Beyond Bread and Roses: Exploring Gender in the Communist Party of the United States



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The History Department thesis “Beyond Bread and Roses: Exploring Gender in the Communist Party of the United States,” traces the experiences of women in the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) from 1928 through 1956, and highlights the advocacy of CPUSA women after 1956 in the New Left. As rank and file women joined the Party to advocate for a slew of policies, from maternal healthcare to abortion rights to safe working condition, they participated through traditional women’s roles, like domestic organizing and secretarial work. As women became a larger presence in the Party, particularly during the Second World War, they described the ways in which their experiences in the CPUSA conflicted with the Party’s official doctrine of gender equality-- the so-called “woman question”-- and forced the Party to alter its official doctrine and policies. Even after the collapse of the CPUSA in 1956, Party women served as a bridge between Old and New Left, and incorporated the ideals of the CPUSA into New Left organizing. Through exploring both official Party doctrine in pamphlets and newspapers, as well as memoirs and oral histories that describe the lived experiences of rank-and-file women, this thesis traces both the change in Party theory about gender and the on-the-ground realities of gender in CPUSA participation. This disconnect between the official doctrine about gender and the lived experiences of Party women shaped CPUSA advocacy and ideology about gender, and contributed, in ways that have been largely unstudied, to new forms of radical feminism.