Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect, by Robert Sampson
Review by Thomas Hansen
This book explains in very technical ways why, and how, neighborhoods matter. Using questions over time, this compilation of studies looks at a wide variety of what makes neighborhoods safe, effective, and secure. Sampson presents here some interesting questions to pose citizens throughout the City and then provides technical explanations and presentations of the results.
The book comprises several studies that look at a variety of questions. For example, Sampson wants to know whether a given neighborhood is safe and what that means. Is there a great deal of crime? Suicide? Poverty? Loss of jobs? What is the family structure like in that neighborhood? Do students succeed in school? Is there purpose within the family? Hopelessness? Support from parents or other adults? From members of the church?
Another emphasis of the book is how neighborhoods differ. If X exists in a given neighborhood, does that mean Y also exists? What about a neighborhood bounded by another one with rampant Z? If someone finds a letter on the ground, will they place it in a mailbox? If someone sees a crime, will they report it? What influences school completion? A lack of violence in the neighborhood? Parents with gainful employment? Being in a neighborhood near another one with elevated school completion rates?
This is an in-depth study of neighborhoods. Readers with a good deal of background in statistics and quantitative research will have no problem dealing with the variety of data and presentation of the data here. Readers without such background can still get a lot of information from this book—just not on the level at which the book is constructed.
I recommend the book, especially for teachers, researchers, and policymakers who need very clear and very detailed information on the topics presented in the book. The book will fit into advanced sociology courses about Chicago, into courses on how to show the results of a grouping of related studies, and into discussions on policies and governance.
Although the text fits into graduate and advanced undergraduate levels more easily because of the level of background knowledge, information on statistics, and familiarity with social sciences required, it can also be important for teachers of advanced high school students.
Related to the Common Core Standards, the book dovetails into units on grades 11-12 technical readings and units including perspectives to explore and argue. It is also a fine reference work for grades 11-12 honors students and AP students writing research papers on topics and conclusions supported by the advanced data and presentations provided here.
American Dialogue: The Founders and Us by Joseph J. Ellis.
Review by James J. Carpenter
While ordering lunch at a deli in South Carolina, the young cashier noticed I had a book with me. “Whatcha readin’?” he asked. “A book on American history” I responded. He then went on to lament how history is being deemphasized in school and to question how were we to avoid repeating the errors of the past if we don’t know what they were. The book I had that day was American Dialogue by Joseph J. Ellis. Ironically, Ellis’ book deals in part with the very issue the young man raised; namely, what we can learn from the “ongoing conversation between past and present” (p. 4). I must confess I am a fan of Ellis’ writing and have read several of his books on early American history. The sub-title to his latest work, The Founders and Us, especially piqued my interest. Was this another attempt at deciphering the intent of the founders as it pertains to current issues or was it something else? As I read each chapter, I discovered this work was significantly more and I saw important connections for classroom teachers.
Following a preface, Ellis divides four chapters into two parts each: Then and Now. Each chapter focuses on what he identifies as four enduring issues that are more salient and challenging in the first quarter of the twenty-first century. Ellis establishes the historical foundation for each subject and then examines the complexity of each in the context of a divisive political climate complicated by domestic and international obstacles. Acknowledging that a true conversation with the founders is obviously impossible, he attempts to connect their concerns regarding these controversial topics with those of modern America. Hence, his use of the term dialogue in his title. The four areas he identifies are race, equality, law, and foreign policy. In each case, Ellis chooses one member of the founding generation as the central figure with whom to engage in his “dialogue”: For race, it is Thomas Jefferson; for equality he chooses John Adams; James Madison is his focus for law; and for our diplomatic relations abroad he uses George Washington. In the Now portions of each chapter, Ellis situates each current issue “as recent entries in long-standing patterns” (p. 8). His choice of both issues and founders reflect, he argues, “what is still an ongoing argument about our destiny as a people and a nation” (p. 7). Ellis’ final chapter is an epilogue he uses to discuss the successes and failures of early American leadership because he believes “the founders managed to maximize the creative possibilities of their time more fully than any subsequent generation of political leaders in American history” (p. 228).
His discussion of each issue is both insightful and challenging. For example, choosing Jefferson for his chapter on race is perfect given Jefferson’s conflicted and apparent hypocritical relationship with slavery and African Americans. Ellis argues that Jefferson’s criticism of slavery “operated at an elevated region of his mind, which never descended to the ground that he walked and that his slaves at Monticello worked” (p. 22). He was incapable, according to Ellis, of imagining a biracial society, let alone a multiracial one. In the modern context, this darker element of Jefferson’s legacy is reflected in a more subtle version of racism fueled “by white assumptions of black inferiority” (p. 58). The resurgence of more strident voices on this issue only complicate the fulfillment of the democratic ideal of racial equality as implied, if not expressed, by Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence. In examining equality, Ellis compares the views of John Adams with those same famous words: “all men are created equal.” He portrays Adams as more of a realist or even a cynic who “insisted that inequality was the natural condition of mankind.” Not only did Adams mean differences in physical and mental attributes, he also believed distinctions based on money and social class “always were and always would be a permanent fixture in all societies on earth, including the aspiring republic called the United States…” (p.81). In twenty-first century America, Ellis argues “we currently inhabit a second Gilded Age” characterized by “unacceptable levels of economic inequality” (p. 114); A result Adams “tried to tell us … was virtually inevitable over two centuries ago” (p. 115).
Considered the “Father of the Constitution” by many if not most, Madison was the “obvious person to focus on” in his chapter on law. Ellis argues that during the period of 1787 to 1789, Madison’s actions “just might constitute the most brilliant political performance in American history” (pp. 121-122). Considering him to be a pragmatist, Ellis describes Madison’s changing constitutional interpretations from opposing Hamilton’s plans for strengthening the national government to later rejecting John C. Calhoun’s secessionist arguments not as inconsistency but rather a reflection of Madison’s willingness “to accommodate what the evolving political context required” and “as political adaptions of principle to changing conditions” (p. 149). Ellis contrasts this Constitutional adaptability to the originalist interpretations perhaps best exemplified by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. For Ellis, if arguably the chief architect of the Constitution interpreted its words differently according to the historical context, how can modern jurists rigidly apply eighteenth-century understandings to twenty-first century issues by “channeling the wisdom of the founders” (p. 170)?
Just as Madison was the logical choice for the previous chapter, George Washington, as “the primary architect of American foreign policy in the founding era,” was the clear option to review the origins of American foreign policy (p. 173). Ellis concentrates on the contradiction inherent in a democratic republic being an imperial nation at the same time. His first example of this is Washington’s failure to protect the sovereignty and rights of Native American tribes in the western territories acquired in the Treaty of Paris (1783). He continues with problems of neutrality during the war between Great Britain and France in the 1790’s culminating with the highly partisan debate and vote over Jay’s Treaty (ratified in 1796). In analyzing Washington’s Farewell Address, Ellis believes that focusing on the prescription for an isolationist foreign policy overshadows a more important, “deeper message” to be found in the address; namely that “foreign policy must be based on a realistic appraisal of American interests, not on popular referendums or nostalgic memories” (p. 193). It is this advice, he argues, that has been ignored since the end of the Cold War, a period distinguished by “nearly perpetual war” without “successful outcomes,” despite “the overwhelming military superiority of the United States” (p. 211). This has resulted in a policy that “became an inherently improvisational process” (p. 209). American exceptionalism today means the opposite of its original understanding: “In effect, precisely because the conditions shaping the American founding were unique, it was highly problematic to presume that the American model was transportable beyond the borders of the United States” (pp. 215-216). The future of our foreign policy, according to Ellis, is destined to continue to be an erratic one.
Ellis emphasizes that the founders, and especially the men he uses in each chapter, were not godlike or superhuman. Rather, they were men of talent who were able to make the most of that particular moment in time. Ellis also stresses that the founders did not speak with one voice. They “harbored different beliefs about what the American Revolution meant” (p. 232). These differences were at the heart of the arguments that occurred when major issues arose. For Ellis, this “made dialogue unavoidable” (p. 232). It is this diversity of opinion that prevents any political party or special interest group from claiming to know or represent the framer’s intent. Ellis alleges that “it is the argument itself, not the answer either liberals or conservatives provide, that is the abiding legacy” (p. 232). And it is this assertion that makes this book important reading for social studies teachers. It can serve as a springboard for ideas to get students to see history as relevant and not as a dead discipline. Teachers can pose interesting questions for students to consider and have them consult historical references for evidence to support their answers. For example, students can probe the meaning of the democratic ideal of equality. How has this concept expanded over the century? What does equality mean in a society still grappling with issues of race or of enormous economic differences? What is the relationship between equality and equitable treatment? Teachers can also have students investigate the complexity of current issues in historical context. For instance, what did the Second Amendment mean in 1791? Given the extent of gun violence in the United States today, is there a need to revisit or revise the existing amendment? Is there a role for the federal government in addressing economic disparity? What should the role of the United States be in world affairs?
The value of this book for teachers is the emphasis Ellis gives to the importance of history. Not just to memorize dates and events but to illustrate the differing opinions held by our revered historical figures. Making students aware of this reality will enable them to better evaluate sources and to critique current arguments surrounding controversial issues. Indeed, Ellis is openly critical of “the most flagrant forms of ideological prejudice” employed by leaders or analysts who are guilty of “cherry-picking the evidence” to support a current political or social issue (p .7). An informed citizenry in a democracy requires more than a knowledge of facts; it requires the necessary critical skills to detect political bias and to make better informed decisions.
We are living in one of the most polarized eras in American history. Citizens are regularly bombarded with claims as to what the framers’ intent was in grappling with twenty-first century problems. In part, Ellis rebuts this practice by reminding us that appealing to the past to shed light on current solutions is problematic. “By definition, all efforts to harvest the accumulated wisdom of the past must begin from a location in the present, so the questions posed of the past are inevitably shaped either consciously or unconsciously by the historical context in which they are asked” (pp. 6-7). Ellis’ goal is not to resolve any dispute as to the founder’s intent or “to find answers” but rather “to argue about [these questions]” (p. 9). And this, to me, is the value this book has for educators entrusted with teaching future democratic citizens. Democracy is built on deliberation, debate, and even arguing. However, as Ellis demonstrates, the founders understood the value of compromise as a means to keep moving forward. Not all compromises were successful but they at least enabled the nation to avoid remaining stagnant. In an era when both parties employ a “my way or the highway” approach to solving critical issues, our students need to understand that reason can facilitate problem solving. Dialogue, even intense disagreement, about issues is at the heart of democratic government. Ellis’ book offers examples of how teachers can use the founders to confront controversial questions in the twenty-first century.
Book Review by Hank Bitten, NJCSS Executive Director
I decided to read Caste in my search for new perspectives for information and resources to guide teachers with the teaching of ‘hard history’ about institutional racism in our country. From the events in my lifetime (since the civil rights movement) and more specifically the events of the past few years, I was skeptical of the claim of systemic racism in America. Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste convinced me that the problem is real and needs to be addressed by social studies teachers K-12.
My Personal Perspective
First, allow me to comment on my perspective which is reflected in my experiences as a white citizen and teacher. My experience in Paterson as a teenager and student at Eastside High School in 1960 reflected fear of the black community which is based on two unprovoked attacks on public transportation and theft of our family’s car. My experience in college was positive and some of my closest friends were black. As a first-year teacher in New York City in 1969, when busing was instituted to integrate schools, my experience was also positive. I introduced an African American history course and was the advisor to the Harambay or diversity club for students. My black students were very successful even though they were victims of harassment on their route to school on public transportation. I even rode the B52 bus to school for several weeks during a time of increased racial tension in Queens to offer protection and security to students in our school. Many, perhaps all, of the black high school students I taught over 46 years, were successful in their dreams of attending the colleges of their choice and in their careers.
I recognize that my perspective is influenced by the zip codes of the districts where I taught, the ability level of the students in my classes, and the faculty in the schools and departments in the three districts where I taught. Your experience is likely different than mine and the events of the past four years have motivated me to reflect on what I taught, how I taught, what my students may have remembered, and the importance of teaching about the African American experience with empathy and problem-solving strategies in addition to historical documents and videos. My students learned history in teams and I listened to what they were telling me. I want to think that I contributed to their self-esteem and gave them confidence to make smart decisions in their interactions with people.
My Great Awakening
In my research for this book review, I participated in a Zoom with my New York City students from 45-50 years ago. Both black and white students commented that the racial issues of 2020 were greater than what they experienced in the 1970s. I have very little to offer about this observation except to say that the lessons I taught about Emmett Till, the Starpower simulation game I used to teach about privilege, the movie Roots, and the discussions motivated by current events in those years gave my students an understanding about the power of individuals to abuse, the inequalities of wealth, respecting authority, and the importance of education.
Caste is a valuable resource for teachers and students based on the voices of victims, citizens, leaders, and historical examples. The information in each chapter is authentic and provided me with new insights into America’s past. In my reading of Caste, I found myself repeatedly saying “I wish I had known this” or “why didn’t I know this?” The three resources below are reasons to read Caste and supplement the way you are likely teaching United States or World History.
The first resource is the metaphor of an old house. I have used this metaphor to illustrate the need for reform or renovation in my teaching of the Protestant Reformation and progressive reforms in the 19th and 20th centuries. I have also used the metaphor of tearing down an old house to teach the concept of revolution. Isabel Wilkerson’s use of the metaphor reflects on the generations who occupy the house and the need for each occupant to look at what is behind the paint or wallpaper on the walls.
She uses this metaphor to present the idea of the architecture of caste or our place in society. Through this metaphor I have come to understand that the problem is deeper than race and it is the way all of us dehumanize individuals, use stereotypes, and forget that we are all the same. In Caste, we are confronted with the framework of joists, beams, and headers in the way the colonial era used labor, viewed property, and labeled indigenous populations, people from Africa and the Caribbean, and individuals from the Middle East, Far East, and South Asia by the color of their skin.
The new owners of this house in 1776 wanted to end the importation of slaves and offer liberty to those who fought in the American Revolution. But the framework of caste, race, inequality, and social injustice remained as some of the occupants from the Enlightenment generation owned slaves and supported segregation.
The occupants of the antebellum generation were more radical in their renovations of this house through abolition and voices to end slavery. Unfortunately, others sold slaves breaking up families, captured fugitives, and exploited cheap labor. After the Civil War, part of the house was replaced with constitutional amendments while the other half of the house added structural supports to the foundation of segregation, racial tension and lynching.
The 20th century generation, including the 30 years I was a teacher and administrator, saw significant renovations to the architecture of ‘this old house’ through the civil rights movement, educational opportunities, and Supreme Court decisions. Unfortunately, the problems present since 1619 continued as black populations had the highest rates of high school dropouts, incarceration in prisons, divorce, health problems, lower life expectancy, targets of racial profiling, and the list continues.
Even with the appointment of black justices to the Supreme Court, the election of President Barack Obama, and notable leaders of color in every sector of the economy, the problems of race, injustice, violence, fear, and discrimination are continuing and escalating. Isabel Wilkerson explains this as evidence of the caste system in American society.
As a grandparent, I observed the questions our grandchildren asked in their discovery of people of color around the age of three. This is why education in the home and in pre-school is essential. Parents and educators, siblings and peers, have the ability to rebuild ‘the house’ in this generation.
My Epiphany Experience
The second resource is how the book presents the claim or argument of caste in America and the evidence used to present this argument. I had the opportunity to listen to Isabel Wilkerson in a presentation about Caste, and was intrigued by her response that she does not present an argument in her book but instead presents a ‘prayer’ for going forward. This is a powerful and inspiring statement! However, my review found powerful examples documented in history, by historians, and from the news in support of her thesis that systemic racism in inherent in the way we think and behave.
Although there are excellent comparisons to Nazi Germany and India, it is the examples provided in the book that haunted me and convinced me that social injustice exists in schools, neighborhoods, government, business, and within me. Here are just a few examples:
Forest Whitaker, and Academy Award-winning actor walked into a gourmet deli in his Manhattan West Side neighborhood and was frisked in front of other customers. The incident occurred in 2013. Whitaker said, “It’s a humiliating thing for someone to come and do that. It’s attempted disempowerment.” (p. 107)
“In 2015, the members of a black women’s book club were traveling by train on a wine tour of Napa Valley. When their laughter caused some white passengers to complain, the police were called and the women were told to leave the train.” (p.293 and The Guardian, September 13, 2015)
“In 2018, the owner of a Pennsylvania golf club ordered black women, who were members of the club, to leave because they were not moving along fast enough on the course.” The police were called. (p. 293 and CNN, April 25, 2018)
The unnamed college professor who picked up his mail in his luxury apartment opened one of his letters and was told by the man next to him in the elevator that “You’re supposed to be delivering the mail, not opening it.” (p. 213.)
At Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, a woman called campus police on a female graduate student who had fallen asleep while studying in a common area of her dormitory, Officers demanded her identification even after she unlocked the door to her room. She was told, “You’re in a Yale building and we need to make sure you belong here.” (p. 217)
Sgt. Isaac Woodard, Jr. was riding a Greyhound bus after he was honorably discharged in February 1946. The bus driver called the police at the next stop in Aiken, South Carolina where Sgt. Woodard, still in uniform, was arrested for disorderly conduct. The police chief beat him with a billy club which left him blind. The NAACP brought this to the attention of President Truman who ordered an investigation. The local prosecutor did not accept the testimony of Sgt. Whittaker and he was found guilty. His defense attorney spoke racial epithets to his face. (p. 227-228)
“Offenders in Georgia were eleven times more likely to get the death penalty if the victim was white than if the victim was black.” (p. 241)
The examples of social injustice are carefully documented from multiple states and over three centuries. It is painful to read these examples even though as a history teacher I am aware of the violence against Americans of color and women. The evidence is overwhelming when presented in each chapter and on almost every page. Although I did not want to accept the claim that a caste system based on color is in the America where I live and teach, I became convinced and humbled by my guilt and silence that institutional racism is real.
My Call to Do Something
These factual observations opened my eyes to and ‘ugly America’ that I was not addressing with my circle of family and friends. The documented reports in Caste are not only discussion starters for a class in Sociology but a call for action to a five-alarm fire in K-12 social studies classes. As we learned in the 1968 Kerner Commission Report, we are living in two Americas. Every history and social studies teacher and department needs to address the problem of injustice and unequal treatment in the curriculum. Behaviors are more likely changed by education than by legislation!
The first action I took while I was reading this book was to develop a comprehensive resource for teachers in middle school and high school on African Americans and Latinx Americans. The second step I took was to identify best practice curriculums on African American history. These are posted on the Links page of the NJCSS website, www.njcss.org The third action I took was to write this book review and publish it. I am aware that I need to do more regarding human rights education, racial and social injustice, environmental sustainability, LGBTQ awareness, and teaching world religions.
In a webinar sponsored by Facing History and Ourselves, Isabel Wilkerson made the statement that she intended her book as a prayer for the future. I did not grasp the meaning of her statement until the Epilogue where she wrote, “Every spiritual tradition says love your neighbor as yourself not tolerate them.” (p. 387). We must teach students how to live with courage in a dangerous world.
At the end of 2020, 335,000 Americans have died as a result of the Covid-19 virus. The death rate for African Americans is 2.7 times that of white Americans. What is not documented is the number of minorities, with health care insurance, who are not able to have a conversation with their doctor about how to get tested, the care they will be receiving, and the options for medications and treatment available to them.
Caste is written in 31 chapters over approximately 400 pages which allows for a debate in class or a faculty book discussion. This is a book that needs to be discussed and debated. Teachers are the catalyst for curriculum reform in social studies and English Language Arts. A thread is needed to weave the political, social and economic events between 1619 and the present with the horrific accounts of injustice, slavery, discrimination, and abuse. The positive accounts of contributions to America’s stories of industrialization, democracy, service to country, are critical to ending the legacy of caste in America’s social and cultural history.
Perhaps this is best told through the voices and stories of natives, slaves, abolitionists, sharecroppers, immigrants, voters, athletes, entrepreneurs, and the families of victims. An interesting story that I enjoyed is the one on pp. 379-80. About Elsa and Albert Einstein opening their home to Marian Anderson who was denied a room at the Nassau Inn in Princeton, NJ after singing to an overflow crowd at the McCarter Theatre. For the Einstein’s this was not a one-time act of hospitality but an action of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. This is how educators change the stubborn behaviors of caste and privilege.
How Ike Led The Principles Behind Eisenhower’s Biggest Decisions By Susan Eisenhower Reviewed by Hank Bitten
Having taught 20th century United States’ history for over 30 years, I regret to say that the Eisenhower administration is overshadowed by thematic events relating to the Cold War and civil rights over several decades. In this book published by President Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Susan, who is the daughter of John Eisenhower, there are lessons to be learned and analyzed from the 1950s that are connected to our most recent current events and dialogue.
For example: Negotiating with a divided Congress Appointments that would influence the future direction of the Supreme Court Presence of extremist groups Racial and social injustices Health of the President Competitive views over a balanced federal budget v. large deficits Fake news or disinformation Vice-President who could become president or run in a future election
How Ike Led is a book that should be of interest to high school and college students and every social studies teacher. The book offers fresh perspectives from the memories of Ike’s teenage granddaughter and comprehensive interviews with living members of his administration and historians. I admired President Eisenhower as my ‘first’ president during my elementary school years in part because of his popularity with my parents, especially my father who served in World War II. I also followed President Eisenhower’s policies closely as we debated and discussed them in the context of President Kennedy’s New Frontier.
As a teacher, I taught my students the significance of Eisenhower’s decisions on the interstate highway system, building natural gas pipelines across America, the St. Lawrence Seaway, admission of Alaska and Hawaii as states, his leadership in the Suez Canal crisis, bringing America into the competitive space race, and the historic ‘kitchen summit meeting’ and visit of Nikita Khrushchev to Eisenhower’s Gettysburg home.
An interesting comparison with President Trump is for students to develop a thesis (or a Claim) regarding how historians have judged the success of presidents who never held an elected office before becoming president. These are General Zachary Taylor, General Ulysses S. Grant, Herbert Hoover, General Dwight Eisenhower, and Donald Trump. President Trump is the sole exception in this group with no prior military or appointed government service. Ask your students to test the claim if political experience in an elected office is necessary for presidential leadership?
The book is organized into sixteen chapters with eleven chapters dedicated to analyzing the principles and decisions of President Eisenhower. I encourage you and your students to read the whole book as this review will focus on McCarthy, civil rights, and the space race.
With the election of President Eisenhower, the first Republican elected president since Herbert Hoover 25 years before, the Republicans were concerned about one political party dominating the legislative and executive branches for more than two decades. The unexpected defeat of Governor Thomas Dewey (NY) in 1948 amplified these concerns. The ratification of term limits in the 22nd Amendment was one attempt to prevent a repeat of the unprecedented four terms of FDR by protecting the legacy of our competitive democracy.
In the first weeks following Eisenhower’s inauguration, Joseph Stalin died on March 5, 1953 creating uncertainty in the stability of the world’s second nuclear power. In his first year, Eisenhower negotiated a ceasefire with the Communists of North Korea, implemented a system of cost-benefit analysis to control military spending, and advocated for the expansion of social security to ten million new workers with substantial increases in their benefits. These decisions were criticized by the right wing of the Republican Party who feared Eisenhower’s inexperience as a politician and the consequences of transferring the savings from defense to domestic priorities.
Teaching the Cold War from 1946-1989 is challenging for teachers because every major event (Eastern Europe, Berlin, Fall of China, Korea, displaced persons, Marshall Plan, missile gap, Cuba, Southeast Asia, Middle East, space race, summit meetings, and Afghanistan) require more than the approximate three weeks or 15 days permitted in a traditional U.S. History course. The insights by Susan Eisenhower provide a perspective for a unit or series of lessons with students determining the effectiveness of President Eisenhower’s decisions regarding the televised McCarthy Hearings of April – June 1954.
1. How should President Eisenhower respond to Senator McCarthy’s criticism of Charles (Chip) Bohlen as ambassador to the Soviet Union?
2. How should President Eisenhower respond to the undocumented attack of disloyalty against Ralph Bunche, a distinguished African-American diplomat at the United Nations and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950?
3. How can President Eisenhower advance his agenda in a divided Senate with 48 Republicans, 47 Democrats, and 1 Independent? (President Eisenhower needed every Republican vote, including the support of Senator McCarthy but in July 1953, Senators Tobey (NH) and Taft (OH) died. Senator Taft was replaced by a Democrat.)
4. How should President Eisenhower respond to the passage of the Bricker Amendment (Senator Bricker is a Republican from Ohio) regarding the limitations of the president to make agreements with foreign governments?
5. How should President Eisenhower respond to the report that the Soviet Union allocated millions of dollars to the American Communist Party to interfere in our government? (Venona Project)
6. How should President Eisenhower respond to Senator McCarthy’s directive to federal workers to “disregard presidential orders and laws and report directly to him on graft, corruption, Communism and treason?”
In cooperative groups, representing different perspectives (i.e. State Department, National Security Council, Mamie and Eisenhower’s brothers, Think Tank, Members of the House, Members of the Senate, CIA, journalists, etc.) discuss the options below and make recommendations to President Eisenhower on the six questions above.
Options to Consider:
a. Work behind the scenes with moderate members of Congress
b. Make public announcements criticizing Senator McCarthy’s public hearings
c. Be patient and quiet
d. Direct the Attorney General or FBI to investigate Senator McCarthy
e. Support the hearings and investigations to win support of the conservative Republicans
President Eisenhower chose the option to remain patient and quiet. He understood Senator McCarthy as one who desired to be the center of public attention and that in the course of the hearings, he would likely make mistakes. Throughout the book, Susan Eisenhower, an accomplished author, policy strategist, and historian, offers her own interpretations, which students can use as the basis of their “claim” or argument and research evidence to support or reject it. For example, “He had the power over the thing McCarthy had most deeply desired – to engage Eisenhower in this circus, thus legitimatizing his own status as an important leader while raising himself and his shameful shenanigans to the level of a coequal branch of government.” (p. 201) Consider having your students discuss or debate the validity of her “claim.”
Historians are divided on President Eisenhower’s record on civil rights. Many teachers only focus on school integration with Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka KS and Little Rock, AK. President Eisenhower’s record on civil rights provides students with an opportunity for inquiry, research, and evidence based arguments. Consider the important personal information on President Eisenhower’s character and support for African Americans from his youth through his presidency as provided by Susan Eisenhower.
Abilene High School was integrated when Ike attended it (1905-1909). He was the only football player on his team to shake hands with an African American player from an opposing team. As a military leader in World War II, Ike insisted that the blood supply be integrated and when Australia refused to allow the black division Eisenhower deployed after Pearl Harbor, he rescinded the order. He also supported the desegregation of schools in Washington D.C. and appointed E. Frederic Morrow (from Hackensack, NJ and Rutgers Law School) to his personal staff and J. Ernest Wilkins Sr. as Assistant Secretary of Labor.
In considering evidence about President Eisenhower’s record on civil rights, students should research evidence regarding the record of American presidents from Teddy Roosevelt to Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Students might also research the records of Eleanor Roosevelt and both black and white leaders during the civil rights period of 1900-1960. On September 24, 1957, President Eisenhower made one of the most controversial decisions of the 20th century which could have devastating consequences for him and the United States.
In the context of the questions the United States is facing today about race, equality, policing, criminal justice, education, and opportunity, the leadership role of President Eisenhower is worth analysis by students. On this date, President Eisenhower announced the first imposition of federal troops in the South since Reconstruction (90 years before). He deployed 500 troops from the famed 101st Airborne paratroopers who landed on Normandy in 1944. (p. 244) This was in response to the deployment of the Arkansas National Guard a few days earlier by Gov. Oval Faubus to “preserve peace and good order by preventing the integration of nine African American students into Little Rock High School. (Listen to Eisenhower’s 12 minute Address to the American people and visit the sequence of online documents on this decision at the Eisenhower Library) Senators and governors threatened to cut funds for public schools, Senator Olin Johnston (D-SC) called for a state of insurrection, President Eisenhower was accused of being a military dictator, the Southern Manifesto was signed by 12 senators and 39 congressmen, and violence and lynching of innocent black Americans increased.
The leadership of President Eisenhower was further challenged in the federal courts when the Little Rock Board of Education petitioned the Eastern District Court of Arkansas on February 20, 1958 to “postpone the desegregation efforts because of chaos, bedlam and turmoil in the community.” (p. 260)
The Court agreed to a 21/2 year postponement of preventing black students from attending Little Rock High School. On September 12, 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Cooper v. Aaronin favor of desegregation. The decision was unanimous and personally signed by each of the nine justices! The decision was transformational in the education of students in the United States of America! The Doll Experiment by psychologist Dr. Kenneth B. Clark provides a powerful vision of the effects of racial discrimination.
Susan Eisenhower also included the letter from the parents of the nine black students who entered Little Rock H.S. in her book. The letter speaks volumes about human and civil rights as does the interview by Oprah Winfrey with the Little Rock Nine in 1996. (September 30, 1957)
“We the parents of nine Negro children enrolled at Little Rock Central High School want you to know that your action in safeguarding their rights have strengthened our faith in democracy. Now as never before we have an abiding feeling of belonging and purposefulness. We believe that freedom and equality with which all men are endowed at birth can be maintained only through freedom and equality of opportunity for self-development, growth and purposeful citizenship.
We believe that the degree to which people everywhere realize and accept this concept will determine in a large measure American true growth and true greatness. You have demonstrated admirably to us, the nation and the world how profoundly you believe in this concept. For this we are deeply grateful and respectfully extend to you our heartfelt and lasting thanks. May the Almighty and all wise Father of us all bless guide and keep you always….” (p. 259)
President Eisenhower replied to this letter on October 4. In the context of President Eisenhower’s decisions on civil rights and Little Rock, how will your students analyze his record? While Eisenhower is pledging his support for the rule of law in the desegregation of schools, why was he reserved in the civil rights and voting rights legislation he proposed in his 1956 State of the Union address? Will your students evaluate President Eisenhower as a proactive leader to end the violence and discrimination against black Americans or will they decide that his reserved approach continued to deny 75% of African American citizens the right to vote?
The story of NASA and the transition to the private enterprise of space is slowly evolving into our curriculum as it competes with complex domestic and foreign policy issues in the first two decades of the 21st century. The development of technology, space exploration, military technology, cybersecurity, and the impacts on climate are embedded within the performance expectations of social studies curriculum and the C3 Framework. The United States put its first satellite (Explorer 1) into space on January 31, 1958 and six weeks later on March 17, it launched its first solar powered satellite into orbit.
President Eisenhower’s administration laid the foundation for the freedom of space, the peaceful pursuit of scientific research on the continent of Antarctica, the Alliance for Progress, the innovative technology of the U-2 reconnaissance program, Nautilus missiles, and civil defense. These initiatives proved to be game-changers for America’s leadership at a time when balanced budgets were considered essential to the security of the United States.
In the middle of these significant initiatives in a divided Congress, Senator John F. Kennedy made a speech in the U.S. Senate on August 14, 1958 calling attention to the ‘missile gap.’
“In 1958, Sen. John F. Kennedy, without access to classified information, and relying only on public sources, was persuaded by Joe Alsop, a Georgetown neighbor and social friend, to make a speech on the floor of the Senate. It was there that Kennedy used the term “missile gap” for the first time, an expression that was a ringing indictment of Eisenhower’s budget conscious ways, accusing him of failing to provide adequate security for the United States. In his speech Kennedy asserted that the Soviet Union could destroy ’85 percent of our industry, 43 of our 53 largest cities, and most of the Nation’s population.” (p. 287) Kennedy’s Speech on Missile Gap
History would reveal during the Kennedy administration that there was no missile gap. Actually, the United States had 160 operational Atlas ICBMs to six in the Soviet arsenal! (p. 301) The information in this book provides an opportunity for teaching students the skills of searching for credible evidence.
Students need to research maps, photographs and census data in addition to primary and secondary source documents. This takes time, patience, perseverance, and guidance in searching for factual information in multiple locations, organizing information, engaging in rigorous analysis and providing complete documentation.
In conclusion, teachers might ask their students what lessons we can learn from the leadership style of Dwight David Eisenhower during what our textbooks call the decade of the military industrial complex. Susan Eisenhower writes, “The measure of a leader is more than the sum of his or her successful decisions: qualities of character, including empathy and fairness, are also central to any person worthy of that status.” (p. 307)
In answering this question, students might ask if President Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon were leaders of this paradigm, if the presidents in their lifetime meet this standard (Presidents Obama and Trump), and to what extent local leaders in school, government, and business are leaders who meet it.
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
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.
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 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.
“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.
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!
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?
Seek an alliance with another state?
Change the budget priorities from rebuilding the infrastructure of the Soviet Union to military spending?
Begin a campaign of disinformation to the Soviet people about the international threats?
Double down on finding Trotsky and have him executed to avoid an internal threat of revolution?
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.)
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!
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)
The Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact is no longer certain.
The Winter War against Finland was a military disappointment.
Germany controls a significant part of France, including Paris.
It is a risk for Germany to fight a two-front war against Britain and the Soviet Union at the same time.
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.
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.
Germany and Italy need supplies of oil, steel, and grain.
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.
The Soviet border from the White Sea to the Black Sea is 2,500 miles and vulnerable to attack at any point.
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’.
The war in the Balkans began on October 28, 1940 and Italy’s offensive is moving slowly.
The United States broke the Japanese intelligence code, should Stalin explore help from the United States?
The Soviet Union needs to expand the trans-Siberian Railroad.
Stalin does not believe Hitler and the German army are invincible and they can be defeated.
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).
Would a blitzkrieg attack on German forces along the Soviet frontier deliver a knockout blow?
Will a surprise Soviet attack on Germany move Britain and Germany to negotiate a settlement.
Should the Soviet Union move back 100 miles to draw the Germany army into Soviet territory and they encircle them?
How will Churchill and Britain react to a German attack on the Soviet Union? How will FDR and the United states react?
Are the Germans secretly moving their army on trains from western Europe to the Soviet frontier?
If Germany intervenes in the Balkans will this enable them to invade the Soviet Union?
Is Richard Sorge a double agent that should not be trusted?
What are Hitler’s plans?
Will a Soviet campaign of disinformation be effective?
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.
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.
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.
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
[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
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
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
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.
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
Anne Hutchinson: I have come when you summoned me but I hear no charges against me.
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?
Anne Hutchinson: It is lawful for me to do
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.
Anne Hutchinson: If men came it is because they chose to be there.
John Winthrop: But you know it is illegal for a woman to teach a man scripture?
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
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
Anne Hutchinson: I desire to know why I am banished?
John Winthrop: Say no more, the court knows why and is satisfied.
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
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.
How did Warren contribute to the push for American independence?
Where did Warren believe power should reside in a society?
Why is Warren considered “ambivalent” about the new Constitution?
A) Observations on the
New Constitution (1788)
origin of all power is in the people, and they have an incontestable right to
check the creatures of their own creation.”
Letter to Catharine Macaulay (1788)
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.
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
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?
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.
What does the second passage [B] of the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments declare?
What document is it modeled on?
According to section D, why do the signers of the Declaration feel justified in their campaign?
If you had participated in this convention, what specific rights would you have wanted to guarantee?
In your opinion, why did the authors of the Declaration of Sentiments model it on an early document from United States history?
In your opinion, have the problems noted in these passages been resolved in the United States? Explain.
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.
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.
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
“Ain’t I a Woman”
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)
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.
What arguments did Lucy Stone use when she demanded that New Jersey grant women the right to vote?
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 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.
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
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 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.
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 .”
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Hunger Strikes and Prison
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.”
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
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
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.
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.
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
at New York City Hall (Library of Congress)
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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
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?”
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
“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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
Instructions: Analyze the
images, the map, and bread the descriptions and answer questions 1-5.
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.”
How did suffragettes pressure President Wilson to support the right of women to vote?
What happened to women protesting in Washington DC?
When was the 19th Amendment adopted?
In your opinion, how did state’s that issued women the right to vote prior to the 19th amendment influence its final passage?
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
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
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
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.
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?
in Bondage (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
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
Rosie the Riveter by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb
girls attend their fav’rite
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
a boyfriend, Charlie
Charlie, he’s a Marine
Rosie is protecting Charlie
Working overtime on the
When they gave her a production “E”
She was as
proud as a girl could be
There’s something true about
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
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
That girl really has sense
Wishes she could purchase
Putting all her cash into national
Senator Jones who is “in the know”
Shouted these words on the radio
Berlin will hear about
Moscow will cheer about
Rosie the Riveter!
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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
4. What was the Supreme
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
Women Continue to Transform Our Country
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
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 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.