American Girls in Red Russia: Chasing the Soviet Dream

University of Chicago Press
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If you were an independent, adventurous, liberated American woman in the 1920s or 1930s where might you have sought escape from the constraints and compromises of bourgeois living? Paris and the Left Bank quickly come to mind. But would you have ever thought of Russia and the wilds of Siberia? This choice was not as unusual as it seems now. As Julia L. Mickenberg uncovers in American Girls in Red Russia, there is a forgotten counterpoint to the story of the Lost Generation: beginning in the late nineteenth century, Russian revolutionary ideology attracted many women, including suffragists, reformers, educators, journalists, and artists, as well as curious travelers. Some were famous, like Isadora Duncan or Lillian Hellman; some were committed radicals, though more were just intrigued by the “Soviet experiment.” But all came to Russia in search of social arrangements that would be more equitable, just, and satisfying. And most in the end were disillusioned, some by the mundane realities, others by horrifying truths.

Mickenberg reveals the complex motives that drew American women to Russia as they sought models for a revolutionary new era in which women would be not merely independent of men, but also equal builders of a new society. Soviet women, after all, earned the right to vote in 1917, and they also had abortion rights, property rights, the right to divorce, maternity benefits, and state-supported childcare. Even women from Soviet national minorities—many recently unveiled—became public figures, as African American and Jewish women noted. Yet as Mickenberg’s collective biography shows, Russia turned out to be as much a grim commune as a utopia of freedom, replete with economic, social, and sexual inequities.

American Girls in Red Russia recounts the experiences of women who saved starving children from the Russian famine, worked on rural communes in Siberia, wrote for Moscow or New York newspapers, or performed on Soviet stages. Mickenberg finally tells these forgotten stories, full of hope and grave disappointments.
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About the author

Julia L. Mickenberg is associate professor of American studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is author of Learning from the Left: Children’s Literature, the Cold War, and Radical Politics in the United States and coeditor of Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children’s Literature.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Apr 25, 2017
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Pages
432
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ISBN
9780226256269
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Political
Biography & Autobiography / Women
History / General
History / Russia & the Former Soviet Union
History / United States / 20th Century
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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At the height of the Cold War, dozens of radical and progressive writers, illustrators, editors, librarians, booksellers, and teachers cooperated to create and disseminate children's books that challenged the status quo. Learning from the Left provides the first historic overview of their work. Spanning from the 1920s, when both children's book publishing and American Communism were becoming significant on the American scene, to the late 1960s, when youth who had been raised on many of the books in this study unequivocally rejected the values of the Cold War, Learning from the Left shows how "radical" values and ideas that have now become mainstream (including cooperation, interracial friendship, critical thinking, the dignity of labor, feminism, and the history of marginalized people), were communicated to children in repressive times. A range of popular and critically acclaimed children's books, many by former teachers and others who had been blacklisted because of their political beliefs, made commonplace the ideas that McCarthyism tended to call "subversive." These books, about history, science, and contemporary social conditions-as well as imaginative works, science fiction, and popular girls' mystery series-were readily available to children: most could be found in public and school libraries, and some could even be purchased in classrooms through book clubs that catered to educational audiences. Drawing upon extensive interviews, archival research, and hundreds of children's books published from the 1920s through the 1970s, Learning from the Left offers a history of the children's book in light of the history of the history of the Left, and a new perspective on the links between the Old Left of the 1930s and the New Left of the 1960s. Winner of the Grace Abbott Book Prize of the Society for the History of Children and Youth
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