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“I have not had One Fact Disproven”: Elizabeth Dilling's Crusade Against Communism in the 1930s

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 January 2003

Abstract

Who, then, is Mrs. Dilling? Upon what strange meat has she been fed that she hath grown so great: And what inspired her, she who might have taken up knitting or petunia-growing, to adopt as her hobby the deliberate and sometimes hasty criticism of men and women she has never even seen.1

To see the lady in action, screaming and leaping and ripping along at breakneck speed, is to see certain symptoms of simple hysteria on the loose.2

May God strengthen and uphold you, [Mrs. Dilling] … May your wonderful work grow and help save our Republic, … a time is coming when you will be blessed … You deserve a place in history comparable to Washington and Lincoln.3

Hysterical and demented, saintly and just, these were just some of the characterizations of the most prominent female activist on the right during the Great Depression. Elizabeth Dilling embraced them all. For Dilling and her supporters, service in the cause of Christianity and Americanism demanded vigilance and determination, as well as a tough skin.

Dilling's story is a fascinating one and deserves telling, if only because of the passion she provoked in her audiences. Yet her story has larger historical significance. Dilling created her own unique style of politics – distinctly gendered and explicitly personal, a feminine counterpunch to her male colleagues on the far-right who were relatively more aloof from their constituents. For Dilling, involvement in the politics of anti-communism was not only a personal source of strength and satisfaction but also a ticket to what she hoped would be a long and respectable career as an authority on subversive movements.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© 2002 Cambridge University Press

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