PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2012
New Books in Histroy Newtwork March 18, 2015
Recently, historians have shown that the modern conservative movement is older and more complex than has often been assumed by either liberals or historians. Michelle Nickerson’s book, Mothers of Conservatism: Women and the Postwar Right (Princeton University Press, 2012) expands that literature even further, demonstrating not only the longer roots of conservative interest in family issues, such as education, but also the important role women played in shaping the early movement. Mothers of Conservatism does this by examining the role of women in the rise of grassroots conservatism during the 1950s. Nickerson explains how women in Southern California became politicized during the height of the Cold War, coming to see communist threats in numerous, mostly local, battles. These women, who were primarily homemakers, argued that they had a special political role as mothers and wives, translating their domestic identities into political activism. Nickerson traces their activism in battles over education and mental health issues among others. She further explains the ideology behind their activism and demonstrates how important these women were to shaping the coming conservative movement and in the long-term, the Republican Party.
Mothers of Conservatism draws on rich archival material as well as on oral history interviews conducted by the author. With these archival sources and interviews, Nickerson brings the activists’ stories, politics, and humanity to life. In this interview, we discuss the ideology, activism, and legacy of the women as well as Nickerson’s experience interviewing her sources.