Mothers of Conservatism tells 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 Conservatism shows how housewives got out of the house and discovered their political capital.
Michelle M. Nickerson is assistant professor of history at Loyola University, Chicago. She is coeditor of Sunbelt Rising: The Politics of Space, Place, and Region.
"Nickerson has enriched conservative historiography by examining the integral role women played in conservatism's development and implementation and has forced feminist historiography to confront the complications that conservative female activists bring to the literature."--Mary C. Brennan, Journal of American History
"Michelle M. Nickerson's carefully crafted study of grassroots conservative activists in Los Angeles County in the 1950s and early 1960s offers an important contribution to the scholarship on twentieth-century conservatism and women's political activism in the pre-Feminine Mystique (1963) 'doldrums.'"--Sylvie Murray, American Historical Review
"Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin? They had antecedents. Many, many antecedents. Michelle Nickerson uncovers an entire undiscovered lost continent of right-wing organizing--and in the process produces a wealth of new and profound insights about grassroots conservatism as a whole. A remarkable book."--Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America
"In this engaging book, Nickerson shows how the conservative political movement emerged from coffee klatches, church socials, strategy meetings, and rallies--all led by women. So many scholars focus on the male intellectuals and politicians whose ideas launched a political insurgency, but Nickerson thoroughly reconstructs the world of the women activists who were key players in mid-century America's right-wing insurgency. This is an important addition to scholarship on the new right and an important intervention in women's history too."--Thomas J. Sugrue, University of Pennsylvania
Table of Contents:
List of Illustrations viii
Chapter I: Patriotic Daughters and Isolationist Mothers
Conservative Women in the Early Twentieth Century 1
Chapter II: All Politics Was Local
Grassroots Conservatism in Postwar Los Angeles 32
Chapter III: Education or Indoctrination?
Conservative Female Activism in the Los Angeles Public Schools 69
Chapter IV: "Siberia, U.S.A."
Psychological Experts and the State 103
Chapter V: The "Conservative Sex"
Women and the Building of a Movement 136
Appendix: Conservative Bookstores Operating in Southern California in the 1960s 175