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Battling Miss Bolsheviki

The Origins of Female Conservatism in the United States

By Kirsten Marie Delegard

Publication Year: 2012

Why did the political authority of well-respected female reformers diminish after women won the vote? In Battling Miss Bolsheviki Kirsten Marie Delegard argues that they were undercut during the 1920s by women conservatives who spent the first decade of female suffrage linking these reformers to radical revolutions that were raging in other parts of the world. In the decades leading up to the Nineteenth Amendment, women activists had enjoyed great success as reformers, creating a political subculture with settlement houses and women's clubs as its cornerstones. Female volunteers piloted welfare programs as philanthropic ventures and used their organizations to pressure state, local, and national governments to assume responsibility for these programs.

These female activists perceived their efforts as selfless missions necessary for the protection of their homes, families, and children. In seeking to fulfill their "maternal" responsibilities, progressive women fundamentally altered the scope of the American state, recasting the welfare of mothers and children as an issue for public policy. At the same time, they carved out a new niche for women in the public sphere, allowing female activists to become respected authorities on questions of social welfare. Yet in the aftermath of the suffrage amendment, the influence of women reformers plummeted and the new social order once envisioned by progressives appeared only more remote.

Battling Miss Bolsheviki chronicles the ways women conservatives laid siege to this world of female reform, placing once-respected reformers beyond the pale of political respectability and forcing most women's clubs to jettison advocacy for social welfare measures. Overlooked by historians, these new activists turned the Daughters of the American Revolution and the American Legion Auxiliary into vehicles for conservative political activism. Inspired by their twin desires to fulfill their new duties as voting citizens and prevent North American Bolsheviks from duplicating the success their comrades had enjoyed in Russia, they created a new political subculture for women activists. In a compelling narrative, Delegard reveals how the antiradicalism movement reshaped the terrain of women's politics, analyzing its enduring legacy for all female activists for the rest of the twentieth century and beyond.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Politics and Culture in Modern America


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pp. 1-18

This is the story of how a new movement of women changed American politics during the first decade of female enfranchisement. At the end of the seventy- two-year struggle for suffrage, most Americans expected the nation’s polity to be remade by new women voters. But they envisioned an entirely...

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Chapter 1. The Birth of “Miss Bolsheviki”: Women, Gender, and the Red Scare

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pp. 19-53

In the winter of 1919, the moral danger posed by Bolshevism was detailed for American newspaper readers by a representative of the U.S. Department of Commerce. After suffering a stint in jail in the new Soviet republic, Roger E. Simmons returned to the United States, where he testified to a crowded Senate hearing room that radical policies had transformed more than factories...

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Chapter 2. The Origins of the Spider Web Chart: Women and the Construction of the Bolshevik Threat

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pp. 54-84

Female reformers saw that single crude drawing—the 1924 Spider Web Chart—as the most devastating attack by male War Department officers on women activists. For the previous two years, peace activists had been locked in battle with the Chemical Warfare Service of the War Department after demanding the abolition of chemical weapons. The leader of the division, Brigadier General Amos Fries, had responded to these calls by accusing...

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Chapter 3. “It Takes Women to Fight Women”: The Emergence of Female Antiradicalism

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pp. 85-112

As Claire Oliphant looked out over the auditorium of the Red Cross building on a February morning in 1925, she surveyed what she hoped would be the cadres of a new women’s movement. The national president of the American Legion Auxiliary told the women who had gathered in Washington, D.C., for the Conference on National Defense as Peace Insurance that they carried...

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Chapter 4. Stopping the “Revolution by Legislation”: Antiradicals Unite Against Social Welfare Reform

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pp. 113-144

In the autumn of 1926, DAR president general Grace Brosseau took an action that would have been inconceivable only five years earlier. Brosseau withdrew her group’s long-standing support for maternalist-inspired reform. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the DAR had followed the political lead of other middle-class women’s voluntary groups, operating...

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Chapter 5. The “Red menace” Roils the Grass Roots: The Conservative Insurgency Reshapes Women’s Organizations

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pp. 145-180

In 1926, antiradical consciousness-raising efforts bore fruit. A conservative insurgency erupted in women’s clubs across the country. The polemics and surveillance reports amassed by antiradical groups did not sit collecting dust in the nation’s capital. Instead, they were used by antiradical leaders to remake the landscape of women’s politics from the ground up. The DAR ’s...

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Chapter 6. The Legacy of Female Antiradicalism

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pp. 181-208

By 1929, many civically engaged women had accepted a central tenet of antiradicalism. The WPPC petition and the DAR blacklists had popularized the idea that social welfare legislation had been created by radical leaders promoting “a program dictated by Moscow, by the leaders of the Russian communist party.”1 According to this logic, a federal mandate to regulate child...

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Epilogue: From Antiradicalism to Anticommunism

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pp. 209-218

The women who embraced the Spider Web Chart as a blueprint for activism reshaped politics in the United States. As they wrested control of established institutions from traditional reformers in the decade after enfranchisement, they redrew the map of women’s politics, balkanizing an empire that had once been united under the flag of social improvement. As they drew new political...

Acronyms for Archival Sources

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pp. 219-222


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pp. 223-302


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pp. 303-310


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pp. 311-313

E-ISBN-13: 9780812207163
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812243666

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Politics and Culture in Modern America
Series Editor Byline: Series Editors: Margot Canaday, Glenda Gilmore, Michael Kazin, Thomas J. Sugrue See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 809317681
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Battling Miss Bolsheviki

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Subject Headings

  • Women -- Political activity -- United States -- History -- 20th century
  • Conservatism -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
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