The 1960s

  •  Gosse, V.  Rethinking the New Left: An Interpretative History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
  • Kerber, Linda K. No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship. New York: Hill and Wang, 1999.

This week’s readings had two different texts that have very different approaches and purposes. While one is a broad, sweeping synthesis of “the Long Sixties” and the New Left, the other is a long (chronologically) analysis of women’s rights and women’s obligations as part of citizenship. As dissimilar as these two monographs are, they both address important issues that arose in the mid-twentieth century and do so in different and important ways.

In the first text, Gosse addresses the rise of and development of the New Left as it moves from the 1950s through to the 1970s. Rething the New Left is not a work of original research but rathera new synthesis of older and recent scholarship on all of the movements of the New Left.” Gosse a broadened understanding of the New Left, both in the groups who are labeled a part of the New Left and its chronological duration and impact. For Gosse the 20+ years from the ’50s to the 70s’ saw ” a series of social movements surged across America, radically changing the relationship between white people and people of color, how the US government conducts foreign policy, and the popular consensus regarding gender and sexuality.” These social movements encompass the Civil Rights movement, Black Power movement, Antinuclear activism and disarmament, the Northern student movement, second wave feminism, anti-war movement, calls for equality for gay men and women, and even empowerment movements for Native Americans, Chicanos, and Asians. Gosse covers a lot of ground in these few 200 pages but perhaps one of the important elements of his text is his focus on continuation and context. Gosse is not only interested in highlighting these various movements and organizations but he wants to show how they are all connected to each other and how the Old Left and pre-war liberalism led into, and in many cases, even opposed New Left positions. While there are many groups that Gosse addresses that I knew very little about (the sections on disarmament and anti-war were particularly interesting in contrast with Gaddis’ The Cold War: A New History and other texts we have read the Cold War time period), I found this focus interesting and important as it helped me see the longer progression and development of liberalism, the New Left, and contextually, these various social movements. As a synthesis history, this text connects with most of the other texts we have read this semester.

In contrast to Gosse’s synthesis of the New Left, Linda Kerber turns her attention to the development of women’s rights over the course of American History. More importantly, she is interested in obligations of citizenship. As she notes in her preface “In the liberal tradition, rights are implicitly paired ith obligation” and so it would follow that obligations that are denied to women also inhibit their rights. By beginning her text in the Early Republic, Kerber highlights the changing notions of citizenship in the newly formed nation. Yet, with so much changing during this time, the founders opted to adopt wholesale the traditional English system of law governing relationships between husbands and wives (or rather “lords and ladies”). With such a premise, Kerber states “From the era of the American Revolution until deep into the present, the substitution of married women’s obligations to their husbands and families for their obligations to the state has been a central element in the way Americans have thought about the relation of all women, including unmarried women, to state power.” This forms the basis of her argument as she delves into five different obligations that rest on American citizens. The first is the obligation to avoid vagrancy, which she notes is a negative obligation that is based upon the appearance of something rather than an obligation to work which is focused on the actions of the citizen. She traces the progression of this obligation and its disproportionate impact on African-American women. The law was not equitably applied and often labeled women of color as vagrants for adopting the same lifestyle as white women. She also carries through the focus on coverture and the relationship of women to their husbands as it relates to work. The next obligation she discusses is the obligation to pay taxes and she focuses this around the Smith sisters who protested their property tax based on a failure of representation in the government. They positioned the right to vote as the reciprocal of taxes. However, it was later stated by politicians and theorists that the obligation of taxes is the reciprocal of sovereignty and government protection. Kerber then moves into the obligation to serve on juries, where she devotes a large chunk of her text. Here she delves into the case of Gwendolyn Hoyt who was charged with the murder of her husband in Florida. This case challenged state laws that excused women from juries thus denying Hoyt a trial by a jury of her peers. The final chapter engages with the obligation of the military draft and military service. Here, Kerber juxtaposes two Supreme Court cases, the 1979 case for Helen Feeny and the 1981 case for Robert Goldberg, both of which challenged the current practices requiring only men to register for the draft.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is the New Left distinct from and similar to the Old Left? What role did the Cold War play in each of these social movements? How does Van Gosse’s text relate to other texts from this semester?
  2. How have women understood the relationship between a citizen’s rights and a citizen’s obligation? How does Kerber’s longer chronological narrative connect with Gosse’s discussion of feminism in teh New Left?
The 1960s

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