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Mothers of Conservatism

Mothers of Conservatism: Women and the Postwar Right

Michelle M. Nickerson
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7sqjx
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  • Book Info
    Mothers of Conservatism
    Book Description:

    Mothers of Conservatismtells the story of 1950s southern Californian housewives who shaped the grassroots right in the two decades following World War II. Michelle Nickerson describes how red-hunting homemakers mobilized activist networks, institutions, and political consciousness in local education battles, and she introduces a generation of women who developed political styles and practices around their domestic routines. From the conservative movement's origins in the early fifties through the presidential election of 1964, Nickerson documents how women shaped conservatism from the bottom up, out of the fabric of their daily lives and into the agenda of the Republican Party.

    Female activists formed study groups, gave lectures, published newsletters, hosted public events, and opened conservative bookstores, bringing Cold War geopolitics into their local communities. Frightened that communism was infecting the minds of their children through the public education system, these women took it upon themselves to address potential threats. This sense of duty, ironically, removed many of them from the house for numerous hours of the week to perform political work, and their activities contributed to a feminine ideal that Nickerson calls the "populist housewife"--a political model of womanhood that emphasized common sense, lack of pretension, and spirituality.

    A unique history of the American conservative movement,Mothers of Conservatismshows how housewives got out of the house and discovered their political capital.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4220-9
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)

    Weary of war and relieved to be free of the Great Depression, Americans embraced family life with zeal in the 1950s. Women occupied a revered place in this revived domesticity that valorized homemaking and motherhood through television programming, film, and advertisements for appliances. Although the iconic 1950s housewife offers an abundance of insight into the ideals of the postwar generation, she obscures the countless ways that actual women attempted to live out those ideals. Operating among the legions of self-identified housewives who did not stay home in those years flourished a grassroots subculture of women that emerged mostly behind the...

  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)
  7. CHAPTER I Patriotic Daughters and Isolationist Mothers CONSERVATIVE WOMEN IN THE EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY
    (pp. 1-31)

    “Remove it at your peril,” announced Lucinda Benge to anyone who dared touch the American flag she and other members of Women for America had draped over a balcony at Los Angeles City Hall. “We’ll horsewhip every one of you if you take it down.” Benge’s team of middle-class housewives staged demonstrations that December of 1950 against display of United Nations flags in Los Angeles government buildings. The UN flag represented disrespect for U.S. sovereignty, in their eyes, as an icon that privileged internationalism over patriotism. The protests had started back in August, when several women appeared at a meeting...

  8. CHAPTER II All Politics Was Local GRASSROOTS CONSERVATISM IN POSTWAR LOS ANGELES
    (pp. 32-68)

    What’s in a name? The word “conservative” gradually acquired traction as a badge of political identity over the 1950s. In books and journals, intellectuals had been using the term since the late 1940s. The activist right, less interested in debates over philosophy than battles over policy, did not immediately embrace “conservative” when Peter Viereck, Russell Kirk, and others first published their path-breaking books on the subject. They nevertheless thought, acted, talked, and saw as conservatives before they self-consciously adopted the phrase to identify themselves as a political community at the end of the 1950s. The grassroots right, already in formation...

  9. CHAPTER III Education or Indoctrination? CONSERVATIVE FEMALE ACTIVISM IN THE LOS ANGELES PUBLIC SCHOOLS
    (pp. 69-102)

    In October of 1955, Los Angeles radio listeners tuned into CBS-KNX heard housewife Jo Hindman in the throes of a raucous debate over library discussion groups. “The most revolutionary and radical thing about the American Heritage Project,” declared Hindman, “is that it takes the library from its traditional role as custodian of books and puts it on the lecture circuit.” Among her adversaries, the station featured Henry Steele Commager, distinguished historian from Columbia University. Through a montage of taped interviews, CBS-KNX pitted comments from Hindman against those of Commager, editor of the common reading used in the American Heritage Project,...

  10. CHAPTER IV “Siberia, U.S.A.” PSYCHOLOGICAL EXPERTS AND THE STATE
    (pp. 103-135)

    After traveling 1,500 miles and waiting patiently, Stephanie Williams took her seat before the Senate Subcommittee on Territories and Insular Affairs on Monday, February 20, 1956. As the last to be heard on that mild and clear winter day at the Capitol, she concluded the afternoon’s hearings. The committee would conduct two more in Washington for the Alaska mental health bill, HR 6376, a measure that would enable the territory to hospitalize its own mentally ill residents. The San Fernando Valley mother and activist introduced herself as president of the American Public Relations Forum, an organization that “consists of housewives...

  11. CHAPTER V The “Conservative Sex” WOMEN AND THE BUILDING OF A MOVEMENT
    (pp. 136-168)

    Conservatism became something different at the end of the fifties; it became a self-conscious movement. The right acquired coherence, momentum, and eventually power as different constituencies embraced “conservative” as a political identity. Activists, clergymen, captains of industry, and Republican Party leaders came to recognize themselves as part of a larger political community that aimed to contain government. That community did not emerge spontaneously but coalesced as the concepts articulated by intellectuals, the populism expressed by activists, and the religious fervor sparked by evangelical leaders settled with each other. Activists faithfully read theNational Review, theFreeman, andHuman Events, flocking...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 169-174)

    What happened to the Cold War conservative female activist? Did the 1968 burial of the “Little Old Lady in Tennis Shoes” effigy in Pasadena produce its intended effect, to shuffle a generation of petition-wielding housewives off the political landscape? Right-wing women who earned their flag pins writing newsletters, making phone calls, organizing study groups, and running conservative bookstores have become an endangered species, indeed, but the political ideology they created not only endured, it has grown more powerful. Conservative bookstores have disappeared, membership in the Federation of Republican Women has significantly declined, and few Americans know what the John Birch...

  13. Appendix Conservative Bookstores Operating in Southern California in the 1960’s
    (pp. 175-178)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 179-216)
  15. Index
    (pp. 217-232)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-235)