Must Read Book

Weigand, Kate, Red Feminism (2000).

This book is a study of the US Communist Party's work on "the woman question," with special attention to the years from 1948 to 1956. At a time when the emergence of McCarthyism, or, to use Ellen Schrecker's preferred term, Hooverism, was helping to destroy left wing coalitions with the labor movement, the work with women, in mass organziations like the Congress of American Women, seemed promising. What is especially fascinating about the book is how the kinds of historical and cultural analysis women in the party produced as they tried to probe more deeply into the causes of sexual inequality served as the founding texts for the second wave of feminism, especially the emergence of socialist feminism out of various New Left organizations. When the emergence of women's liberation in 1968, 1969, and 1970 raised new questions about women and work, women and Marxism, women in history, women in literature, new wave feminists turned to history books like Eleanor Flexner's Century of Struggle, Gerda Lerner's book on the Grimke sisters and her collection of documents Black Women in White America, Eve Merriam's book on women's lives, novels like Harriet Arnow's The Dollmaker, short stories by Tillie Olsen. These were all available at elast in part because of this earlier fertile period of thinking and writing about women. Weigand calls special attention to the critical importance of Claudia Jones's writing on women's oppression, and how it inspired a whole new level of thinking about race and gender oppression, which then became a model for thinking about other intersections between class, gender, and ethnicity. Claudia Jones' 1949 essay, "An End to the Neglect of the Problems of Negro Women," has been reprinted in Beverly Guy Sheftall's edited collection, Words of Fire. Weigand's book is beautifully researched, clearly written, and fills in a fascinating piece of various puzzles: what happened to the vigorous wartime left; how was the CPUSA affected by its increasing numbers of women members (1/2 by the war, I think I remember); what helps explain the particular socialist feminist orientation of some women's liberation organziations and efforts in the early 1970s?

Recommended by Judith E. Smith, American Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston

I teach courses in US cultural history, social and women's history to undergraduates in American Studies, and the introductory methods course and a writing seminar to graduate students in American Studies at University of Massachusetts Boston. My research is on representations of race, ethnicity and gender in popular culture in the US in the 1940s and 1950s.