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Series IX. Feminism, Gay, Lesbian

Scope and Content Notes:

The sexual and gender politics of leaders of the Old Left generally did not stray very far from conventional bourgeois norms, but their movements nonetheless offered political space for feminists and radical critics of the gender system. The dominant position within both the SPUSA and the CPUSA viewed the “Women Question” as a special case of the Class Question. Capitalism fostered discrimination against women as a way of maintaining a subservient reserve army of labor that could be used to divide workers and lower wages. Only socialism would solve the Women Question. Both parties officially supported equal rights for women and opposed gender discrimination, but top leaders rarely gave these issues priority.

Nonetheless, both parties offered political space for female activists concerned with gender issues and for thinkers with more penetrating critiques of the gender system than the standard Party orthodoxies. Women with organizational skills, oratorical flair, or literary talents gained visibility and political capital within these Parties as well as access to wider networks of political influence. Both the SPUSA and CPUSA published writings on gender issues that anticipated arguments more generally associated with post 1960s radical feminism.

Gender issues and critiques of the gender system became much more visible in the New Left than the Old. In part, that reflected the New Left’s greater emphasis on personal liberation and quality of life issues. In part, it reflected wider social changes that had started to undermine older gender norms and empowered women (globally as well as in the US)—declining birth rates and increased access to birth control; increased female labor force participation; increased female access to education.

This greater visibility of political critiques of the gender system also facilitated the emergence of radical movements among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender sexual minorities. The Old Left rarely addressed questions of sexual identity or the oppression of sexual minorities. Neither the Socialist nor the Communist Party questioned heterosexual orthodoxy, although some anarchists did so occasionally. Some ex-Communists did play notable roles in the early stages of the Gay Rights movement such as several of the founders of the Mattachine Society. But the surge of radical feminism within the New Left encouraged far greater militancy and political visibility among LGBT activists.


Box 5
Folder 88 National News, Birth Control Pamphlet, November, 1936
Folder 89 The Mothers Bill of Rights Pamphlet
Folder 90 Feminist Revolution, 1975
Folder 91 The Rhythm Method of Natural Birth Control, By Joseph McCabe, 1934
Folder 92 Sister, New Haven's Women's Liberation Newsletter, February 1, 1972
Folder 93 Woman's Place-In the Fight for a Better World, By Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, March, 1947
Folder 94 Women & The Cuban Revolution, Speeches by Fidel Castro, Articles by Linda Jenness

Box 6
Folder 1 Sisterhood is Powerful, By Betsey Stone, December, 1970
Folder 2 "Women of New York, WPA Cuts Threaten Your Standard of Living" Flyer
Folder 3 Women- Vote for Life!, By Ann Rivington
Folder 4 Women in History, A Recreation of Our Past
Folder 5 Women and Equality, By Margaret Cowl, February, 1935
Folder 6 Women, War and Fascism, By Dorothy McConnell, December, 1935
Folder 7 Consider the Laundry Workers, By Jane Filley and Therese Mitchell, June, 1937
Folder 8 Women on Guard, How the Women of the World Fight for Peace, By Betty Millard, February, 1952
Folder 9 Women Who Work, By Grace Hutchins, 1952
Folder 10 What Every Working Woman Wants, By Grace Hutchins, February, 1935
Folder 11 Women in Action, By Sasha Small, February, 1935
Folder 12 Women in the Struggle for Peace and Security, By Claudia Jones, April, 1950
Folder 13 Win Magazine, January, 1970
Folder 14 The Gay Question, A Marxist Appraisal, By Bob McCubbin, 1976
Folder 15 Mattachine Review (8), November-December, 1955-December, 1956
Folder 16 Front Line of Freedom, 1981
Folder 17 Women and the New World
Folder 18 Betty Millard, "Woman Against Myth", 1948
Folder 19 Spectre 3, July-August 1971
Folder 20 Spectre 4, September-October 1971
Folder 21 Specter-6, January-February 1972
Folder 22 Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women's Movement, 1972
Folder 23 Sister: New Haven Women's Liberation Newsletter V.1, N.7 1971

Box 14
Folder 1 The Furies, Lesbian Feminist Monthly, January, 1972- May-June, 1973
Folder 2 Elizabeth Cady Stanton on Socialism
Folder 3 Women of Yesterday and Today
Folder 4 Francis Willard on Socialism
Folder 5 Work Among Women
Folder 6 Lavender Woman
Folder 7 Lavender Vision Lavender Vision for the Lesbian Community
Folder 8 Liberation
Folder 9 "The Place of American Women" Pamphlet, 1968
Folder 10 "The Way We See It" Pamphlet, August 26 1970