My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Monday, January 17, 2022

January 17, 2022: Spring Semester Previews: Major Authors: W.E.B. Du Bois

[A new semester is upon us, so this week I’ll preview texts I’m excited to teach in my Spring 2022 classes. Leading up to a weekend update on my book project in progress!]

On three (of the many) Du Bois texts that speak to our current moment.

1)      Returning Soldiers” (1919): It’s a tragic and telling irony that the explosion of racial terrorism known as the Red Summer of 1919 was caused by white supremacist backlash to the very sight—hell, the very idea—of African American WWI veterans. No text helps us better remember that backlash more than Du Bois’ Crisis editorial—and none more succinctly reflects the alternative, vital idea of African American critical patriotism as well.

2)      Black Reconstruction in America (1935): In an era when the very idea of teaching race and racism has somehow become divisive, it’s fair to say that we need Du Bois’ magisterial work—to my mind still the single best historical and historiographic text I’ve ever read—more than ever. “The Propaganda of History” indeed.

3)      The Souls of Black Folk (1903): Du Bois’ best book, and one of the handful of best American books I know, features perhaps my single favorite paragraph in American writing. That would be more than enough to feature it in this post and in this course, but Souls is so, so much more—including some of the most poignant and devastating autobiographical writing I’ve ever read. Can’t wait to teach that chapter and all things Du Bois this Spring!

Next preview post tomorrow,

Ben

PS. What do you think? Spring courses or other work you want to share?

Saturday, January 15, 2022

January 15-16, 2022: Crowd-sourced Political Women

[On January 12th, 1932, Hattie Caraway became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. So for the 90th anniversary of that historic occasion, this week I’ve AmericanStudied Caraway and a handful of other political women. Leading up to this crowd-sourced weekend post featuring responses & nominations from fellow AmericanStudiers—add yours in comments, please!]

Responding to Tuesday’s Jeannette Rankin post, Amanda Mecke tweets, There was much space between Lindbergh and GOP Isolationists and a sincere pacifist like Rankin no doubt, but her unsupported stance after the destruction of the fleet in Pearl Harbor meant she offered no acceptable alternative not just to war mongers but even Quakers etc.” She follows up, “I think the agonizing choice of Quakers who fought in WWII provides interesting contrast to Rankin’s political choices among 3 US prongs: US anti-Semitism; recognized pacifism only for organized religions like Quakers or Amish; & both right wing & liberal anti-Stalin discomfort.”

Rebecca Fachner (one of our most badass contemporary political & public history voices) writes, “Rankin was such a boss. She knew the vote against WW2 would cost her the next election and did it anyway. True courage.” She adds, “Also, she’s the only woman in American history to vote to give women the vote. She’s just so great.”

Responding to Friday’s Shirley Chisholm post, Winston Smith shares this video “for those of us who have never experienced the power of Shirley Chisholm.”

One of my favorite podcasters, Kelly Therese Pollock, shares this Sagas of She episode where she talked about Chisholm.

Responding to the series’ subject overall, Irene Martyniuk writes, I think it is always important to consider all the women who serve at the local level in politics—for instance, our now-retired colleagues Judy Budz and Margarite Landry who have served and continues to serve on various committees in their town or my sister who also sits on various committees in her township. ‘All politics is local’ and these women (all of whom serve without remuneration or fanfare) are vital pieces in American democracy.”

Some great Twitter additions to the conversation:

M.A. Davis tweets, “Ruth Bryan Owen deserves to be better-remembered. Largely in the same memory hole as her dad but an important figure in women’s politics.”

Tiffany Wayne shares “a piece I wrote back in 2016 about another woman who ran for President back in the 1970s, part of a series of blog posts by Nursing Clio called ‘Run like a Girl.’”

Spring Semester previews series starts Monday,

Ben

PS. What do you think? Other political women or moments you’d highlight?

Friday, January 14, 2022

January 14, 2022: Women in Politics: Shirley Chisholm’s Campaigns

[On January 12th, 1932, Hattie Caraway became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. So for the 90th anniversary of that historic occasion, this week I’ll AmericanStudy Caraway and a handful of other political women—share your thoughts and your own nominees for an egalitarian crowd-sourced weekend post, please!]

On two telling political efforts beyond Chisholm’s groundbreaking presidential campaign.

I started this week’s series with the first woman to run for president, so it’s only appropriate to end the week with the first to run for the Democratic presidential nomination (and the second woman to seek a major party nomination, after Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith in 1964), and the first African American presidential candidate to boot: New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. Chisholm’s 1972 campaign was groundbreaking for both of those reasons, and was also quite successful, with the candidate achieving significant results (sometimes classified as wins, although each case is complicated) in the New Jersey, Louisiana, and Mississippi primaries, and eventually garnering 152 delegates (some symbolically released by the nominee George McGovern, but all real nonetheless) at the Democratic National Convention in Miami. Everything I said in Monday’s post about the symbolic significance of Victoria Woodhull’s 1872 campaign holds true for Chisholm’s campaign a century later, and I’d say Chisholm’s represented a significantly more serious contention for the nomination as well.

If that were Chisholm’s only contribution to national politics it would be more than enough to deserve collective memory—but it’s not, and her participation in a couple specific efforts helps us better remember the full scope of her half-century career in politics. Chisholm’s first political work took place in 1953, the same year that the 29-year-old Chisholm began directing a couple New York City child care centers (putting her MA in Elementary Education from Columbia’s Teachers College to work in the process). In that year she joined prominent local Democratic politician and power broker Wesley “Mac” Holder’s successful campaign to elect Lewis Flagg Jr. as the first African American judge in Brooklyn. That campaign became the basis for a more overarching organization, the Bedford-Stuyvesant Political League (BPSL), which fought for civil rights, economic equality, and fairness in housing throughout the 1950s. While both those efforts were partly local in emphasis, they were also part of the burgeoning national civil rights movement—and that combination of local and national, targeted and broader political goals, is at the heart of all Congressional work, particularly in the House in which Chisholm would serve for seven groundbreaking terms between 1969 and 1983.

One of Chisholm’s many important efforts during those 14 years in Congress took place just a year before her presidential run. In 1971, she once again utilized her education and experience in early childhood education and care, teaming with fellow New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug to co-sponsor a historic bill that would allocate $10 billion toward child care services. Senator Walter Mondale came on board for the Senate version of the bill, which passed both houses in December 1971 as the Comprehensive Child Development Act. Unfortunately President Richard Nixon vetoed the bill, arguing not only that it was too costly but also that it would implement a “communal approach to child-rearing” and thus that it was “the most radical piece of legislation” to have crossed his presidential desk. The fight for federal support for child care has continued into this year, one of many arenas in which we still have a great deal to learn from the lessons and model of Shirley Chisholm.

Crowd-sourced post this weekend,

Ben

PS. So one more time: What do you think? Other political women or moments you’d highlight?

Thursday, January 13, 2022

January 13, 2022: Women in Politics: Eleanor Roosevelt’s Flight

[On January 12th, 1932, Hattie Caraway became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. So for the 90th anniversary of that historic occasion, this week I’ll AmericanStudy Caraway and a handful of other political women—share your thoughts and your own nominees for an egalitarian crowd-sourced weekend post, please!]

On one of the most famous American flights, and one that should be.

Our national fascination with Amelia Earhart (1897-1937)—I think you could make a case that she’s the most famous 20th century American woman—is entirely understandable. Even before she flew off into the unknown just a few weeks shy of her fortieth birthday, she was a hugely unique and compelling figure who also happened to live at precisely the right time: that era of the first prominent pilots, of the Red Baron and Charles Lindbergh (one of Earhart’s nicknames was “Lady Lindy”) and Howard Hughes, of those terrifyingly fragile-looking planes making their way across the continent and the oceans. And beyond the mythologies, of Earhart’s individual mystery and of those high-flying national figures in general, she was also a genuinely complex and interesting American, one whose identity can help us AmericanStudiers think about technology and progress, the aftermath of World War I and the lead up to World War II, gender and identity, and many other topics besides.

Yet I’d still make the case that Earhart’s final journey has some serious competition for the most significant flight featuring an American woman, and at the very least that her competitor’s flight, like her competitor herself, deserves a lot more attention in our national narratives and memories. In March 1941, Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), whose husband Franklin was just beginning his third term as President under the very dark cloud of the ongoing Second World War, visited the Tuskegee Air Corps Advanced Flying School in Tuskegee, Alabama. Self-taught pilot Charles Anderson had founded the school for African American civilian pilot training two years earlier, and was facing in his attempts to support and extend its efforts all of the discrimination and lack of funding and the like that we might expect in the depths of the Jim Crow South and in an era when the military itself (like so many organizations) was fully segregated. And so when the nation’s First Lady not only visited the school, but despite the protests of her Secret Service agents requested a private flight with Anderson and spent over an hour in the sky with him, the event took on a literal and a symbolic significance that is difficult to overstate. Nor was this a one-off for Roosevelt, as she facilitated a White House visit for Anderson and others later that year where they successfully lobbied for more military support and collaboration for Tuskegee.

The thousands of pilots who would graduate from Tuskegee over the next few years and become part of the Tuskegee Airmen, and what that community meant for both America’s war efforts and toward President Truman’s 1948 desegregation of the armed forces, is a rich and powerful AmericanStudies topic in its own right, and one about which I wrote in this post. But Roosevelt’s March 1941 flight likewise serves as a particularly salient single linchpin for her candidacy for my Hall of American Inspiration. While I don’t doubt that Roosevelt’s name is familiar to most Americans, I nonetheless believe that, as has been the case for all of my nominees, our narratives greatly underrate the striking breadth and depth of her contributions to American and world identity and history: from the nearly 100 columns she wrote for national magazines during her years in the White House to her service as one of America’s first Delegates to the UN General Assembly, her pioneering work as the inaugural chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights (work that culminated in the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” a document that Roosevelt called “the international Magna Carta of all mankind”) to her chairing (the year before she died) of President Kennedy’s groundbreaking President’s Commission on the Status of Women, and in many other arenas and ways alongside these efforts (including her work throughout the 1920s on behalf of the Women’s Trade Union League), Roosevelt was for more than three decades one of America’s brightest lights and most powerful voices.

Amelia Earhart is largely an a-political figure, one whose appeal has (or at least can have) nothing to do with politics or with narratives that can divide as well as unite Americans; I know that it is and might always be impossible to say the same of Eleanor Roosevelt, or of any First Lady. Yet a moment like that 1941 flight with Anderson has nothing whatsoever to do with politics, and the more we can remember and highlight such moments, and the inspiring Americans who made them happen, the more our national community can likewise take flight. Last political woman tomorrow,

Ben

PS. What do you think? Other political women or moments you’d highlight?

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

January 12, 2022: Women in Politics: Hattie Caraway’s Elections

[On January 12th, 1932, Hattie Caraway became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. So for the 90th anniversary of that historic occasion, this week I’ll AmericanStudy Caraway and a handful of other political women—share your thoughts and your own nominees for an egalitarian crowd-sourced weekend post, please!]

On one particularly interesting detail from each of Caraway’s three Senate campaigns.

1)      1932: In December 1931 Caraway was appointed to serve the final year of her late husband Thaddeus Caraway’s Senate term, a practice that had gone on for nearly a decade by that time. Caraway then won a special election 90 years ago today, making her the first woman formally elected to the Senate. But it was her announcement that she would run in the 1932 general election for Arkansas Senator that represented a truly original and bold step, and she was able to win that controversial and groundbreaking election thanks in part to the efforts of a Senator from a neighboring state, Louisiana’s Huey Long. It was apparently Long’s idea to plant crying babies (who would then be effectively quieted) in the crowd at Caraway rallies, a unique way to acknowledge her gender while implying her ability to transcend any gender stereotypes—as she certainly did in willing the 1932 election.

2)      1938: During her first term Caraway was a dedicated supporter of Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, as well as a committed advocate for farmers and flood control and, unfortunately, a telling early 20th century Southern Democrat (she took part in a filibuster of a 1938 anti-lynching bill). She was also known as “Silent Hattie,” as she generally refrained from speaking on the Senate floor. But if critics thought her silence meant she wouldn’t run for reelection, they were mistaken; as was her 1938 primary opponent, Representative John Little McClellan, in his sexist campaign slogan “Arkansas Needs Another Man in the Senate!” The primary was tight but Caraway triumphed and then easily won the general election, becoming the first woman to be reelected to the Senate in the process.

3)      1944: Caraway sought reelection again in 1944 but placed 4th in the Democratic primary, ending her Senate career. Part of that was due to a crowded field of compelling candidates, led by the winner and next Arkansas Senator, a young up-and-coming Congressman named J. William Fulbright. But part was due to her two boldest Senatorial stances: her 1943 co-sponsorship of the Equal Rights Amendment, making her the first woman to do so; and her 1944 co-sponsorship of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (the G.I. Bill), which despite its eventual popularity was at the time quite divisive as it was seen by many as socialist. Those stands may well have cost Caraway her chance at a third term, but they also reflected an important step for this groundbreaking Senator, as she fully embraced her role and voice and contributed meaningfully to these important and ongoing efforts.

Next political woman tomorrow,

Ben

PS. What do you think? Other political women or moments you’d highlight?

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

January 11, 2022: Women in Politics: Jeannette Rankin’s Pacifism

[On January 12th, 1932, Hattie Caraway became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. So for the 90th anniversary of that historic occasion, this week I’ll AmericanStudy Caraway and a handful of other political women—share your thoughts and your own nominees for an egalitarian crowd-sourced weekend post, please!]

On the historical women who would especially appreciate a wondrous one.

I wasn’t quite as enamored of Wonder Woman (2017) as most viewers—this post isn’t part of a non-favorite series, so I won’t go into all those details, but overall I would say it was a pretty conventional superhero origin story, if with of course an important gender reversal. But one thing that did really affect and impress me about the film was its emphasis on philosophical and historical pacifism. The entire reason Diana (Gal Gadot) leaves her island paradise in the first place is because she learns about the ongoing horrors of the Great War and becomes determined to stop them; granted she does so because she believes correctly that her people’s longstanding enemy Ares the God of War has returned and is behind the war (this is a comic book superhero film, after all), but it’s perfectly easy and appropriate to see that character as also a metaphor for the forces that drive nations to war and of its accompanying horrors and destructions. In any case, Wonder Woman’s central motivation and goal is profoundly pacifist, no small thing in a blockbuster action film.

No small historical thing either, of course, but in that sense Wonder Woman is part of a large and existing community and historical trend: the link between women’s rights activists and anti-war efforts. Forgive me for quoting myself, but these two paragraphs from this prior post on anti-war suffrage activists highlight these historical women who I’m pretty sure would be first in line to support this film:

“Such dismissals of anti-war protesters were nothing new in American society, of course. Whereas the Vietnam War became so broadly unpopular that its anti-war movement garnered as much support as it did critique (although the aforementioned stereotyping of the protesters still occurred to be sure), the World War II and World War I anti-war movements were far more nationally unpopular and subject to the same kind of attacks. During both wars, many of the most prominent pacificists, both in America and around the world, were also women’s rights activists; a trend exemplified by Jeanette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, who opposed both world wars and who represented the sole Congressional “no” vote against declaring war on Japan on December 8th, 1941. Rankin’s political career survived her World War I pacifism, but her opposition to World War II proved not only politically costly but personally destructive, both in media coverage and in threats on her life. (She did not run for reelection, but did live to lead an anti-Vietnam War campaign in 1968!)

The virulent opposition to Rankin and her pacifist colleagues could be attributed solely to pro-war agitation and fever, and certainly that’s been a consistent part of such wartime historical moments and narratives. But I think it would also need to be analyzed in conjunction with the equally virulent and too-often forgotten opposition faced by suffragists and other women’s rights leaders. In that linked post I highlighted the shockingly nasty children’s book Ten Little Suffergets (c.1910), which offers a particularly vivid but far from isolated illustration (literally and figuratively) of such anti-women’s rights attitudes. If we have largely forgotten this kind of widespread anti-suffragist vitriol, one clear reason would be our collective recognition of just how fully those women’s rights activists were on the right side of history—a lesson that we perhaps have yet to learn when it comes to our anti-war movements, contemporary and historical.”

Next political woman tomorrow,

Ben

PS. What do you think? Other political women or moments you’d highlight?

Monday, January 10, 2022

January 10, 2022: Women in Politics: Victoria Woodhull’s Campaign

[On January 12th, 1932, Hattie Caraway became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. So for the 90th anniversary of that historic occasion, this week I’ll AmericanStudy Caraway and a handful of other political women—share your thoughts and your own nominees for an egalitarian crowd-sourced weekend post, please!]

On the controversial layers to the first woman to run for president, and the moment’s significance beyond them.

To continue with one of last week’s 2022 anniversary posts, there was another candidate for president in the 1872 election beyond Republican incumbent Ulysses S. Grant and his Democratic challenger Horace Greeley: the newly established Equal Rights Party’s nominee Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to seek the nation’s highest political office. There are however at least a couple reasons to think that Woodhull’s candidacy was more a way to raise awareness for the Women’s Suffrage Movement (with which Woodhull had become prominently associated after her compelling 1871 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, which made her the first woman to address such a committee) than a serious quest for the White House: Woodhull didn’t turn 35 until nearly a year after the election, so if elected she would not have been Constitutionally able to serve as president; moreover, her announced vice presidential running mate, none other than Frederick Douglass, was not consulted on that decision and may not ever have been aware that he was on a presidential ticket (and at the very least was an open and ardent Grant supporter).

Those campaign controversies were far from the only controversial and complex layers to Victoria Woodhull’s life and career. To cite just a few others: her first marriage, to traveling doctor Canning Woodhull who had treated her through a childhood illness, took place when Victoria was just 15 years old (and may have been prompted by Canning abducting Victoria from her family in Ohio); she first rose to prominence and wealth through her work as a spiritualist and “magnetic healer,” after the decline of which she nearly went bankrupt; and she then rose to wealth a second time through her and her sister Tennessee Claflin’s groundbreaking Wall Street brokerage and controversial newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly. That newspaper was also the cause of the final and most dramatic controversy of Woodhull’s 1872 presidential campaign: in response to media attacks on her radical stance on marriage, Woodhull devoted the entire November 2nd, 1872 issue of the paper to publishing graphic and lurid details of an adulterous affair between Henry Ward Beecher and Elizabeth Tilton; that same day Federal Marshals arrested Victoria, Tennessee, and Victor’s second husband James Blood for “publishing an obscene newspaper” and held them in prison for a month (meaning Victoria was in jail when the election took place).

All of those elements of both Woodhull’s life overall and the 1872 campaign in particular are important to remember, not least because they’re so damn compelling (I sense the potential for an HBO limited series!). But none of them make her presidential candidacy any less meaningful of a political and social step. For one thing, countless male presidential candidates (and presidents) have had their own controversial moments and pasts, many of them far more controversial than anything in Woodhull’s story (cough*Trump*cough), and we still recognize them as part of our political history (as we should). For another, and even more important thing, presidential candidates, like presidents, are more than political figures—they’re symbolic representations of America and its identity and community. I can think of precious few symbolic statements more powerful, in its own moment and in our own alike, than an 1872 presidential ticket headed by a woman and featuring an African American man.

Next political woman tomorrow,

Ben

PS. What do you think? Other political women or moments you’d highlight?