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  • Medical Mission to Moscow:Women's Work, Day Care, and Early Cold War Politics in Twentieth-Century America

On August 15, 1946, Emily Hartshorne Mudd (1898–1998), a key pioneer in the history of marriage and family counseling in modern America, boarded a Swedish plane at New York City's La Guardia airport for a month-long visit to the Soviet Union. Accompanying her were Robert Leslie, business manager of the American-Soviet Medical Society (ASMS), and her husband, University of Pennsylvania microbiologist and ASMS president Stuart Mudd. The trip, ostensibly a fact-finding mission designed to acquaint Leslie and the Mudds with Soviet science and medicine, was the last such visit of Americans to the USSR during the brief era (1943–47) of officially friendly relations between the Soviet Union and the United States over the sharing of biomedical knowledge. The trip soon plunged all three into the heated arena of early Cold War politics and ultimately scuttled Emily Mudd's efforts to convince Americans to adopt Soviet policies toward women, children, and health care in general.

After visiting schools, libraries, hospitals, orphanages, kindergartens, and day-care centers, and after meeting dozens of Russian scientific and medical dignitaries in Moscow, Leningrad, and Georgia, Leslie and the Mudds returned to the United States. They and their ASMS colleagues dubbed the trip the "Medical Mission to Moscow," a clear allusion to the 1941 pro-Soviet [End Page 177] book Mission to Moscow by former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union Joseph Davies, and to the 1944 visit of U.S. scientists A. Baird Hastings and Michael B. Shimkin, called the "Medical Research Mission to the Soviet Union."1

Once the Mudds returned to the United States, they, like Davies, sought to persuade audiences that the Soviet experiment deserved the full sympathy of all Americans. However, just as the Mudds arrived back on U.S. soil, the Cold War between the two superpowers was starting to unfold and they soon became targets of American anticommunist sentiment. Threatened with the loss of funding for their research projects, the Mudds resigned from the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship (NCASF), the parent organization of the ASMS, and publicly denied ever being communists or participating in "subversive activities."2 The ASMS itself, plagued by an abrupt drop in membership, folded in 1949, closing a dramatic chapter in the Mudds' own lives and marking the beginnings of a lengthy interruption in U.S.-Soviet collaboration in biomedical science.

Thus, the events surrounding the "Medical Mission to Moscow" provide a case study of how and why public policy change often does not occur. This chapter from Cold War history demonstrates how swiftly moving events can mobilize public and official opinion and hence affect the opportunities for policy reform, how those like the Mudds who wish to influence policymaking sometimes misjudge the temper of their times, and how crucial timing was to advocates for the liberalization of social policy in Cold War America. The roots of the "permissive society" of the 1960s and 1970s may stretch back to the 1940s and 1950s, as Alan Petigny has trenchantly argued, but the transition between the two eras was often far from smooth.3

To date, scholars have paid little attention to either Emily Mudd or these dramatic events affecting policy history, the history of medicine, and the history of Cold War politics. One historian has written that the ASMS in general and the 1946 "Medical Mission to Moscow" in particular were casualties of both rising U.S. anticommunism in the late 1940s and policy decisions by the Soviet Politburo regarding cooperation between U.S. and Russian medical scientists. As far as it goes, this is a reasonably accurate interpretation of the transition from collaboration to confrontation in biomedical research between the world's two superpowers in the post–World War II era.4

However, this account and Emily Mudd's own retrospective version of her brush with Cold War politics tend to stress the Mudds' victimization, political naïveté, and nonpartisan commitment to the mutual exchange of [End Page 178] value-free medical information and the peaceful coexistence of nations in the dawning nuclear age.5...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1528-4190
Print ISSN
0898-0306
Pages
pp. 177-203
Launched on MUSE
2011-05-13
Open Access
No
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