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Red feminism: American communism and the women's rights tradition, 1919-1956

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posted on 2023-09-06, 03:02 authored by Linn Shapiro

From its founding in 1919, the Communist Party of the United States (CP) constituted a vital part of this nation's women's rights tradition. This dissertation analyzes the impact of the first four decades of CP women's rights activities on the Party and on the course of women's rights history. It demonstrates that from the end of the campaign for women's suffrage to the emergence of the Women's Liberation Movement, the CP kept alive unachieved women's rights goals (for example, pay equity and unionization) and broadened the agenda to include, most importantly, equal rights for African American women. The CP functioned as an inheritor of the nineteenth-century women's rights tradition and as a creative force shaping a program for the twentieth century. The women profiled--Ella Bloor, Anita Whitney, Grace Hutchins, Mary Inman, Claudia Jones, and Moranda Smith--pioneered the development of Red feminism, a distinct yet identifiably American form of women's rights activism. Some brought to the CP years of experience in the main stream of women's reform and served to bridge the nineteenth- and twentieth-century traditions. Ella Bloor, for example, had been central to efforts to achieve women's suffrage in New Jersey and Connecticut, while Anita Whitney helped to direct the successful California campaign. Others made contributions that would resurface as critical components of the Women's Liberation Movement. An early practitioner of women's history, Grace Hutchins documented the role played by working-class women in labor struggles and popularized the notion of the "double burden," a phrase later adopted by the feminist movement. Foreshadowing debates still live today, Claudia Jones asserted the centrality of Black women to the achievement of women's liberation and endorsed autonomous women's organizing. Red feminism also had impact far beyond the CP's boundaries during campaigns in the 1930s for social insurance and a Women's Charter and during post-World War II efforts to build a women's peace movement. Although the CP's women's rights efforts were flawed in many ways, the Party pioneered a strand of women's rights activism that remains relevant today. Red feminism is a neglected but vital tendency within this country's women's rights movement.







Ph.D. American University 1996.


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