American Girls in Red Russia recovers a forgotten counterpoint to the well-worn story of a “lost” generation’s escape to Paris. It explores Soviet Russia’s significance for independent, liberated, and socially conscious American New Women in the first half of the twentieth century.
Beginning in the late 19th century Russian revolutionary ideology attracted well-known suffragists, reformers, educators, journalists, artists, performers, as well as curious travelers from the United States. These women felt drawn to Russia because, like men, they wanted to witness the most dramatic set of events on the world’s stage. They also hoped for a new era of female possibility, in which women would be equal builders of a new world, a classless society, where culture, education and social welfare counted for more than profit and where “comradely love” changed the nature of romantic relationships. US feminists still fighting for the vote took note as their Russian sisters, at least in theory, gained not just voting rights but also abortion rights, property rights, the right to divorce, and maternity benefits, as well as state-supported childcare, dining halls and laundries. And all of this, Jewish and African-American women noted, came to pass in a land that outlawed prejudice.
This collective biography recounts the hopes, experiences, and grave disappointments of US women who campaigned for “Russian freedom”; who saved sickly, starving children from the Russian famine; who worked on rural communes in Siberia or wrote for Moscow newspapers; and who performed on Soviet stages. It recalls US women who survived the Great Terror and who celebrated their Soviet counterparts during the war. And, in light of both the Cold War and our current moment, it demands we come to terms with their legacy.
Julia L. Mickenberg is associate professor of American Studies, Interim Chair of the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies, and Acting Director of the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Learning from the Left: Children’s Literature, the Cold War, and Radical Politics in the United States and co-editor of Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children’s Literature.