Cornelia James Cannon and the Future American Race

Cornelia James Cannon and the Future American Race

Maria I. Diedrich
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 288
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    Cornelia James Cannon and the Future American Race
    Book Description:

    This biography examines the life of Cornelia James Cannon (18761969), a Radcliffe graduate, wife of a prominent Harvard professor, and mother of five who became a prolific writer and "allpurpose reformer," in the words of her soninlaw, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. In addition to writing eight novels, Cannon published dozens of essays during the 1920s and 1930s on a broad range of controversial topics. She advocated on behalf of women's rights, birth control, and public education and wrote provocative essays on immigration policy, welfare reform, and eugenics. According to Maria I. Diedrich, it was the last of these concerns, Cannon's interest in what she and her husband called "the future of the race"—a term conflating ideas of class, race, and ethnicity—that inspired many of her varied reform activities. From the vantage point of today it may seem hard to understand how a social reformer and outspoken feminist could also embrace eugenicist principles. Yet, in the context of the time such views were not uncommon among progressive thinkers. Far from being an extremist or even exceptional, Cornelia James Cannon was a woman representative of her social class and historical moment. By disentangling the threads of Cannon's life and thought, Diedrich seeks to shed light on the experiences of other progressive reformers of the interwar years whose interest in social justice often went hand in hand with racially exclusive notions of Americanness.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-017-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Why couldn’t he just hurry up a bit? Cornelia James Cannon could barely contain her joyous impatience as her husband, Walter B. Cannon, professor of physiology at Harvard, checked his bags once again to make sure that all the papers he needed for the conference were complete. So much to do, and he took his time admonishing the children to be good, and thanking his sisters for keeping Cornelia company! She gently pushed him into the driver’s seat, playfully slapping the Model T’s trunk as the car pulled away from the farmhouse.

    Finally! Dr. Cannon must surely have developed second...

  6. CHAPTER 1 “Personified Mischief”: Childhood and Youth
    (pp. 15-38)

    No matter whom I interviewed about Cornelia James Cannon—her daughters, Wilma Cannon Fairbank, Linda Cannon Burgess, Marian Cannon Schlesinger, and Helen Cannon Bond; her son, Dr. Bradford Cannon, and his wife, Ellen; her sons-in-law John Fairbank and Arthur Schlesinger Jr.; her numerous grandchildren and great–grandchildren; former acquaintances and friends—the response was always a medley of admiration, exasperation, and awe, expressed in the formulaic “quite a woman!” Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. remembered her as “vital, opinionated, incorrigible,” as a woman whose curiosity was tireless, “her activity endless”—as “short, plump, bustling, brusquely disdainful of frocks and frills, despising...

  7. CHAPTER 2 “Four Years of Unorthodox Study”: The Radcliffe Years
    (pp. 39-59)

    In September 1895 Cornelia boarded a train from St. Paul to Cambridge. She would spend the next four years at Radcliffe College, a student of the century’s final class—the class of 1899, the “Nineteenth-Century Limited.” Asked in the late 1960s to record her college reminiscences as one of the last surviving class members, Cannon insisted that hers had been a direct road to Radcliffe: “As time grew near to choose a college, I collected catalogues of all the colleges admitting women students to see what they had to offer. Most of them had only one course in a subject...

  8. CHAPTER 3 “Walter Cannon Is My Comfort”: Marriage and Family
    (pp. 60-89)

    In August 1897 Cornelia James received an invitation to the wedding reception of a Radcliffe classmate. This was not the first fellow student she lost to marriage, and Cornelia was disgusted. “That is what they do—give up education for men—base men,” she sighed, wondering “if I shall ever find the man for whom I would be willing to give up my dear old Radcliffe.”¹

    Her outburst of feminist righteousness was somewhat dubious, for it was expressive less of deep-seated convictions than of personal frustration. The past week had been marred by a clash with one of her admirers,...

  9. CHAPTER 4 “The Woman Who Stays Behind”: World War I
    (pp. 90-112)

    Family pictures taken on the eve of World War I portray Cornelia and Walter B. Cannon as a middle-aged couple, dressed and groomed in a no-nonsense fashion, surrounded by four healthy children—the prototypical white American family. And an ideal family they were, by all standards: a husband who, at the height of professional success, regarded home as haven, was a loving mate and father; a wife happily exasperated by the blessings of motherhood and determined to be the perfect helpmate to the soaring scientist; children blooming physically and intellectually in the security of their parents’ love and status. Cornelia...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. CHAPTER 5 “Can Our Civilization Maintain Itself?” Immigration, Eugenics, and Birth Control
    (pp. 113-137)

    The Great War was over. No need to tremble at the sight of the mail carrier, no need for food or coal conservation; you could read the papers without shuddering. For many, life returned to normal in no time. America could not wait to welcome back the men who had fought this war, just as the men could not wait to leave the Old World wasteland to return “to God’s own country where plumbing is popular and drinking water can be had anywhere for the asking.”¹ For the men, “of course, the top question personally is—when can I go...

  12. CHAPTER 6 “Stone-Age Individuals”: The Clan Betrays
    (pp. 138-153)

    The renegotiation of self that Cornelia James Cannon performed in the 1920s found an outlet, as we have seen, in intense reform activities and a volley of essays on major social and political issues of the day. Their common denominator was the racial composition of the future America, and the racial phobias she expressed, the eugenic solutions she prescribed, brought her widespread public acclaim. This enthusiastic response of so many fellow white Americans encouraged Cannon to move beyond the essay toward the genre she most admired: the novel.

    Novel writing had always been on her life’s itinerary. Now, in this...

  13. CHAPTER 7 “I’ve Got a Little Fame Myself”: The Pueblo Boy and Red Rust
    (pp. 154-176)

    Early in 1925 Cornelia Cannon decided she needed to recharge her batteries; together with her sister Helen she planned her first tour of the Southwest. It was time to depart when a telegram arrived: their brother-in-law Aaron Burt had died of pneumonia. The sobered travel companions met in Hudson that April, stunned by the sudden imprint of death on their lives, and yet determined to embrace adventure. Expectations ran high. Cannon had roamed libraries for literature on the Southwest, and she considered herself quite an expert. Reality soared beyond anticipation: their letters home portray two adventurers succumbing to the enchantment...

  14. CHAPTER 8 “The Melting Pot in Action!”: Heirs
    (pp. 177-193)

    The Cannons returned to Cambridge in July 1930, to a household that had been moved across the street, and to a country reeling under the impact of the Great Depression.¹ The stock market crash of October 1929—according to John Kenneth Galbraith the result of a fundamentally unsound economy, wild speculation, deficitarian banking and corporate structures, gross imbalances in incomes, unbalanced distribution in foreign trade, and a lack of analytical tools²—led to a panic and set off a terrifying downward spiral. Within months, thousands of banks had collapsed; businesses unable to get credit laid off hundreds of thousands of...

  15. CHAPTER 9 “Starved Kittens”: Birth Control, Relief Babies, and Denial
    (pp. 194-211)

    In the midst of the prosperous 1920s, with the American economy booming, Margaret Sanger used her welcoming remarks at the Sixth International Neo-Malthusian Conference in New York to inform those in attendance about the mind-boggling costs of social support programs. She contended that the “American public is taxed—and heavily taxed—to maintain an increasing race of morons which threatens the very foundations of our civilization.” Not only would birth control, and especially sterilization programs for the physically “unfit,” prevent “undesirable” segments of the population from reproducing, she promised, but also these measures would lighten considerably “the economic and social...

  16. CHAPTER 10 “In the Face of What We See”: Journeys and Homecomings
    (pp. 212-232)

    The controversy between Cornelia James Cannon and Blanche Ames Ames and her allies within the BCLM over the issue of relief babies was bitter and ugly, and it dragged on for months. It was embarrassing, for it was fought in public and exposed the combatants to public ridicule; it was painful on a very personal level, for after all, these were women who had been united by their birth control mission for years, who had faced social ostracism, outright slander, and the male power structure of state, church, and medical profession together. The feud continued even after Cannon resigned as...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 233-258)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 259-267)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 268-268)