:

Meeting of the politburo, January 1941. Have your students prepare a report to Stalin about the best defensive strategy for the Soviet Union for 1941. The members of the politburo have just received an intelligence report from Richard Sorge in the Germany embassy in Tokyo regarding an expected target date for an attack on the Soviet Union on May 15, 1941.

Here are the facts: (pp.819-830)

  1. The Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact is no longer certain.
  2. The Winter War against Finland was a military disappointment.
  3. Germany controls a significant part of France, including Paris.
  4. It is a risk for Germany to fight a two-front war against Britain and the Soviet Union at the same time.
  5. It is estimated that Germany has 76 divisions in the former Poland and 17 in Romania, with an estimate of 90-100 in western Europe.
  6. The Soviet Union is spending 32 percent of its budget on the military and has the largest army in the world at 5.3 million. Germany spends about 20% of its budget on the military.
  7. Germany and Italy need supplies of oil, steel, and grain.
  8. The USSR promised to ship Germany 2.5 million tons of grain, some from strategic reserves, and 1 million tons of oil by August 1941, in return for machine tools and arms-manufacturing equipment.
  9. The Soviet border from the White Sea to the Black Sea is 2,500 miles and vulnerable to attack at any point.
  10. Franklin Roosevelt will be inaugurated as President of the United States on January 20, 1941 and is committed to supplying Britain with aid as an ‘arsenal for democracy’.
  11. The war in the Balkans began on October 28, 1940 and Italy’s offensive is moving slowly.
  12. The United States broke the Japanese intelligence code, should Stalin explore help from the United States?
  13. The Soviet Union needs to expand the trans-Siberian Railroad.
  14. Stalin does not believe Hitler and the German army are invincible and they can be defeated.
  15. The NKVD captured 66 German spy handlers and 1,596 German agents, including 1,338 in western Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltics.

Here are the Unknown Factors: “Hitler estimated it would take four months to defeat USSR” (p.882).

  1. Would a blitzkrieg attack on German forces along the Soviet frontier deliver a knockout blow?
  2. Will a surprise Soviet attack on Germany move Britain and Germany to negotiate a settlement.
  3. Should the Soviet Union move back 100 miles to draw the Germany army into Soviet territory and they encircle them?
  4. How will Churchill and Britain react to a German attack on the Soviet Union? How will FDR and the United states react?
  5. Are the Germans secretly moving their army on trains from western Europe to the Soviet frontier?
  6. If Germany intervenes in the Balkans will this enable them to invade the Soviet Union?
  7. Is Richard Sorge a double agent that should not be trusted?
  8. What are Hitler’s plans?
  9. Will a Soviet campaign of disinformation be effective?
  10. Will an accidental war break out with an unknown incident at the border?

This is a fascinating book to read and I have decided to leave the creative and carefully researched Conclusion that Stephen Kotkin has written as a surprise. It is perhaps the best ending of a book or documentary that I have read. I cannot wait to read the third volume of the attack on the Soviet Union and the aftermath.

Regarding my opening statement: “The opening sentence, the thesis statement, by Dr. Kotkin is capitalized: “JOSIF STALIN WAS A HUMAN BEING.” Perhaps the argument is correct. Stalin loved his mother, was the father of three children, and witnessed the unfortunate early deaths of his two wives, Kato Svanidze, at age 22 of illness and Nadezhda Alliluyeva, of suicide at age 31. Even though in my reading of this book, I understood Stalin as stoic and emotionally removed from his executive orders leading to the imprisonment and execution of millions, I kept thinking that he lived with feelings, remorse, and personal guilt. I may never know but I can speculate.

Personal Note:

A thousand-page book is not a quick read. My five grandchildren were impressed with the size of the book and why the grandfather would read about a man who did terrible things. I documented my quotations carefully with the intention that teachers might use them as a reference guide should they purchased this book. I am happy to give them to you upon request.

My first course in Russian history was in 1967. It was a wonderful introduction to Russian culture, geography, socialism, communism, and 20th century foreign policy. As a teacher, I read Professor Kotkin’s books and attended several of his lectures, I never had the luxury of taking a second college course.  As a first-year teacher in New York City in 1969, I made arrangements for Alexander Kerensky to speak with my students. Unfortunately, he broke his arm and was hospitalized in April and passed in June 1970. In the 1960s, Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, moved to Long Island and later to Pennington, NJ and Princeton. Although I never had an opportunity to see her, I was mesmerized by her decision to come to the United states so soon after the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1999, I had the pleasure of dinner with Sergei Khrushchev, the son of Nikita Khrushchev.

The NJCSS also advertises the Prakhin International Literary Award on Nazi Holocaust & Stalinist Repression.  Information is on our website, www.njcss.org

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

Review by Georgiena Bobbie Robinson

Context matters. I mean that in terms of the context in which I read. Sometimes, I put a book aside as not relevant, not interesting, or just not the right book at the right time. Currently, my context is the COVID-19 pandemic and my safer-at-home lockdown. For escape, I’ve turned to books, but perhaps oddly, to non-fiction. The more dire the situation, the more tragic the true story, the better I feel. In troubled times, I find solace. In tales of disaster, I discover courage and resilience, pain and
perseverance, hope and victory. Everywhere these books take me, I find context for understanding what we face today and lessons for living through catastrophe. In the early spring of the pandemic, Erik Larson’s The Splendid and the Vile (2020) and
Black Death at the Golden Gate (2019) by David K. Randall were gripping page-turners.

So is The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women (2016) by Kate Moore. Moore took me to the radium-dial factories of Newark and Orange, New Jersey and then to Illinois through a story I had never heard before. During World War I, young women from working-class families found good-paying jobs painting watches and other instruments that glowed in the dark for the military. After the war, the desire for these watches exploded, factories expanded production, and the women recruited their younger sisters and friends to join them at companies such as Radium Luminous Materials Corporation, United States Radium Corporation, and Radium Dial Corporation.

The Radium Girls, as they were called, were excited to be front and center at the radium craze. Discovered in 1898 by Marie and Pierre Curie, radium was rare and one of the most valuable commodities in the world. Two decades later, radium was considered a wonder drug, a cure-all for just about everything. Consumers drank radium potions and swallowed radium pills; the wealthy went to radium clinics and spas. Products from jock straps to mosquito sprays claimed, often falsely, to contain radium. The radium dial factories engaged the girls in an important war effort, painting luminous airplane instruments, gunsights, and ship’s compasses. This was a job for women – some as young as 14 – with excellent fine motor skills. Many earned more than their laborer fathers and brothers. The radium girls enjoyed the female
camaraderie of the factory floor; they bought nice clothes and danced the nights away with eligible young men; they were happy; they glowed.

Quite literally, the women glowed. As they painted, they mastered the technique of dipping the fine camel-haired brushes into the radium paint, then their mouths to wet the brush into an even finer point. Paid by the piece, their goal was to paint the
small dials as precisely and quickly as possible. With every dip, the girls swallowed the radioactive substance. Despite their care not to waste paint, the fine dust covered their hands, their hair and their clothes. When they walked home together at night,
hung their glowing dresses in their closets, and stood in front of a mirror, the girls “fairly shone in the dark,” like “otherworldly angels.”

By 1921, the first of the Radium Girls was sick. Teeth fell out, jaws crumbled, bone cancers grew, women failed to conceive or miscarried. Through the 1920s and 30s, many died painful deaths, some quickly, some slowly. Initially, the girls, their dentists and their doctors made no connection to their work. When the first finally did,
linking their own illnesses with those of friends and co-workers, the companies denied that the paint could be the cause. Radium, after all, was harmless, they testified.

The Radium Girls is the story of the courageous women and a handful of doctors and
lawyers who take on powerful corporations and a legal system determined to thwart them at every turn, calculating that they can outlive the dying women. Company officials lie and cover-up; mayors and chambers of commerce welcome jobs during the Great Depression; neighbors turn on the women and their families; victims of radium poisoning die. The not-yet-dead fight on. Though few of the Radium Girls themselves would benefit, eventually laws were written, saving other lives.

Kate Moore uncovers the lives of these women and makes their heartbreaking story
personal. She shows us that the fight for workers’ rights and lives never ends, but that change is possible. The Radium Girls belong with The Jungle’s meatpackers and the Triangle Shirtwaist women in our history lessons. In our Covid-19 pandemic times, the fight for workers’ lives continues; the Radium Girls light the way.

Radium Girls at work in an Orange, NJ factory.
Ad by United States Radium Corp.

Writing More Women into United States History

Contributors: Shannon Alexander, Julianna Carron, Charles Friedman, Jennifer McCabe, Shannon Mitchell, Josh Schoenbrun, Stephanie Skier, Jasmine Torres, and Alan Singer

I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for Liberty cannot be Equally Strong in the Breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow Creatures of theirs.” – Abigail Adams, 1776

“The origin of all power is in the people, and they have an incontestable right to check the creatures of their own creation.” – Mercy Otis Warren, 1788

If Congress refuse to listen to and grant what women ask, there is but one course left then to pursue. What is there left for women to do but to become the mothers of the future government?” – Victoria Woodhull, 1871

“I do not believe that women are better than men. We have not wrecked railroads, nor corrupted legislature, nor done many unholy things that men have done; but then we must remember that we have not had the chance.” – Jane Addams, 1897

“There will never be complete equality until women themselves help to make the laws and elect the lawmakers.” – Susan B. Anthony, 1897

“The IWW [Industrial Workers of the World] has been accused of pushing women to the front. This is not true. Rather, the women have not been kept in back, and so they have naturally moved to the front.” – Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

 “I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction. Most reforms, most problems are complicated. But to me there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.” – Alice Paul, 1972

2020 marks the centennial of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution ensuring the right of women to vote. As part of our commemoration, Teaching Social Studies will publish material writing more women into United States history. This package contains lesson material on the Seneca Falls convention, the 1912 Lawrence, Massachusetts “Bread and Roses” strike, 1917 food riots in New York City, the campaign for Woman’s suffrage, changing gender roles in the 1920s, the right of women to continue to work while pregnant, and on a number of individual women including Anne Hutchinson, Mercy Otis Warren, Abigail Adams, Sojourner Truth, Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Mary Lease, Alice Paul, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Margaret Sanger, Sally Ride, Michelle Obama, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Aim: What did Anne Hutchinson contribute to American society?

Source: Anne Hutchinson in Massachusetts Bay, the National Park Service

Anne Hutchinson was a Puritan spiritual adviser, mother of 15, and an important participant in a religious controversy that sharply divided the Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1636 to 1638. Hutchinson was part of a religious faction that believed they had received personal revelation about the will of God. Her religious convictions were at odds with the established Puritan clergy in the Boston area who believed knowledge of God’s will came through understanding of the Bible. Hutchinson’s popularity and charisma helped create a theological schism that threatened to destroy the Puritans’ religious community in New England. Because she refused to change her beliefs and stop teaching, she was tried for heresy and convicted. Her punishment was banished from the colony along with many of her supporters. The painting by Edwin Austin Abbey (1900) shows Hutchison defending herself in front of a court in New England in 1638. Questions 1. What is happening in this picture? 2. Who is Anne Hutchinson defending herself against? 3. In your opinion, what do you think Hutchinson is saying to her accusers and judges in this picture?

The Trial of Anne Hutchinson

Instructions: This is the transcript from the trial of Anne Hutchinson. In 1638, she was found guilty of heresy (believing in false gods) and banished from (forced to leave) the Puritan colony in Massachusetts Bay. Read the excerpt of the trial and answer the questions below.

Gov. John Winthrop: Mrs. Hutchinson, you are called here as one of those that have troubled the peace of the commonwealth and the churches here; you are known to be a woman that has had a great share in the promoting of opinions that have caused trouble, and…you have spoken out against our leaders, and you have maintained a meeting and an assembly in your house that has been condemned by our government as a thing not tolerable nor comely in the sight of God nor fitting for your sex, and you have continued doing this, even after we asked you to stop. Therefore, we have thought good to put you on trial and ask you what is happening. If the rumors against you are false, we will dismiss the charges so that you may become a profitable woman here among us, otherwise if you continue to speak your mind, then the court may take such course that you may trouble us no further

Mrs. Anne Hutchinson: I have come when you summoned me but I hear no charges against me.

Gov. John Winthrop: I have told you some already and more I can tell you . . . Why do you lead a Bible study every week upon a set day?

Mrs. Anne Hutchinson: It is lawful for me to do

Gov. John Winthrop: It is lawful for you to lead a Bible study for women, but your meeting is of another sort for there are sometimes men among you.

Mrs. Anne Hutchinson: If men came it is because they chose to be there.

Gov. John Winthrop: But you know it is illegal for a woman to teach a man scripture?

Mrs. Anne Hutchinson: Again, if men chose to come to my meetings it was their own fault. I taught all those who came to me.

Gov. John Winthrop: the sentence of the court you hear is that you are banished from out of our jurisdiction as being a woman not fit for our society, and are to be imprisoned till the court shall send you away.

Mrs. Anne Hutchinson: You have power over my body but the Lord Jesus has power over my body and my soul, and you should assure yourselves this much, if you go on in this course, I will bring a curse upon you and your children, the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it….

Gov. John Winthrop: the sentence of the court is that you are banished from our land as being a woman not fit for our society, and are to be imprisoned till the court sends you away.

Mrs. Anne Hutchinson: I desire to know why I am banished?

Gov. John Winthrop: Say no more, the court knows why and is satisfied.

Questions

1. Who is in charge of asking the questions? Do you think he is important in this society? Why?

2. Why is Anne Hutchinson being banished from society?

3. Why wouldn’t the court explain to Anne why she was being banished when she asked?

4. Why didn’t Anne just deny the charges laid against her?

5. Do you think Anne would have been treated differently if she were a man? Explain.

Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814)

Mercy Otis Warren was born in Massachusetts in 1728. She was a dramatist, historian, and an important political writer during the American Revolution. Because she was a woman and concerned about being taken seriously, any of her works were published using pseudonyms. Mercy Otis Warren wrote poems and plays that attacked British authority in Massachusetts and urged colonists to resist infringements on their rights and liberties. Her home in Plymouth, Massachusetts was a meeting place for the Sons of Liberty before the outbreak of the War for Independence. Her regular correspondence included Abigail Adams, John Adams, and Martha Washington. During the debate over the Constitution, she opposed ratification unless it included a Bill of Right. In 1805, she published one of the earliest histories of the American Revolution.

Questions

  1. How did Warren contribute to the push for American independence?
  2. Where did Warren believe power should reside in a society?
  3. Why is Warren considered “ambivalent” about the new Constitution?

A) Observations on the New Constitution (1788)

“The origin of all power is in the people, and they have an incontestable right to check the creatures of their own creation.”

B) Letter to Catharine Macaulay (1788)

“Our situation is truly delicate & critical. On the one hand we are in need of a strong federal government founded on principles that will support the prosperity & union of the colonies. On the other we have struggled for liberty & made costly sacrifices at her shrine and there are still many among us who revere her name to much to relinquish (beyond a certain medium) the rights of man for the dignity of government.”

Abigail Adams: “Remember the Ladies” (1744-1818)

Background: Abigail Smith was born in Massachusetts in 1744. She never received a formal education, however her mother taught Abigail and her sisters to read and write. She married John Adams in 1764. He would become the first Vice-President and second President of the United States, John Adams. She was also the mother of John Quincy Adams, who became the sixth President.

Abigail Adams is remembered today for the many letters she wrote to her husband while he was in Philadelphia in 1776 during the Continental Congress. John frequently sought the advice of Abigail on many matters, and their letters are filled with intellectual discussions on government and politics. Abigail Adams was also a correspondent with Thomas Jefferson and kept both Adams and Jefferson aware of events at home while they served overseas during and after the American Revolution.

Abigail Adams to John Adams, March 31, 1776 I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for Liberty cannot be Equally Strong in the Breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow Creatures of theirs. Of this I am certain that it is not founded upon that generous and Christian principal of doing to others as we would that others should do unto us. . . . I long to hear that you have declared an independence and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.  That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend. Why then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the Lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity. Men of Sense in all Ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your Sex. Regard us then as Beings placed by providence under your protection and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness. 

Abigail Adams as a young woman

Questions

1. What events were taking place when Abigail Adams wrote this letter?

2. Why does Abigail Adams question the “passion for Liberty” of the men assembled in Philadelphia?

3. What does she believe is the natural tendency of men?

4. What does she want the new Code of Laws to do?

5. In your opinion, what is the historical significance of this letter?

Declaration of Sentiments, Seneca Falls, NY, July 19-20, 1848

Background: The Declaration of Sentiments were written demands made by attendees of the July 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. The final document was signed by 68 women and 32 men. Prominent signees included Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amy Post, and Frederick Douglass.

  A. When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.  

B. We hold these truths to be self-evident: that 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; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness.  

C. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer. while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.   

D. The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

 
Questions

  1.  What does the second passage [B] of the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments declare?
  2. What document is it modeled on?
  3. According to section D, why do the signers of the Declaration feel justified in their campaign?
  4. If you had participated in this convention, what specific rights would you have wanted to guarantee?
  5. In your opinion, why did the authors of the Declaration of Sentiments model it on an early document from United States history?
  6. In your opinion, have the problems noted in these passages been resolved in the United States? Explain.    

Contemporary Press Reactions to the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments

The male dominated press did not take warmly to the Seneca Falls woman’s rights convention and the Declaration of Sentiments. Read the articles, select one, and write a letter-to-the-editor in response.

Public Ledger and Daily Transcript (Philadelphia): Our Philadelphia ladies not only possess beauty, but they are celebrated for discretion, modesty, and unfeigned diffidence, as well as, wit, vivacity, and good nature. Who ever heard of a Philadelphia lady setting up for a reformer, or standing out for woman’s rights, or assisting to man the election grounds, raise a regiment, command a legion, or address a jury? Our ladies glow with a higher ambition. They soar to rule the hearts of their worshipers, and secure obedience by the scepter of affection. The tenure of their power is a law of nature, not a law of man, and hence they fear no insurrection, and never experience the shock of a revolution in their dominions . . . Women have enough influence over human affairs without being politicians. Is not everything managed by female influence? Mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sweethearts manage everything. Men have nothing to do but to listen and obey to the “of course, my dear, you will, and of course, my dear, you won’t.” Their rule is absolute; their power unbounded. Under such a system men have no claim to rights, especially “equal rights.” A woman is nobody. A wife is everything. A pretty girl is equal to ten thousand men, and a mother is, next to God, all powerful . . . The ladies of Philadelphia, therefore, under the influence of most serious “sober second thoughts,” are resolved to maintain their rights as Wives, Belles, Virgins, and Mothers, and not as Women.   Rochester (NY) Democrat: This has been a remarkable Convention. It was composed of those holding to some one of the various isms of the day, and some, we should think, who embraced them all. The only practical good proposed —the adoption of measures for the relief and amelioration of the condition of indigent, industrious, laboring females — was almost scouted by the leading ones composing the meeting. The great effort seemed to be to bring out some new, impracticable, absurd, and ridiculous proposition, and the greater its absurdity the better. In short, it was a regular emeute [riot] of a congregation of females gathered from various quarters, who seem to be really in earnest in their aim at revolution, and who evince entire confidence that “the day of their deliverance is at hand.” Verily, this is a progressive era!

Mechanics (Albany, NY): Now, it requires no argument to prove that this is all wrong. Every true hearted female will instantly feel that this is unwomanly, and that to be practically carried out, the males must change their position in society to the same extent in an opposite direction, in order to enable them to discharge an equal share of the domestic duties which now appertain to females, and which must be neglected, to a great extent, if women are allowed to exercise all the “rights” that are claimed by these Convention-holders. Society would have to be radically remodelled in order to accommodate itself to so great a change in the most vital part of the compact of the social relations of life; and the order of things established at the creation of mankind, and continued six thousand years, would be completely broken up. The organic laws of our country, and of each State, would have to be licked into new shape, in order to admit of the introduction of the vast change that is contemplated . . . [T]his change is impractical, uncalled for, and unnecessary. If effected, it would set the world by the ears, make “confusion worse confounded,” demoralize and degrade from their high sphere and noble destiny, women of all respectable and useful classes, and prove a monstrous injury to all mankind.   Telegraph (Worchester, MA): A female Convention has just been held at Seneca Falls, N.Y., at which was adopted a “declaration of rights,” setting forth, among other things, that “all men and women are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” The list of grievances which the Amazons exhibit, concludes by expressing a determination to insist that women shall have “immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.” It is stated that they design, in spite of all misrepresentations and ridicule, to employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and National Legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and press in their behalf. This is bolting with a vengeance.

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)

Sojourner Truth

Isabella Bomfree was born into slavery in upstate New York. In 1826, she escaped slavery with her infant daughter but had to fight her former owner in the courts to free her son. In 1828, she became the first black woman to win a case like this against a white man. In 1843 Isabella Bomfree changed her name to Sojourner Truth and became an itinerant preacher and political activist. During the Civil War, Truth helped to recruit black men to join the Union Army. Truth was a nationally-known anti-slavery speaker. Her most famous speech was Ain’t I a Woman? In this speech she argued for equal human rights for all women and for blacks. Truth exclaimed, “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody helps me any best place. And ain’t I a woman?” Sojourner Truth was nearly 6 feet tall, and some people accused her of not really being a woman. When someone publicly claimed this in front of her, she paused her speech, glared at the man, and opened her blouse revealing her breasts.

Questions

1. Where was Isabella Bomfree born?

2. How did she use the law to challenge slavery?

3. Why do you think Isabella Bomfree changed her name to Sojourner Truth?

4. In your opinion, why is her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech considered one of the most powerful in United States history?

“Ain’t I a Woman” (edited)

In May 1851, Sojourner Truth attended the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. She delivered a speech where she demanded full and equal human rights for women and enslaved Africans. The text of the speech was written down and later published by Frances Gage, who organized the convention. In the published version of the speech Sojourner Truth referred to herself using a word that is not acceptable to use. This is an edited version of the speech.

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that between the Negroes [Blacks] of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what do they call it? [Intellect, someone whispers.] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or Negro’s rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, because Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together . . . ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

 “Women Suffrage in New Jersey”: An address to the New Jersey State legislature by Lucy Stone (1867)

Sources: http://www.njwomenshistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Woman-Suffrage.pdf ; https://www.biography.com/people/lucy-stone-9495976

Lucy Stone (1818-1893) dedicated her life to improving the rights of American women. She graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1847, worked with the American Anti-Slavery Society, convened the first national Women’s Rights Convention in 1850, and in 1868 organized and was elected president of the State Woman’s Suffrage Association of New Jersey. This excerpt is from a speech she gave to the New Jersey State Legislature demanding the right of women to vote.

Lucy Stone

Questions

  1. What arguments did Lucy Stone use when she demanded that New Jersey grant women the right to vote?
  2. According to Stone, why was the right to vote the fundamental right of citizens?

A. Women ask you to submit to the people of New Jersey amendments to the Constitution of the State, striking out respectively the words “white” and “male” from Article 2, Section 1, thus enfranchising the women and the colored men, who jointly constitute a majority of our adult citizens. You will thereby establish a republican form of government.

B. Gentlemen will see it is no new claim that women are making. They only ask for the practical application of admitted, self-evident truths. If “all political power is inherent in the people,” why have women, who are more than half the entire population of this State, no political existence? Is it because they are not people? Only a madman would say of a congregation of Negroes, or of women, that there were no people there. They are counted in the census, and also in the ratio of representation of every State, to increase the political power of white men. Women are even held to be citizens without the full rights of citizenship, but to bear the burden of “taxation without representation,” which is “tyranny.”

C. “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Not of the governed property-holders, nor of the governed white men, nor of the governed married men, nor of the governed fighting men; but of the governed. Sad to say, this principle, so beautiful in theory, has never been fully applied in practice!

D. What is Suffrage? It is the prescribed method whereby, at a certain time and place, the will of the citizen is registered. It is the form in which the popular assent or dissent is indicated, in reference to principles, measures and men. The essence of suffrage is rational choice. It follows, therefore, under our theory of government, that every individual capable of independent rational choice is rightfully entitled to vote.

D. The great majority of women are more intelligent, better educated, and far more moral than multitudes of men whose right to vote no man questions. Women are loyal and patriotic. During the late war, many a widow not only yielded all her sons to the cause of freedom, but strengthened their failing courage when the last good-bye was said, and kept them in the field by words of lofty cheer and the hope of a country really free.

E. We are asked in triumph: “What good would it do women and negroes to vote”? We answer: “What good does it do white men to vote? Why do you want to vote, gentlemen? Why did the Revolutionary fathers fight seven years for a vote? Why do the English workingmen want to vote? Why do their friends-John Bright and Thomas Hughes and the liberal party-want the suffrage for them?” Women want to vote, just as men do, because it is the only way in which they can be protected in their rights.

Susan B. Anthony Demands the Right to Vote

Susan B. Anthony

Source: http://ecssba.rutgers.edu/docs/sbatrial.html

Susan B. Anthony was born February 15, 1820 in Adams Massachusetts. She was brought up in a Quaker family with long activist traditions. Early in her life she developed a sense of justice and moral zeal. After teaching for fifteen years, she became active in temperance. Because she was a woman, she was not allowed to speak at temperance rallies. This experience, and her acquaintance with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, led her to join the women’s rights movement in 1852. Soon after she dedicated her life to woman suffrage. In 1872 she was arrested in Rochester, New York when she tried to vote in the Presidential election in violation of state law. She argued that she had the right to vote because the 14th amendment said, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” On the final day of the trial, Anthony, who had not previously been permitted to speak, defended her actions.

Questions

1. On what legal grounds did Susan B. Anthony demand the right to vote?

2. Why did Anthony deny the legitimacy of the trial?

3. What other act of defiance is Anthony referring to in passage C?

4. In your opinion, why do some historians consider Anthony’s defiance and this statement to the court among the most important actions in the fight for women’s suffrage and social equality?

United States v. Susan B. Anthony, Rochester New York, 1873

A. But your honor will not deny me this one and only poor privilege of protest against this high-handed outrage upon my citizen’s rights. May it please the Court to remember that since the day of my arrest last November, this is the first time that either myself or any person of my disfranchised class has been allowed a word of defense before judge or jury.

B. All of my prosecutors, from the 8th ward corner grocery politician, who entered the complaint, to the United States Marshal, Commissioner, District Attorney, District Judge, your honor on the bench, not one is my peer, but each and all are my political sovereigns; and had your honor submitted my case to the jury, as was clearly your duty, even then I should have had just cause of protest for not one of those men was my peer; but, native or foreign born, white or black, rich or poor, educated or ignorant, awake or asleep, sober or drunk, each and every man of them was my political superior; hence, in no sense, my peer.

C. Forms of law all made by men, interpreted by men, administered by men, in favor of men, and against women; and hence, your honor’s ordered verdict of guilty, against a United States citizen for the exercise of “that citizen’s right to vote,” simply because that citizen was a woman and not a man. But, yesterday, the same man-made forms of law, declared it a crime punishable with $1,000 fine and six months’ imprisonment, for you, or me, or any of us, to give a cup of cold water, a crust of bread, or a night’s shelter to a panting fugitive as he was tracking his way to Canada.

D. May it please your honor, I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty. All the stock in trade I possess is a $10,000 debt, incurred by publishing my paper—The Revolution—four years ago, the sole object of which was to educate all women to do precisely as I have done, rebel against your man-made, unjust, unconstitutional forms of law, that tax, fine, imprison and hang women, while they deny them the right of representation in the government; and I shall work on with might and main to pay every dollar of that honest debt, but not a penny shall go to this unjust claim. And I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim, that “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”

Mary Lease: The Power of Wall Street Threatens Democracy

Mary Elizabeth Clyens Lease

Mary Elizabeth Clyens Lease (1853-1933)

Source: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAleaseM.htm

Mary Clyens was born in 1853, the daughter of famine era Irish immigrants to the United States. Her father and older brother died fighting for the North in the Civil War. In 1870, Mary Clyens moved to Kansas to teach at a Catholic mission school. She married Charles Lease, a local shop owner and pharmacist, and had four children. Charles Lease’s business was destroyed during the national financial crisis of 1873 and the family moved to Texas. In Texas, Mary E. Lease became involved in politics and was an active supporter of prohibition and women’s suffrage. She joined the Women’s Temperance Union, the Farmers’ Alliance and the Populist Party and obtained a national reputation as an outstanding orator. Between 1890 and 1896 she toured the country making speeches. She is credited with telling Kansas farmers to “raise less corn and more hell.” Some scholars believe Mary E. Lease was the model for the character Dorothy in Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” In 1902, Mary E. Lease divorced her husband and moved to New York City. She joined the Socialist Party, became an editor of a newspaper, and campaigned for Eugene V. Debs when he ran for president of the United States in 1908. She died in Callicoon, New York in 1933.

Vocabulary:

foreclosure – a bank takes over of a property after a borrower has not made payments on a mortgage or loan

monopoly ­– A company that controls an industry, good, or service

loan-shark – a moneylender who charges extremely high rates of interest tariff – a tax on imported goods (goods that are produced in other countries)

“This is a nation of inconsistencies. The Puritans fleeing from oppression became oppressors. We fought England for our liberty and put chains on four million of blacks. We wiped out slavery and our tariff laws and national banks began a system of white wage slavery worse than the first . . . Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street. The great common people of this country are slaves, and monopoly is the master. The West and South are bound and prostrate [defeated] before the manufacturing East. Money rules . . . We want money, land and transportation. We want the abolition of the National Banks, and we want the power to make loans direct from the government. We want the foreclosure system wiped out… We will stand by our homes and stay by our fireside by force if necessary, and we will not pay our debts to the loan-shark companies until the government pays its debts to us .”

Questions:

1. What are 3 examples of “inconsistencies” that Mary Lease lists in her speech?

2. What does Lease mean by “slaves” and “masters” in her 1890 speech?

3. According to Lease, what were the different circumstances of the U.S. regions of West, South, and East?

4. What does Lease mean when she says the U.S. is “no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street”?

5. What economic and policy changes does Mary Elizabeth Lease want?

6. In your opinion, does the power of Wall Street banks threaten democracy? Explain.

Alice Paul: A Woman Who Gave Her Life to Her Cause by Shannon Alexander

Suffragettes protest in front of the White House in Washington DC, February 1917.

Alice Paul’s childhood and religious upbringing strongly influenced her activism. She was born on January 11, 1885 in Moorestown, NJ to William and Tacie Paul. The eldest of four children, Alice spent her childhood at Paulsdale, a 265 acre farm, where she was raised a Hicksite Quaker. Quakers beliefs, such as gender equality and education for women, challenged societal norms at the time. They also believed in making society a better place. Paul Another major influence on Alice was her mother’s involvement in the women’s suffrage movement. Tacie Paul was an active member of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association and regularly brought Alice to meetings.

After graduating at the top of her class at Friends School, a Quaker High School in Moorestown NJ, Alice continued her education at Swarthmore College, a Quaker institution founded by her grandfather. After Swarthmore, she began graduate work at the New York School of Philanthropy and also attended the University of Pennsylvania where she received a M.A in Sociology in 1907. In the years that followed, she studied sociology and economics in England and earned a doctorate in Economics at the University of Pennsylvania and a law degree.

The time that Alice Paul spent in England was a turning point in her political and social life. While working at the Woodbrook Settlement of Social Work, Alice befriended Christabel Pankhurst, daughter of the Emmeline Pankhurst, a leader of the British Suffragist Movement and founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union. The organization’s motto was “Deeds, not words” and it was notorious for breaking the law. The radical ideals of the Pankhurst women inspired Alice and she was transformed into a radical militant suffragette.

Direct Action To Promote Women’s Rights

During the next three years Alice became involved in direct action to promote women’s rights. She and her supporters smashed windows, threw rocks, and participated in hunger strikes, demonstrations and picket lines. She was arrested on several occasions. It was at this time when she also met her “partner in crime,” Lucy Burns; an individual who would be greatly involved in Alice’s work in the United States in the years to come. By 1910, Alice Paul had left England and returned to the United States bringing the radical ideals and philosophies of the English Suffragettes with her. She planned to implement these ideals to help reshape the American Women’s Rights Suffrage movement.

Alice Paul demanded that the United States pass a new constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote. She challenged the N.A.W.S.A., which focused on state campaigns rather than calling for a constitutional amendment and supported President Wilson. She blamed Wilson and his administration for not making women’s suffrage a priority.

In 1911 the American Women’s Suffragist movement moved from advocacy to activism. Alice Paul and Lucy Burns took over the N.A.W.S.A Congressional Congress in Washington D.C. and organized one of the largest parades supporting the right of women to vote. On March 3, 1913, 8,000 women – suffragists, educators, students, mothers, and daughters – marched down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the White House where Woodrow Wilson was prepping for his inauguration. The parade ended in chaos and a riot as police officers turned a blind eye as marchers were mobbed by angry men watching the parade. As a result of the erratic interruption, over 300 women were injured.

In 1913, Alice Paul left the N.A.W.S.A and founded the Congressional Union for Women’s Suffrage, whose sole priority was a constitutional amendment. In 1915, the group was renamed the National Women’s Party. The reorganization of the NWP and the creation of Silent Sentinels marked a new level of struggle. On January 10, 1917 Alice and the Silent Sentinels began their two and a half year picket demonstration outside of the White House. President Wilson was initially amused by the suffragettes. However, his attitude changed after the United States entered the war in 1917. When women continued to picket and referred to him as “Kaiser Wilson,” many were arrested, including Alice Paul, for “obstructing traffic.” They were sent to Occaquan Workhouse, a woman’s prison in Virginia, where they were forced to live in unsanitary cells, brutalized, abused, and generally mistreated.

Hunger Strikes and Prison

While imprisoned, Alice Paul continued to protest for women’s suffrage by partaking in hunger strikes. Prison doctors had to forcibly feed her, sticking tubes down her throat and shoving food into her stomach. Though these procedures were torturous, she never succumbed. Her actions gained her widespread support and other women began to follow in her footsteps. After a 22-day hunger strike, one of the prison doctors was quoted saying about Alice Paul: “She has the spirit of Joan of Arc and it is useless to try to change it. She may die, but she will never give up.”

On November 15, 1917, a date known as the Night of Terror, W.H Whittaker, superintendent of the workhouse and over forty men beat, choked, dragged, and brutalized many of the women prisoners. One of the victims was a 73-year old woman. Once the press released news about the attacks, as well as the hunger strikes and the torturous force-feeding methods, the public became outraged. The women received widespread sympathy from the general public and from politicians, including President Wilson.

In 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified and women gained the right to vote. For the rest of her life, Alice Paul continued to fight for women’s rights both domestically and internationally. In 1923, she announced a campaign for another constitutional amendment, which she called the “Lucretia Mott Amendment” or the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). It would say, “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.” The ERA was first introduced in Congress in 1923, and continued to appear in every session of Congress until in 1972. It was finally passed in 1972, but failed to get ratified by the states.

From the 1920s through the 1950s, Alice Paul traveled across South America and Europe advocating women’s rights. During World War II, she became involved in a Peace Movement which helped give refuge to victims under the Nazi regime. She strongly believed that if women were more involved in World War I, World War II would never have happened. In 1938, she helped establish the World’s Woman Party (WWP) in Geneva Switzerland. The WWP worked closely with the League of Nations to ensure equal rights for men and women.

Upon her return to the United States in the 1950s, Alice campaigned to abolish l sex discrimination. Her efforts were successful, and the sexual discrimination clause (title VII) was added to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Alice Paul never married or had children. Her entire life was devoted to the cause of women’s rights. She died in 1977 at the age of 92 in Moorestown, NJ from heart failure.

In 1917 Food Riots Led By Immigrant Women Swept Through U.S. Cities

By Alan Singer and Jasmine Torres

Source: https://newyorkhistoryblog.org/2018/10/1917-food-riots-led-by-immigrant-women-swept-u-s-cities/

Protestors at New York City Hall (Library of Congress)

In February 1917 the United States still had not entered the Great War in Europe. But the week of February 19-23, 1917, there was a wave of food riots in East Coast United States cities attributed to wartime food shortages, profiteering, and hoarding. The New York Times reported riots in New York City’s the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan and in Boston, Massachusetts, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In Williamsburg and Brownsville, Brooklyn an estimated 3,000 women rioted overturning peddler’s pushcarts and setting them on fire after food prices spiked. On New York City’s Lower East Side an army of women, mostly Jewish, invaded a kosher poultry market and blocked sales the day before the Jewish Sabbath. They protested that the price of chicken had risen in one week from between 20 and 22 cents a pound to between 28 and 32 cents a pound. Pushcarts were overturned on Rivington Street and at a similar protest in the Clermont Park section of the Bronx. Four hundred of the Lower East Side mothers, many carrying babies, then marched on New York City Hall shouting in English and Yiddish, “We want food!” “Give us bread!” “Feed our children!” The Manhattan protests were organized by consumers committees led by the Socialist group Mothers’ Anti-High Price League, which had also organized a successful a boycott on onions and potatoes.

At the City Hall rally, Ida Harris, President of the Mother’s Vigilance Committee, declared: “We do not want to make trouble. We are good Americans and we simply want the Mayor to make the prices go down. If there is a law fixing prices, we want him to enforce it, and if there isn’t we appeal to him to get one. We are starving – our children are starving. But we don’t want any riot. We want to soften the hearts of the millionaires who are getting richer because of the high prices. We are not an organization. We haven’t got any politics. We are just mothers, and we want food for our children. Won’t you give us food?”

After the rally the police arrested Marie Ganz, known in leftwing circles as “Sweet Marie,” when Police Inspector John F. Dwyer claimed he heard her inciting a group of women to continue rioting while she was speaking in Yiddish, a language it is unlikely that Dwyer understood. Ganz was soon released with a suspended sentence. Dwyer, four years later, was implicated in a Congressional investigation of real estate fraud in New York City.

New York City Mayor John Purroy Mitchel, who was away from City Hall during the protests, finally meet with the group’s leaders and then directed city commissioners of Charities, Health and Police to determine whether there were cases of starvation or of illness from insufficient nourishment amongst the city’s working class and poor.

At a public hearing the city’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment unanimously passed a resolution instructing its Corporation Counsel to draw up a bill to be presented to the State Legislature City that would authorize the city to purchase and sell food at cost during emergencies. It also urged Congress to fund an investigation of food shortages and price spikes. Speakers at the hearing in favor of immediate action to address food shortages and price hikes included Lillian D. Wald of the Henry Street Settlement, “Sweet Marie” Ganz, and Rabbi Stephen Wise of Manhattan’s Free Synagogue.

Ganz told the hearing, “We are all of a common people and we would lay down our lives for this country. The people are suffering and ask you to do what you can for them. What you should do is get after the people who have been cornering the food supply.

Rabbi Wise demanded to know if “there is food enough the city or there is not food enough. If there is not food enough here then the city officials should do what England and Germany have done. They should have supplies passed around equally. If there is enough food, the question is: What can be done to control prices?”

Speaking directly to Mayor Mitchel, Rabbi Wise declared: “If an earthquake should happen, you would not hesitate a moment, Mr. Mayor, to go to the Governor or to telephone to the President at Washington if a telephone could be used, or go to General Wood at Governors Island and demand army stores. Of course, that would be an emergency, but this is an emergency also, though, of course, it is not as spectacular an emergency as an earthquake would cause. But the fact remains that you have got to take energetic steps. Let us have an end of this cheap peanut politics.”

In response, the Mayor launched a campaign to have women substitute rice for potatoes while George W. Perkins, the chairman of the city’s Food Committee, personally donated $160,00 for the purchase of 4,000,000 pounds of rice and a carload of Columbia River smelts from the State of Washington. Arrangements were also made with William G. Willcox, President of the New York City Board of Education, to distribute a flyer to every school child encouraging parents to purchase and serve rice as a way of holding down the price of other commodities.

Following the food riots, Congressman Meyer London, a Socialist who represented a Manhattan district, gave an impassioned speech in Congress where he argued: “While Congress is spending millions for armies and navies it should devote a few hours to starving people in New York and elsewhere. You have bread riots, not in Vienna, nor in Berlin, not in Petrograd, but in New York, the richest city of the richest country in the most prosperous period in the history of that country.”

Abraham Cahan, editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, a Socialist and Yiddish language newspaper, reported that they had investigated a number of cases and that families, even with working members, were suffering from hunger.

After speakers at the Boston rally denounced the high cost of food, as many as 800 people, mostly women and children, looted a grocery and provision store in the West End. Police finally suppress the rioters. Philadelphia was under virtual marshal law after a food riot led to the shooting of one man, the trampling to death of an elderly woman, and the arrest of four men and two women. Several hundred women attacked pushcarts and invaded shops.

The United States Attorney for Massachusetts announced the formation of a special Federal Grand Jury to investigate food shortages and price increases. He blamed “local intrastate combinations” that were forcing up prices. New York County District Attorney Edward Swann also began an investigation into reports that potatoes were being warehoused on Long Island while farmers and agents waited for prices to rise.

Another possible source of the probably were coal shortages caused by wartime demand that were disrupting food supply lines. The Bangor & Aroostook Railroad in Maine, that served the country’s chief source for potatoes, reported it had only a five-day supply of coal in stock.

The Times also reported on the formation of “Feed America First” in St. Louis, Missouri. Police officials warned the protest movement might be the result of pro-German propaganda designed to pressure the Wilson administration to embargo food shipments to European combatants. Federal investigators, however, argued that there were no facts supporting this rumor.

Pressure from protestors and the city government pushed New York State Governor Charles S. Whitman to endorse emergency measures to contain food prices. In a public announcement he declared that “There is no doubt in my mind that the situation is the most serious perhaps in the history of this State, and it will grow worse before it grows better. I intend to take any steps that may be necessary to bring relief to the famine-stricken poor in New York City and other communities where there is widespread suffering.” Whitman then called for the immediate passage of the Food and Market bill proposed by a special state legislative committee headed by State Senator Charles W. Wicks. However, by mid-March the original Wicks Committee bill, which would have allocated broad power to the city government to regulate food markets, was dead after facing fierce opposition from farm groups in upstate regions.

A month later everything changed when the United States entered the war. The Socialist Party of America continued its opposition to United States involvement and many of its leaders were imprisoned while the mother’s food campaign receded from public view.

Why did women strikers demand “Bread and Roses”?

Source: https://www.history.com/news/the-strike-that-shook-america-100-years-ago

Massachusetts militiamen with bayonets surround a group of peaceful strikers

Background: In January 1912 a newly enacted Massachusetts law reduced the workweek of women and children from 56 to 54 hours. Mill owners in Lawrence, Massachusetts responded by cutting the wages of these workers by 32 cents a week. While it does not seem like a lot of money now, for workers, whose average pay was $8.76 per week, that meant family members would go hungry. The workers, who were largely immigrant women, went on strike. They were helped by the Industrial Workers of the World and organizers “Big Bill” Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. To break the strike, mill owners hired provocateurs to cause trouble and planted dynamite in an attempt to discredit strikers. Strikers grew so angry that they attacked a streetcar with scabs who were crossing the picket line. Police attacked the strikers, killing one person. The next day a soldier killed another striker.

In February, as conditions in Lawrence grew tenser and more desperate, striking families sent 119 of their children to New York City to live with relatives or strangers who supported their strike. 5,000 people greeted the children at Grand Central Terminal. When a second trainload of children arrived a week later, the children paraded down Fifth Avenue. Because the “children’s exodus” won broad public support for the strikers, Lawrence mill owners and authorities tried to stop a third trainload. When mothers tried to get their children on the train, police dragged them away by their hair, beat them with clubs, and arrested them.

Attacking the women was a strategic mistake. President William Howard Taft ordered the Attorney General to investigate what was happening in Lawrence and Congress held hearings. Striking workers, including children testified about brutal working conditions and poor pay in the Lawrence mills. A third of mill workers died within a decade of taking their jobs from respiratory infections caused by inhaling dust and lint or from workplace accidents. A fourteen-year-old girl recounted how she was hospitalized for seven months after a mill machine tore off her scalp.

As a result of public outcry, mill owners agreed to many of the workers’ demands and the nine-week strike ended. The workers received a 15% wage hike, overtime, and the mill owners’ promise not to retaliate against striker leaders. By the end of March, other New England textile workers received similar raises.

The slogan “Bread and Roses” originated in a speech by Rose Schneiderman, an organizer for the garment workers union in New York City. It became the title of a poem by James Oppenheim and appeared on signs and banners at Lawrence, Massachusetts rallies. It later became a song sung at union rallies and parades.

“Bread and Roses” by James Oppenheim

As we go marching, marching
In the beauty of the day
A million darkened kitchens
A thousand mill lofts grey
Are touched with all the radiance
That a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing
Bread and roses, bread and ro

As we go marching, marching
We battle too for men
For they are women’s children
And we mother them again
Our lives shall not be sweetened
From birth until life closes
Hearts starve as well as bodies
Give us bread, but give us roses 0

As we go marching, marching
We bring the greater days
For the rising of the women
Means the rising of the race
No more the drudge and idler
Ten that toil where one reposes
But the sharing of life’s glories
Bread and roses, bread and ro

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890-1964) Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a labor leader, activist, and feminist who played a leading role in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). She was in Concord, New Hampshire, her family moved to New York when she was ten. Her parents were socialists and introduced her to radical politics. When she was 16 she gave her first political speech, “What Socialism Will Do for Women.” At the age of seventeen, she became a full-time organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World. In 1912, she assisted strikers in Lawrence, MA and organized to bring the children of Lawrence to New York City for safety. Flynn was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and she played a leading role in the unsuccessful campaign to stop the executive of Italian immigrants Sacco and Vanzetti. Among other causes she championed women’s right, suffrage, and birth control. In the 1930s she became a member of the American Communist Party. She wrote for their newspaper and served on the national committee. In the 1950s she served two years in federal prison because of her Communist Party membership.  

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was the inspiration for the song The Rebel Girl by IWW songster Joe Hill.

Statement by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn at her Trial for being a member of the Communist Party (1952)

A) I am an American of Irish decent. My father, Thomas Flynn, was born in Maine. My mother, Anne Gurley, was born in Galway, Ireland. I was born in Concord, New Hampshire, 62 years ago . . . My mother was a skilled tailoress; my father a quarry worker who worked his way through the engineering school at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. My father, grandfather, and all my uncles were members of labor unions.

B) I come from a family whose day-by-day diet included important social issues of the day, and from this I early learned to question things as they are and to seek improvements. Thus, my mother advocated Women’s Suffrage, discussed with their children the campaigns of Debs, the Socialist candidate for President. My father read aloud to me and to my brother and sisters such books as the Communist Manifesto and other writings of Marx and Engels.

C) I was determined to do something about the bad conditions under which our family and all around us suffered. I have stuck to that purpose for 46 years. I consider in so doing I have been a good American. I have spent my life among the American workers all over this country, slept in their homes, eaten at their tables. 

D) Our country is a rich and beautiful country, fully capable of producing plenty for all, educating its youth and caring for its aged. We believe it could do this under Socialism. We will prove to you that it is not the Communists who have advocated or practiced force and violence but that it is the employing class which has done both throughout the history of my life in the American labor movement.

E) We will prove to you that it is nor we who flaunt the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but that is has always been done by the employing class. We will prove that we are fighting here for our constitutional and democratic rights, not to advocate force and violence, but to expose and stop its use against the people. We will demonstrate that in fighting for our rights, we believe we are defending the constitutional rights of all Americans. We believe we are acting as good Americans.

Questions

1. What was Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s background?

2. Why was she put on trial?

3. In your opinion, why did Joe Hill call her “The Rebel Girl”?

4. In your opinion, how should women like Elizabeth Gurley Flynn be remembered?

Battle for the 19th Amendment

Instructions: Analyze the images, the map, and bread the descriptions and answer questions 1-5.

First-wave feminism was a period of feminist activity during the 19th and early 20th century that focused on legal issues, primarily on gaining the right to vote. The 19th Amendment was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919 and was ratified by the states on August 18, 1920. The Women’s Suffrage Clause gave the right of women to vote.

Daily picketing of the White House in Washington DC demanding the right of women to vote began January 10, 1917. The protesters were pressuring President Woodrow Wilson to support the “Anthony amendment” to the Constitution. During the year, more than 1,000 women from across the country joined the picket line. 218 protesters from 26 states were arrested and charged with “obstructing sidewalk traffic.” 97 were sent to either the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia or the District of Columbia jail.

19th Amendment: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

New York City women line up to vote in 192

Questions

  1. How did suffragettes pressure President Wilson to support the right of women to vote?
  2. What happened to women protesting in Washington DC?
  3. When was the 19th Amendment adopted?
  4. In your opinion, how did state’s that issued women the right to vote prior to the 19th amendment influence its final passage?
  5. In your opinion, why was the 19th amendment a “turning point” in the struggle for equal rights for women?  

Not All Women Supported the Enfranchisement of Women

Source: http://www.crusadeforthevote.org/naows-opposition/

In 1870, Harper’s New Weekly Magazine published a letter from an “earnest and thoughtful Christian woman” opposed to women’s suffrage. In 1895 Massachusetts asked women if they wanted the right to vote. Only 22,204 women answered in the affirmative. In 1911, Josephine Dodge founded the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS). The NAOWS was most popular in northeastern cities. Examine the excerpt from the letter, the flyer, and the political cartoon and answer questions 1-4.

Questions

1. Why does the author of the letter oppose women’s suffrage?

2. Why is the New Jersey Association opposed to woman’s suffrage?

3. What is the point of view of the cartoonist?

4. How would you respond to the letter, flyer, and cartoon? Why?

“The natural position of woman is clearly, to a limited degree, a subordinate one. Such it has always been throughout the world, in all ages, and in many different conditions of society . . . Woman in physical strength is so greatly inferior to man . . . Woman is also, though in a very much lesser degree, inferior to man in intellect . . . Christianity confirms the subordinate position of woman, by allotting to man the headship in plain language and by positive precept . . . Sensible women may always have a good measure of political influence of the right sort, if they choose. And it is in one sense a duty on their part to claim this influence, and to exert it, but always in the true womanly way. The influence of good sense, of a sound judgment, of good feeling may always be theirs. Let us see that we preserve this influence, and that we use it wisely. But let us cherish our happy immunities as women by keeping aloof from all public personal action in the political field.” – Female Suffrage: A Letter to the Christian Women of America, Harper’s New Weekly Magazine

Changing Roles for Women in the 1920s in Pictures

Instructions: How does each photograph suggest changing roles for women in the 1920s?

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)

Margaret Higgins Sanger was born in 1879 in Coming, New York. She was an American birth control activist, sex educator, writer, and nurse. Sanger popularized the term “birth control” and established organizations that evolved into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Sanger worked as a nurse and mid-wife in New York City in the east-side slums. During her work among working-class immigrant women, Sanger met women who underwent frequent childbirth, miscarriages, and self-induced abortions for lack of information on how to avoid unwanted pregnancy. Access to contraceptive information was prohibited on grounds of obscenity by the 1873 Comstock Laws. In 1916, Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. in Brownsville, Brooklyn and was arrested for distributing information on contraception. But Sanger believed that while abortion was sometimes justified, it generally should be avoided, and she considered contraception the only practical way to avoid them. Sanger felt that in order for women to have a more equal footing in society and to lead healthier lives, they needed to be able to determine when to bear children. She was forced to flee to England to escape persecution, but returned to the United States and continued to champion for the right of women to access information about reproduction and contraception.

Questions

1. Why is Margaret Sanger remembered today?

2. Why is the letter from a mother in “bondage” a powerful statement about the need of women for reliable and safe birth control?

Motherhood in Bondage (1928)

In 1928 Margaret Sanger published a selection of the letters she received from women seeking birth control information. The letters remain a powerful testament to the vulnerability of women without access to reliable contraception. One is reproduced here. A more complete list is available at http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5083/.

How can one control the size of a family? I am the mother of four children, thirty years old. Our first child died of pneumonia in infancy. Since I’ve had three others, —six, three years and nine months old they now are, and it’s a continual worry for fear I shall be having more soon as we would be unable to care for them. My husband is a barber, earning, besides tips, $26.00 a week. Out of this we are trying to pay for a home, as it’s cheaper than renting with three children. The baby requires certified milk because I am so overworked I am unable to nurse her. If it were not for my mother we could never get along. I do all my own work, make over all my own clothing and my relatives’ for the children, even all our coats and hats, as I learned to do this before I was married. You can easily see there is no recreation or rest . . . Please don’t think I dislike children; I love mine dearly, but trying to care for them and bring them up properly wears one’s patience all away as I have to make every minute count to keep things going. I can’t afford any improvements to help me in my work. I must wash every day in order to get the washing done and keep the children clean as I have neither the time or strength to do it all at once. With a baby one cannot anyway. I can’t bear to be a cranky, cross mother to my children. I haven’t been to a place of amusement, even a picture show, in over seven years. The last time I was away from home for a few hours visit was Christmas 1924. The only way I can get downtown to shop for an hour is when my husband takes the time off to stay with the children. Don’t you think I am doing all I can without having more children. What help is there for a woman? Must she separate from her husband and break up the home?

Women Who Helped Win World War II

American women played essential rolls on the home front and overseas during World War II. In 1943, a song “Rosie the Riveter,” was broadcast nationally. It was performed by singers and popular band including the Four Vagabonds, an African-American group.

“We Can Do It” was created by graphic artist J. Howard Miller for the Westinghouse Electric Corp
Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter cover for The Saturday Evening Post, May 29, 1943

Rosie the Riveter by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb

Source: http://jackiewhiting.net/US/RosieLyrics.html

While other girls attend their fav’rite
cocktail bar
Sipping Martinis, munching caviar
There’s a girl who’s really putting 
them to shame
Rosie is her name

All the day long whether rain or shine
She’s a part of the assembly line
She’s making history, 
working for victory Rosie the Riveter
Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage
Sitting up there on the fuselage
That little frail can do more than a 
male will do

Rosie’s got a boyfriend, Charlie
Charlie, he’s a Marine
Rosie is protecting Charlie
Working overtime on the 
riveting machine
When they gave her a production “E”

She was as proud as a girl could be
There’s something true about

Red, white, and blue about
Rosie the Riveter Everyone stops to admire the scene
Rosie at work on the B-Nineteen
She’s never twittery, nervous or jittery 0f

Rosie the Riveter
What if she’s smeared full of
oil and grease
Doing her bit for the old Lend lease
She keeps the gang around
They love to hang around
Rosie the Riveter Rosie buys a lot of war bonds
That girl really has sense
Wishes she could purchase 
more bonds
Putting all her cash into national
defense
Senator Jones who is “in the know”
Shouted these words on the radio
Berlin will hear about
Moscow will cheer about
Rosie the Riveter! g;

American Women At War

Sources: https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/american-women-in-world-war-ii ; https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/us-history/rise-to-world-power/us-wwii/a/american-women-and-world-war-ii

World War II radically changed roles played by women in American society. Between 1940 and 1945, the female percentage of the U.S. workforce increased from 27 percent to nearly 37 percent. By 1945 nearly one out of every four married women worked outside the home. About 350,000 women served in the U.S. Armed Forces. In 2010, the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Women’s Airforce Service Pilots flew planes from factories to military bases. 
Eastine Cowner at work on the SS George Washington Carver, 1943.
Women shipfitters working on board the USS Nereus at the U.S. Navy Yard, 1943
Army and Navy nurses were prisoners of war in the Philippines, 1942

Serving in the Military and Teaching While Pregnant

Most Americans are familiar with the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade (1973) that a right to privacy exists as part of the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that protects a women’s reproductive freedom, specifically the decision whether to carry a pregnancy to term. Forty-five years later it remains one of the most politically contested Supreme Court decisions. Two other court cases in the same period, one that made it to the Supreme Court and one that did not, also were crucial in defining the legal rights of pregnant women and women’s rights in general.

A) Struck v. Secretary of Defense (1970)

Sources: https://openjurist.org/460/f2d/1372/struck-v-secretary-of-defense; http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2013-05-11-chi-justice-ginsburg-roe-v-wade-not-womancentered-20130511-story.html

Captain Susan Struck with her two-day old baby.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Susan Struck was a career nurse and Captain in the U.S. Air Force. In 1970, while stationed in Vietnam, Stuck became pregnant. The Air Force offered her the option of resigning her commission with an honorable discharge or of terminating her pregnancy. Struck rejected both options, although she was willing to place the baby up for adoption. She sued the Secretary of Defense in federal court demanding the right to both give birth and keep her job. Struck argued that the Air Force statue discriminated against her because she was a woman, men were allowed to become fathers, and because of her religious beliefs which prevented her from terminating a pregnancy. The Ninth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals sided with the military. Future Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was scheduled to represent Struck when her appeal was heard by the Supreme Court. However Struck’s appeal became unnecessary when Air Force reversed its policy on pregnancies and allowed her to have the child and remain in the military.


Questions

1. Who was Susan Struck?

2. What was the issue in Struck v. Secretary of Defense?

3. Why did Captain Struck argue the Air Force regulation was unconstitutional?

4. What was the resolution of the case?

5. In your opinion, how did this case impact on the rights of women?

B) Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur, 414 U.S. 632 (1974)

Sources: https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/414/632.html; https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/11/opinion/the-supreme-court-and-rights-for-pregnant-workers.html

As recently as the 1970s, pregnant teachers could be forced to take unpaid maternity leaves as soon if they reported to supervisors that they were pregnant or if a supervisor observed that they were pregnant. In a case heard before the Supreme Court in 1974, three teachers challenged these rules as “arbitrary and irrational.” Carol Jo LaFleur was a junior high school teacher in Cleveland, Ohio. Ann Elizabeth Nelson taught French at Central Junior High School in Cleveland. Susan Cohen was a social studies teacher at Midlothiam High School in Chesterfield County, Virginia. The cases were combined as Cleveland Board of education v. LaFleur. By a 7-2 vote the Supreme Court ruled that the “presumption that every pregnant teacher who reaches the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy is physically incapable of continuing” was unconstitutional.

Questions

1. What was the issue in Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur?

2. Why did the three teachers bring this case?

3. What is the meaning of “irrebuttable”?

4. What was the Supreme Court’s decision?

5. In your opinion, how did this case impact on the rights of women?

The Court’s Majority Decision by Justice Potter Stewart

Neither Mrs. LaFleur nor Mrs. Nelson wished to take an unpaid maternity leave; each wanted to continue teaching until the end of the school year. Because of the mandatory maternity leave rule, however, each was required to leave her job in March 1971. The two women then filed separate suits in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio . . . challenging the constitutionality of the maternity leave rule. The District Court tried the cases together, and rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments . . . Susan Cohen, was employed by the School Board of Chesterfield County, Virginia. That school board’s maternity leave regulation requires that a pregnant teacher leave work at least four months prior to the expected birth of her child. Notice in writing must be given to the school board at least six months prior to the expected birth date . . . Mrs. Cohen informed the Chesterfield County School Board in November 1970, that she was pregnant and expected the birth of her child about April 28, 1971. She initially requested that she be permitted to continue teaching until April 1, 1971. The school board rejected the request, as it did Mrs. Cohen’s subsequent suggestion that she be allowed to teach until January 21, 1971, the end of the first school semester. 

This Court has long recognized that freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life is one of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment . . . There is a right “to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.” By acting to penalize the pregnant teacher for deciding to bear a child, overly restrictive maternity leave regulations can constitute a heavy burden on the exercise of these protected freedoms. Because public school maternity leave rules directly affect “one of the basic civil rights of man,” the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that such rules must not needlessly, arbitrarily, or capriciously impinge upon this vital area of a teacher’s constitutional liberty . . . The provisions amount to a conclusive presumption that every pregnant teacher who reaches the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy is physically incapable of continuing. There is no individualized determination by the teacher’s doctor – or the school board’s – as to any particular teacher’s ability to continue at her job. The rules contain an irrebuttable presumption of physical incompetency, and that presumption applies even when the medical evidence as to an individual woman’s physical status might be wholly to the contrary . . . We hold that the mandatory termination provisions of the Cleveland and Chesterfield County maternity regulations violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because of their use of unwarranted conclusive presumptions that seriously burden the exercise of protected constitutional liberty. 

Women Continue to Transform Our Country

Sally Ride
Sally Ride Michelle Obama Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Sally Ride: Sally Kristen Ride was born in 1951 in La Jolla, California. She was an American astronaut, physicist, and engineer. Ride joined NASA in 1978 and in 1983 became the first American woman in space. At age 32, she is the youngest person to have gone into space. Ride was one of 8,000 people who answered an ad in the Stanford student newspaper seeking applicants for the space program. After she was chosen, she received considerable media attention where reporters asked her questions such as, “aren’t you worried what space will do to your reproductive organs?” And, “Do you cry when things go wrong on the job?” Ride insisted that she saw herself only in one way, as an astronaut. Ride was extremely private about her personal life. She was married for five years to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley. Ride is one of the most successful astronauts and continued her career in researching space until her death in 2012. After her death, her obituary revealed that her partner of 27 years was Tam O’Shaughnessy, a childhood friend. She is the first known LGBT astronaut.

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama: Michelle Robinson Obama was born in 1964 and is an American lawyer, university administrator, and writer who served as the First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017. Obama is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. As First Lady, Obama worked as an advocate for poverty awareness, education, nutrition, physical activity, and healthy eating. She supported American designers and was considered a fashion icon. Michelle can trace her genealogy back to the American South where her great-great-grandfather was born into slavery in 1850 in South Carolina. Michelle has devoted much of her career to teaching the values of self-worth to young women. She said in 2012, “one of the lessons that I grew up with was to always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals. And so when I hear about negative and false attacks, I really don’t invest any energy in them, because I know who I am.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born in 1989. She is a Latina American politician, educator, and political activist. In January 2019 she became the youngest member of Congress representing a district that includes largely immigrant communities from the Bronx and Queens. Ocasio-Cortez was elected as a Democrat and identifies as a Democratic Socialist and a strong advocate for a Green New Deal.