Heroes of Ireland’s Great Hunger

Heroes of Ireland’s Great Hunger

Edited by Christine Kinealy, Gerard Moran, and Jason King

Review by Alan Singer (originally published at The History News Network)

Christine Kinealy, professor of history and the founding director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, has created an impressive academic juggernaut for the study of the mid-19th century Great Irish Famine and for bringing the famine to the attention of a broader public. Her more recent published work includes The Bad Times. An Drochshaol (2015), a graphic novel for young people, developed with John Walsh, Private Charity to Ireland during the Great Hunger: The Kindness of Strangers (2013), Daniel O’Connell and Anti-Slavery: The Saddest People the Sun Sees (2011), and War and Peace: Ireland Since the 1960s (2010). She recently released a collection of essays, prepared with Jason King and Gerard Moran, Heroes of Ireland’s Great Hunger (2021, co-published by Quinnipiac University Press and Cork University Press). In Ireland, it is available through Cork University Press. In the United States, it is available in paperback on Amazon. Co-editor Jason King is the academic coordinator for the Irish Heritage Trust and the National Famine Museum in Strokestown, County Roscommon, Ireland. Co-editor Gerard Moran is a historian and senior researcher based at the National University of Ireland – Galway.

Sections in Heroes of Ireland’s Great Hunger include “The Kindness of Strangers,” with chapters on Quaker philanthropy, an exiled Polish Count who distributed emergency famine relief, and an American sea captain who arranged food shipments to Ireland; “Women’s Agency,” with three chapters on women who “rolled up her linen sleeves” to aid the poor; “Medical Heroes,” with five doctors who risked their own lives to aid the Irish; and sections on the role of religious orders in providing relief and Irish leadership. Final reflections include a chapter on “The Choctaw Gift.” The Choctaw were an impoverished Native American tribe who suffered through the Trail of Tears displacement to the Oklahoma Territory. They donated more than they could afford to Irish Famine Relief because they understood the hardship of oppression and going without. Kinealy, King, and Moran managed to enlist some of the top scholars in the field of Irish Studies from both sides of the Atlantic to document how individuals and groups made famine relief a priority, despite official government reticence and refusal in Great Britain and the United States. In her work, Kinealy continually draws connections between the Great Irish Famine and current issues, using the famine as a starting point for addressing problems in the world today. The introduction to the book opens with a discussion of the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Readers meet powerful individuals who deserve a special place in the history books. James Hack Tuke, a Quaker, not only provided and distributed relief, but he attempted to address the underlying issues that left Ireland, a British colony, impoverished. His reports from famine inflicted areas highlighted pre-existing social conditions caused by poverty, not just famine related hunger. His reports challenged the stereotype popularized in the British press that the Irish were lazy and stressed the compassion the Irish showed for their neighbors. While working with famine refugees in his British hometown of York, Tuke became ill with typhus, also known as “Famine Fever,” a disease that caused him to suffer from debilitating after-effects for the rest of his life. After the famine subsided in the 1850s, Tuck continued his campaign for Irish independence from the British yoke.

Count Pawl de Strzelecki of Poland was an adopted British citizen who documented the impact of the Great Irish Famine so that British authorities could not ignore what was taking place and who spoke out against the inadequacy of British relief efforts. Strzelecki was a geographer, geologist, mineralogist, and explorer. As an agent for the British Association for the Relief of Distress in Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland, he submitted reports on conditions in County Donegal, Mayo and Sligo. The reports challenge the British government’s effort to minimize the impact of the famine on the Irish people. On a personal level, Strzelecki provided direct aid to impoverished Irish children and lobbied before Parliamentary committees for increased governmental and institutional attention to their plight. He later worked to provide assistance to women who were emigrating to Australia.

The chapter on Asenath Nicholson was written by my colleague at Hofstra University, Maureen Murphy, Director of the New York State Great Irish Famine Curriculum and author of Compassionate Stranger: Asenath Nicholson and the Great Irish Famine. Nicholson was an American Protestant evangelical who traveled the Irish countryside delivering relief packets and sending reports home to the United States in an effort to raise more money. While she distributed Bibles, she did not make participation in Protestant services a condition of aid, unlike a number of British aid workers. Murphy describes Nicholson as a “woman who was ahead of her time – a vegetarian, a teetotaler, a pacifists, and an outdoor exercise enthusiast” (96). Nicholson’s achievements were largely ignored by a male-dominated world until brought to public attention by Murphy’s work.

Daniel Donovan was a workhouse medical doctor in Skibbereen, perhaps the hardest hit town in County Cork and in all of Ireland. I consider him one of the most significant heroes included in the book. As epidemic diseases devoured the countryside, Dr. Dan, as he was known locally, treated the poor and documented conditions for the outside world. Donovan’s diary reported on the impact of the famine in Skibbereen was published in 1846 as Distress in West Carberry – Diary of a Dispensary Doctor and sections were reprinted in a number of newspapers in Ireland and England, including The Illustrated London News. Dr. Dan, who became a major international medical commentator on famine, fever, and cholera, continued to serve the people of Skibbereen until his death in 1877.

I do have one area of disagreement with the editors. I would have included a section on the leaders of Young Ireland and the 1848 rebellion against British rule, including William Smith O’Brien, John Blake Dillon, John Mitchel, and Thomas Meagher. Rebellion, as well as relief, was an important and heroic response to the Great Irish Famine.

Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day?

Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day?

On October 11, 2021, cities across the United States celebrated Indigenous People’s Day. The idea of a day celebrating the indigenous peoples of the Americas was first introduced at the United Nations in 1977. In 2007, a UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People declared that October 12 would be an International Day of Solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. On October 12, 2021, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a proclamation recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day. However, Hochul also marched in a Columbus Day parade. President Joe Biden issued a similar proclamation declaring that “On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, our Nation celebrates the invaluable contributions and resilience of Indigenous peoples, recognizes their inherent sovereignty, and commits to honoring the Federal Government’s trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations.”

In New Jersey, legislation was introduced in the State Assembly to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day as an official state holiday but it did not pass. Newark has recognized Indigenous People’s Day since 2017 and Princeton since 2019. New Jersey has three state-recognized tribes, the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation, the Powhatan Renape Nation, and the Ramapough Lunaape Nation. It also has the largest concentration of people of Italian ancestry in the United States. Columbus Day has been celebrated since 1937. Jameson Sweet, a Rutgers University professor, argues that switching from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day is “about acknowledging this difficult past that is usually erased.” Joseph Pennacchio, a Republican state senator from Morris County, responds that Columbus’ voyages “The bottom line is that little flicker of flame started what we now know as America.”

Lisa DuBois, New York–based artist curator and photojournalist, Social Documentary Network: “We are at the start of a new age in American history, one in which the past will be examined more closely. Thirteen states do not observe Columbus Day as a public holiday. Indigenous Peoples’ Day or Native American Day is observed and celebrated in Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, D.C., and Wisconsin and South Dakota instead of Columbus Day. For centuries, we have been misled by skewed interpretations of historical events, and fiction has turned into perceived facts. We as a society recoil when confronted with unpleasant realities, and a minority must bear the responsibility of enlightening others with the truth, due to multigenerational impressions carried along with the fervor of religious and or political convictions on topics such as slavery and Native American genocide. Columbus Day will evolve into an Italian American appreciation day as the focus shifts to the magnificent contributions that Italian Americans have made to the diversity of a new multicultural America, and Columbus will claim his rightful place in history as a ruthless explorer.

Karla Freire, Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School, Queens, New York: “I firmly believe that Columbus Day should be permanently renamed “Indigenous Peoples Day” in order to commemorate the millions of lives that were lost in the Americas during European conquest in the 15th and 16th centuries. Additionally, it should be a day to openly acknowledge and reflect upon the traumatic effects of colonialism that are still felt by Indigenous peoples and people of indigenous descent, today. The name “Columbus Day” needs to become a remnant of the past. It should be referred to as “Indigenous Peoples Day” on a national level. To continue to honor Columbus, as a country, is deeply harmful and offensive to indigenous peoples of the United States, as well as some within the Latinx community, like Latinx people of indigenous descent. As a Latina of indigenous descent, it pains me to think about anyone honoring Columbus or when people are upset regarding its name change. Many people in “defense” of Columbus Day do not realize or fully process the horrific, dishonorable behavior Columbus and his men carried out in the Americas after 1492. According to historical accounts, written by Columbus himself, the peoples Europeans first encountered were peaceful, gentle, and even generous towards them. Yet, Columbus and his men, fueled by greed and cruelty, tortured and murdered them. They brutally raped women and young girls. Dogs, trained to kill, were brought from Spain to attack and murder any “disobedient” or “rebellious” indigenous peoples. To defend Columbus and regard him as a man that deserves statues and a holiday dedicated to him, demonstrates a fundamental lack of historical knowledge, depth, and empathy.

For those that state it is unfair to Italians, it denies them an opportunity to celebrate their heritage – I ask the following questions: Do you really want to celebrate your heritage using a despicable person, like Columbus, as your cultural representative? There are so many other Italian figures who can be honored and used to represent your culture, who are not problematic–why not pick someone, like Mother Cabrini, to honor instead? Finally, the most important question for Columbus Day defenders is: Why are you still so willing to celebrate your heritage through Columbus, even though he was a man who tried to erase my own heritage and culture?”

Should Chief Daniel Nimham Be Honored or Erased?

Should Chief Daniel Nimham Be Honored or Erased?

Peter Feinman

This article is reprinted with permission from the Institute of History, Archaeology, and Education.

“Chief Daniel Nimham was the last grand Sachem of the Wappinger Confederacy. While Nimham and other Wappingers fought against the French in the French and Indian War, their lands [in what became] Putnam County [NY] were usurped by Adolph Philipse. In 1766, Nimham traveled to England to challenge these fraudulent land titles in the British courts. In 1774, the Stockbridge Indians—a community of Wappinger, Munsee and Mohicans living in Massachusetts—organized a militia or community defense an in solidarity with the American cause of independence. Capt. Daniel Nimham and his son Capt. Abraham [they were Christians], along with the rest of the Stockbridge Militia, served in every major campaign in the eastern theater of the Revolution. By the summer f 1778, the Stockbridge Militia was stationed at an outpost near Fort Independence in the Bronx. This area—between British-occupied Manhattan and the main American forces in White Plains—was a no man’s land and the scene of constant skirmishes and ambushes from both sides. On August 31, 1778, Chief Nimham and the Stockbridge Militia were surrounded and killed by British Dragoons and Hessians under the command of Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe [best known as an evil villain in the AMC series “Turn” and as a hero and founder in Toronto].” Source: DAR/SAR Brochure

Daniel Nimham has been honored. A cairn of boulders and plaque at Indian Field in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx near the site of Nimham’s death, honors him and his fellow warriors. In 1906, the Westchester Historical Society and the Mount Vernon Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution created this historical honor. On August 31, 2021, there was a ceremony at the Nimham Monument (which I attended). The event was organized by the Col. Benjamin Tallmadge Bronx Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Albuquerque Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, and the Knightsbridge Historical Society. In the dedication of Seven Wappinger Stones, the following nations within the Confederacy were honored: Wappingers (Wappingers Falls, Dutchess County); Nochpeem (Carmel, Nimham Mountain, Putnam County); Siwanoy (Bronx, Hunters Island); Weckqueskee (Dobbs Ferry, Westchester County); Sink Sink (Ossining, Westchester County); and Rechewani (Manhattan).

As you can see from the list, there is a mountain in Putnam County named after Nimham. It is near where the Nimham Mountain Singers hold an annual pow-wow in August for the public. The headquarters for the organization is located on Chief Nimham Drive in Carmel, NY. By coincidence, I had alerted a colleague in Fishkill about the event in the Bronx. He arranged to have the municipality present at the event and to participate. They did so because Nimham had either had been born there or lived there. The municipality is arranging to dedicate an eight-foot tall bronze statue in his likeness probably in the spring, 2022. The statue will be located in the hamlet of Wiccopee, in East Fishkill, named after a Wappinger sub-tribe. So there are multiple ways in which Chief Daniel Nimham has been honored. But would you name a school after him and have him as your school mascot?

At the same time Nimham has been honored and in the same area of the Wappinger Confederacy, there also has been an ongoing effort to erase the Indian presence from school mascots. True the examples of the dispute are not for Nimham himself or either for the Wappingers. It is not my intention here to chronicle chapter-and-verse the various community fights over the maintenance or removal of Indian mascots particularly as they relate to high school football teams and other sports. These include the

Cross River John Jay High School Indians, the Mahopac Indians, the Nyack Indians, and the Wappinger Roy C. Ketcham Indians. According to a student petition in Wappinger: “The Roy C Ketcham High School and Wappingers Junior High School both have the mascot the Wappinger Indians. A human being should not be a mascot. This is offensive and damaging to students and community members who are Indigenous people.”

This is an example of teenage idealism at its purest. However, an adult version of these sentiments has been proposed as well in the state legislature that would ban New York schools from using Indian names, logos, and mascots beginning in 2024. Dr. Ian Record of the National Congress of American Indians said in July 2021: “The use of Native American sports mascots, logos or symbols perpetuates stereotypes of American Indians that are harmful. The ‘warrior savage’ myth has plagued this country’s relationship with the Indian people as it reinforces the racist view that Indians are uncivilized and uneducated.”

Heather Bruegel, a historian and cultural affairs director of the Stockbridge-Munsee community now based in Wisconsin said the people were not honored by names such as “Chiefs,” “Warriors,” and “Braves” which are offensive. She would prefer that the history would be taught accurately in the schools.

The Stockbridge Indians are aware of the honoring of Chief Nimham for his actions as a presumably brave warrior. To the best of my knowledge they have launched no campaign to topple the monument and markers to Nimham and his fellow warriors in the Bronx and Putnam nor to the statue to him being planned for the spring.

It seems that words like “warrior,” chiefs,” and “braves” only apply to Indians and to no other peoples. Apparently Achilles was not a warrior. It remains to be seen what would happen if a school or sports team kept the warrior name and changed the mascot. Klingons anyone? One suggestion made in the discussion was that Nyack Indians become the Nyack Lenape after the people who lived there.  That suggestion failed. The dominant decision is the best Indian is an erased Indian.

Consider for example, the Tappan Zee Bridge. It famously combines the Dutch and Tappan Indian heritages in its name – the name of a people and the Dutch word for “sea” at this wide point in the Hudson River. However the mascot of the Tappan Zee High School recognizes the Dutch heritage but ignores the Tappan. They have been erased. The Village of Ossining, named after one of the people part of the Wappinger Confederacy, is debating removing the Indian profile from its seal. It already changed the nick name of the high school from Indians. While the erasure of the Indian heritage is not complete in the village, one can anticipate that it will occur. Most likely the same fate awaits the Lenape, the Stockbridge Indians, and the Wappinger Confederacy wherever the name changes have occurred. The purification process leaves no trace behind. Perhaps Sing Sing, Wappingers, Wiccopee, Tappan, and Katonah will have to change their names as well when the next generation of idealistic teenagers finds a cause.

The Chicago Blackhawks are a hockey team named after an individual named “Black Hawk.” According to a team statement: “The Chicago Blackhawks’ name and logo symbolizes an important and historic person, Black Hawk of Illinois’ Sac & Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans and the public. We celebrate Black Hawk’s legacy by offering ongoing reverent examples of Native American culture, traditions and contributions, providing a platform for genuine dialogue with local and national Native American groups. As the team’s popularity grew over the past decade, so did that platform and our work with these important organizations.” Needless-to-say the team is under pressure to change the name and mascot.

The Spokane Indians, a minor league baseball team, has a similar experience to the Chicago Black Hawks except it is named after a people and not an individual. At one time, the Indian mascot had nothing to do with the actual Spokane Indians located approximately 40 miles away. Now there are regular meetings between the tribe and the team. The mascot has been changed to a trout for a traditional food source of the people. The name on the team uniform is in Salish the language of the Spo-ka-NEE. Exhibits of the culture and history of the people have been placed in the stadium. An advertisement on the scoreboard depicts a traditional Spokane tribe person in headdress. And the nickname of the high school on the Spokane reservation is “Redskins” which does not seem to bother the people there. Obviously both the team and the people are in major need of cleansing and purification to meet Woke standards. A reporter spoke to the chairwoman of the Spokane Tribal Business Council, Carol Evans: “she expressed great pride in the partnership and emphasized the fundamental difference between the Spokane Indians baseball club and other teams. “We are not their mascot,” she said. “They’re named after our tribe.”

The Florida State University provides another example of a win-win solution. From its website:

“In the late 1960s and early 1970s, FSU’s campus became a learning ground with regard to the Florida Seminole Indians. Several key people were directly responsible for the new awareness. Joyotpaul “Joy” Chaudhuri, an American Indian expert and FSU professor of political science, and his wife, Jean, an American Indian activist, came to the university during this period. They helped establish an American Indian Fellowship at FSU. This influential group led the campus and the community toward a better understanding of Native Americans in general and the Florida Seminoles in particular. The group was instrumental in mediating between the university and the Florida Seminole Indians. There were several meetings between the two, and problems were addressed to the satisfaction of both. As a result, FSU retired certain images that were offensive to the tribe, and began consulting with the tribe regularly on all such matters.

By the late 1970s, FSU’s campus, like the rest of country, had become more educated about Indians in general and the Florida Seminoles in particular. Along with this new understanding came major changes in the university’s mascots. It became very important to portray the university’s namesake with dignity and honor, and to do it with the graces of the Florida Seminole tribe. This attitude culminated in a mutual respect between the two institutions, and further tied their futures to one another.

In 1978, FSU embarked upon a new tradition — one that had the full endorsement of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. A Seminole warrior riding a horse, to become known as Osceola and Renegade, was introduced at FSU home football games, and soon became one of the most enduring and beloved symbols of the university. For more than 30 years, FSU has worked closely with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to ensure the dignity and propriety of the various Seminole symbols used by the university. The university’s goal is to be a model community that treats all cultures with dignity while celebrating diversity.”

A recent article provided these quotations: “Florida State University’s official use of the Seminole name is different from other names in that it does not perpetuate offensive racial stereotypes nor is it meant to diminish or trivialize any Native American or indigenous peoples. Instead, it is used with explicit tribal permission and involvement to honor and promote the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s unconquered history and spirit that persists to this day,” Elizabeth Hirst, FSU’s chief of staff and liaison to the Seminole Tribe, told the Tampa Bay Times in 2020.

“The Tribe views the relationship as a multi-dimensional collaboration that provides meaningful educational opportunities and other positive outcomes,” tribe spokesman Gary Bitner told The Times.

One would think that the same such partnerships could be created elsewhere even at the high school level. The fact that such partnerships are never even considered is a sign of how the dialog has degenerated.

During all these confrontations over Indian logos, they remain quite common for Indian organizations and colleges. Two observations come to mind here. One big difference between Americans and Indians in logos relates to individuals. Americans love individual symbols. Think of Uncle Sam and Liberty as symbols of the country as examples. Even our nation’s capital is named after an individual. By contrast the Indian logos seem more symbolic or metaphorical. I suspect there is a real cultural difference here. That is why in the land of Daniel Nimham a school can be named after fellow American Revolution hero John Jay but not after Nimham.

Second, all these Indian organizations are still named “Indians.” By contrast when Negroes became African American, all Negro organizations were obligated to change their names accordingly. Apparently white people have yet to be as successful in getting Indians to abandon their names and become “Indigenous.” Dr. Ian Record of the National Congress of American Indians used the term “Indians” three times in two sentences (above). On the other hand as the student petition suggests (above), idealized (white) teenagers have now been educated to never use the word “Indian.”

In a previous blog,  (What Are You Doing for the Indian Citizenship Act (1924) Centennial?), I suggested that the Indian Citizen Act centennial provided a convenient opportunity to discuss the ongoing problems related to the place of Indian Nations and Indian individuals in America. Lord knows, there is plenty to discuss. As I read the plethora of news articles from my local paper about mascots, I realize that such discussions are a farfetched pipedream. There can be no “come-let-us-reason-together” in a moral cultural war. There can be no healing in zero-sum confrontations. The stories of Daniel Nimham, Chief Katonah, and the Wappinger Confederacy provide an excellent example of the potential opportunity to begin such a dialog. The absence of his name from the mascot discussions which have been held so far reveal that there is no chance of such healing discussions even being started yet alone succeeding.

Origin and Meaning of Critical Race Theory

Origin and Meaning of Critical Race Theory

Alan Singer

On a November 2021 CNN broadcast, host Chris Cuomo interviewed comedian/commentator Bill Maher about a supposed leftwing peril threatening the United States, feeding him a series of softball questions and responding with “Oh my God” facial expressions. After acknowledging “I’m not in schools” and “I have no interaction with children,” Maher announced that he has heard from people all over the country that “kids are sometimes separated into groups, oppressor and oppressed” and being taught “racism is the essence of America.” He derided this practice as “just silly, it’s just virtue-signaling” and accused people advocating for curriculum revision of being “afraid to acknowledge progress,” a psychological disorder he alternately labeled “wokeness” and “progressophobia.” Maher’s comments on “wokeness” and “progressophobia” reminded me of a 19th century medical condition described by Dr. Samuel Cartwright from Louisiana in DeBow’s Review in 1851 as “Drapetomania, the disease causing Negroes to run away from slavery.”

I kept waiting for Chris Cuomo to ask Maher to provide an example, any example, to support his claims, but Cuomo never did and Maher never felt compelled to offer any evidence. On his television show, Maher promotes a group of contrarians that want to start their own college where they will be free to present offensive ideas and dismiss objections without having to provide supporting evidence or answer to anyone. Cuomo never asked Maher about that either.

In August 2021, the Brookings Institute reported that at least eight states had passed legislation banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory, although only Idaho actually used the phrase. The modern iteration of Critical Race Theory began in the 1980s when legal scholars followed by social scientists and educational researchers employed CRT as a way of understanding the persistence of race and racism in the United States. Kimberlé Crenshaw, who teaches law at UCLA and Columbia University and was an early proponent of critical race theory, described it as “an approach to grappling with a history of white supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it.” Basically, Critical Race Theory disputes the idea of colorblindness or legal neutrality and argues that race and racism have always played a major role in the formulation of American laws and the practices of American institutions. It is a study of laws and institutions that sifts through the surface cover to look for underlying meaning and motivation. In my work as a historian, I traced the current debate over “citizen’s arrest” back to its implementation in the South during the Civil War when it was used to prevent enslaved Africans from fleeing bondage. It essentially empowered any white person to seize and hold any Black person they suspected of a crime, stealing white property by stealing themselves As an academic discipline CRT does not claim that everything about the United States is racist or that all white people are racist. The CRT lens examines laws and institutions, not people, certainly not individual people.

What has come to be known as a CRT approach to understanding United States history and society actually has much deeper roots long before the 1980s. A 19th century French observer of American society, Alexis De Tocqueville, in the book Democracy in America published in 1835, wrote: “I do not believe that the white and black races will ever live in any country upon an equal footing . . . But I believe the difficulty to be still greater in the United States than elsewhere . . . [A]s long as the American democracy remains at the head of affairs . . . [I]t may be foreseen that the freer the white population of the United States becomes, the more isolated will it remain.

In an 1852 Independence Day speech delivered in Rochester, New York, Frederick Douglass rhetorically asked, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Douglass then answered his own question. “The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence [given] by your fathers is shared by you, not by me . . . What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; our shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”

In the 19th century, a reverse CRT lens was openly used by racists to justify the laws and institutions derided by Alexis De Tocqueville and Frederick Douglass. In the majority opinion of the Supreme Court in its 1857 Dred Scott decision, Chief Justice Roger Taney claimed, and the Court ruled, that “A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a ‘citizen’ within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States” because “When the Constitution was adopted, they were not regarded in any of the States as members of the community which constituted the State, and were not numbered among its ‘people or citizens.’ Consequently, the special rights and immunities guaranteed to citizens do not apply to them.”

The deep roots of racism were recognized by the United States Congress when it drafted the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments after the American Civil War. Abolitionist and civil rights proponent Congressman Thaddeus Stevens issued a warning in December 1865. We have turned, or are about to turn, loose four million slaves without a hut to shelter them or a cent in their pockets. The infernal laws of slavery have prevented them from acquiring an education, understanding the common laws of contract, or of managing the ordinary business of life. This Congress is bound to provide for them until they can take care of themselves. If we do not furnish them with homesteads, and hedge them around with protective laws; if we leave them to the legislation of their late masters, we had better have left them in bondage. If we fail in this great duty now, when we have the power, we shall deserve and receive the execration of history and of all future ages.” Stevens was right. Enforcement legislation was gutted by the Supreme Court making way for Jim Crow segregation, Klan terrorism, and the disenfranchisement of Black voters for the next 100 years. The power of racism was so great that in 1903, W.E.B. DuBois wrote in the forethought to The Souls of Black Folk that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.”

The legal system recognizing the legitimacy of racial distinction was affirmed by the Supreme Court in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision. Although the Supreme Court reversed itself with the Brown v. Topeka Kansas ruling in 1954, legal action to change American society really started with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, both designed to enforce the 14th Amendment prohibition that states could not make or enforce laws that “abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as amended in 1982, outlawed laws and practices that had the result of denying a racial or language minority an equal opportunity to participate in the political process, even if the wording of the law did not expressly mention race. A racist result was racism.

The New York State Court of Appeals also argued that under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act a law could be challenged as discriminatory if the “practice has a sufficiently adverse racial impact–in other words, whether it falls significantly more harshly on a minority racial group than on the majority . . . Proof of discriminatory effect suffices to establish liability under the regulations promulgated pursuant to Title VI.” Governments have the obligation to demonstrate that “less discriminatory alternatives” were not available. This is the modern origin of Critical Race Theory.

According to the Texas Tribune, the “new Texas law designed to limit how race-related subjects are taught in public schools comes with so little guidance, the on-the-ground application is already tying educators up in semantic knots as they try to follow the Legislature’s intent.” In one Texas district, a director of Curriculum and Instruction notified teachers that they had to provide students with “opposing” perspectives on the World War II era European Holocaust, presumably Holocaust-denial voices. It remains unclear if science teachers will now have to legitimize social media claims that the COVID-19 virus arrived on Earth from outer space.

In her blog, Heather Cox Richardson, an American historian and professor of history at Boston College, focused on subjects that were crossed out of the law, which listed topics permissible to teach. The dropped topics included the history of Native Americans, the writings of founding “mothers and other founding persons,” Thomas Jefferson on religious freedom, Frederick Douglass articles in the North Star, William Still’s records for the Underground Railroad, the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, documents related to women’s suffrage and equal rights, and documents on the African American Civil Rights movement and the American labor movement, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. The Texas legislature also crossed out from the list of topics that are permissible to teach the “history of white supremacy, including but not limited to the institution of slavery, the eugenics movement, and the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways in which it is morally wrong.”

What caught my attention more though was what the Texas legislators decided to include on the permissible list, documents that they apparently had never read. The “good” topics and documents include the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Federalist Papers “including essays 10 and 51,” excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and the transcript of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate from 1858 when Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas ran against each other for Senator from Illinois. When you read these documents through a Critical Race Theory lens or any critical lens, they expose the depth of racism in America’s founding institutions.

The Declaration of Independence includes a passage that has stuck with me since I first read it as a high school student in the 1960s. “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” I was always impressed by the vagueness of the passage. Who has the right to abolish a government? Did they mean the majority of the people, some of the people, or did the decision have to approach near unanimity? Did enslaved Africans share this right to rebel? Very unlikely.

The words “slave” and “slavery” do not appear in the United States Constitution until passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865 that banned slavery. However, a number of clauses in the original document were intended to protect the institution. The three-fifths compromise, which refers to “other Persons,” gave extra voting strength to slave states in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College.  Another clause forbade Congress from outlawing the trans-Atlantic slave trade for at least twenty years. A fugitive slave clause required that freedom-seekers who fled slavery to states where it was outlawed had to be returned to slavery if they were apprehended. The Constitution also mandates the federal government to suppress slave insurrections and the Second Amendment protected the right of slaveholders and slave patrols to be armed.

Both Federalists 38 and 54, which were most likely written by future President James Madison, himself a slaveholder, justified slavery. Madison first mentioned slavery in Federalist 38 where he defended the right of the national government to regulate American participation in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In Federalist 54, Madison explained the legitimacy of the Constitution’s three-fifths clause and of slavery itself. According to Madison, “In being compelled to labor, not for himself, but for a master; in being vendible by one master to another master; and in being subject at all times to be restrained in his liberty and chastised in his body, by the capricious will of another, the slave may appear to be degraded from the human rank, and classed with those irrational animals which fall under the legal denomination of property. In being protected, on the other hand, in his life and in his limbs, against the violence of all others, even the master of his labor and his liberty; and in being punishable himself for all violence committed against others, the slave is no less evidently regarded by the law as a member of the society, not as a part of the irrational creation; as a moral person, not as a mere article of property. The federal Constitution, therefore, decides with great propriety on the case of our slaves, when it views them in the mixed character of persons and of property.”

In the first Lincoln-Douglas debate on August 21, 1858, Stephen Douglas accused Lincoln of trying to “abolitionize” American politics and supporting a “radical” abolitionist platform. Lincoln responded that he was “misrepresented.” While Lincoln claimed to hate slavery, he did not want to “Free them, and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not . . . We cannot, then, make them equals . . . anything that argues me into his idea of perfect social and political equality with the negro, is but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words . . . I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists.” Lincoln then added in words that show the depth of American racism, “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality.”

The real question is why the big outrage about Critical Race Theory today? A group of traditional historians was infuriated by claims in the New York Times 1619 Project that race and racism have played a significant role in throughout American history, including as a motivation for the War for Independence. Whatever you think about that claim in the 1619 Project, I don’t think anyone seriously believes that opposition by a small group of historians is the basis for the assault on CRT. The much-criticized opening essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones does not even mention Critical Race Theory.

I believe the public attacks on Critical Race Theory, including in school board meetings, are a rightwing response to challenges to police actions following the murder of George Floyd and to the Black Lives Matter movement’s demands for racial justice. They have nothing to do with what or how we teach.

CRT became controversial when President Trump denounced it in an effort to rally his supporters during his re-election campaign. Trump declared, without any evidence, that “Critical race theory is being forced into our children’s schools, it’s being imposed into workplace trainings, and it’s being deployed to rip apart friends, neighbors and families.” According to Professor Crenshaw, acknowledging racism was being defined by President Trump and his supporters as racism. Racial equity laws and programs were called “aggression and discrimination against white people.”

We don’t teach CRT in the Pre-K to 12 curriculum because we don’t teach theory. We certainly don’t teach children to hate themselves or this country. What we do teach is critical thinking, and a critical race theory approach is definitely part of critical thinking.

Critical thinking means asking questions about text and events and evaluating evidence. It is at the core of Common Core and social studies education. I like to cite the conservative faction of the Supreme Court that claims to be “textualists,” meaning they carefully examine the text of laws to discover their meaning. Because they will need to become active citizens defending and extending democracy in the United States, we want young people to become “textualists,” to question, to challenge, to weigh different views, to evaluate evidence, as they formulate their own ideas about America’s past, the state of the nation today, and the world they would like to see.

The Texas anti-CRT law also includes more traditional social studies goals, “the ability to: (A) analyze and determine the reliability of information sources; (B) formulate and articulate reasoned positions;  (C) understand the manner in which local, state, and federal government works and operates through the use of simulations and models of governmental and democratic processes; (D) actively listen and engage in civil discourse, including discourse with those with different viewpoints; (E) responsibly participate as a citizen in a constitutional democracy; and (F) effectively engage with governmental institutions at the local, state, and federal levels.” It also includes an appreciation of “(A) the importance and responsibility of participating in civic life; (B) a commitment to the United States and its form of government; and (C) a commitment to free speech and civil discourse.”

Given these very clearly stated civics goals, I recommend that Texas social studies teachers obey the civics legal mandate by organizing with their students a mass campaign to challenge restrictions in the Texas law, including classroom “civil disobedience” by reading the material that was crossed out of the law. Maybe someday Texas students can share Martin Luther King’s “dream.”

AIM: How enlightened was the European Enlightenment? A CRT Lens Lesson

This lesson on the European Enlightenment is for the high school World History curriculum. The European Enlightenment is one of the first topics explored in the New York state 10th grade social studies curriculum. This lesson uses a CRT lens to build on understandings about the Scientific Revolution and the trans-Atlantic slave trade that were studied in the 9th grade. It establishes themes that reemerge in units on European Imperialism in Africa and Asia and lessons on Social Darwinism. Many scholars credit the European Enlightenment with establishing modern ideas like liberty and democracy. But it also defended gender inequality and attempted to establish a scientific basis for racism. Students are asked to take a closer look and decide: “How enlightened was the European Enlightenment?”

Do Now: The European Enlightenment is often known as the Age of Reason because Enlightenment thinkers tried to apply scientific principles to understand human behavior and how societies work. Many of the earliest Enlightenment thinkers were from England, Scotland, and France but the idea of using reason and a scientific approach spread to other European countries and their colonies. In the United States, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin are considered Enlightenment thinkers. While there are no firm dates, most historians argue that the European Enlightenment started in the mid-17th century building on the Scientific Revolution, and continued until the mid-19th century. Some historians have pointed out that the Age of Reason in Europe was also the peak years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade when millions of Africans were transported to the Americas as unfree labor on plantations.

One of the first major European Enlightenment thinkers was John Locke of England. Read the excerpt from Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government, written in 1690, and answer questions 1-4.

John Locke: “Liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others . . . Good and evil, reward and punishment, are the only motives to a rational creature: these are the spur and reins whereby all mankind are set on work, and guided . . . Man . . . hath by nature a power . . . to preserve his property – that is, his life, liberty, and estate – against the injuries and attempts of other men . . . The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom . . . All mankind . . . being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.”

Questions

  1. According to Locke, what is the most important human value?
  2. How does Locke believe this value is preserved?
  3. What document in United States history draws from Locke? Why do you select that document?
  4. In your opinion, why is John Locke considered a European Enlightenment thinker?

Activity: You will work with a team analyzing a quote from one of these European Enlightenment thinkers and answer the following questions. Select a representative to present your views to class. After presentations and discussion, you will complete an exit ticket answering the question, “How enlightened was the European Enlightenment?”

Questions

  1. Where is the author from? What year did they write this piece?
  2. What is the main topic of the excerpt?
  3. What does the author argue about the topic?
  4. Why is this author considered a European Enlightenment thinker?
  5. In your opinion, what do we learn about the European Enlightenment from this except?
 David Hume (Scotland, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 1779): “What truth so obvious, so certain, as the being of a God, which the most ignorant ages have acknowledged, for which the most refined geniuses have ambitiously striven to produce new proofs and arguments? What truth so important as this, which is the ground of all our hopes, the surest foundation of morality, the firmest support of society, and the only principle which ought never to be a moment absent from our thoughts and meditations? . . . Throw several pieces of steel together, without shape or form; they will never arrange themselves so as to compose a watch. Stone, and mortar, and wood, without an architect, never erect a house.”  
Baron de Montesquieu (France, The Spirit of the Laws, 1748): “Political liberty in a citizen is that tranquility of spirit which comes from the opinion each one has of his security, and in order for him to have this liberty the government must be such that one citizen cannot fear another citizen. When the legislative power is united with the executive power in a single person or in a single body of the magistracy, there is no liberty, because one can fear that the same monarch or senate that makes tyrannical laws will execute them tyrannically. Nor is there liberty if the power of judging is not separate from legislative power and from executive power. If it were joined to legislative power, the power over life and liberty of the citizens would be arbitrary, for the judge would be the legislator. If it were joined to executive power, the judge could have the force of an oppressor. All would be lost if the same man or the same body of principal men, either of nobles or of the people exercised these three powers: that of making the laws, that of executing public resolutions, and that of judging the crimes or disputes of individuals.”
Marquis de Lafayette (France, The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, 1789): “Therefore the National Assembly recognizes and proclaims, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of man and of the citizen: Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good. The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression. Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (France, Emile, or Education, 1762): “Women have ready tongues; they talk earlier, more easily, and more pleasantly than men. They are also said to talk more; this may be true, but I am prepared to reckon it to their credit; eyes and mouth are equally busy and for the same cause. A man says what he knows, a woman says what will please; the one needs knowledge, the other taste; utility should be the man’s object; the woman speaks to give pleasure. There should be nothing in common but truth . . . The earliest education is most important and it undoubtedly is woman’s work. If the author of nature had meant to assign it to men he would have given them milk to feed the child. Address your treatises on education to the women, for not only are they able to watch over it more closely than men, not only is their influence always predominant in education, its success concerns them more nearly, for most widows are at the mercy of their children, who show them very plainly whether their education was good or bad.”
Mary Wollstonecraft (England, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792): “Till women are more rationally educated, the progress in human virtue and improvement in knowledge must receive continual checks . . . The divine right of husbands, like the divine right of kings, may, it is to be hoped, in this enlightened age, be contested without danger . . . It would be an endless task to trace the variety of meannesses, cares, and sorrows, into which women are plunged by the prevailing opinion that they were created rather to feel than reason, and that all the power they obtain, must be obtained by their charms and weakness . . . It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world. . . . How many women thus waste life away the prey of discontent, who might have practiced as physicians, regulated a farm, managed a shop, and stood erect, supported by their own industry, instead of hanging their heads surcharged with the dew of sensibility, that consumes the beauty to which it at first gave lustre.”
Immanuel Kant (Germany, 1761, quoted in Achieving Our Humanity): “All inhabitants of the hottest zones are, without exceptions, idle . . . In the hot countries the human being matures earlier in all ways but does not reach the perfection of the temperate zones. Humanity exists in its greatest perfection in the white race. The yellow Indians have a smaller amount of Talent. The Negroes are lower and the lowest are a part of the American peoples . . . The race of the Negroes, one could say, is completely the opposite of the Americans; they are full of affect and passion, very lively, talkative and vain. They can be educated but only as servants (slaves), that is they allow themselves to be trained. They have many motivating forces, are also sensitive, are afraid of blows and do much out of a sense of honor.”
Thomas Jefferson (British North America, Preamble, Declaration of Independence, 1776): “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Thomas Jefferson (Virginia, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1785): “The first difference which strikes us is that of colour. Whether the black of the negro resides in the reticular membrane between the skin and scarf-skin, or in the scarf-skin itself; whether it proceeds from the colour of the blood, the colour of the bile, or from that of some other secretion, the difference is fixed in nature, and is as real as if its seat and cause were better known to us. And is this difference of no importance? Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races? Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of colour in the one, preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immovable veil of black which covers all the emotions of the other race? . . . Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them. In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection . . . Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.”

Exit ticket: “In your opinion, how enlightened was the European Enlightenment?”

What did Thomas Jefferson Buy in October 1803?

The Louisiana Purchase is generally presented to students as a land deal between the United States and France. Napoleon’s hope for a French New World empire collapsed when formerly enslaved Africans on the western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola defeated French forces and established an independent republic. The United States was anxious to purchase the French port of New Orleans near the mouth of the Mississippi River to open up the river to U.S. settlers west of the Appalachian Mountains.  Napoleon made a counter-offer and for $15 million the U.S. acquired over 800,000 square miles of land stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. Or did it?

In middle school, students generally trace the expansion of American territory on maps and may read a biography of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their First Nation guide and translator Sacagawea. Sacagawea was a Shoshone woman who had been kidnapped by another tribe. At the time of the expedition, she was married to a French fur-trapper and pregnant. Her baby, a son, was born during the expedition.

In high school students often examine the constitutional debate surrounding the purchase. President Thomas Jefferson was generally a strict constructionist who believed in limited federal authority. Although the Constitution did not expressly authorize the federal government to purchase territory, Jefferson and his special envoy James Monroe argued it was permissible under the government’s power to negotiate treaties with foreign powers. Parts or all of the present day states of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana, were acquired by the United States.

However, despite claims to the territory between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains by both Spain and France, there were very few European settlers in the region outside of the area near New Orleans where the non-native population was about 60,000 people, including 30,000 enslaved Africans. During the expedition west, Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea encountered members of at least fifty different Native American tribes, some of whom had never met Europeans before, most of whom had never heard of France or Spain, and none of whom recognized Spanish, French, or American sovereignty over their homelands. The Native American population of the region included the Quapaw and Caddo in Louisiana itself, and the Shoshone, Pawnee, Osages, Witchitas, Kiowas, Cheyenne, Crow, Mandan, Minitari, Blackfeet, Chinook, and different branches of the Sioux on the Great Plains.

The reality is that for $15 million the United States purchased French claims to land that belonged to other people and was not France’s to sell and then used military force to drive the First Nations into restricted areas and instituted policies designed to destroy their cultures. Middle school students should consider how they would you feel if someone from someplace else who they had never met knocked on their door and told their family that they all had to leave because a King across the ocean or a President thousands of miles away gave them ownership over their house and the land it stood on? High school students should discuss whether Manifest Destiny, American expansion west to the Pacific, was a form of imperialism, and how it was similar or different from European colonization in the Americas, Africa, and Asia? High school students should also discuss whether United States treatment of the First Nations constitutes genocide and what would be an appropriate recompense for centuries of abuse.

As many areas of the United States shift from celebrating Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day, a good question to start with is to ask students exactly what did Thomas Jefferson buy in October 1803?

Local History: Albany High School Students Weigh Philip Schuyler’s Legacy

Local History: Albany High School Students Weigh Philip Schuyler’s Legacy

Matt Hunter

Reprinted by permission from Spectrum Local News, Albany NY.

Albany High School is partnering with the Underground Railroad Education Center to teach students about social justice through the lens of history. Students in the school’s Young Abolitionists Leadership Institute meet once a week after school to explore the legacy of the slave-owning Revolutionary War general, Philip Schuyler and examine the public debate over statues and other commemorations. Schuyler was also Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law. A statue of Schuyler in front of Albany City Hall has stoked controversy and discussion and the city administration has announced it will be moved. The students are compiling a report that city leaders will consider when deciding what to do with the statue.

The school day had wrapped up less than a half hour before, but Franz Gopaulsing and his peers were only getting started on their discussion about one of the more well-known and, now, controversial figures in Albany history. “Some were servants, but it was mostly enslaved people that did most of the work,” Gopaulsing told the group about his visit to the historic Schuyler Mansion over the summer. “They are kind of shown as heroes and stuff, but when you actually go in the mansion and take the tour, you see that they actually had a lot of slaves.”

The sophomore is a member of Albany High School’s Young Abolitionists Leadership Institute, which is discussing and debating the legacy of Philip Schuyler during their weekly after-school sessions this fall. “It changed my view on him because I thought, if this guy got a statue, he must’ve been someone who was perfect, he never did something bad in his life,” Gopaulsing said.

More specifically, the students are exploring what to do with the statue of Schuyler that has stood in front of City Hall for decades. It became a controversial symbol earlier this year, when it came to light the Revolutionary War general owned and housed slaves at his Albany mansion.

“It wasn’t shocking,” said senior Junique Huggins, who’s been part of the group for the past few years. “I mean, it’s known that back in that time for a white man to have slaves, so it wasn’t something that was shocking to me.”

During their own breakaway discussion, Huggins and sophomore FranZhane Gopaulsing, Franz’s twin sister, agreed getting to discuss the topic more in depth is enlightening.

“It’s interesting to see everybody have different perspectives on the statue, or even Philip Schuyler himself, and to learn more about it,” Huggins said. “I didn’t get taught about Phillip Schuyler in school, so to learn it here was really good,” FranZhane Gopaulsing said.

The program is overseen by Mary Liz Stewart, the co-founder and executive director of the local Underground Railroad Education Center. “This program is intended to create an environment in which teens can learn history that they are not learning in school and look at it from a social justice perspective, relating that history to themselves today,” Stewart said. By digging deeper into local topics like the Schuyler debate, and more global social justice discussions like the death of George Floyd, Stewart says the students are learning how to affect change in their own community. “I want you to think back to the protests that have been going on, especially since George Floyd’s murder,” Stewart said during the group discussion. “Think about what you picked up across the airwaves and in news reports related to statues.” “I became more interested in it after George Floyd’s death because there was a whole protest and everything that sparked up after his death,” FranZhane Gopaulsing said.

The group will eventually write a report that city leaders will consider when deciding what to do with the statue. “It feels kind of cool because it feels like we are being heard and that we are kind of important,” Franz Gopaulsing said. Only a couple weeks into the program, most in the group have yet to make up their mind, but they’re already debating a number of alternatives. “We should have the together hands that would show, like, unity of people of color and other races coming together as one,” Huggins proposed during her discussion with FranZhane Gopaulsing.

Regardless of the outcome, group members say the discussions definitely have them thinking about the issue and their own experiences in a whole new light. “It’s sort of got me thinking about which historical things are celebrated and do they really need to be celebrated?” Franz Gopaulsing said. “It feels good to leave a positive impact and even bring change into the city itself, it actually feels good,” Huggins said. 

A Different Pace of Change: Debunking the Myth of “The Roaring Twenties”

A Different Pace of Change: Debunking the Myth of “The Roaring Twenties”

Michael Tomasulo

Famed 1920s American author Willa Cather once said “the world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts…” With this quote, Cather is referencing the culture wars that were emerging in America during the 1920s. She is summarizing the feeling that spread during the 1920s as the United States seemed to divide itself into two separate halves with urban and rural cultures. America during the 1920s is often viewed as a time of economic prosperity as well as a time consumed by an electrifying party scene. Wealthy young men and women going out to dance halls to drink, smoke, and, of course, dance. When they are not out on the town, these wealthy Americans spend their time in their lavish Fifth Avenue apartments or extravagant suites in the Ritz Hotel. This was not the lifestyle that all Americans had the opportunity of living, however, which is where the divide Willa Cather was describing occurred. Young, wealthy individuals in metropolitan America lived vastly different lives in comparison to the young individuals living in rural and small-town America.

The other perspective for which one could analyze Cather’s quote is in terms of the division of cultures as a new youth culture was emerging, growing, and spreading in urban spaces throughout the 1920s. Young men and women in metropolitan America, mainly, were working to distance themselves from their parents’ seemingly outdated morals, values, ideals, and norms which is where new images and identities such as the flapper stem from. However, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “youth is unfortunately not a permanent condition of life.” The youth in American cities spent most of their time engaging in the vast slew of leisure activities their cities provided like movie theatres, dance halls, and amusement locations like Coney Island in New York. This was not the way a large portion of the American youth population had the luxu ry of choosing to live. The youth population in rural American towns truly felt the impact of Fitzgerald’s quote as they oftentimes held more responsibility than the wealthy youths of the city. Rural youths did not have the opportunities to spend all their time as frivolously as urban youths were able to because they were busy working, whether that be in or out of the home, and they did not have the plethora of leisure activities that the city offered its patrons. This is not to say that all young people in metropolitan America were not working since there were plenty of working-class youths in cities like New York that came from immigrant families. However, the focus here is on the wealthy youth population living in the urban meccas of America during the 1920s. This leads into why “The Roaring Twenties” is such a misnomer for the decade that is the 1920s; it only classifies life in the city and disregards the large portion of the population living in the small towns and rural America.

There are some questions that arise when considering this idea that “The Roaring Twenties” is an inaccurate nickname for the 1920s as a decade. Through extensive research, this project will answer some if not all of those questions. Those questions include the following: Why is “The Roaring Twenties” viewed from only one perspective? Specifically, that perspective of immense wealth and party lifestyles. How was life different for those not living in major cities different from the lifestyles of those who were living in metropolis? Who is responsible for perpetuating the myth of “The Roaring Twenties” and why do they do that? What is the danger in immortalizing the decade in this way? Is there any danger? Again, this project will answer all of these questions in some form or another in order to provide some explanation into why “The Roaring Twenties” is such an inaccurate misnomer that disregards a large portion of the American population during the 1920s.

The decade that is the 1920s has historically been granted the moniker of “The Roaring Twenties.” When most hear this nickname, what comes to mind is lavish lifestyles filled with parties, drinking, flappers, dance halls, and many other frivolous activities. The classification of “The Roaring Twenties” is one that is inaccurate when describing the decade as a whole as it only categorizes the lifestyles of those wealthy individuals living in urban spaces, like New York City. For those working-class individuals and families living in rural and small-town America, the 1920s were far from “roaring.” This unequal representation brought on by this misnomer can be visualized through the literary works of two well-known authors of the 1920s and the 20th century as a whole: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Willa Cather. Fitzgerald is arguably one of the main perpetuators of the myth that the 1920s was “roaring” as the major themes of his book revolved around upper-class society in urban meccas such as New York. The main characters that his stories focus on often hail from wealthy families and have luxuries and opportunities that not many were offered during the 1920s. Willa Cather, on the other hand, wrote stories that mostly were set in rural America. She is praised for her ability to transport readers to the small towns she writes about as well as her ability to accurately depict life in these small rural towns. Cather’s writing helps to show how incomparable life was for those individuals not living in major cities and, in turn, how and why “The Roaring Twenties” is such an inaccurate misnomer for the decade as a whole.

F. Scott Fitzgerald is considered one of the greatest authors of the modern era due to his easily recognized and distinct style of prose. He is most well-known for his novel The Great Gatsby and writing about similar themes of high society, wealthy individuals. However, he did not come from a family of money. Born in 1896, Fitzgerald was “the son of an unsuccessful businessman who had to rely upon his wife’s inheritance to support his children,” which made Fitzgerald “sensitive to his family’s outsider status among the monied elite of his native St. Paul, Minnesota” (F. Scott Fitzgerald Society, 2020). Fitzgerald’s sensitivity and insecurity eventually grew into a true inferiority complex that he was forced to deal with for the entirety of his life. He always felt a need for popularity and to fit in with the majority population. This led to him writing about the themes he is most widely known for, once he became an author. Throughout his lengthy career, “Fitzgerald’s main themes are ambition and loss, discipline vs. self-indulgence, love and romance, and money and class” (F. Scott Fitzgerald Society, 2020). Most of Fitzgerald’s well-known works focus on these major themes as they often feature wealthy, ambitious, self-indulgent individuals often trying to find love. These themes are heavily explored in two of Fitzgerald’s most famous works, The Beautiful and Damned and The Great Gatsby.

            The Beautiful and Damned, published in 1922, is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s second novel. The story follows a young, wealthy, Harvard-educated man named Anthony Comstock Patch and his wife, Gloria. At the beginning of the novel, Anthony is a young bachelor living in a large Fifth Avenue apartment who spends most of his time going out with his two best friends, Maury Noble and Richard “Dick” Caramel. Anthony’s view on life completely changes when he is introduced to Dick’s cousin, Gloria, whom he falls in love with and eventually marries. The middle and latter portions of the novel follow their initially loving marriage that quickly turns a bit rocky as they wait for Anthony’s extremely wealthy grandfather, Adam Patch, to die so that they can inherit his money. The couple become enthralled in their ambition for wealth until it eventually drives Anthony completely mad by the end of the novel (Fitzgerald, 1922).

The Great Gatsby is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel which was published in 1925. This novel follows a young, middle-class man named Nick Carraway as he moves into a small house next to the enormous manor owned by Jay Gatsby. Nick and Gatsby get along incredibly well with one another, but they come from two different worlds and classes: Nick from the middle- or working-class and Gatsby from the upper class. The novel follows the two men as they form a friendship and as Gatsby rekindles a relationship with Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan. In the end, however, Gatsby’s love for Daisy ultimately gets him killed by the grieving husband of a woman whom Daisy unintentionally killed while driving drunk (Fitzgerald, 1925).

Willa Cather is also considered to be one of the greatest authors of the modern era and of the 20th century for her innate abilities as a regionalist author. Cather is most notable for her novels and short stories set in rural and small-town America. She is widely praised for her abilities to really transport readers to the locations her stories are set. She is able to do this because she actually lived most of her life in Nebraska. As “the eldest of seven children, Willa Cather was born in Back Creek Valley, Virginia in 1873. When Cather was nine years old, her family moved to rural Webster County, Nebraska. After a year and a half, the family resettled in the county seat of Red Cloud, where Cather lived until beginning her college studies at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in 1890” (The National Willa Cather Center). Cather is known for her abilities to use her childhood and young adult experiences in rural Nebraska and allows readers to visualize the region and geographic features of rural America through her detailed descriptions and overall writing style. These skills are overtly present in two of her novels, One of Ours and A Lost Lady.

One of Ours, published in 1922, follows a man named Claude Wheeler living in rural Nebraska during the late 1910s and early 1920s. Claude feels as though he does not belong in the farming life he is living in, even though his fortune is guaranteed by his family’s profession. He is distanced from his father and extremely religious mother, and is basically rejected by his wife who would prefer to spend her time completing missionary work and political activism projects. While in college, Claude feels that the religious Temple College he attends is not giving him the best education and feels that he will get a more enriching and beneficial experience at the State University. His parents ignore his request and he is forced to stay at the religious school, but he then meets the Erlich family who he better identifies with. However, Claude eventually finds what he is searching for when the U.S. enters World War I and he enlists in the army. The novel explores the theme of belonging as Claude really only wants to feel as though he actually matters which he does not feel until he goes to fight in World War I (Cather, 1922).

A Lost Lady, published in 1923, is a novel by Willa Cather that actually had an incredibly prominent influence on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing of The Great Gatsby. This novel, however, tells the story of a woman named Marian Forrester, a wealthy socialite, and her husband Captain Daniel Forrester. The couple live in the small, Western town of Sweet Water, Nebraska along the Transcontinental Railroad. The story is told from the perspective of a young man and Sweet Water native named Neil Herbert. Neil feels very deeply for Marian, who is a representation of the American Dream, and he tells the story of her eventual social decline. This decline is said to mirror and allegorize the decline of the American frontier in the new age of rapid modernization and industrialization as well as the age that brought rise to capitalism in the United States. Overall, the novel is an allegory for the decline of the American Dream, a prominent theme in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, hence the influence, and the decline of the American frontier during the 1920s (Cather, 1923).

Metropolitan America, where one would find the major hustling and bustling cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles are where the lifestyles most associated with “The Roaring Twenties” are prevalent. These urban meccas are where young, wealthy Americans tended to call home during the 1920s. This is not to say that everyone living in metropolitan America were wealthy and from the upper-class. Rather, there were many working- and lower-class people living in major American cities, at this time, who would also participate in the various leisure activities offered by cities, simply in a different capacity. The focus of this project, however, is solely on the wealthy, upper-class youth population. Wealthy young men and women in these urban spaces would spend most of their time in dance halls and at various parties or in their large apartments and hotel rooms. The daily lives of these Americans are what are most directly associated with the moniker of “The Roaring Twenties.” Classifying the decade of 1920s as “The Roaring Twenties” only categorizes the lives of the wealthy in American urban spaces as they have the access and financial ability to the activities that are most directly associated with life during the 1920s. This wealthy lifestyle, and the people who live them, are accurately portrayed and represented throughout the various literary works of famed 1920s author F. Scott Fitzgerald through such characters as Anthony Patch from The Beautiful and Damned (Fitzgerald, 1922) and Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald, 1925).

            The wealthy metropolitan lifestyle is the one that is most directly associated with the moniker “The Roaring Twenties” which leads to the inaccuracy of that classification. When it comes to the daily practices and lifestyles of individuals living in major urban spaces, specifically those of wealth, there was an evolution in how individuals experienced daily life. This evolution can be mostly attributed to the access individuals living in urban spaces had as well as to their affluence and plentitude of wealth. The evolution can also be attributed to the modernization and commercialism of urban America during the 1920s as “advertisements, magazines, and movies broadcast the hedonistic delights available in cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles to the rest of the country” (Ryan, 2018, p. 9). Major American cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles were growing in population and area as more and more people were being drawn to them from the country and rural areas. Metropolitan spaces were made to look incredibly attractive in various forms of media such as advertisements, books, movies, magazines, etc. as the many attractions of the spaces were highlighted. Specifically, “it was the amusement park, lit up at night, the dance halls, and the movie palaces, and the ideas about what went on there, that drew the line of demarcation between the village and the city” (Ryan, 2018, p. 9-10). These were the hotspots of activity for wealthy youths in urban America as they offered the most entertaining experiences for them and these places were frequently presented attractively to all Americans through several facets of popular media, at the time.

This sort of lifestyle is also incredibly prevalent throughout several of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most notable literary works. For example, the main character of Fitzgerald’s 1921 novel The Beautiful and Damned, Anthony Patch, lives the life of a member of high society in New York City. When he is not in his luxurious apartment on Fifth Avenue, he would frequently “walk down Fifth Avenue to the Ritz, where he had an appointment for dinner with his two most frequent companions, Dick Caramel and Maury Noble” (Fitzgerald, 1922, p. 18). Anthony Patch’s life is the epitome of wealthy youth culture in urban America during the 1920s. Other than going to dinner at the Ritz, he can also be found attending parties of various types, frequenting dance halls, and finding company with women of a similar age to his and socioeconomic status until he meets Gloria who he eventually marries. Another well-known example and representation of metropolitan youth culture that is so directly associated with “The Roaring Twenties” is the character Jay Gatsby from Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby. Spontaneity was often a trait of young men and women in 1920’s metropolitan culture as they often were against being tied down and limited to experiencing too little an amount of activities and often would spend long nights out on the town. One of the most well-known examples of this spontaneity comes in The Great Gatsby when at a dinner party, Daisy Buchanan decides on a whim that the attendees of the party should drive into the city from Long Island (Fitzgerald, 1925, p. 926). Spontaneity was a common practice and trait among youths during the 1920s, especially young women and/or flappers, as they wanted to experience as much of life as they could and lead a life of excitement without being restrained or held back by society.

Young women during the 1920s saw a major evolution in the way they experienced life as well as in the ways they presented themselves to the rest of society. Specifically in urban spaces, the flapper image and identity came to prominence during the 1920s. A flapper has been described as “virtually any girl [who] could be found ‘deep in an atmosphere of jungle music and the questioning of moral codes” (Zeitz, 2006, p. 42). Flappers were redefining womanhood during the 1920s by changing the view and perception that was often placed onto women prior to this decade. They were women who dressed differently and acted differently in comparison to women prior to this time. Flappers are girls who “wear ‘hand-knit, sleeveless’ jerseys… that offer easy access to the forbidden regions of their bodies. They scoff at their parents’ prudery and remind them that ‘Mother, it’s done – you can’t run everything now the way you did in the early nineties” (Zeitz, 2006, p. 42). Young women during the 1920s were shifting the gender norms that had been placed on them and dramatically changing the ways people, but mainly men, viewed them as members of society. This flapper image and identity did not exist prior to “The Roaring Twenties” as F. Scott Fitzgerald is actually credited with creating the image in his first novel published in 1920.

In 1920 F. Scott Fitzgerald published and released his first novel called This Side of Paradise. This novel is said to be semiautobiographical as the main character, Amory Blaine, follows a similar life path compared to that of Fitzgerald himself. It is within this novel that Fitzgerald is said to have created the flapper image and identity that became widely known and grasped during the 1920s and is still widely known and even grasped today. However, “by later standards, Fitzgerald’s exposé of the flapper was tame. But it was provocative enough for its time” as “‘none of the Victorian mothers … had any idea how casually their daughters were accustomed to be kissed,’ opened an oft quoted chapter” (Zeitz, 2006, p. 42). The college age generation (the youths) living in urban America, mostly, were wholeheartedly breaking away from the standards and norms that their parental generation was setting for them and this breaking was increasingly intense and deliberate for young women. Young women were participating in activities and completing different actions that, prior to this time, would have never been seen done by a woman. In This Side of Paradise, “Amory saw girls doing things that even in his memory would have been impossible: eating three-o’clock, after-dance suppers in impossible cafés, talking of every side of life with a furtive excitement that Amory considered stood for a real moral let-down. But he never realized how wide-spread it was until he saw the cities between New York and Chicago as one vast juvenile intrigue” (Fitzgerald, 1920, p. 55-56). Flappers went against the traditional moral code set for women prior to the 1920s and were proud of their new sense of freedom and agency that they set for themselves within urban society. This identity and image coined by Fitzgerald opened a fairly brand-new conversation about sex, mainly in the city, and women’s sexuality.

The decade of the 1920s brought about an increase in sexual fluidity in terms of the lessening of the taboo nature of sex. Further, “in a culture saturated in sex, these girls knew more than their mothers and their grandmothers had at their age, and evidence shows that they did in fact engage in more sexual activity than their forebears. Later research demonstrates that higher numbers of women partook in premarital sex in the 1920s, though for most it was only acceptable as a prelude to marriage” (Ryan, 2018, p. 107). Young women during the 1920s were much more open about sex and their sexuality than the women whom came before them. Even though some women still decided not to partake in premarital sex unless it was considered a prelude to marriage, the decade showed an immense increase in the numbers of women partaking and participating in premarital sex. These sorts of changes can be accredited to the location that is metropolitan America and the accessibility that this locale provided young, wealthy Americans.

The accessibility that urban spaces provided young upper-class citizens for the various activities they participated in has a major impact on what made life in 1920s cities so “roaring.” Being that everything in cities was so condensed, there was a vast spectrum of activities for young men and women to participate in. There were dance halls, movie theatres and theatres for theatrical productions, restaurants, and in some places like New York there were places of amusement and entertainment like Coney Island. This accessibility, in the case of urban America, had an immense impact on popular media of this times. Specifically, literature was incredibly representative of leisure activities and was greatly impacted by the geography of the locale. Authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Willa Cather were inspired by urban geography (only in some cases for Cather) to set their novels and other stories.

In Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned, Anthony and Gloria Patch both hail from urban America where they were able to go out nightly and go to elegant restaurants, the theatre, or dance halls. However, after marrying one another, they decided to move out of New York City and ended up in the small suburb, north of the city, called Marietta. Fitzgerald writes a vastly different life for the young couple when they move to Marietta in comparison to the life they led in the city. Unfortunately for the newly married Patches, “Marietta itself offered little social life” (Fitzgerald, 1922, p. 152). Gloria and Anthony were so used to seeing friends on a daily and nightly basis when living in the city and this made the adjustment to rural living that much more difficult for them to the point where they were forced to move back to the city (because of this, but also because of financial issues). In opposition, in Willa Cather’s short story Coming, Eden Bower!, a man named Don Hedger takes the titular character Eden Bower on a date to Coney Island where “they went to the balcony of a big, noisy restaurant and had a shore dinner with tall steins of beer” and “after dinner they went to the tent behind the bathing beach, where the tops of two balloons bulged out over the canvas. A red-faced man in a linen suit stood in front of the tent, shouting in a hoarse voice and telling the people that if the crowd was good for five dollars more a beautiful young woman would risk her life for their entertainment” (Cather, 1920, p. 15). Places like Coney Island in urban America held such a wide array of activities for people to see, do, and participate in. These activities provided by the condensed nature of metropolises had an immense impact on popular literature during the 1920s and, in the case of Fitzgerald, helped to perpetuate the myth of “The Roaring Twenties.”

Even though is one of the most recognizable authors of the 1920s, and one of the most profound authors in general, F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the most responsible individuals in the perpetuation of the myth of “The Roaring Twenties.” Fitzgerald is known for mostly only writing about the lives of wealthy men and women living in major cities during the 1920s. His most well-known and widely recognized characters like Jay Gatsby, Amory Blaine, and Anthony Patch live among upper-class society in or near New York City. These characters lived in large homes and/or apartments, spent most of their time drinking at parties or dance halls, and had enough money that allowed them to not necessarily have to work if they chose not to. The inaccuracy and myth that stems from this writing is that these characters are set in unchanging class standings with no real opportunity or need for mobility. It is evident that “Fitzgerald clearly establishes the emblematic dissimilarity of style and taste between the rich and the others, arranging it around the habit” (Bechtel, 2017, p. 118). Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a perfect example of this dissimilarity as readers are presented with two vastly different main characters: Jay Gatsby of the upper class and Nick Caraway of the working class. In this novel Fitzgerald presents readers with these two characters and clearly distinguishes between their differing financial statuses through their attire, lifestyles, and homes. With this incredibly dissimilar presentation, “thus, Fitzgerald shows that the tastes of his upwardly mobile working-class men are gaudy and ostentatious, yet utterly terminable, fulfilling Bourdieu’s definitions of cultural incompetence and the vulgar manners that reveal underlying social conditions in the habitus” (Bechtel, 2017, p. 119). Fitzgerald’s portrayal of life in the 1920s was widely inaccurate as he presented this erroneous fallacy of the possibility of social mobility which is completely incongruous with Fitzgerald’s actual lifestyle.

When the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald are read, most readers would assume that Fitzgerald spent his life living like the wealthy characters he created. When reading his work, most would assume that Fitzgerald held the luxuries of frivolously spending money, living in a mansion of sorts, and no real need for work. However, “his popular reputation as a careless spendthrift is untrue. Fitzgerald was always trying to follow conservative financial principles” (Quirk, 2009). Fitzgerald led a life that was vastly incongruous with the lives in his most famous characters led. Throughout the majority of his life, Fitzgerald worked to save as much money as he could, until 1929 when his wife, Zelda fell ill. This is a perfect example of the danger of perpetuating the myth of “The Roaring Twenties.” By perpetuating this myth, Fitzgerald placed an inaccurate assumption onto himself in that most readers, and later historians, assumed he lived the wealthy, upper-class life of his characters which was not the case. Similarly, his writing is what leads to people assuming that life was the same for everyone in the country when that life that is mostly associated with the 1920s is only that of wealthy youths in metropolitan America. 

Rural America, where one would find the slow-moving small towns and farm towns. This is where one would find the lifestyles that are not commonly associated with the moniker “The Roaring Twenties.” These rural spaces are where most working and lower-class families would call home. People in these smaller, slow-moving spaces spent most of their time working or could be found crowding on neighbors’ porches singing, playing games, or engaging in small talk. This locale, frequently referred to as “Main Street,” is completely disregarded when most consider the moniker of “The Roaring Twenties” as these spaces were not categorized by that nickname. Young people living in small town America did not have the access to the activities nor, in most cases, to the financial frivolity that youths in urban America had making life for these youths vastly different. This different pace of change is most accurately represented through the literary works of famed author Willa Cather through such characters as Claude Wheeler from One of Ours (Cather, 1922) and Marian Forrester from A Lost Lady (Cather, 1923).

One of the most notable differences between life in the urban setting compared to life in the rural setting is the type of leisure activities young people participated in and engaged with. Part of this difference also has to do with the accessibility these young men and women had to different activities. For those living in rural towns, there were less options for a night out in comparison to what those living in cities had. Family life was heavily emphasized in small towns as young men and women often spent more time with their parents and siblings than the young men and women in metropolitan America. Again, most nights on Main Street were spent on the lawns or porches of one’s neighbor’s home where large groups of families and neighbors would sing and chat. This was not exclusive to any age group, specifically, though as “young couples joined in too, and while they might drift away momentarily, their evening centered on these community gatherings of all ages” (Ryan, 2018, p. 2). Youth culture in small town America did not revolve around independence or separation from one’s parents as it did in the city where young men and women oftentimes put immense effort into separating themselves from their previous familial generations. This sort of community gathering did change, somewhat, during the 1920s as the automobile became more commonplace for families to own so people in small town America would often drive out of their towns to participate in other sorts of leisure activities that were not offered nor present in their hometowns. An example of this begins the novel One of Ours by Willa Cather where readers are introduced to Claude Wheeler as he awoke excitedly one morning. Claude waked his younger brother, Ralph, and asked him to come help him wash the car because they had plans to go to the circus (Cather, 1922, p. 1). Claude and Ralph would otherwise not be able to see the circus without having a mode of transportation, in this case their car, to get them there. This was the case for most Americans living in small towns as leisure activities were not readily available nor present for them in their towns.

During the 1920s, the concept of youth culture became more distinct and prevalent throughout society. Young people of the time often sought to distance themselves from their parents’ old-fashioned morals, ideals, and values and live life in the way they chose to live it. However, historians have argued and debated where this, for the time, new distinction of cultures stemmed from. Some locate the origins of this culture gap to World War I which was the first war of the Machine Age, while “others locate its origins in the nation’s rapid modernization and industrialization, dramatically altered social, racial, and gender roles” (Drowne and Huber, 2004, p. 39). This is also an explanation for why leisure activities and youth culture differed so noticeably in small town America in comparison to metropolitan America. If the development of this new youth culture is going to be attributed to rapid modernization and industrialization, then it is evident why this was how youths in cities lived; they were directly witnessing and experiencing rapid modernization and industrialization. Young men and women in small towns were not seeing this modernization and industrialization, so the new youth culture was not as prevalent in these spaces as “technological changes came far more slowly to homes in rural America” (Drowne and Huber, 2004, p. 18). This explanation is also relevant and topical for explaining why an evolution nor change in terms of women and gender norms cannot be seen as clearly in small town America during the 1920s.

The evolution and newfound freedom women felt and expressed in major cities was not as prevalent in small towns. The flapper image and identity were not seen in the same light as it was in the cities. People living in small town America tended to follow more traditional gender norms and this is evident in their views and perceptions of flappers. Journalist John Farrer learned this when writing an article about one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s collections of short stories called Tales of the Jazz Age. In his article, he explains how “a young married woman recently told me that she detested the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald. ‘Such girls don’t exist,’ she affirmed. ‘At least I haven’t been able to find them’” (Farrar, 1922, p. 12-13). Flappers were mainly seen in the major urban spaces and were not as prominent in rural spaces, even though there were some instances of them, as the young women on Main Street were not as focused on distinguishing themselves from their parents and engaging in the new youth culture. Furthermore, women in small towns did not venture out as much as the young women in the cities had the luxury of doing as “the great majority of families followed traditional sex roles: the husbands were the principal breadwinners, while the wives had primary responsibility for cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children” (Drowne and Huber, 2004, p. 18). Women in rural spaces chose to hold onto their responsibilities and work in the home, primarily, whereas flappers in the cities wanted to break away from those traditional gender norms and responsibilities. However, this way of living was the only option for women due to the geographic locale of their small towns.

Small towns did not offer the slew of activities comparable to the amount major cities offered their inhabitants. Rural towns were less condensed and more spaced out than cities, architecturally, so there was not the available space for places like movie theatres, dance halls, and amusement parks like Coney Island in small town America. This is why people in small town America oftentimes would leave their homes for short periods of time for simple nights out and/or for longer, extended periods of time for vacations. Willa Cather’s novel, A Lost Lady, takes place in a small town known as Sweet Water, located in Nebraska where there are little to no options of leisure activities for its residents. That is why the couple the story follows, Captain Daniel and Marian Forrester, leave the town for an extended period of time. Specifically, “she and her husband spent the winter in Denver and Colorado Springs, — left Sweet Water soon after Thanksgiving and did not return until the first of May” (Cather, 1923, p. 24). Readers can infer that Cather’s Sweet Water does not offer much excitement nor any sort of change of pace for its residents, therefore, it is the type of town where residents who are able to decide to take vacations and leave town for some time. This can be accredited to the regional and geographic layout of the town and its location. Nebraska, in general, is mostly farmland with few major cities, which is evident throughout Cather’s novel. Cather is a novelist known for her regionalism within her writing or her ability to place readers in the setting of her novels through in-depth descriptions and details.

Throughout her career, it is evident that Willa Cather was heavily influenced by the geography and regional style of rural America which is the feature setting in a variety of her novels and short stories. Cather is credited as being one of the greatest regionalist authors of the modern era of literature. Literary scholars argue that “Cather achieves similar effects with fewer words, her landscape made vivid through metaphors that create picture with contrasting images of ‘sea,’ ‘Gothic… cathedrals,’ and ‘enormous city.’ Her use of color in describing the blooming vegetation suggests the influence of Impressionism, an improvement over the blur of Hawthorne’s ‘smokey-hued tracts’” (Murphy, 2021, p. 302). In her writing, Cather was able to take readers and place them in these rural settings through her use of descriptive phrases, metaphors, and colorful language. Her ability to create vivid images of her settings within the minds of her readers is why she is categorized as one of, if not the best, regionalist authors as she is able to present her words through a regionalist perspective. Cather’s “regional way of thinking emphasizes the interconnections between places and communities as a larger spatial network” (Squire, 2011, p. 48-49). When writing, Cather was able to look at her settings as a larger space rather than a specific region which allowed for her to see and write about the connections that specific places and communities hold to their larger regional space. It is evident that Willa Cather was immensely influenced by the geography of rural America as that tended to be the setting she seemed most comfortable writing about. Her writing also provides for an accurate perception of what life was like for individuals living in rural and small-town America during the 1920s and explained how life was not “roaring” for everyone during this decade. Cather’s writing also provides reasoning for why the phrase “The Roaring Twenties” is an inaccurate classification for the decade as it completely disregards nor considers life for those living in American suburbs.

Cather was able to write about the lifestyle of those living in rural America so accurately as she actually lived and grew up there. Cather was born in Virginia, but when she was only nine years old, her family moved to Nebraska (The National Willa Cather Center, 2021). When writing, Cather was able to draw on her own childhood and young adult experiences to give an accurate depiction of life in the rural region of the country. Critics raved about Cather’s writing, praising the “reality and a beauty of description in Willa Cather’s treatment of the prairie country that must bring a wonderful sigh of gratitude from anyone who lived there. The pages spill color: words sing with life” (De Leeuw, 1922, p. 7). Cather had the ability, when writing, to truly transport her readers from wherever they were reading to rural America as her portrayal and depiction of what life was really like for that large population of the country. Critics felt as though this ability was remarkable and should have really pleased the rural population as Cather was letting them truly be seen by the rest of the population in metropolitan America. Overall, “as one of the greatest American novelists of the 20th century, Willa Cather was gifted in conveying an intimate understanding of her characters in relation to their personal and cultural environments—environments that often derived from Red Cloud” (The National Willa Cather Center, 2021). Willa Cather is deemed one of the greatest authors of the 20th Century because of her innate ability to draw on her past experiences in rural Nebraska in order to accurately depict life in rural America. Her writing allowed those living in this region to feel seen by those living in the major cities and she gives profound reasoning for why “The Roaring Twenties” is a misnomer for the decade as a whole.

Conclusively, 1920s, as a decade, has historically been referred to as “The Roaring Twenties.” When most hear this moniker granted to the decade, what typically comes to mind is lavish lifestyles filled with parties, drinking, flappers, dance halls, and many other frivolous activities. “The Roaring Twenties” is a misnomer that is incredibly inaccurate when describing the decade as a whole as it only categorizes the lifestyles of those wealthy individuals living in urban spaces, like New York City. For those working-class individuals and families living in rural and small-town America, the 1920s were far from “roaring.” However, even though life was not “roaring” for those living in rural and small-town America, their lives were not dreary and awful. For individuals living in those spaces, the slower and more traditional lifestyle was really all they knew how to follow since they were surrounded by it on a daily basis.

The unequal representation brought on by this misnomer is overtly present within the literary works of two well-known authors of the 1920s: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Willa Cather. Fitzgerald is arguably one of the main perpetuators of the myth of “The Roaring Twenties” as the major themes of his novels and stories revolve around upper-class society in metropolitan meccas such as New York. The main characters his stories oftentimes focus, hail from wealthy families and have luxuries and opportunities that not many were offered during the 1920s. Fitzgerald highlights the fast-paced, glamourous lifestyle of young, wealthy Americans living in major cities. In opposition, Willa Cather wrote several stories that mostly were set in rural America. She is praised for her ability to transport readers to the small farm towns where her stories are set as well as her ability to accurately depict life in these small rural towns. Cather’s writing helps to show how incomparable life was for those individuals not living in major cities and, in turn, how and why “The Roaring Twenties” is such an inaccurate misnomer for generalizing the entire decade. Cather’s writing highlights the lack of serious cultural division that was prominent in American cities and emphasizes the differences in cultural identity that the youth population lived in, connected to, and promoted. She promotes the acceptance and understanding of the cultural divide that was growing during the 1920s and exposes the experiences of working-class American young men and women to uncover this frequently ignored and omitted part of American History.

A major issue that needs to be amended in regards to this issue of unequal representation of all during the 1920s is the educational perspective this decade is viewed. Most individuals visualize “The Roaring Twenties” in the way they do because that is how they were taught to see the decade. Students are frequently taught in the classroom only about the wealthy urban lifestyle that was lived during the 1920s and associations are often made with places like New York City as well as works of popular media like The Great Gatsby. The issue with this comes in that the entire perspective of the working- or middle-class individual is completely lost and disregarded by educators and, in turn, by students.

Teachers, at least in New Jersey, are not even suggested to teach about rural nor small town America in History and Social Studies classes. The closest that they may come stems from NJ Social Studies Standard 6.1.12.D.8.b which falls under the “Perspectives” content strand and has students “assess the impact of artists, writers, and musicians of the 1920s, including the Harlem Renaissance, on American culture and values.” (New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Social Studies, 2014). New Jersey students are asked to study different artists, writers, and musicians of the 1920s and assess their impact on American culture, but these artists, writers, and musicians almost always have some sort of connection to an urban space, typically New York. The New Jersey Department of Education have laid the groundwork for students to learn about various perspectives of individuals from the 1920s with this standard, but the focus almost always falls onto and stays on the perspective of city inhabitants, with writers of the Harlem Renaissance, and authors who write about urban life, with F. Scott Fitzgerald. If the perspectives of all Americans from the 1920s continue to be ignored and disregarded in History and Social Studies classrooms, the country will eventually lose the historically vital stories, voices, and perspectives of a large portion of the U.S. population, altogether.

This leads into the devolution within History and Social Studies education which has, arguably, deteriorated greatly in terms of its quality. When asked in an interview “How do you think inadequate history education plays into what some describe as the country’s current “‘post-truth’ moment?” author James W. Loewen answered that “History is by far our worst-taught subject in high school; I think we’re stupider in thinking about the past than we are, say, in thinking about Shakespeare, or algebra, or other subjects” (Wong, 2018). High school students have been disserviced in the ways they are taught History and Social Studies. The reason for this is that “we historians tend to make everything so nuanced that the idea of truth almost disappears” (Wong, 2018). Most History and Social Studies teachers rely too heavily on fitting as much of the vast expanse of History into their classes so much so that important topics tend to simply be glanced over and taught subtly rather than being focused on intently. This is the disservice that is done onto students and it directly boils down to the textbooks used in schools, today.

History and Social Studies textbooks, that are uses in schools across the country, are incredibly biased and one-sided. They oftentimes omit certain facts regarding an individual, event, or concept or they simply omit certain individuals, events, or concepts altogether. Individuals like Willa Cather and topics like rural America during the 1920s are oftentimes omitted from History and Social Studies classes and textbooks because they are not as enthralling or appealing as individuals like F. Scott Fitzgerald and topics like cities during the 1920s. That determination, however, is made by the individuals writing the textbooks. This is a consideration that consumers of textbooks, especially schools, need to make as “perhaps we are all dupes, manipulated by elite white male capitalists who orchestrate how history is written as part of their scheme to perpetuate their own power and privilege at the expense of the rest of us” (Loewen, 2018, p. 304). Those who write the textbooks control the narrative of what readers learn from the textbook. Bias detection is vital for consumers of textbooks to utilize especially if the textbook is going to be used by students. Loewen highlights how “in 1984, George Orwell was clear about who determines the way History is written: ‘Who controls the present controls the past’” (Loewen, 2018, p. 304). This is what happens with modern textbooks as the major publishing companies responsible for our textbooks are the ones controlling the narrative of history that our students are consuming in their classrooms. Money and wealth dominate modern American society and since the individuals at the top of the corporate hierarchy for major publishing companies are presumably incredibly wealthy, they control the way History is written. What they find interesting is what is published in textbooks, but those individuals, topics, and concepts are not always the vital pieces of history that students need to learn while in school.

References

Primary Sources:

Cather, W. (1920). Coming, Eden Bower! Youth and the Bright Medusa (pp. 1-166)

Cather, W. (1922). One of Ours

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Sentenced to Death by Silence: The United States Government’s Slow Response to the AIDS Epidemic Permitted by Decades of Homophobia

Sentenced to Death by Silence: The United States Government’s Slow Response to the AIDS Epidemic Permitted by Decades of Homophobia

Abigail R. Fisch

The year is 1955 and America is over half a decade into the Cold War. A closeted gay man had been flying under the radar at his job at the State Department amidst an intense wave of homophobia leading to the sudden firing and blacklisting of gay people in government positions, but his luck was about to run out. Within a year of R.W. Scott Mcleod’s Miscellaneous M Unit being established, he was selected for an interview and polygraph which focused on “unusual traits of speech, appearance, and mannerisms” which would determine if someone was gay (Johnson, 2006, p. 138). Upon failing this test, the man was pressured to provide names of other gay men and forced to resign. After coming home to his wife and children from a day out of his nightmares, he finds out that his son’s middle school had a presentation from the local police department warning them of the dangers of homosexuality, making claims that “1 out of 3 [students] will turn queer”, and that this would make their life “a living hell” (PBS, 2011). This was the reality for many men living in America throughout the 1950s. Amidst the moral panic of the Cold War, fears of unloyal Americans infiltrating the government extended beyond the well studied Red Scare– the fear of the Lavender Menace, the gay man, was treated with more animosity than Communists.

Throughout the 20th century in America, homosexuality was treated as a disease of the mind, an immoral way of living. From 1950s Cold War moral panic up to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, the gay community was dehumanized by local and national governments for those three decades. As time went on, homophobia changed the way it presented itself– throughout the 1950s, anti-gay sentiments were spread through a Cold War context, with claims being made that gay people were worse than Communists. As the 1950s ended and the 1960s began, gay men found more of a sense of sexual freedom. Public, casual sex was commonplace and men found it easier to find sexual partners to engage with. This risky way of living had its costs, however, and the religious right’s God-focused morality campaigns were quick to use these habits as a basis for their anti-gay arguments which led right up to the AIDS epidemic. Throughout the 1970s, gay fearmongering took a more religious approach as the rise of the New Right loomed on the horizon. Spearheads for the religious anti-gay movement such as Anita Bryant did not mince words when it came to how they felt about the gay community, as Bryant herself was known to describe gay people as “human garbage” (Ketrow, 1982, p. 6). The 1970s anti-gay movement, while different in its approach, mimicked the intensity of the 1950s Lavender Scare showing how homophobia has long been embedded in American society.

With the AIDS epidemic unknowingly, yet swiftly, approaching, the aforementioned homophobic movements impacted the attitudes surrounding the disease within the government and the American public. As anti-gay movements throughout the 20th century changed from fears of national security in the midcentury to a religious movement in the latter half of the century, the common ground was always the ostracism and dehumanization of members of the gay community. Once the AIDS epidemic was in full swing, nothing showed the effects of decades-long homophobia like the government’s response to the tragedy that afflicted the American people. The lack of funding for AIDS research prior to activist organizations speaking out and Rock Hudson’s death in 1985 shows how the American government and its people did not care about the loss of lives so long as it did not leave the gay community.

This research aims to connect how the homophobic rhetoric from the 1950s leading up to the epidemic of the 1980s affected the American government’s AIDS intervention and will argue that it was because of social norms, gay panic, and homophobia that the government did not intervene in the crisis sooner. The research will also have a focus on the formation of gay activist organizations from the 1950s through the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s to further prove the main argument that the American Government was able to delay its response to the AIDS epidemic due to the decades of homophobia leading up to the crisis since it was due to pressure from these organizations that the government intervened in the crisis at all.

The research conducted in this paper can also be utilized by social studies educators to teach their students about the homophobic overtones of the Cold War that are often overlooked. It can also be used more contemporarily to teach about Obergefell v. Hodges to help students better understand why the road to the legalization of gay marriage was so tumultuous, and the emergence and impact of grassroots organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front can be taught in civics courses to discuss the importance of community organizations. With homophobia being woven into the fabric of American society, it is important to consider the role it has played in many events in American history.

The Gay Experience throughout the 20th Century

The 1950s into the 60s

 In 1950, Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy gave a speech in which he claimed 205 Communists had infiltrated the State Department, and that 91 of those Communists were also homosexuals (Johnson, 2006, p. 1). This baseless, inflammatory claim led to the Second Red Scare and along with it, the Lavender Scare. Similar to the blacklisting of Communists, the Lavender Scare led to gay people being outed in their places of work, causing them to lose their jobs and be ostracized from their communities. Throughout the 1950s, any man looking to work for the State Department was subjected to an interview that would determine if he was gay, and the deciding criteria were based upon appearance, mannerisms, and hobbies (Johnson, 2006, p. 73). This obsession with ensuring gay people were not placed in government positions cost countless hours, money, and manpower to uphold and created a stereotypical idea of what a gay man looked like. As the gay witch hunts expanded, panic continued to sweep the nation, and the American government was to blame. Just eight short years after McCarthy’s speech, people applying for non-government jobs found themselves responding to questions regarding their sexual habits (Johnson, 2006, p. 75). Magnified by the senators and government officials calling for the gay purge, fears of gay men entered the mainstream, and children were subjected to homophobic indoctrination in schools.

The language that was used to describe homosexuality throughout the 1950s acted as a dehumanizing agent which would continue into the late 20th century. By describing gay men as “sex perverts” and naming homosexuality a crime, a stereotypical belief about gay men began to emerge (Johnson, 2006, pp. 79-80). Outside of the workplace, local governments and police forces actively worked to make America’s youth fear the gay man. The Unified School District and Police Department of Inglewood, California produced Boys Beware (1955)– a short shown to school-aged children that described gay men as dangerous pedophiles. This film is a blatant form of propaganda created with the intention of instilling homophobic beliefs in the minds of children. Boys Beware follows the fictional stories of young boys who decided to hitch a ride with a stranger instead of walking home after partaking in activities such as baseball and basketball (PBS, 2011). By juxtaposing the all-American white boy, Jimmy, with an untrustworthy older man, Ralph, schools and local governments worked together to instill fear into the minds of young Americans and create a sense of urgency in protecting the purity of the young, straight boy. As the film goes on, Ralph shows Jimmy pornographic photographs, and it is here that he is explicitly called a homosexual, something Boys Beware describes as having a “sickness that was not visible like smallpox, but no less dangerous and contagious, a sickness of the mind” (PBS, 2011). What could have been a lesson about why interacting with strangers is dangerous was deliberately written through a homophobic lens. If the actions described in Jimmy’s story were not enough to teach children to be on alert for “predatory” gay men, the Inglewood Police Department ensured that children knew they too would get in trouble for being involved with a homosexual. After Jimmy realized what Ralph was doing, he reported it to his parents who then took it to the police which led to Ralph’s arrest and Jimmy’s probationary release (PBS, 2011). The purpose of Boys Beware was to create connections between “gay” and “danger” in the minds of America’s youth, and fearmongering did not stop there, but rather worsened as the 20th century progressed.

The theme of the 1950s and 60s was that gay people were everywhere, hiding in plain sight. In 1966, Detective John Sorenson of Dade County, Florida gave a speech to a lecture hall full of teenagers warning them to stay alert for the homosexual. In The “Dangers” of Homosexuality, Sorenson warns the teenagers that to be gay is to involve in criminal activity, and that if anyone found themselves involved with a gay person that it would be in their interest to end the relationship quickly (PBS, 2011). Similar to Boys Beware, The “Dangers” of Homosexuality used fearmongering and inflammatory words to blacklist the gay community. Sorenson informed students that they would not get away with being gay, threatened to inform their parents if they were ever to try, and even went so far as to say that their lives would be a living hell if they decided to engage in homosexual activities (PBS, 2011). This language in combination with the criminalization of homosexuality made not only being gay something to fear, but simply interacting with a gay person. While all of this alone would be enough to ostracize the gay community, it was only the beginning of the years of anti-gay sentiments to come.

By the time the AIDS epidemic was at its peak, the American government felt no urgency to react, for homosexuality was deemed criminal behavior throughout the decades leading up to it and was described as something to be feared. By blacklisting gay men throughout the Cold War Lavender Scare and through anti-gay propaganda shown to students throughout the country, an epidemic that disproportionately affected gay men was not viewed as something that required immediate eradication. The calculated planning and anti-gay rhetoric of the 1950s and 60s led to the backlash of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and early 70s.

The 1960s and 70s

The 1960s and 70s were a time of sexual freedom for everyone including gay people despite the blatant homophobia of the previous decades. Casual, public sex was commonplace in gay communities and it offered an opportunity for people who had otherwise not been able to express themselves the chance to do so. Through the popularization of gay bars and cruising as well as the emergence of gay hubs in cities like San Francisco and New York, the gay community was on display more than ever before. This ever-deepening of community amongst gay people also allowed them to be their own advocates, and this self-advocacy would become crucial in the fight against AIDS where the gay community and its allies found themselves standing alone against the rest of the country and those who ran it. Nothing shows the strength and perseverance of the gay community that was founded on these principles of community like the riots at the Stonewall Inn on June 28th, 1969 and the Gay Liberation Movement that followed.

At the end of the 1960s, the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York was raided by the police. New York City Mayor John Lindsay was up for re-election, and a large part of his platform was built upon the promise of more frequent crackdowns on gay bars by the police– another example of how vilified and targeted they gay community was, even at the turning point of gay liberation (Poindexter, 1997, pp. 607-615). While this was a normal occurrence throughout the decade, the bar’s patrons decided enough was enough and they defended themselves against the attack. This riot was the culmination of decades of organization throughout the Homophile Movement and led to what came to be known known as the Gay Liberation Movement. Organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) were vocal about their demands and open about being a gay movement, and this openness reflected the attitude of the 1970s gay community– at the Second Annual Southern California Behavior Modification Conference, at least 50 members of the GLF showed up to oppose the advertisement and usage of aversion therapy on gay men (Marston, 1974, p. 380). This power in numbers and straightforward, to-the-point approach to activism is the perfect example of the deep sense of community amongst gay men that allowed for a sense of pride and truthfulness to oneself to exist within the gay community.

While the late 1960s into the 70s was not a shameful time within the gay community, the religious right was watching from afar and building their arguments against them. The New Right’s qualms with the gay community differed from those of the 1950s and early 60s– rather than fears of gay people infiltrating the government and tarnishing the image of America, this group angled their attacks from a religious and moral standpoint. Upon the 1973 ruling that homosexuality was no longer to be considered abnormal in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the conservative American population was fed up. Many feared the implications this would have on their children, so anti-gay activists fought from a religious point of view, and Anita Bryant, Christian singer and anti-gay activist, fronted the movement with pride (Bronski, 2020, p. 279).

In 1977, Bryant and her Christian group Save Our Children (SOC) got to work fighting non-discrimination laws in Dade County, Florida which called for housing and job protection for gay people. Her celebrity status in combination with her voracious hatred for gays that she presented in a good Christian package put her organization in the media spotlight which led to the spread of her hateful ideas. The public took a liking to Bryant’s religious angle after what many religious conservatives felt was a decade of immorality in the 1960s, and their attacks on the gay community were just as militant as those of the gay activist organizations of the decade. Bryant’s campaign successfully tapped into this market by claiming that “homosexuals posed a threat to children and they were not deserving of so-called “privileges”, like employment” and built on the long-held stereotype of homosexuals being pedophiles (Graves, 2013, p. 5).

 With her ideologies being spread in the print media, Bryant’s SOC campaign gained support all throughout the country, and the news outlets in favor of her ideologies used language that left no questions to be asked regarding how they felt about the gay community. From insinuating that the “choice” of homosexuality would influence children in schools to turn gay from “sustained exposure to homosexual role models, such as teachers”, these sentiments of the 1970s only echo those of the 1950s and 1960s campaigns targeted to students stating that gay people are everywhere and they are out to take advantage of children (Ketrow, 1983, p. 8). This hateful belief system did not come out of thin air, and Save Our Children offered a glimpse into how America would respond to the AIDS epidemic.

The Response to AIDS

Early Years and the General Public

            With the diagnosis of the first cases of AIDS in America coming shortly after Anita Bryant’s vicious attacks on the gay community, the immediate connection of AIDS and homosexuality proved to be detrimental. Originally named Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) in 1981, there was little press coverage and care from public health offices Brier, 2006, p. 41). As the epidemic loomed on the horizon, even from its early days, the biggest advocates for containment and research were members of the gay community and their allies. This largely has to due with the fact that AIDS was originally marketed as a “gay disease” or the “Gay Plague” before much research was ever conducted. This connotation paved the path for gay activists to advocate for the community amidst the epidemic, and this early activist intervention would prove itself necessary in the coming years as the government continued to stay silent on the topic of AIDS and because of the average American’s attitude towards the epidemic.

With the buildup of homophobic rhetoric from 1950 and beyond, the general consensus amongst straight Americans regarding the AIDS epidemic was that it did not concern them because it did not affect them. As well as this, a smaller portion of Americans “saw AIDS as a form of divine or natural retribution” for homosexuality as early as 1983 (Cannon, 2020, p. 1). This attitude shared by many Americans was only intensified by the lack of response from the American Government, and many gay men felt that they were more vulnerable than they ever had been before.

Over half a decade into the epidemic, a study was conducted regarding the feelings of gay men in America. This study found that “almost one-fifth of the sample claimed to have experienced discrimination “specifically as a result of AIDS” and that over ninety percent of respondents felt there was an increase in homophobia because of AIDS (Stulberg and Smith, 1988, p. 279). This research publised in 1988 shows how gay men were affected by the attitudes of straight people in America throughout the AIDS epidemic. This shows how tying AIDS to the gay community had severe implications on the lives of gay men. Over seventy nine percent of respondents to the aforementioned study also felt fearful that an increase in violence would also occur in relation to the epidemic (Stulberg and Smith, 1988, p. 279). The psychological impact of homophobia on members of the gay community mimicked that of the 1950s and beyond, for just as being gay throughout the Lavender Scare would cost men their jobs and livelihoods, gay men were, and continue to be, fearful of discussing their AIDS diagnosis because “they could lose their friends, their family, their job” (Lobertini, 2011, p. 1). The patterns of homophobia in American society culminated with the lack of concern from the American public during the AIDS epidemic, and that created an environment which allowed the government to delay their harm reduction efforts. While grassroots organizations began the fight to combat the epidemic and call on their government to aid their efforts, the Reagan administration could not be less concerned about the timeliness of its response.

The Reagan Administration

The Reagan administration wanted nothing to do with the AIDS epidemic in its early days. With its immediate connotation with the gay community due to its being named GRID, there was no urgency for the government to act due to the American public’s attitude towards gay people from the decades of homophobic rhetoric that led up to the epidemic. President Ronald Reagan himself as well as members of his administration held intense homophobic beliefs as expressed by Reagan’s Assistant Attorney General Richard Willard when he stated that “HIV-positive people were seeking out employers to become eligible for their generous health, disability, and death benefits” (Bell, 2020, p. 182). Willard’s belief that gay people were just looking to leach off of private companies for their benefits mirrors the beliefs held about gay people in the 1950s– the thought that there is always another agenda involved when it comes to gay people, whether they are looking to share government secrets or steal health benefits, has long been believed government officials. To many, gay people have no innocence as exhibited by Willard’s sentiments. These feelings were all but praised by President Reagan through his lack of involvement in epidemic research. The President “did not sign a document dealing with AIDS until the end of 1985, did not mention the term “AIDS” in public until 1986, and spent very little money on researching the epidemic” and many scholars argue that this is because of his allegiances to the New Right and their distaste for the progressive movements of the 1960s and 1970s (Brier, 2009, p. 101). By actively not speaking out about the epidemic in public, it only solidified the beliefs of the American public, for if their own president was not making a big deal out of the deadly virus, then why should they? After all, this virus was seemingly only attacking the people who were publicly vilified for decades, so there was no real reason to fuss. However, even after AIDS was found to affect those outside of the gay community, the Reagan Administration still found ways to continue tying it to homosexuality. As time progressed, AIDS began affecting the lives of straight people. Rather than looking for ways to combat AIDS, the Reagan Administration took a more sinister path, and at the expense of more lives, whether gay or straight, the movement to end AIDS was still nowhere to be found. In the same year as the American Foundation for AIDS Research address, President Reagan echoed feelings that could be dated back to the 1950s– when discussing immigration policy in relation to the AIDS epidemic, Reagan suggested “that AIDS, like communism, needed to be physically prevented from entering the country” (Brier, 2009, p. 103). Amidst a deadly epidemic, the President still found a way to connect homosexuality to communism which only shows how little the loss of American lives concerned him when those lives were mainly gay. Even with pushes from the Public Health Service (PHS) and other health and activist organizations, the Reagan Administration had its own idea of how to handle AIDS.

As they had at the beginning of the epidemic, gay activist groups such as ACT UP, Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), and Project Inform continued to act as the voices for those who no longer had theirs after losing their battle against AIDS, and for those who were still fighting. As President Reagan proved himself incapable of protecting the American people due to his homophobic beliefs, the aforementioned grassroots organizations and others not only put the pressure on him but other organizations as well. ACT UP, although formed late into the AIDS epidemic in 1987, was instrumental in organizing protests and getting the attention of the President and his administration. In the year of their formation, they “held a “die-in” in front of Trinity Church(…) in Manhattan” and called for Reagan to take a definitive stand in the fight against AIDS (Brier, 2009, p. 181). Even neutral organizations such as PHS tried to use scientific reasoning with President Reagan and his advisees, yet Reagan’s idea of “educating” the public consisted of vilifying a group of people who were dying en masse every single day, all to maintain the ideal Christian, Conservative way of living to please themselves and the American public.

Conclusion

Homophobia is still deeply ingrained in American society today, and AIDS continues to disproportionately affect the gay community as compared to other groups. One can only wonder if the decades of homophobia from the mid-century onwards in combination with the deliberate connotation of AIDS with homosexuality had not impacted American’s attitudes towards the virus if this fact would still be true. There is no denying the impact of homophobia on the government’s response to the epidemic, nor can one deny that straight America did not worry about AIDS until it began to affect them, and the path for these beliefs was paved by the homophobic indoctrination of the American people that came decades before AIDS ever came into existence.

            As social studies educators, it is crucial to examine historical events through different lenses. By focusing on the patterns of homophobia leading up to the AIDS epidemic, it can offer further insight into why it was as deadly as it was and what exactly paved the path to allow for such a thing to occur. This frame of thinking can also allow students to better understand the gravity of events they are far removed from due to time passed by explaining the impact of occurrences throughout history chronologically, not only related to this research, but also when teaching other historical events. This research specifically can be tied to many contemporary issues such as Obergefell v. Hodges, the American response to COVID-19, and the importance of grassroots organizations in politics. It can also change the way topics that are standard in most curriculums, such as the Cold War, are taught by focusing on the homophobia that played a crucial role in shaping the attitudes of Americans towards gay people. By understanding America’s shameful attitudes towards queer communities in the past, it can lead to the current generation making great changes.

References

Bell, J. (2018). Between private and public: AIDS, health care capitalism, and the politics of respectability in 1980s America. Journal of American Studies, 54(1), 159–183. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0021875818000518

 Brier, J. (2009). Infectious ideas: U.S. political responses to the Aids crisis. University of North Carolina Press.

Bronski, M. (2020). A Queer History of the United States. Beacon.

Graves, K. (2013). Presidential address: Political pawns in an educational endgame: Reflections on Bryant, Briggs, and some twentieth-century school questions. History of Education Quarterly, 53(1), 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1111/hoeq.12000 

Johnson, D. K. (2006). The lavender scare: The Cold War persecution of gays and lesbians in the federal government. University of Chicago Press.

Ketrow, S. M. (1983). The Making of an Issue: Anita Bryant and Gay Rights Go National. Florida Communication Journal, 11(2), 4–10.

Lobertini, J. (2011, June 5). 30 Years Later, Sacramento Gay Community Reflects on Aids Discovery. KTXL-TV.

Marston, A. R. (1974). Reflections After a Confrontation with the Gay Liberation Front. Professional Psychology, 5(4), 380–384. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0021325 

Poindexter, C. C. (1997). Sociopolitical antecedents to Stonewall: Analysis of the origins of the gay rights movement in the United States. National Association of Social Workers, 42(6), 607–615. https://doi.org/10.1093/sw/42.6.607  

Public Broadcasting Service. (2011). American Experience. PBS. Retrieved December 15, 2021, from https://www.pbs.org/video/american-experience-boys-beware/.

Public Broadcasting Service. (2011). American Experience. PBS. Retrieved December 15, 2021, from https://www.pbs.org/video/american-experience-dangers-homosexuality/.  Stulberg, I., & Smith, M. (1988). Psychosocial Impact of the AIDS Epidemic on the Lives of Gay Men. Social Work, 33(3), 277–281. https://doi.org/10.1093/sw/33.3.277

Same Bigotry, Different Name: Race Suicide, the Birth Dearth, and Women’s Rights

Same Bigotry, Different Name: Race Suicide, the Birth Dearth, and Women’s Rights

Megan McGlynn

Despite the fact that roughly half of the world’s population is born female, women’s roles in history are consistently regulated to side characters and often left out of core history classes. In those same classes there is a lack of discussion of the ways that women have been affected by the issues of the time in often dramatically different ways from men, but from each other as well. We have a tendency to treat the experiences of all women as one universal experience in education which could not be far from the truth. Even the optional women’s history courses taught at some high schools have unregulated curriculums created by teachers that want more for their students but may unintentionally let their own ideas of whose story matters steer the course away from the point. Intersectionality is the crux of progress, understanding that no one is ever just one thing. Gender, race, class, sexuality, religion, and a whole host of other aspects of a person are independent of each other and differ widely, allowing for humanity to benefit from the wonder of a complete variety of distinct perspectives and unique people. Limiting women’s history to an optional course with no clear path hurts the learning of all students and sets the standard that women are a separate branch of human history, that their stories and lives have had no bearing on the course of events.

As teachers, it is our responsibility to determine where and how we can incorporate supplemental material into our core curriculum in order to provide additional insight and get to more topics than we might be able to delve fully into. One such topic of importance that gets zero attention in U.S. history is women’s movements. Sure we talk about the 19th amendment; but only long enough to ensure students that it fixed everything overnight, missing the whole sections on the rights of women of color and the other ways women were still restricted. The current struggle federally over the rights women have to their own reproductive choices is an issue I guarantee that your students have questions about. They know little about Roe v. Wade, or the numerous attempts to overthrow it. What they do know is that this coming year may change the landscape of the nation and that is terrifying. One of the most overused cliches in the English language is ‘knowledge is power’, and it could not fit better here. Arming students with an understanding of the origins of these battles gives them context, motivation, and a place to start. And what better way to do so than to connect the present legislative concerns with where U.S. history classes love to focus; U.S. presidents. Shortly, the opinions of two presidents from opposite ends of the 20th century will become clear; Theodore Roosevelt and Richard Nixon. In order to take them in fully however, we first must form a distinct picture of the issues facing the nation today.

In December of 1971 a pregnant woman, named Jane Roe in court documents for privacy, sued her county district attorney Henry Wade alleging that the Texas abortion law violated her constitutional rights. Two years later on January 22, 1973 the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 majority in Roe’s favor, declaring safe access to abortion a constitutional right.[1] The ruling ensured legal protection for those seeking the essential medical procedure despite the countless protests and legislative attempts at blocking access throughout the years, and restricting eligibility for the procedure based on the length of pregnancy. Forty-eight years later, the state of Texas has passed the most restrictive abortion legislation to date.[2] The bill, SB 8, bans all abortions except those fitting into slim medical necessity criteria after ultrasound scans first pick up evidence of cardiac activity typically around six weeks’ gestation. The term “heartbeat bill” has caused strife as it inaccurately labels electrical pulses as a heartbeat, attaching emotional images of infancy to a cluster of cells the size of a grain of rice.[3] Not only is the nickname misleading, but six weeks is only two weeks after a missed period and is the earliest possible time a pregnancy test can give a positive result. Therefore an abortion is nearly impossible for any Texas woman to receive by the time they discover they are pregnant.

This is by far not the first time Texas legislation has made national headlines for its restrictive nature or controversial stance, but now there is an insurmountable fear of how influential this bill may be. Texas is not the first state to pass a “heartbeat bill” but all others have been struck down as unconstitutional. This law has skirted the limitations of previous legislation by putting the onus of prosecution on civilians instead of the government. Per Roe v. Wade, government officials cannot prosecute an individual for seeking an abortion but according to the Texas Tribune the new legislation has remedied that stating, “While abortion patients themselves can’t be sued under the new law, anyone who performs or aids with the abortion can be sued”.[4] By creating a civil avenue for abortion persecution Texas lawmakers have stepped into uncharted waters where it is unclear if attempts to throw the bill out will succeed. A successful bill of this kind will produce similar bills across the country until women’s reproductive healthcare is completely unrecognizable in a post Roe v. Wade world.

Unfortunately though perhaps unsurprisingly, attacks such as this on the rights and liberties of women are persistent throughout American history. The above instance is a prime example of these attacks which increase in number and intensity during periods of increased women’s rights activism, but are ultimately always present. The right to vote was the first cause that women congregated in support of solely for themselves in the United States. Women sought the influence of voting privilege and equal treatment under the law; if men and women are all citizens why should they not have the same liberties? For some this made perfect sense and women came together locally and eventually nationally to advocate for women’s suffrage.

In 1890 the two national suffrage organizations, the American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association, separated for twenty years due to conflicting support for the 15th amendment and Black men, finally came together again with the help of suffragist Alice Stone Blackwell.[5] Under the name of the National American Woman Suffrage Association the group led women’s suffrage efforts ultimately culminating in the ratification of the 19th amendment giving White women the right to vote. This success was certainly to the chagrin of the opposition; which was a surprising combination of men and women who felt that White women did not need to vote as they spent most of their time in the home caring for children. Coupled with this group’s perceived lack of political knowledge, they believed that giving White women the ability to vote would only raise taxes and not change much else. Anti-suffragists believed that most White women did not want the vote and made their voices heard through protests, political cartoons, scathing articles, and speeches.[6] But even the formation of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage by Josephine Dodge in 1911 to coordinate and amplify anti-suffrage opinions did tip the scales and the 19th amendment passed.[7] When women activists would once again bring calls for equal treatment to the national stage, similar opposition surfaced.

Though it was first drafted fifty years earlier, in 1972 the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was passed by both houses of Congress and ratification of the potential 27th amendment seemed all but certain. The amendment’s sudden and long overdue position as a topic of national conversation was the credit of a new age of women’s activism; women’s liberation. Often shortened to women’s lib in discussion, the movement aimed to free women of the unequal barriers present in professional spaces. These barriers kept them from the opportunities afforded to men in the same spaces, as if these working women were not privy to a secret password. The ERA was the universal translator, a legal declaration that adequate pay, promotions, and authority were not to be hidden above a glass ceiling away from women who were held back from reaching them.

So in 1972, support was high from the women’s liberation movement and a true success for women’s rights felt close enough to taste.[8] Women were tired of the inconsistencies and being told that the vote was enough to fix hundreds of years of inequality. But the deadline for ratification came and went without a ratified ERA, leaving the nation wondering how. In the ten year time limit thirty-five out of the thirty-eight required states ratified the amendment.[9] But this was not enough. As shocking as it may seem, this is attributed to the work of one woman, Phyllis Schlafly. Schlafly was an author, activist, and lawyer who formed the Stop ERA movement on her own. She believed that equality was not truly in the interests of men or women and would ultimately lead to a detrimental moral shirt in American society.[10] Her emphatic public expression of this opinion frightened the public and had the intended effect on politicians. It was this extremist comparative approach that was responsible for the failure of the ERA and is yet another example of the oppositional forces that spark up against fights for women’s rights.

Though separated by decades, these two 20th century movements, suffrage and women’s liberation both tackled the mistreatment of women in the United States, pulling the discrepancies to the forefront of national discussion. What is most shocking is that 50 years separate these two movements but they frankly could have taken place at the same time. Nothing changed from the ERA’s conception while White women were gaining the right to vote in 1920 and its failed ratification in the last decades of the century. This is even more apparent when you consider the inherent issues of race in women’s movements. The suffrage movement was populated by abolitionists who fought for the 13th amendment decades prior securing Black men their constitutional right to vote. Yet the same White women who had shown up in support then refused to acknowledge that suffrage should come for all women at once. They selfishly secured their own rights ahead of all other women and proved that their earlier activism for Black men was only in the interest of paving their own way. This racial divide in women’s movements is demonstrative of the larger social perception of race, the lines of demarcation that defined acceptance and persecution so clearly outlined by skin color.

The intersection between the treatment of women and racially motivated fears in the United States is considerably large. Women are, by virtue of reproductive anatomy, the individuals who give birth to the next generation. Those who wish to control the future makeup of the population therefore have always had a vested interest in the ways women choose to procreate or not, and with whom they do so. Sociologist Edward A. Ross established the term ‘race suicide’ at the beginning of the 20th century to refer to situations ‘when the birth rate within a so-called race dropped below the death rate’ and expected the end result of this to be ‘that the “race” would die out’.[11] This definition with its use of the word suicide heavily implies that the focus of the blame falls within the race in question and is not due to outside forces impacting the race.[12] Later on we will see evidence of President Theodore Roosevelt taking Ross’s idea and running with it, popularizing a national idea that race suicide was killing the United States and that the only remedy was a strictly traditional large family. Prominent political and academic thinkers of the era seeing as women produce children, also blamed them for White race suicide in America as the term gained popularity.

Just as Edward Ross coined the term race suicide in the early 1900s, Benjamin Wattenberg coined the term ‘birth dearth’ in 1987 in his book titled The Birth Dearth: What Happens When People in Free Countries Don’t Have Enough Babies?. Birth dearth is close in meaning to race suicide. Quite simply it refers to a lack of births contributing to a lower population and in the next generation a lack of adults to replenish those retiring out of the labor force or passing away.[13] Again, as with Roosevelt, Wattenberg lists many reasons that caused this horrific decline. Of those causes, most directly implicate women. Of the subheadings in chapter 10 titled Causes, two-thirds (12 of 18) specifically target women. They include education (for women), working women, abortion, contraception, divorce, and decreased fecundity all of which except the last attacked personal decisions women made in their lives. These decisions were perceived by Wattenberg to have caused a majority of the birth dearth decline, leaving the country open to being outmatched in advancement and population by other Eastern countries.[14] Instead of focusing on the family as Roosevelt did, Wattenberg chose to turn his attention to the outside influences of immigration and fears of the advancement of other countries.

            Based on the history and current events described previously, it is clear that women’s personal decisions have been the concern of the public and the government for well over a century, and far beyond the time frame examined. Whether or not the individual choices of a group as large as women should be controlled or inspected so closely is not up for debate, but the reason for that examination certainly is. The picture that Ross and Wattenberg painted of a future United States devoid of children centers women’s contributions in a specifically narrow light. The research conducted in this paper aims to answer the question raised by the opinions of figures like Ross and Wattenberg. That is, what are women’s roles in nationalism as mothers and how are expectations for women shaped by government officials and national culture? With that question at the focus a secondary question forms that will also be answered in the following pages; why and how has progress in women’s rights led to backlash and a privileging of unequal gender and racial hierarchy? Holding tightly to those two questions it is important to examine the body of work conducted in this vein looking at both the suffrage and women’s liberation movements and their backlash.

                        At every turn, women’s rights activists struggled in a greater culture that benefits from the reduction of women’s capabilities and denial of the positive effects that liberation and equality provide. There is a consistent bubbling undercurrent of discontent in American society that continues to exist in the pervasive nature of disease, perpetually infecting the nation with discontent whispers of feminist pursuits as the biggest possible detriment to national prosperity in existence. These whispers push and claim that elimination of and movement beyond feminism into postfeminism is the only cure, women must forget the call for equality because they already can have it all. This is certainly not the case and frankly is a desperate albeit successful attempt to bring women’s issues full circle, to replace the barriers that are already broken one by one.

            The use of the word backlash above is deliberate. Backlash is a term that originated with Susan Faludi who examines the distinct spikes in discontent that push into aggressive, propagandist backlash in her book of the same name, aptly subtitled The Undeclared War Against American Women. She describes the intense media and governmental assault on women’s liberation that occurred in the 80’s, at the height of the movement managing to sow indecisive and malcontented seeds of self-doubt into the minds of women across the nation. This gave the backlash places to hide in the minds of its victims and a convenient space for denial in the spotlight.[15] But the backlash of the 80’s is not the only one we have experienced as a country, far from it in fact.

            But the 80’s were not the first decade to experience backlash, it historically comes as a direct “reaction to women’s ‘progress’” as Faludi dives into further.[16] That being said, Faludi is not the only historian to connect the seemingly cyclical attacks to women’s progress historically. In Building a Better Race : Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics From the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom, Wendy Kline contends that the history of eugenics in America has been passive and pretends that eugenic efforts have ceased which she demonstrates is far from the truth.[17] Kline asserts that eugenics is responsible for the notion of race suicide in the beginning of the 19th century and the concept of the birth dearth in the 80’s.[18]

Notably Kline is not the only historian to share this opinion. In her essay “Reproduction: The Politics of Choice” taken from an anthology of her works titled No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women Estelle B. Freedman reiterates the importance of eugenics on reproductive decisions in the United States. According to Freedman, when fears of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant women committing race suicide bubbled to the surface of American life, eugenics was already heavily rooted in the United States as well as other predominantly White European nations across the ocean.[19] It was not long until eugenics ideologies gripped the medical practice of these countries allowing doctors, White men, to decide which women were fit for reproduction. She discusses laws implemented in the United States to institute compulsory sterilization by stating, “The laws applied to men or women of any background, but they disproportionately affected immigrants, African Americans, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, the poor, and disabled women. Twice as many American women as men underwent compulsory sterilization”.[20] Freedman’s analysis of the perilous situation eugenic efforts placed people of color, women, and those who were disabled in demonstrates how the fear of race suicide was not just a lack of White babies, but an increase in non-White babies.

The way President Roosevelt viewed women and their role in society is discussed in Leroy Dorsey’s article “Managing Women’s Equality: Theodore Roosevelt, the Frontier Myth, and the Modern Woman” where he articulates a nuanced view of the man and his perspective. Dorsey asserts that Roosevelt built his idea of womanhood around the idea of the frontier woman, creating a niche way to build support for women’s equality while still claiming that motherhood was of the utmost importance to the equal frontier woman.[21] He managed to find a balance where he could support a progressive approach to women’s equality while still championing a traditional view of marriage and family aligned with its emphasis on national welfare. This midrange stance did leave Roosevelt in contention with women’s rights activists who felt he could push harder in support of the movement, but Dorsey argues that Roosevelt’s careful balance was wholly intentional and actually was necessary in order to “consider the application of Victorian principles in a modern age”.[22] Though Dorsey does make a solid argument, he neglects a large portion of Roosevelt’s beliefs, mainly regarding racial purity and race suicide. These beliefs are ever present in his presidency and opinions, to leave them out of the analysis creates an inaccurate depiction of Roosevelt and his impact.

            Though her work does not contend with the implications of race suicide or eugenics, Elaine Tyler May does investigate the legislation surrounding women’s bodies and choices. Her book, America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation lays bare the history of the contraceptive pill and how inaccurate the assumptions of its grandiose accomplishments for women were. The pill was FDA approved in 1960 and was viewed publicly as an incredible advancement in birth control technology.[23]  Prior to the pill, the Comstock Law made it illegal to send information about contraceptives or any contraceptive devices through the mail.[24] The Comstock Law was in effect from 1873 to 1936. From its introduction to the birth control scene, the pill was represented in mountains of legislation and informal governmental rulings limiting it as well as other forms of contraception. Presidential gag rules were also cyclically introduced would ban U.S. aid for health organizations working in other countries that provided abortion, even if that was a small percentage of the services provided.[25] Though the gag rules were a part of foreign policy, they are incredibly telling in regards to American positions on contraception and abortion, both of which heavily impacted women’s lives.

            While May heavily addresses the legislative efforts to control women’s reproductive rights, the work of Grant and Mislán focuses on the media that influenced the spread of race suicide ideology in the first place. Through close examination of articles published in two newspapers, the Columbia Missourian and the Columbian Tribune, in Columbia, Missouri, Grant and Mislán demonstrate how objectivity as a tenet of journalism ethics contributed to the rise in eugenics scientific legitimacy.[26] The trust that local communities placed in their newspapers to provide ethical, honest, evidence-based claims lent itself to being taken advantage of by journalists with clear biases. Coupled with the lack of other news outlets to compare information with and the insulated nature of small communities, race suicide ideology implanted and festered without much resistance. Through examination of these works, a picture develops of a society where women’s civic impact is emphasized by their willingness and ability to produce children to combat the racial suicide of the American race.

The research conducted in this paper on the recurring antifeminist backlash and emphasis on women as wombs for national protection against a non-White population increase fits in nicely with of Susan Faludi, building upon her research into backlash against women’s liberation. To do so it will highlight a specific focus of the opposition on women’s reproductive capabilities as their primary quality over all others, taking required emphasis away from other qualities and damaging women in the long run. From there the bridge between this discussion of backlash and the eugenics arguments of the 20th century is easy to cross as historiography has evolved to understand how eugenics was responsible for the restrictions placed upon women and continues to be. In this way the intention is to complement and build upon these works to foster a stronger understanding of the reproductive harm caused by fearful efforts to mitigate supposed racial tensions.

Further, it is clear that an examination of presidential opinions and decisions will demonstrate the clear and intentional steps taken to protect a white supremacist nationalist view that has carried on throughout the decades undetected by giving the same rhetoric a facelift and vocabulary change while maintaining the oppressive structure and values. Eras with strong women’s rights movements challenge this placement of women in society and as a result see a huge backlash from those aiming to protect this view in the highest realm of politics. This will be evident in the analysis of the sources from the periods of women’s suffrage and women’s liberation that establish the rhetoric of each. Presidential speeches and opinions illustrate how women’s role in the family was essential to the continuation of American excellence.  Ultimately, this will culminate in an argument that is difficult to dispute, that women’s role in American nationalism as breeders has been planned by men in power for the better part of a century to use them as pawns in a one sided race war.

            Though Edward Ross coined the term race suicide, credit for its proliferation into 1900s American vernacular and everyday life goes to then president, Theodore Roosevelt. He was inaugurated for his second term as President of the United States on March 4, 1905 in Washington, D.C. Nine days later he appeared in front of the National Congress of Mothers to address his concerns over the grave dangers that plagued the nation. Roosevelt was uniquely positioned as the first president to have been reelected following a term ascended to from the vice president position. In this position he felt justified by his victory to press further onwards with his beliefs on maintaining the pride and prowess of the nation via a close adherence to traditionally apt goals of marriage and family. Through an emphasis on the strict traditional representations of men and women’s roles, Roosevelt aimed to mitigate the plight of ‘race suicide’ in the United States; in doing so he alienated and invalidated the women fighting for women’s suffrage by asserting that a woman’s civic duty began and ended with their children.

            Roosevelt brought race suicide to national attention through his public speeches and written work over the course of his presidencies, heightening national fear and promoting the idea of procreation as function of national security.  In this speech he claims, in reference to his own example of what would happen if all American families only had two children, that “a race that practiced race suicide would thereby conclusively show that it was unfit to exist, and that it had better give place to people who had not forgotten the primary laws of their being”.[27] Here he demonstrates the racial imperative he believed Americans held to have a large family, anything less was not enough. Roosevelt doubly emphasized this notion for women in this speech, highlighting the importance of choosing motherhood over personal ambitions. He believed, as many soon would, that the American population was in a serious decline that would diminish America’s prestige around the world and lead to a change in the demographic makeup of the country. This would reduce the White population’s majority in the country as well, as he claimed “But the nation is in a bad way if there is no real home, if the family is not of the right kind.”[28]  In this speech Roosevelt further emphasized the “primary duties” of men and women; for men to tend to the financial needs of their families and for women to tend to the physical, emotional, moral needs of their children.[29] These two roles are treated the same in that they are essential and play the largest part in protecting the white race but are different in that women who choose not to have children are demonized. And, this distinction comes at the same time that American women are struggling for the right to vote.

Despite condemning both men and women who shirked their duty to procreate and raise children with strong American ideals, Roosevelt targets women more vehemently than men.  He asserts that the nation suffers if the home is in bad shape providing several examples, most of which are specifically towards women. Roosevelt calls these examples a woman losing her “sense of duty”, sinking into ‘vapid self-indulgence’, and “let[ting] her nature be twisted so that she prefers a sterile pseudo-intellectuality”.[30] In this way he connected the future population numbers to women’s personal decisions. From there it was not difficult to make the jump to controlling women’s decisions about their bodies in the interest of the nation. In doing this, he places a woman’s civic duty in direct connection to her decision to procreate and removes the ability to be a proud citizen without having done so. His audience, being mothers who took part in the National Congress of Mothers, received this message well, embraced it as they were validated by the prestige his beliefs awarded their position. In proliferating this message to an audience of mothers, Roosevelt played into pre-existing divisions amongst women regarding suffrage efforts and further increased the divide by providing means for a motherly superiority complex in the form of nationalist praise.

This public speech was not Roosevelt’s first time deliberating on the topic of race suicide. It happened to be a subject of correspondence between him and his associates. He also made it clear in his writing that his particular stance was racially motivated. In a personal letter to politician and friend Albion W. Tourgée, sent in November of 1901, this latter racial matter is made clear as Roosevelt begins the letter by saying, “I too have been at my wits’ end in dealing with the black man”, elucidating further in his next paragraph by writing, “I have not been able to think out any solution of the terrible problem offered by the presence of the negro on this continent”.[31] Further in this sentence he explains that he is resigned to the fact that it would be impossible to expel Black men from America either by death or emigration, so “the honorable and Christian thing to do is to treat each black man and each White man strictly on his merits as a man”.[32] From these quoted passages, Roosevelt’s opinion is clear; he does not want Black men in America and they would be banished as soon as possible if only that was feasible. The fact that this letter predates his speech to the National Congress of Mothers by four years emphatically stresses that Roosevelt’s belief in the severity of race suicide was motivated by an increasing non-White population in the United States.

Further delving into the former president’s personal correspondence shows much of his public sentiments as president were very much rooted in personal truths. One year following the letter described above to Albion W. Tourgée, in October of 1902 Roosevelt wrote to Bessie Van Vorst the notable author of the magazine series and book titled The Woman Who Toils: Being the Experiences of Two Gentlewomen as Factory Girls. This book focused on the lives of factory working girls. Roosevelt begins by complementing Vorst’s magazine series before condemning another article by a different author published in the same magazine on the unemployed rich population. In comparing the women at the focus of the two articles Roosevelt finds similarity stating that he sees, “An easy, good-natured kindliness, and a desire to be independent” claiming that these qualities “are no substitute for the fundamental virtues, for the practice of the strong racial qualities without which there can be no strong races”.[33] Here he defines independence as a quality that is incompatible with American womanhood, and a lack of independence as better for the White race.

A final letter written by Roosevelt in April of 1907 demonstrates that his view if race suicide did not waver and ultimately grew stronger following the 1905 speech. This letter was written to the editor, Dr. Albert Shaw, of The American Monthly Review of Reviews regarding issues Roosevelt had with an article published in the journal titled “The Doctor in the Public School” written by Dr. Cronin. In the article Dr. Cronin says with a level of professional certainty that American families do not need to have more children than are depicted by the national birth rate of the time.[34] But Roosevelt contests this calling the idea erroneous and claiming that the doctor is not fit to write definitively on the subject because he is not as well read as the president is on the subject.

Roosevelt calls attention to what he sees as the biggest issue of this misinformation, which he says is a “tendency to the elimination instead of the survival of the fittest; and the moral attitude which helps on this tendency is of course strengthened when it is apologized for and praised in a magazine like yours.”[35] Cronin’s article asserts in a journal read by the well-off of American society an argument that goes directly against Roosevelt’s own and removes the imperative placed on the elite to reproduce profusely. This is a direct threat to White American nationalist efforts like Roosevelt’s to increase White birth rates. Further evidence that Roosevelt is incensed by the article because of this perceived threat is seen when he states, “These teachings give moral justification to every woman who practices abortion; they furnish excuses for every unnatural prevention of child-bearing, for every form of gross and shallow selfishness of the kind that is the deepest reflection on, the deepest discredit to, American social life.”[36] By writing in this passionate way, Roosevelt betrays his true feelings of reproductive control and the women who assert that right. These private, personal decisions of American women are a direct reflection on the entire nation and as such are terrible choices that should be shamed unlike how Dr. Cronin bears their justification. Time and time again through his public speeches and private letters, former President Theodore Roosevelt demonstrates his belief that women who chose not to have children were criminals at the center of a racial betrayal. By his description, women’s continued birthing and raising of new White children was all that protected the country from the loss of a truly American society.

It is important to note that President Roosevelt’s fears of racial imbalance in the United States were not sparked by Black men though they were the target of most of his vitriolic rhetoric. In reality the fear of Jewish and Irish Catholic immigration was the true catalyst for his sentiments, Black men simply garnered the heavy burden of his prejudices because they were the visibly identifiable group amongst the three. In reality, Black men have been present in the country since 1619 when the first African slaves arrived while Jewish and Irish Catholic immigration grew considerably in the early 1900s, making them the “real” outsiders. Though today Jewish, Irish Catholic, and Protestant White people are all considered a part of the same White population in the United States, this was not the case at the beginning of the 20th century. Protestants were the White race and were clearly different from the former groups in society. Though his ideology clearly developed a focus on Black men and their potential corruption of White birth rates, it bloomed from fear of increased immigrations effects of the birth rate because White did not mean what it means today.

Former President Roosevelt was perhaps fortunate that he could be so outspoken about the views he held regarding race suicide and women’s reproductive decisions in both his private communication and public speeches as president, as his views were common amongst those he spoke to. The presidents of the country during the women’s liberation movement did not have that same so-called luxury and had to combat the new fear of being taken out of context in conversation and being recorded. One of the biggest lessons learned by President Nixon was the importance of hiding your personal opinions from the public. This is evidenced by his commissioning of the infamous ‘Nixon tapes’, recordings of his meetings and phone calls in the Oval office and his private study which have been released in recent decades as part of public record. His recorded conversations contrasted with public communication and decisions show his opinion of mothers but also his impact on their lives and how these things were steeped in his own racism.

Richard Nixon’s paranoia about a leak in the White House and his need to always be covered in case of miscommunication not only led to his impeachment but also provided the public with copious records of his personal communication and a glimpse into the man behind the president. One thing that Nixon clearly knew to keep private was his racist ideology, though he had no problem discussing it on his private telephone line. On October 7, 1971 Nixon called sociologist Daniel Moynihan to discuss an article titled “I.Q.” written by psychologist Richard Herrnstein and its impacts on education, welfare, and government intervention. During this conversation they begin discussing Nixon’s Family Assistance Plan. At this point Nixon says, “everybody says, ‘Well, God, you can’t—the work requirement is only for the purpose of making these poor colored women, you know, who can’t work and with little babies coming every month—or it’s every nine months, I believe. Anyway, whatever the case is, you can’t make them work’”, assuming that only women of color need to use welfare programs and that they simply cannot stop having children.[37] Later on in the same conversation he says that it is the responsibility of a nation’s leader to know the hard truths that drive decision making but never say them outloud. Nixon says, “My theory is that the responsibility of a president, in my present position, first, is to know these things. … But also my theory is that I must do everything that I possibly can to deny them.”.[38] The things in question being that Black people and Jewish people would damage the performance of a voting ticket and that women do not belong on the Supreme Court. Here the overlap between his racist views and misogyny is tentatively expressed, but that is developed further in a future tape.

            Roe v. Wade occurred in 1973 while Nixon was still president. He never publicly commented on the ruling however so his opinion was not known until the January and February 1973 tapes from the Oval office were released in 2009. On January 23rd, the day after the decision, Nixon and his special counsel Chuck Colson were discussing the decision and Nixon said, “I know, I know. I admit, I mean there are times when abortions are necessary. I know that. You know [when] you have a black and a white.” And then following a prompt by Colson adding “Or rape.” as an afterthought.[39] This shows with clarity how his racist views overlapped his views on women. It was not acceptable for women to have mixed race children and the thought of allowing women to make that decision after a traumatic event like rape was not nearly as important to him as keeping the races separated.

            Though never explicitly stated publicly, these views were present in his decisions. The most notable one being his veto of the Comprehensive Child Development Act in 1971, a bill that would have extended the programs available from the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) establishing national public daycare facilities among other provisions.[40] A main reasoning of Nixon’s veto was keeping focus on the family. His veto reads “good public policy requires that we enhance rather than diminish both parental authority and parental involvement with children.”[41] In speaking to his Secretary of the Treasury John B. Connally on the phone Nixon confirmed that his stance was not only concerned with family stability but also with keeping stay at home mothers in childcare saying, “I mean, I think if you ever start down this—the road of having the state raise the kids and giving mother, whether they work or not, the option of that, it’s bad, you see?”[42] His motives in vetoing the child care bill were to strengthen the American family by continuing to force American women to stay home with their children and reducing the number of Americans on welfare programs. This was in spite of their personal wishes regarding going to work if they were not able to afford private child care. This coupled with the way he spoke about women of color on welfare on the tape with Moynihan in 1971, referenced above, demonstrates that he believed women must earn the right to need government assistance for their families and that supporting families was not as important as protecting his ideal of the American family.[43] The fact that this was the president’s opinion of American family life during the women’s liberation movement’s fight for equality of opportunity is baffling and explains how he managed to produce the exact opposite of his intended result.

            Contrary to Nixon’s intention of building up the American family by vetoing the OEO bill, his action directly contributed to the degradation of the American family and subsequent birth dearth that Ben Wattenberg would write his titular book about. As we have discussed earlier on, Ben Wattenberg was an economist who analyzed decreasing birth rates in the United States, finding that White births suffered a considerably higher decline, and claimed that the nation’s authority as a world power would undeniably suffer as a result.[44] His fears of the United States being overtaken by Eastern socialist countries heavily influenced his results. These findings were published in The Birth Dearth where he contended that this was because of a variety of social and legal successes of women’s movements and contributed his own solutions for a White birth increase. The highlights if these contributing issues included increased higher education and job opportunities for women, accessibility of contraception and abortion, and divorce, while his most notable solution was banning abortion because a majority of abortions were done on wealthy White women, a ban would naturally increase the White population.[45] At the time of the book’s publication, Wattenberg was a notable public figure following his time as an advisor to President Lyndon B. Johnson and condensed versions of the book’s argument were  published in prominent newspapers including the New York Times and Los Angeles Times which also published scathing reviews of the book.[46] That is to say that his view on the topic was projected to the national stage much in the same way as Roosevelt and Nixon’s were by nature of their position.

A scathing indictment of Nixon’s decision to veto was published in the New York Times the day following the decision, quoting Nixon as saying, “our response to this challenge must be a measured, evolutionary, painstakingly considered one, consciously designed to cement the family in its rightful position as the keystone of our civilization.”.[47] Yet, the birth dearth is cited as beginning in 1971, continuing until the present day, so that conscious decision did not play out as planned.[48] Worse, Nixon’s veto is still contributing to the unequal distribution of wealth and participation in the labor force that still plagues women in America despite the efforts of the women’s liberation movement. According to Lisa Rabasca Roepe, author of the Business Insider article “Richard Nixon Sabotaged a Generation of Women, but Now Congress Has Another Chance – If It Can Pass Biden’s $3.5 Trillion Spending Plan”, the birth dearth is evidence “that Nixon’s veto weakened the family structure in exactly the way he was trying to prevent”.[49] By forcing childcare to remain a private industry, many families could not and still cannot justify having both parents in the workforce when the salary of one parent would be used in almost its entirety to pay for childcare that can be done at home instead.

In effect, growing costs of living and a lack of childcare options forced many women to choose between having a family and a career. This sentiment was echoed throughout the ranks of the women’s liberation movement, as women cried out for support that President Nixon refused them. Combined with the widespread use of the birth control pill, Nixon’s veto contributed to the birth dearth by making the choice easy; to have a career women had fewer children. The nation was not prepared to make the necessary efforts to ensure that families were supported in ways that mattered so that was the only way. If only Nixon had taken the time to consider women as individuals separate from their relationship status or obligation as mothers the American family could have prospered the way he intended.

It may not seem so, but the relationship between Roosevelt’s views on race suicide and Nixon’s impact on the birth dearth is quite close. Nixon was born in 1913 while race suicide rhetoric, strengthened and popularized by President Roosevelt’s speeches years prior was still wildly prominent in American culture. He grew up breathing in and internalizing these messages that the White race was dying and that minority groups were overtaking “true Americans”. In truth the birth dearth was inspired by the rhetoric of the early 1900s, a continuation of the same mantra with a fancy new name and subtler approach. This is a fantastic place to build connections as a teacher, to demonstrate the importance of chronology when understanding history. Nixon was a young child at the height of race suicide ideology so it is no wonder that his own beliefs so similarly mirror this notion minus the name. Our societal beliefs form slowly and change even slower, fifty years is not so long in the grand scheme of time.

The 1973 case of Roe v. Wade was the first national government ruling that gave women the right to make decisions about their bodies that they had been making without government approval for centuries, but some in the government finally recognized the need for women to be in charge of those health decisions. The current backlash and attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade are reflective of the attitudes of older decades. Fears of race suicide and separation of the family unit pushed presidents and therefore the public to the extreme of the traditional family unit barring women from gaining strides in reproductive rights in the same way that they did with the vote and workplace equality. The views and actions of Presidents Roosevelt and Nixon were crucial to the pressure on American citizens to participate in the good American family ideal in order to preserve the nation from potential racial disparities and consequently White women had to be controlled. Their bodies housed all potential for another generation of Americans and they had to be made to do what was ‘right’. With all the evidence laid out it can be clearly seen that this was an intentional decision by the men in power to use White women as pawns in this war of perception by making their bodily decisions for them.

Using the primary sources depicted in this article and the historiography provided, the means to develop a short but effective interjection to a U.S. history classroom are clearly available. The situation of Roe v. Wade’s standing as a Supreme Court ruling is the most recent legislative example in a long storied history of the American government and our presidents attempting to assign limitations to women. Our students were not alive for even the most recent prior examples of these attempts but that does not mean they cannot learn. Incorporating new primary source material from notable and already frequently discussed U.S. presidents provides further detail to an undiscussed issue and will also teach your students more about developing full opinions of historical figures as flawed human beings.

References

Primary Sources

Address by President Roosevelt before the National Congress of Mothers. Theodore Roosevelt Collection. MS Am 1541 (315). Harvard College Library.

“Child Development Legislation Dies in House.” In CQ Almanac 1972, 28th ed., 03-914-03-918. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1973. http://library.cqpress.com/cqalmanac/cqal72-1249564.

Colson, Chuck and Richard Nixon. “President Nixon and Chuck Colson Discuss the Supreme Court Decision Roe v. Wade.” Edited by Luke A. Nichter. Nixon tapes and transcripts. Accessed October 23, 2021. http://www.nixontapes.org/chron53.html.

Douglas, Erin and Carla Astudillo. “We Annotated Texas’ near-Total Abortion Ban. Here’s What the Law Says about Enforcement.” The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune, September 10, 2021. https://www.texastribune.org/2021/09/10/texas-abortion-law-ban-enforcement/.

Irvine, Bethany. “Why ‘Heartbeat Bill’ Is a Misleading Name for Texas’ near-Total Abortion Ban.” The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune, September 2, 2021. https://www.texastribune.org/2021/09/02/texas-abortion-heartbeat-bill/.

Jane Roe, et al., Appellants, v. Henry Wade, Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute (United States Supreme Court 1973).

“Richard Nixon and Daniel P. Moynihan on 7 October 1971,” Conversation 010-116, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Nixon Telephone Tapes 1971, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4002184

“Richard Nixon and John B. Connally on 8 December 1971,” Conversation 016-044, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Nixon Telephone Tapes 1971, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006696

Roosevelt, Theodore. “The American Birth Rate”, Theodore Roosevelt Letters and Speeches. Edited by Louis Auchincloss. New York, N.Y.: Literary Classics of the United States, 2004, 520.

Roosevelt, Theodore. “The Danger of ‘Race Suicide’”, Theodore Roosevelt Letters and Speeches. Edited by Louis Auchincloss. New York, N.Y.: Literary Classics of the United States, 2004, 259.

Roosevelt, Theodore . “Dealing with the Black Man”, Theodore Roosevelt Letters and Speeches. Edited by Louis Auchincloss. New York, N.Y.: Literary Classics of the United States, 2004, 244.

Rosenthal, Jack. “President Vetoes Child Care Plan as Irresponsible.” The New York Times. The New York Times, December 10, 1971. https://www.nytimes.com/1971/12/10/archives/president-vetoes-child-care-plan-as-irresponsible-he-terms-bill.html.

Wattenberg, Ben J. The Birth Dearth: What Happens When People in Free Countries Don’t Have Enough Babies? New York, NY: Pharos Books, 1987.

Secondary Sources

Dorsey, Leroy G. 2013. “Managing Women’s Equality: Theodore Roosevelt, the Frontier Myth, and the Modern Woman.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 16 (3): 423–56. doi:10.14321/rhetpublaffa.16.3.0423.

Faludi, Susan. Backlash: The Undeclared War against American Women. New York: Crown, 1991.

Freedman, Estelle B. “Reproduction: The Politics of Choice.” in No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women, 229-252. New York:Ballantine Books, 2002.

Grant, Rachel and Cristina Mislán (2020) “Improving the Race”: The Discourse of Science and Eugenics in Local News Coverage, 1905–1922, American Journalism, 37:4, 476-499, DOI: 10.1080/08821127.2020.1830627

Hochman, A. (2014, April 29). Race suicide. Eugenics Archive Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 5, 2021, from https://eugenicsarchive.ca/discover/connections/535eedb87095aa0000000250

Kennedy, Lesley. “How Phyllis Schlafly Derailed the Equal Rights Amendment.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, March 19, 2020. https://www.history.com/news/equal-rights-amendment-failure-phyllis-schlafly.

Kline, Wendy. 2001. Building a Better Race : Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics From the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom. Berkeley: University of California Press. https://search-ebscohost-com.rider.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e000xna&AN=112975&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Lange, Allison. “National American Woman Suffrage Association.” History of U.S. Woman’s Suffrage, Fall 2015. http://www.crusadeforthevote.org/nawsa-united.

Lange, Allison. “National Woman Suffrage Association.” History of U.S. Woman’s Suffrage, Fall 2015. http://www.crusadeforthevote.org/nwsa-organize.

Lange, Allison. “Opposition to Suffrage.” History of U.S. Woman’s Suffrage. National Women’s History Museum, Fall 2015. http://www.crusadeforthevote.org/naows-opposition.

May, Elaine Tyler. America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation. New York: Basic Books, 2011.

Roepe, Lisa Rabasca. “Richard Nixon Sabotaged a Generation of Women, but Now Congress Has Another Chance – If It Can Pass Biden’s $3.5 Trillion Spending Plan.” Business Insider. Business Insider, August 15, 2021. https://www.businessinsider.com/care-economy-biden-nixon-veto-50-years-infrastructure-american-families-2021-8.


[1] Jane Roe, et al., Appellants, v. Henry Wade, Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute (United States Supreme Court 1973).

[2] Bethany Irvine, “Why ‘Heartbeat Bill’ Is a Misleading Name for Texas’ near-Total Abortion Ban.” The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune, September 2, 2021. https://www.texastribune.org/2021/09/02/texas-abortion-heartbeat-bill/.

[3] Bethany Irvine, Heartbeat Bill. 2021.

[4] Roe, Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute; Erin Douglas and Carla Astudillo, “We Annotated Texas’ near-Total Abortion Ban. Here’s What the Law Says about Enforcement.” The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune, September 10, 2021. https://www.texastribune.org/2021/09/10/texas-abortion-law-ban-enforcement/.

[5] Allison Lange, “National Woman Suffrage Association.” History of U.S. Woman’s Suffrage, Fall 2015. http://www.crusadeforthevote.org/nwsa-organize.; Allison Lange, “National American Woman Suffrage Association.” History of U.S. Woman’s Suffrage, Fall 2015. http://www.crusadeforthevote.org/nawsa-united.

[6]  Allison Lange, “Opposition to Suffrage.” History of U.S. Woman’s Suffrage. National Women’s History Museum, Fall 2015. http://www.crusadeforthevote.org/naows-opposition.

[7] Allison Lange, “Opposition to Suffrage.”

[8] Lesley Kennedy, “How Phyllis Schlafly Derailed the Equal Rights Amendment.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, March 19, 2020 https://www.history.com/news/equal-rights-amendment-failure-phyllis-schlafly.

[9] Lesley Kennedy.

[10]  Lesley Kennedy.

[11] Adam Hochman, (2014, April 29). Race suicide. Retrieved October 5, 2021, from https://eugenicsarchive.ca/discover/connections/535eedb87095aa0000000250

[12] Adam Hochman, Race Suicide.

[13] Ben J. Wattenberg, The Birth Dearth: What Happens When People in Free Countries Don’t Have Enough Babies? New York, NY: Pharos Books, 1987.

[14] Ben J. Wattenberg, The Birth Dearth.

[15] Susan Faludi, introduction to Backlash: The Undeclared War against American Women. (New York: Crown, 1991), xxii.

[16] Susan Faludi,  xix.

[17] Wendy Kline, 2001. Building a Better Race : Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics From the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom. Berkeley: University of California Press, 6.

[18] Wendy Kline, Building a Better Race, 159, 164.

[19] Estelle B. Freedman, “Reproduction: The Politics of Choice.” in No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women, (New York:Ballantine Books, 2002), 233..

[20] Freedman, 234.

[21] Leroy G. Dorsey. 2013. “Managing Women’s Equality: Theodore Roosevelt, the Frontier Myth, and the Modern Woman.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 16 (3): 423–56. doi:10.14321/rhetpublaffa.16.3.0423. 446,447.

[22] Lroy G. Dorsey. 2013. “Managing Women’s Equality”, 448.

[23] Elaine Tyler May, America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation. New York: Basic Books, 2011, 1.

[24] Elaine Tyler May, America and the Pill, 1.

[25] Elaine Tyler May, America and the Pill, 53-55.

[26] Rachel Grant and Cristina Mislán (2020) “Improving the Race”: The Discourse of Science and Eugenics in Local News Coverage, 1905–1922, American Journalism, 37:4, 476-499, DOI: 10.1080/08821127.2020.1830627, 476.

[27] Address by President Roosevelt before the National Congress of Mothers. Theodore Roosevelt Collection. MS Am 1541 (315). Harvard College Library.

[28] Address by President Roosevelt before the National Congress of Mothers. Theodore Roosevelt Collection. MS Am 1541 (315). Harvard College Library.

[29] Address by President Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt Collection.

[30] Address by President Roosevelt before the National Congress of Mothers.

[31] Theodore Roosevelt. “Dealing with the Black Man”, Theodore Roosevelt Letters and Speeches. Edited by Louis Auchincloss. New York, N.Y.: Literary Classics of the United States, 2004, 244.

[32] Theodore Roosevelt. “Dealing with the Black Man”, Theodore Roosevelt Letters and Speeches, 245.

[33] Theodore Roosevelt. “The Danger of ‘Race Suicide’”, Theodore Roosevelt Letters and Speeches. Edited by Louis Auchincloss. New York, N.Y.: Literary Classics of the United States, 2004, 259.

[34] Theodore Roosevelt. “The American Birth Rate”, Theodore Roosevelt Letters and Speeches. Edited by Louis Auchincloss. New York, N.Y.: Literary Classics of the United States, 2004, 520.

[35] Theodore Roosevelt. “The American Birth Rate”, Theodore Roosevelt Letters and Speeches, 521.

[36] Theodore Roosevelt. “The American Birth Rate”, Theodore Roosevelt Letters and Speeches, 522.

[37] “Richard Nixon and Daniel P. Moynihan on 7 October 1971,” Conversation 010-116, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Nixon Telephone Tapes 1971, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4002184

[38]  “Richard Nixon and Daniel P. Moynihan on 7 October 1971,” Conversation 010-116.

[39] Chuck Colson and Richard Nixon. “President Nixon and Chuck Colson Discuss the Supreme Court Decision Roe v. Wade.” Edited by Luke A. Nichter. Nixon tapes and transcripts. Accessed October 23, 2021. http://www.nixontapes.org/chron53.html.

[40] “Child Development Legislation Dies in House.” In CQ Almanac 1972, 28th ed., 03-914-03-918. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1973. http://library.cqpress.com/cqalmanac/cqal72-1249564.

[41] “Child Development Legislation Dies in House.”, 1973.

[42] “Richard Nixon and John B. Connally on 8 December 1971,” Conversation 016-044, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Nixon Telephone Tapes 1971, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006696

[43] “Richard Nixon and Daniel P. Moynihan on 7 October 1971,” Conversation 010-116.

[44] Ben J. Wattenberg, The Birth Dearth

[45] Ben J. Wattenberg, The Birth Dearth

[46] Morris, Richard. “The Birth Dearth: What Happens When People in Free Countries Don’t Have Enough Babies? by Ben J. Wattenberg (Pharos: $16.95; 182 Pp.).” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, August 2, 1987.; Shabecoff, Philip. “Warning on Births Provokes Dissent.” The New York Times. The New York Times, August 23, 1987. https://www.nytimes.com/1987/08/23/us/warning-on-births-provokes-dissent.html.

[47] Jack Rosenthal. “President Vetoes Child Care Plan as Irresponsible.” The New York Times. The New York Times, December 10, 1971. https://www.nytimes.com/1971/12/10/archives/president-vetoes-child-care-plan-as-irresponsible-he-terms-bill.html.

[48] Lisa Rabasca Roepe. “Richard Nixon Sabotaged a Generation of Women, but Now Congress Has Another Chance – If It Can Pass Biden’s $3.5 Trillion Spending Plan.” Business Insider. Business Insider, August 15, 2021. https://www.businessinsider.com/care-economy-biden-nixon-veto-50-years-infrastructure-american-families-2021-8.

[49] Lisa Rabasca Roepe. “Richard Nixon Sabotaged a Generation of Women”

A Snapshot of the Public’s Views on History

A Snapshot of the Public’s Views on History

Pete Burkholder and Dana Schaffer

Reprinted by permission from the American Historical Association

The teaching of history has become a political football in recent years, resulting in efforts by those on both ends of the political spectrum to regulate what appears in classrooms across the country. Lost in this legislation, grandstanding, and punditry is how the American public understands the past, a measurement that was last taken systematically by historians Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen in their 1998 landmark study, The Presence of the Past. For that reason, the AHA and Fairleigh Dickinson University, with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, sought to take America’s historical pulse anew and assess the impact of the cultural changes over the intervening two decades.

In the fall of 2020, we conducted a national survey of 1,816 people using online probability panels. With approximately 40 questions, sometimes our poll results surprised us, but other times they confirmed what we had suspected. The following represents a sampling of what we learned, with the full data set available on the AHA website. 

First, our respondents had consistent views on what history is—and those views often ran counter to those of practicing historians. Whereas the latter group usually sees the field as one offering explanations about the past, two-thirds of our survey takers considered history to be little more than an assemblage of names, dates, and events. Little wonder, then, that disputes in the public sphere tend to focus on the “what” of history — particularly what parts of history are taught or not in schools — as opposed to how materials can be interpreted to offer better explanations of the past and present. And even though 62 percent of respondents agreed that what we know about the past should change over time, the primary driver for those changes was believed to be new facts coming to light. In sum, poll results show that, in the minds of our nation’s population, raw facts cast a very long shadow over the field of history and any dynamism therein.

We also learned that the places the public turned to most often for information about the past were not necessarily the sources it deemed most trustworthy. The top three go-to sources for historical knowledge were all in video format, thus being a microcosm of Americans’ general predilection for consuming information from screens. More traditional sources, such as museums, nonfiction books, and college courses, filled out the middle to lower ranks of this hierarchy. (Note that respondents were asked to report on their experiences reaching back to January 2019, so these results are not simply artifacts of the pandemic.) Perhaps this helps explain why 90 percent of survey takers felt that one can learn history anywhere, not just in school, and why 73 percent reported that it is easier to learn about the past when it is presented as entertainment.

But while the most frequently consulted sources of the past were those within easy reach, views were mixed on their reliability to convey accurate information. Whereas fictional films and television were the second-most-popular sources of history, they ranked near the bottom in terms of trustworthiness. Although museums were of only middling popularity, they took the top spot for historical dependability (similar to the results in Rosenzweig and Thelen’s original study). College history professors garnered a respectable fourth position as reliable informants, even though the nonfiction works they produce, let alone the courses they teach, were infrequently consulted by respondents. Similar inversions occurred for TV news, newspapers and newsmagazines, non-Wikipedia web search results, and DNA tests. Social media, the perennial bête noire of truth aficionados, turned out to be a neither popular nor trusted source of historical information.

Some much-welcome news is that the public sees clear value in the study of history, even relative to other fields. Rather than asking whether respondents thought learning history was important—a costless choice—we asked instead how essential history education is, relative to other fields such as engineering and business. The results were encouraging: 84 percent felt history was just as valuable as the professional programs. Moreover, those results held nearly constant across age groups, genders, education levels, races and ethnicities, political-party affiliations, and regions of the country. Much has been written in Perspectives on History about the dismal history-enrollment picture at colleges and universities. Although we acknowledge that work and even see it manifested in our teaching experiences, our survey results suggest this is not for want of society’s value of understanding the past.

To better understand this apparent appreciation for learning history, despite the decline in college enrollments, we gathered a tremendous amount of data on the public’s experiences with learning history at both the high school and college levels. Society’s predominantly facts-centric understanding of history is perhaps partially explained by our educational findings. At the high school level, over three-fourths of respondents reported that history courses were more about names, dates, and other facts than about asking questions about the past. Despite that, 68 percent said that their high school experiences made them want to learn more history. Even for college courses, 44 percent of respondents indicated a continued emphasis on factual material over inquiry, but this was a turnoff to fewer than one-fifth of them. Not all data were so sanguine. One particularly sobering finding was that 8 percent of respondents had no interest in learning about the past.

Whether respondents’ classroom experiences emphasized history as facts turns out to be an important leading indicator in people’s interest in the past. Some of our more interesting cross-tabulations correlated respondents’ conceptions of history with their interest in learning about foreign peoples and places. Only 17 percent of those who viewed history as facts showed great interest in such matters, while double that number of history-as-explanation respondents did. Those trends held steady, though to somewhat lesser degrees, for curiosity about the histories of people perceived as different and about events from over 500 years ago. If wider interests and greater empathy are desired outcomes of history education, then educators might need to rethink the content-mastery versus inquiry environments they foster.

Yet historical inquiry of any quality cannot proceed without content. We therefore provided a list of topics and asked which ones were perceived as being over- or underserved by historians. Such traditional subjects as men, politics, and government were most likely to be seen as receiving too much attention, but they were joined in that sentiment by LGBTQ history. Interestingly, LGBTQ history also ranked third in needing more attention, and it had the fewest respondents indicating historians’ interest devoted to it was about right. This topic’s perception as both over- and underserved suggests that LGBTQ history remains a polarizing area of inquiry in the public’s collective mind. Respondents also said the histories of women and racial or ethnic minorities were most in need of greater consideration.

Furthermore, over three-fourths of respondents, regardless of age group, education level, gender, geographic location, or political affiliation, said it was acceptable to make learners uncomfortable by teaching the harm some people have done to others. The clear call for more investigation of racial and ethnic subgroups, as well as the acceptance of teaching uncomfortable histories, undercuts putative justifications for recent legislative efforts to limit instruction on these topics.

We understand that public perceptions might not be supported by other objective measures, but we argue that those in the historical discipline benefit from the knowledge of such public attitudes. Moreover, findings from our survey hint that approaching polarizing topics as a form of inquiry as opposed to a body of facts is more likely to resonate with learners.

Surveys like ours have their limitations. They are snapshots in time, they cannot easily answer logical follow-up questions, and they might sometimes elicit responses that are more aspirational than reflective of reality. This is why we hope AHA members will both explore and build on our data, contextualizing results for topics of special interest, convening focus groups to put flesh on our findings, and starting conversations about better education and engagement with the public. Let the joy of inquiry begin.

The Soul of America by Jon Meacham

Reviewed by Hank Bitten
NJCSS Executive Director

Jon Meacham captures the ‘big picture’ of America’s story in his book, The Soul of America (2018). It’s importance for teachers and students is significant because many of our institutions and principles are currently being questioned and attacked. The Soul of America captures the challenges Americans have experienced throughout our history, identifies the voices who have kept the American people faithful to democratic values and provides references to presidents whose leadership shaped America’s soul.   This book is timely as we are living in dangerous times with divisive statements every day and mass shootings every week.

The opening paragraphs prioritize the importance of presidential leadership in times of uncertainty or crisis: “To do so requires innumerable acts of citizenship and of private grace.  It will require, as it has in the past, the witness and the bravery of reformers who hold no office and who have no traditional power but who yearn for a better, fairer way of life. And it will also require, I believe, a president of the United States with a temperamental disposition to speak to the country’s hopes rather than to its fears.” (11)

Our representative democracy has faced challenges from events, extremists, political parties, and presidents during the past 220 years. The American soul and spirit have been tested with the Alien and Sedition Acts, Nullification crisis, Know Nothing Party, racism, the Great Depression, world wars, and the Attack on America.  The American soul has been positively influenced during challenging times by speeches, books, newspapers, radio, television, films, and social media.  Although we are a diverse, and at times a divided population, we share a common DNA that is at risk to genetic mutations by outside influences.

One of the significant contributions in this book is its perspective on the American Dream during times when it was challenged by racism, sexism, and economic depressions.  In each of the seven chapters there are applications for classroom lessons and debates.  Our students learn about the role of government through conflicts, reforms, legislation and presidential visions through the Square Deal, New Freedom, New Deal, Fair Deal, and New Frontier. The first years of the 20th century were times of prosperity and depression, war and peace, an incapacitated president and the death of four presidents in office, and the expansion and restriction on who can vote. These are applications for the first quartile of the 21st century.

In the 1920s the Ku Klux Klan spoke to millions of Americans in both rural and urban areas who wanted conservative values, restrictions on immigration, and an exclusive society for some Americans. The Ku Klux Klan addressed these issues, blamed socialism on immigrants, and found a comfortable place in the Democratic Party of William Jennings Bryan. Hiram Wesley Evans, the imperial wizard of the Klan, spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Madison Square Garden in 1924: “The Klan, alone, supplies this leadership…. The blood which produces human leadership must be protected from inferior blood…. You are the superior blood.  You are more-you are leaders in the only movement in the world, at present, which exists solely to establish a civilization that will insure these things.  Klansmen and Klanswomen are verily ‘the salt of the earth,’ upon whom depends the future of civilization.”  (Hiram Wesley Evans, imperial wizard spoke these words in 1924 in Madison Square Garden at the Democratic National Convention)

To understand the divisive words above in the context of the poetic words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” in the sonnet, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus, teachers should consider having their students participate in the following:

  • Have your students explain how and why the Klan evolved into a national organization after World War I from a regional organization in the South after the Civil War? 
  • Have your students cite examples of how the Klan used propaganda and the media to influence Americans and increase their membership. 
  • Have your students research the voices who spoke out against the Klan and for an inclusive society for all people.

The Klan became masters of propaganda or fake news in the 20th century with the popular commercial film, Birth of a Nation in 1915.  The influence of films, radio, and speeches at rallies have a powerful impact on the soul of Americans and their views on groups of people who become scapegoats as they were blamed for things they had no control over. The Klan meddled in the presidential elections of 1920 and 1924. Jon Meacham provides resources for teachers and students with the example of the campaign to defame President Warren G. Harding with fake news that “documented” his ancestors were black. (129)  At a time when Harding could have unleashed a tirade over the radio or in the newspapers, he met the allegations with dignified public silence.  There were also reports of his initiation as a member of the Klan in the dining room of the White House and that half of the elected representatives in Congress were Klan members! (130)  These were dangerous times.

William R. Pattangall, a politician from Maine running for governor, was one voice who explicitly denounced the Klan at the Democratic National Convention in New York City in 1924. “I say to you, that there is need to be sent over the whole wide United States a message…that our party hates bigotry, hates intolerance; opposes bigotry and opposes intolerance; and because it hates them and hates hypocrisy and opposes them, it therefore calls bigoty and intolerance and hypocrisy by their right names when it speaks of them.” In times when fear overcomes our American spirit, other voices need to speak for the rights and freedom of all citizens. There are many examples for teachers in The Soul of America of voices that speak of inclusion, freedom of equality and the rule of law in our Constitution.  Our students need to hear these voices!

In 1952 Margaret Chase Smith, also from Maine, spoke on the Senate floor against the wave of fear that Senator Joseph McCarthy promoted.  “I think that it is high time that we remembered that we have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution.  I think that it is high time that we remembered that the Constitution, as amended, speaks not only of the freedom of speech but also of trial by jury instead of trial by accusation…

Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism:

The right to criticize;

The right to uphold unpopular beliefs;

The right to protest;

The right to independent thought.

The Soul of America is filled with powerful quotations that teachers can select and organize into evidence packages for students to read, discuss, and form a conclusion.  The Soul of America includes selected quotes from speeches and literature as far back as 1789. These short quotes can be researched in the complete context of documents readily available online in presidential libraries, the Miller Center, The Library of Congress, and other resources. Here are several examples of Evidence Packages that will guide students in understanding the big picture of the challenges Americans experienced in the past 100 years. The examples below provide a context for the power of words and rhetoric for deeper inquiry and student engagement into history.

Evidence Package on The Great Depression:

  1. “In the summer of 1932, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York had told an adviser that the two most dangerous men in America were Huey Long of Louisiana and Douglas MacArthur, the army chief of staff.  Long, the powerful Louisiana “kingfish,” could conceivably orchestrate a coup from the populist left, and MacArthur might manage the same feat from the right.”  (138, A few weeks before his inauguration, there was an assassination attempt on FDR and the mayor of Chicago in Miami, Florida by Zangara, an anarchist.
  2. “Where is the middle class today?” “Where is the corner groceryman, about whom President Roosevelt speaks?  He is gone or going.  Where is the corner druggist?  He is gone or going.  Where is the banker of moderate means?  He is vanishing…. The middle class today cannot pay the debts they owe and come out alive.” (143, Huey Long)
  3. “We have perfected techniques in propaganda and press and radio control which should make the United States the easiest country in the world to indoctrinate with any set of ideas, and to control for any physically possible ends.”  “Diversity – political, racial, religious, ethnic – was the enemy.’  Undoubtedly the easiest way to unite and animate large numbers in political association for action is to exploit the dynamic forces of hatred and fear.” (144, Lawrence Dennis, author from Georgia)
  4. “The GOP, Truman said, was more interested in partisan advantage than in national security. For political background, the Republicans have been trying vainly to find an issue on which to make a bid for the control of Congress for next year… They tried statism.  They tried ‘welfare state.’  They tried ‘socialism.’  And there are a certain number of members of the Republican party who are trying to dig up that old malodorous dead horse called ‘isolationism.’  And in order to do that, they are perfectly willing to sabotage the bipartisan foreign policy of the United States.” (188-89, Truman speech on March 30, 1950 in Key West, FL)

Evidence Package on Civil Rights Movement:

  1. “If on Judgment Day I were summoned by St. Peter to give testimony to the used-to-be sheriff’s act of kindness, I would be unable to say anything in his behalf.  His confidence that my uncle and every other Black man who heard of the Klan’s coming ride would scurry under their houses to hide in chicken droppings was to humiliating to hear.” (215, Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  A reference to a warning to her uncle about a visit from the Klan)
  2. “You know, we just can’t keep colored folk down like we been doin’ around here for years and years,” Wallace told a Sunday School teacher at his church. “We got to quit.  We got to start treatin’ ‘em right. They just like everybody else.”  (218, Words of Gov. George Wallace, AL spoken shortly after World War 2, about 15 years before he was elected governor.)
  3. “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny and I say…segregation now…segregation tomorrow…segregation forever.” (219, Gov. George Wallace, AL)
  • Yet Wallace failed.  The Kennedy Justice Department enforced the court order and the university was integrated.  On the evening of the day federal officials compelled Wallace to stand aside, President Kennedy spoke to the nation.

“Today, we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. This is not a sectional issue.  Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every city, in every State of the Union, producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety.  Nor is this a partisan issue…. We are confronted primarily with a moral issue.  It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.” (220, President Kennedy)

  • “Well, you know, John, the other day a sad thing happened.  Helen Williams and her husband, Gene, who are African Americans and have been working for me for many years, drove my official car from Washington down to Texas, the Cadillac limousine of the vice-president of the United States.  They drove through your state, and when they got hungry they stopped at grocery stores on the edge of town in colored areas and bought Vienna sausage and beans and ate them with a plastic spoon.  And when they had to go to the bathroom, they would stop, pull off on a side road, and Helen Williams, an employee of the vice-president of the United States, would squat on the road to pee.  And you know, John, that’s just bad.  That’s wrong.  And there ought to be something to change that. And it seems to me that if the people in Mississippi don’t change it voluntarily, that it’s just going to be necessary to change it by law.” (221, President Johnson statement to Senator John Stennis, Mississippi)
  • “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” (225, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

  • “Yes, yes, Hubert, I want all those other things – buses, restaurants, all of that – but the right to vote with no ifs, ands, or buts, that’s the key.” (231, Civil Rights Act of 1964)
  • “The march of 1965 injected something very special into the soul and the heart and the veins of America.  It said, in effect, that we must humanize our social and political and economic structure.  When people saw what happened on that bridge, there was a sense of revulsion all over America. 

Revulsion, then redemption: In the final analysis, we are one people, one family, one house-not just the house of black and white, but the house of the South, the house of America.” (238, Rep. John Lewis, GA, Bloody Sunday. March 7, 1965)

“The issue of equal rights for American negroes is such an issue.  And should we defeat every enemy, should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation. 

For with a country as with a person, ‘What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’” (241, Speech by President Lyndon Johnson to the nation, March 15, 1965)

The Soul of America is an important resource for history teachers, a powerful story for your students, and opened my mind to a deeper understanding of why the politics of today need the voices of teachers and professors to advocate for the liberties and rights we, both citizens and immigrants within the United States, have by law.