02 October 2012
Sheila Rowbotham: Helen Tufts Bailie and the Daughters of the American Revolution
The Daughters of the American Revolution, (DAR) are a group of American women who can claim descent from people who took part in the American Revolution against British rule. When the DAR prevented the singer Marian Anderson from performing in Constitution Hall in Washington, Eleanor Roosevelt resigned in protest. And the DAR gained a reputation for racism.
Of course black Americans too can lay claim to revolutionary forebears. And at last, this year the New York Times announced that a black American, Olivia Cousins had become the president of a DAR chapter in Jamaica, Queens. (New York Times July 4 2012)
A friend from the US sent me the cutting because she knew I was writing about Helen Tufts Bailie who in 1928, bravely locked horns with the DAR leadership. Tufts upbraided them for blacklisting, not simply anarchists, socialists and Communists, but a great swathe of liberal speakers, including an assortment of bishops and rabbis. Among the organisations branded as ‘unAmerican’ were the Women’s League for Peace and Freedom and the American Association of American Women. The Red Scare of the late 1920s evinced some of the absurdities which would recur during the later McCarthy trials. Tufts Bailie pointed out that Mrs Lucia Ames Mead, a supporter of the League of Nations had got onto the blacklist simply because the clergy man organising her meeting hailed from Moscow, Idaho.
Tufts Baillie was exceedingly proud of her revolutionary ancestors and had become a keen family historian before the term was invented but she loathed what she described as the complacent patriotism of 'My country always right' declaring that if that was patriotism she wanted none of it.
She had been appalled to discover a man was distributing the DAR blacklists and somehow got a living from doing so. She notified the DAR because she assumed it was illicit. By April she was coming to realise that the policy had support from within the leadership.
Suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt and the social settlement pioneer, Jane Addams, put their weight behind her protests. But to no avail. The evidence Tufts Bailie presented for the existence of blacklists was swept aside and the blacklists denied. By June 1928 she had been expelled from the DAR. A powerful anti-suffrage and militaristic lobby had assumed control in the DAR and Helen Tufts Baillie and her allies were defeated.
In the late nineteenth century Helen Tufts Baillie had been able to regard herself as an American patriot taking pride in its revolutionary traditions while being active on the left. By the 1920s a shift had occurred and patriotism had been redefined by the right.
You can read some of the historical reasons for this in Kirsten Marie Delegard’s, Battling Miss Bolsheviki: The Origins of Female Conservatism in the United States (2012) - in the British Library.