Announcement: Dr. Julia Mickenberg Comments on Civil Rights History in Life and Letters

Today we are happy to share some words from our very own Dr. Julia Mickenberg, who recently commented in an article in Life & Letters, the College of Liberal Arts Magazine, on a pivotal moment in civil rights history.

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Photo from the National Museum of American History

Dr. Mickenberg writes,

People don’t usually think about Louise Bryant, the radical bohemian journalist made famous in Warren Beatty’s film about the Russian Revolution, Reds, as a fighter for women’s rights. But, in fact, she was.

When she returned from Russia in 1918, after writing the sketches that would be published as Six Red Months in Russia, she stayed for several weeks at the National Woman’s Party (NWP) headquarters in Washington, DC. She got arrested and went to prison with several other NWP members for burning an effigy of President Woodrow Wilson, who had been a vocal opponent of women’s rights. Later, she spoke about the Russian Revolution at an event that other NWP members organized. Anti-suffragists, (known as the “antis”), who had for some time been insisting that woman suffrage was a Communist conspiracy, had a field day, announcing “Bolsheviki Meetings Arranged by Suffragists!”

Does this mean that the anti-suffragists were right? Was woman suffrage a communist conspiracy? No, but the fact that women got the vote in “darkest Russia” before they did in the United States was a real spur to passage of the woman suffrage amendment, especially during a war in which democracy was at stake (the amendment finally passed after the war had ended, but Wilson wound up endorsing it earlier as a “war measure”). In Overman committee hearings – a 1919 red scare version of the more famous McCarthy hearing – Bryant emphasized the specifically feminist reasons why she found revolutionary Russia so appealing: “I have never been in a country where women were as free as they are in Russia and where they are treated not as females but as human beings…It is a very healthy country for a suffragist to go into.”

Those who promote significant social changes often are radicals. They ruffle feathers and they even make mistakes. Louise Bryant was mistaken in her romantic image of the “new Russia.” But she was right about woman suffrage as an essential basis for making women full human beings in the eyes of the state.

Check out the full article here, which also features comments from Jeremi Suri (History, LBJ School of Public Affairs), Terri E. Givens (Government), King Davis (African and African Diaspora Studies, Director of the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis), and John Hoberman (Germanic Studies).

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