The Domestic Front Line

The 1950s climate heightened desires for family unity and respectability, lost amongst years of turbulent warfare and economic misery, and refocused Americans towards their immediate domestic realm and its protection. With financial prosperity working to reinforce traditionalist gender roles, the home became a distinct site of feminine character. The narrative is familiar: the husband/father worked a respectable job to provide his family’s money, the wife/mother was left to the upkeep of the family’s appearance.

Here, a property developer’s promotional video makes no hesitation in assuming a woman’s domestic duty. The kitchen has everything the wife could possibly require in maintaining the happiness of her husband and family, and provides ample equipment for hosting dinner parties to impress her husband’s friends:

As gender became so subliminally intertwined in the everyday, with women at the core, the threat of communism was sombre. For conservative women of the 1950s, the home became a battleground in which the corruption of American values by un-American and communist thinking was an imminent problem: “from their perspective the situation was simple – fight communism or risk your children’s lives and the American way of life.”[1] It must be appreciated that whilst these women were passionate, and determined, to preserve their values and traditions, they didn’t necessarily view their actions as activism, merely understanding their anti-communist attempts as “an extension of their maternal instincts to care for and protect their young.”[2] Conservative female voices, furthermore, were frequently silenced and shunned from governmental discussions, an area reserved for men. Amongst feminine communities, a politically engaged woman was masculine, aggressive and forthcoming – attributes frequently critiqued when shown in women.

Intrinsic to the women’s anti-communist struggle was their moral superiority. As understood in a magazine article by Michelle Nickerson, women partnered their domestic positioning with a role as “upholders of spiritual and civic virtues.”[3] Seeing communism’s atheism as a fundamental obstacle in the preservation of their society, domestic women emphasized the Christian ethics at the heart of ‘American-ness’ and communicated this to their contemporaries.

Underscoring women’s anti-communism, therefore, lies motherhood. Whilst political advancement was a possibility, it wasn’t a priority, and neither was evangelical notoriety. For the mothers and wives of the anti-communist movement of the 1950s, their children and communities lay at the forefront of their strife. The above excerpt, taken from The Hartford Courant demonstrates the dedication and fear of mothers on the ‘domestic front line’, with “no fear” of communists.


References

[1] Mary Brennan, Wives, Mothers and the Red Menace: Conservative Women and the Crusade against Communism, (Boulder: University of Colorado Press, 2008), 33.

[2] Brennan, Wives, Mothers and the Red Menace, 33.

[3] Michelle Nickerson, “Women, Domesticity, and Postwar Conservatism,” OAH Magazine of History 17, no. 2 (Jan 2003): 19.

“3 Mothers Depart for Red China.” The Hartford Courant (1923 – 1994). Jan 02, 1958. https://colorado.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.colorado.idm.oclc.org/docview/564360935?accountid=14503