How Polio Vaccine Didn’t Conquer Polio

 

Smoke, Mirrors and the Disappearance of Polio

Dr Suzanne Humphries (2011)

In this presentation, board certified nephrologist Dr Suzanne Humphries traces the real reasons for the decline of poliomyelitis (aka infantile paralysis) in the US. She begins by describing the natural course of polio virus infection. Ninety-five percent of infected patients have no symptoms whatsoever, 4% have fever, headache and flu-like symptoms and 1% develop poliomyelitis (paralysis). The reason paralysis develops is because a defect in cell mediated immunity (CMI)* allows the virus to enter the central nervous system.

Humphries has spent years tracking down toxic environmental exposures known to impede cell mediated immunity. She has identified four that closely correlate with increased rates of polio infection in the 1940s and 1950s.

The first was increased use of infant formula contaminated with high levels of DDT and arsenic (in the forties and fifties, dairy cows were heavily treated with DDT and arsenic to suppress infectious disease).

The second was heavy use of DDT, which can cause flaccid paralysis independent of infection with polio virus, in middle class schools and households. Children and their food were routinely sprayed with DDT in the 1950s to protect them against infectious diseases. In addition, there were a wide variety of household products containing DDT. Humphries believes this may be a primary reason why “infantile paralysis” was far more prevalent in upper middle class families than in poor families who couldn’t afford these products.

The third was an epidemic level of tonsillectomies (in the 1950s, 85% of American children received tonsillectomies). Not only does tonsillectomy remove the primary barrier preventing infectious bacteria from entering the airway and gut, but the surgical trauma allows the polio virus direct access to the central nervous system. The link between tonsillectomies and infantile paralysis has been well documented since the early fifties, and surgeons were strongly warned not to do these procedures during “polio season.”

The fourth was a big increase in consumption of white sugar and and flour treated with quick lime, bleach and other toxic chemicals to whiten it.

Nearly all of these environmental exposures (DDT, arsenicals, tonsillectomies, toxic sugar and flour bleaches) were either banned or drastically curtailed at the end of the 1960s. According to Humphries, this, rather than vaccination, was the primary reason for the so-called eradication of polio in 1979.

An important secondary reason was an improvement in diagnosis of infantile paralysis. Following the introducing of polio vaccine in 1954, the medical establishment, eager to promote its effectiveness, were more careful to separate out other common causes of paralysis that were being misdiagnosed as polio (DDT and arsenic poisoning, Guillain Barre and coxsackie virus infection).

Franklin Roosevelt, who actually suffered from Guillain Barre, was the most famous person to be misdiagnosed with polio.

Humphries also briefly touches on the disaster caused by the introduction of the Salk vaccine and the 1955 Cutter incident, in which 220,000 children were accidentally infected with live polio virus, resulting in 200 cases of permanent paralysis and ten deaths.


*In cell mediated immunity (CMI), which is separate from the humoral immunity (involving antibodies), special attack cells kill the invading organisms. Vaccines only stimulate antibody production – they have no effect whatsoever on CMI.

 

The Lost Science of Money – Wars Are Won By Bankers, Not Armies

The Lost Science of Money: The Mythology of Money – The Story of Power

by Stephen Zarlinga

American Monetary Institute (2002)

Book Review

This book, by co-author of Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s HR 2990 to abolish the Federal Reserve (see HR2990: Historic Bill to Abolish the Federal Reserve), is one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read. At 775 pages, the lowest price I could find for a used copy was $225 from Alibris. Fortunately it’s also available in PDF format at The Lost Science of Money

It’s clear from Zarlenga’s extensive documentation and footnotes that the research for this book took decades. He essentially rewrites western history dating back to the ancient Sumerians. His goal is to expose and correct all the distortions and myths introduced into official history historians in the pay of merchants and bankers. Both are fiercely committed to perpetuating our current global monetary system in which private central banks create and control the money supply.

Among many others, two of the myths Zarlenga explodes are that the Roman Empire collapsed due to barbarian invasion (he demonstrates very convincingly that Rome collapsed due to a debasement of their currency) and the often repeated claim that excessive government printing of money was responsible for the deadly inflation in the early years of the Third Reich – as Zarlenga points out, it was actually the privately owned central Reichsbank that issued the money and created the inflation.

The Concept of “True Money,”

Zarlenga begins by establishing a clear difference between “true money,” which he defines as money with a fixed value set by law and “commodity money,” in which private merchants and banks issue and control the value of money. In the rare historical periods where governments have issued and controlled money by law, the result has been long periods of political stability and flourishing industry and culture.

The Romans enjoyed the longest continuous period (200 years) of monetary stability. Roman leaders maintained control of their money by prohibiting silver and gold coinage for domestic use – issuing fixed value copper and bronze coinage instead. In this way they prevented foreign merchants from capturing control of their money supply and manipulating the value of their currency.

He Who Controls the Money Controls the World

Zarlenga carefully traces how after the fall of the Roman Empire, control of western money shifted from Constantinople (after the 4th Crusade which sacked Constantinople – see link), to Venice, to Portuguese traders in Antwerp (after they opened the trade route around the southern tip of Africa), to Amsterdam (following the civil war splitting the Netherlands into Holland and Belgium), to London (after the Dutch prince William of Orange seized the English throne). In each case, control of the money supply was far more important than military strength in consolidating political control.

Zarlinga also clarifies, though careful research, the historical role played by the Knights Templar and Jewish merchants and money lenders in the development of global monetary centers.

The Dutch Usurper Who Chartered the Bank of England

One of the sections that interested me most concerned the founding of the Bank off England – which set the global standard for all private central banks – in 1694. Previously I hadn’t realized that the Bank of England was started by a Dutch king (William of Orange), who usurped the English throne from James II. Nor that his purpose for chartering the Bank of England was to advance the interest of the Dutch merchants and bankers who initially controlled it.

“True Money” in the Americas

I also enjoyed the detailed section outlining the history of government issued money in the US. Again Zarlenga presents extensive and convincing evidence that it was the ability of colonial governors to issue their own money that enabled commerce and industry in the 13 original colonies, as well as enabling them to organize a successful war of independence against England.

Zarlenga also describes in detail the battle Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and their allies fought against the creation of a privately controlled central bank, as well as the immense popularity of the Greenback Congress issued during the Civil War – and the immense national uprising (the populist movement) launched at the end of the 19th century to save them.

The Federal Reserve Engineers the Great Depression

Obviously the book wouldn’t be complete without a chapter on the criminal conspiracy that lead to the formation of the Federal Reserve in 1913, the Federal Reserve’s role in engineering the Great Depression 26 years later, and Roosevelt’s prolonged battle with Wall Street to implement the New Deal recovery.

The US Taboo Against Socialism

America’s Unofficial Religion: the War on an Idea

Abby Martin (Empire Files) 2015

Film Review

America’s Unofficial Religion is a documentary about the origin of the American taboo against socialism.

At present, the US is the only western democracy without a prominent socialist party. This hasn’t always been the case. A powerful socialist movement arose alongside the progressive, populist and union movements of the late 19th century. All were a reaction to the brutal industrial oppression that characterized this period.

In 1912, the US had 13 socialist newspapers, 12 socialist monthlies and 57 socialist mayors 23 cities. Socialist Eugene Debs campaigned for president that year and won 6% of the popular vote (at a time when women and blacks were barred from voting).

Concerned about the detrimental effect of strong mass organizing on profits, the corporate elite leaned on president Woodrow Wilson to pass two laws – the Espionage Act, which criminalized dissent, and the Sedition Act, which made it a crime to oppose US involvement in World War I. Following passage of the Sedition Act, Eugene Debs was arrested for making an anti-war speech and sentenced to ten years in prison. The Wilson administration also imprisoned more than 90 International Workers of the World (IWW)* leaders, in addition to sanctioning the murder of IWW members by Pinkerton’s guards and organized lynch mobs.

US Organizing and Strikes in Response to Bolshevik Revolution

The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution would inspire a wave of organizing and strike activity in the US, leading one in five American workers to go out on strike in 1919.

Wilson responded by authorizing Attorney General Mitchell Palmer and his assistant J Edgar Hoover to launch the Palmer Raids, arresting more than 10,000 suspected socialist and communists and deporting thousands more.

In the 1930s, the cruel economic conditions of the Great Depression led to an enormous upsurge in mass organizing. Many historians argue that Roosevelt had no choice but to bring in sweeping New Deal legislation to prevent a socialist revolution.

Taft Hartley, HUAC and Cointelpro

Following World War II, during which US unions won major concessions, a Republican Congress passed the Taft Hartley Act, which made it illegal for union members to be socialists or communists (in 1945, roughly half the union leadership was socialist) and the Smith Act, which made Communist Party membership Illegal.

The enactment of these laws was accompanied by aggressive activity in the House on UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC). During the fifties many HUAC subpoenaed Hollywood actors, directors and producers – as well as teachers and college professors. Many were permanently blacklisted from working on the mere suspicion of socialist/communist sympathies.

In 1956 Hoover, a rabid anti-communist, would launch Cointelpro, a program conducting massive illegal surveillance, infiltration and sabotage of civil rights groups and other social change organization. Cointelpro also carried out clandestine assassinations and false imprisonment of numerous black liberation leaders, many of whom are still in prison.


*The International Workers of the World (IWW) is international labor union started in 1905 that has strong ties both to socialism and to anarchism.

Who Stole the American Dream?

The Heist: Who Stole the American Dream and How We Can Get It Back

Directed by Frances Causey and Donald Goldmacher (2012)

Film Review

The Heist traces the banking regulations Roosevelt enacted during the Great Depression – with the goal of preventing future economic cataclysms – and the systematic dismantling of this regulation that commenced in 1971. The documentary credits this deliberate attack on the financial regulatory system for the 2008 meltdown, the decimation of American unions, the total control of federal government by Wall Street corporations, and the most unequal economic system in the world.

The filmmakers date this orchestrated attack on US financial regulation to the Powell Memo,* which the Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable seized on to launch twelve right wing pro-business think tanks (including the CATO Institute, the American Enterprise Institutes and the Heritage Foundation). Funded by six families, these foundations were created with the deliberate aim of capturing business schools and the media with fundamentalist free market ideology. They proceeded to lobby all levels of government for tax cuts on the rich, as well as financing focus groups and psychologists to develop propaganda persuading blue collar workers to vote against their own interests.

In 1980, they succeeded in convincing large numbers of blue collar Democrats to vote for Reagan. In addition to implementing tax cuts for the rich that created the largest federal deficit in US history, Reagan also repealed the Fairness Doctrine,** opening the door to a radio talk show market 90% dominated by right wing talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh.

Guided by the Powell Memo, right wing Democrat Bill Clinton repealed the Glass Steagall Act,***, deregulated derivatives trading, gutted the Federal Communication Commission’s authority to regulate media monopolies, and sped up the outsourcing of US jobs through the enactment of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (which created the World Trade Organization).

Obama would prove even more pro-business than Clinton, with his refusal to prosecute the banskters he bailed out, his appointment of GE CEO Jeffrey Imelt (a notorious job outsourcer) to head the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, his promotion of the myth that Social Security is insolvent, his deregulation of private pensions, and his support for the Transpacific Partnership (TPP).

The film features great clips from Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Paul Craig Roberts and Ross Perot (speaking out against NAFTA during his 1992 presidential campaign).


* The Powell Memo was a memorandum Lewis Powell prepared at the request of the Chamber of Commerce. It remained secret until after his appointment to the Supreme Court. The Powell Memo

** The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, requiring the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was—in the Commission’s view—honest, equitable, and balanced.

***The GlassSteagall Act, passed by Congress in 1933, protected customers’ deposits by prohibiting commercial banks from engaging in investments. It was enacted as an emergency response to the failure of nearly 5,000 banks during the Great Depression.

 

 

The Wall Street Elites Who Financed Hitler

Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States – Prequel B

Directed by Oliver Stone

Film Review

Prequel B starts with the period of social repression that followed the return of GIs from World War I. US leaders were extremely concerned they would spread the oral sex techniques they had learned from French women. Alcohol prohibition, a crackdown on prostitution, rampant antisemitism (even Harvard restricted Jewish admissions) and anti-immigrant sentiment, and the eugenics movement (accompanied by forced sterilization of convicts, the “feeble minded” and promiscuous women) were all typical of this intense repression.

During the same period, Wall Street banks greatly reduced their investment in agriculture and manufacture, preferring the easier profits to be had from cheap credit and speculation. In 1929, a disastrous decision by central banks to increase interest rates triggered a deadly global depression, setting the stage for the rise of fascism in Europe.

Back in the US, Generals MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton charged 40,000 World War I veterans and their families with infantry and tanks and burned their tents. The latter, calling themselves the Bonus Army, were demanding immediate payment of the bonus they had been promised for serving in World War I.

Stone describes the 1930s as a radical period of social experimentation, in part due to Roosevelt’s sweeping New Deal social reforms (including Social Security, unemployment insurance, agricultural subsidies, aid to dependent children and Federal paid work schemes), and in part due to aggressive industrial unionization and intense interest on the part of American intellectuals in Russia’s experiment with communism. Hundreds of thousands of Americans would join the Communist Party, while numerous prominent writers (including Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Sinclair Lewis, Richard Wright, Clifford Odets, and Sherwood Anderson) were communist sympathizers.

During the same period, the America’s wealthy elites were more inclined to support Hitler. Key individuals who helped finance the Third Reich include Henry Ford, Prescott Bush, William Randolph Hearst, the Morgan brothers, Allen Dulles (first CIA director) and John Foster Dulles (Secretary of State under Eisenhower). The key US banks involved were Bank of International Settlements, Chase Manhattan, JP Morgan and United Banking Corporation (Brown Brothers Harriman). Specific US companies that provided Hitler with armaments, military vehicles, aircraft, oil and other material support include Kodak, ITT, Dupont, Westinghouse, Standard Oil, Singer, GE, Pratt and Whitney, United Fruit, Singer, Douglas Aircraft and International Harvester.

In 1933, some of these same industrialists would also try to instigate a coup – foiled by General Smedley Butler – to remove Roosevelt from office.

 

Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the US – Parts 1-3

Untold History of the United States – Parts 1-3

Directed by Oliver Stone (2012)

Last week, I sat down and binge watched Oliver Stone’s 10 part Showtime series Untold History of the United States. I was pleasantly surprised. Stone is strongly influenced by late historian Chalmers Johnson (see The Impermanence of Empire) and mentions him at several points in the series.

Untold History concerns the hidden history of the “American Century” that we’re never taught in school. Unlike Howard Zinn’s People’ History of the United States, it devotes little air time to the popular resistance movements that shaped the period 1932-2012. Instead it focuses mainly on the presidents who governed during this period.

Parts 1-3, which focus on World War II, unpack the lie that Truman dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan to spare hundreds of thousands of GIs who would have died invading the Japanese mainland.

Stone begins with a broad outline of the German military build-up that began in the early 1930s. I think this segment would have been clearer if Stone had discussed the Wall Street fascists who deliberately armed Hitler in the hope he would invade and destroy the Soviet Union. He delays this discussion until part 9, when he introduces Prescott Bush, the pro-Nazi granddaddy of George W Bush.

The first three parts of this series provide a fairly comprehensive history of the Spanish Civil War and of so-called British “appeasement” of Hitler in the early 1930s. I was extremely surprised to learn that Neville Chamberlain wasn’t motivated by cowardice, as we were taught in school, when he agreed to Hitler’s 1938 occupation of Czechoslovakia. He was merely carrying out the wishes of the US-Anglo elite – they were happy to cede Eastern Europe to Germany if it facilitated the destruction of the Soviet Union.

I was also totally unaware that the Soviets were responsible for destroying the bulk of Hitler’s vast military arsenal while the Allies piddled around in peripheral conflicts in North Africa and Italy (at the cost of 27 million lives in contrast to the 500,000 each lost by Britain and the US).

The real reason for Churchill and Roosevelt stalling for two years (Hitler invaded the USSR in 1941) before opening a second front (in Normandy) was their continuing belief that Hitler would defeat the Soviets. Once the Red Army pushed Nazi forces out of the USSR and began retaking Eastern Europe, the allies were forced to act to limit Soviet expansion.

It was actually this two year delay that caused nearly all of Eastern Europe to end up under Communist control – not ruthless Soviet expansionism as we are taught in school.

Stone agrees with historians who attribute the US nuclear attack on Japan to anti-communist hawks in the Truman administration who sought to use it to intimidate the Soviet Union. He maintains that Henry Wallace (Roosevelt’s vice-president until 19944) would never have given in to War Department hawks.

Wallace, according to Stone, was a true liberal populist in the Roosevelt mold. He was universally hated by Wall Street elites. He lost the 1944 vice presidential nomination to Truman (despite controlling over 65% of the delegates) after Democratic Party bosses rigged the 1944 Democratic Convention.

Part 1 – World War II

Part 2 – Roosevelt, Truman & Wallace

Part 3 – The Bomb

A 241 Year Fairy Tale About American Democracy

war is a lie

 

War is a Lie

By David Swanson

Just World Books (2016)

Book Review

In War is a Lie, author David Swanson presents extensive historical evidence that the US has never been a democratic republic – that this is a carefully crafted fairy tale the ruling elite has been telling us since the late 18th century. He also demolishes the myth that warfare is deeply ingrained in human nature. Ninety-eight percent of people are deeply opposed to killing and warfare and require extensive brainwashing to commit to either. Although the species homo sapiens is 60,000 – 1000,000 years old, they have only engaged in war for the last 10,000 years. Many human civilizations (including the people of the Arctic, Northeast Mexico, Australia and Nevada’s Great Basin) had no experience of war prior to contact with Europeans. Among the more astonishing facts Swanson reveals is that 80% of the US troops drafted into World War II declined to kill enemy troops.

Starting with the Revolutionary War, War is a Lie is full of delightful little factoids that are omitted from high school and college US history courses.

Among the high points:

Revolutionary War

The two real goals of the US War of Independence were to 1) remove the King’s representatives from positions of power in North America and replace them with colonial merchants and bankers and 2) to overturn the British ban on western expansion (via the slaughter of indigenous tribes). The Continental Army consisted mainly of poor farmers who were forcibly conscripted, brutally mistreated and rarely paid (even though General Washington was the richest man in the colonies. During and after the war, numerous “democratic reforms” were enacted to motivate these the “recruits, with all being promptly nullified.

War of 1812

Contrary to what we’re taught in school, the US started the War of 1812, with the intention of invading and occupying Canada. They lost this war.

Mexican-American War (1846-48)

Another war about western expansion that resulted in the US annexation of Texas, California, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and parts of Colorado and Oregon. Many Irish and other European immigrants fought for Mexico.

Civil War

Swanson maintains the Civil War was also about western expansion and whether the North or South would control the new western territories. Swanson stresses that Lincoln could have easily freed the slaves without launching a war (other countries did so). The Emancipation Proclamation was issued well after the war started, as public sentiment turned against the war due to high casualties. Swanson reminds us that the Proclamation only applied to states that had seceded – slavery remained legal in Union states.

World War II

Swanson details the deliberate Wall Street strategy of arming Hitler to neutralize the Soviets, highlighting orders US pilots received not to bomb German munitions factories owned by Americans. He also writes at length about the Nazi eugenics experiments that originating in the US under the guidance of Rockefeller, Carnegie and Harrison. I was intrigued to learne the Rockefeller Foundation funded Josef Mengele’s experiments on Jewish prisoners. Swanson attributes Roosevelt’s eagerness to enter World War II to increasing working class militancy in the US (which the compulsory draft ended) and fears of full blown insurrection. He also discusses numerous efforts Hitler made (as late as 1940) to negotiate a peace settlement with the allies – which they rebuffed.

The Tea Party: Brought to You by Wall Street

pity the billionaire

Pity the Billionaire: the Hard Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right

By Thomas Frank

Havill Secker (2012)

Book Review

Pity the Poor Billionaire describes how the right wing corporate elite used the 2008 economic crash to build a pseudo-populist movement (aka the Tea Party) to build blue collar support for harsh free market austerity policies that benefited Wall Street at the expense of working people.

According to Frank,  the Tea Party was the fourth conservative uprising in the last half century. The first was the backlash against the anti-Vietnam war movement that resulted in Nixon’s election in 1968 and 1972. The second was the Reagan revolution in 1980; the third the Contract with America revolution that won Republican control of Congress (in 1994) during Clinton’s first term.

The Demise of Unions and the Left

With each of these movements, US political and economic life became increasingly conservative, with all public institutions – churches, hospitals, universities, museums, the US Post Office and even the Army and CIA – succumbing to pressure to operate according to free market principles.

The same period saw the virtual demise of both labor unions and any organized US left. Nevertheless, according to Frank, right wing strategists managed to flood the media with rhetoric ramping up popular fear the left was “on the march.” It mainly  focused on a fictitious behind-the-scenes conspiracy to provoke a crisis – through overspending that would collapse the US economy.

Swaying Popular Anger from Wall Street to the Government

This messaging, crafted by right wing think tanks funded by right wing billionaires like the Koch brothers and delivered by Glenn Beck, Russ Limbaugh and similar right wing celebrities, was spectacularly effective in convincing a majority of Americans that the neoliberal corporatist Obama is really a socialist.

Oil billionaire Charles Koch warned back in 2008 that the global economic downturn could lead to the same “loss of liberty and prosperity” (for billionaires) as the Great Depression did. He and his brother David went on to deliberately manufacture an “astroturf”* movement (ie the Tea Party) to thwart Obama from enacting the same type of public spending projects Roosevelt used to reverse the 1929 depression.**

They did this by using Tea Party protests and right wing media to sway public anger away from Wall Street and onto the government. Via sophisticated psychological propaganda, working people were systematically conned into believing their interests coincide with those of Wall Street corporations.


*Astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization to make it appear as though it originates from grassroots participants.

**Frank challenges (with data) the common Tea Party assertion that Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms failed to halt the 1929 depression (ie that it took the World War II mobilization to lift the US out of depression). Between 1929 and 1933 (when Roosevelt took office), the US GDP dropped by more than 50 percent. Following the enactment of the New Deal, it increased by 11% in 1934, 9% in 1935, 14% in 1936 and 13% in 1937. Overall GDP growth 1933-37 was the highest the US has seen outside of war time.

The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy

People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy

Robert McChesney and John Nichols (2016)

Film Review

An extremely inspiring public presentation in which McChesney and Nichols talk about their latest book (of the same name)

McChesney begins with research indicating that 50% of current jobs will be eliminated by robots and artificial intelligence in the next 10-20 years. He also talks about the inherent inability of a scarcity/profit based economic system to address this crisis.

For me, the most interesting part of his presentation was a discussion of Franklin D Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights.* According to McChesney, both Germany and Japan incorporated this Second Bill of Rights into their constitutions after World War II. This, in his view, explains why both countries have become economic powerhouses.

Both men talk about the crucial need to form a post-capitalist society and economic system. Nichols talks more about the large global movements which have formed to build this new system. He, like McChesney, has been surprised by the popular candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. The book predicts the appearance of proto-fascist and democratic socialist candidates in response to growing popular resistance movements. However neither expected it to happen so quickly.

The best part of Nichols’ talk is his discussion of the massive Luddite and Chartist movements in Britain (and the populist and progressive movements in the US) that would ultimately lead to universal suffrage, honest elections and the rise of the trade union movement.

Nichols stresses that none of these reforms resulted from the heroic efforts of a political savior – they all resulted from the dedicated and persistent mass organizing of ordinary people.

 


*Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights included the basic right of all Americans to

• Employment (right to work)
• Food, clothing and leisure, via enough income to support them
• Farmers’ rights to a fair income
• Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies
• Housing
• Medical care
• Social security
• Education

 

The Women Who Brought You the 20th Century

dreamers of a new day

Dreamers of a New Day: Women Who Invented the Twentieth Century

By Sheila Rowbotham (2010)

Book Review

Dreamers of a New Day is about the first international feminist movement in the 1880s and the profound influence feminist organizers and writers had over 20th century life. Most of the women Rowbotham identifies by name are invisible to mainstream society – despite the critical importance of the major social reforms and institutions they fought for and won.

The period 1880-1929 was notable for the wide adoption of mass production and communication, the obliteration of rural life and the treacherous economic instability resulting in recurrent panics and recessions. These major social changes triggered a broad range of anti-authoritarian social movements, including socialism, anarchism, utopianism, populism and numerous other trade union and reform movements. As in the anti-authoritarian sixties, women naturally questioned why the new freedoms men were seeking shouldn’t apply to them, as well. This, in turn, led to the creation of numerous  revolutionary and reformist women-led groups.

The Campaign for Social and Economic Equality

Contrary to what they teach in high school, the first women’s liberation movement fought for far more than the right to vote. Early feminists campaigned (and won) equal access to higher education and professions previously closed to them (eg medicine, law, pharmacy, veterinary medicine) and housekeeping arrangements that enabled mothers to meet their children’s needs while simultaneously pursuing careers. The period 1880-1929 saw a lot of experimentation with cooperative kitchens, laundries, bakeries and child care facilities.

The Feminist Campaign for Clean Drinking Water, Sanitation, Birth Control and the Shorter Work Week

The settlement house movement was a direct outgrowth of the feminist movement. Early women-run settlement houses typically offered communal kitchens, organizing facilities for women’s trade unions (the Working Women’s Union was formed in 1881), childcare and parenting advice. The settlement houses (Jane Adams’s Hull House in Chicago is the best known), which were often linked with universities, were directly responsible for the development of the new fields of social science and social work, which scientifically studied the needs of children and families.

These early feminist groups also led campaigns (which they won) for clean drinking water, sanitation services, clean safe streets, housing more conducive to children’s needs, an end to child labor and sweat shops, a shorter work week, subsidized state housing, and maternity benefits for destitute mothers (established in at least a dozen states before Roosevelt enacted the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program in 1935).

On the sexual front, feminists campaigned for (and won) sexual equality to men, including equal access to divorce and equal access to guardianship of children (prior to 1900 wives and children were viewed as the property of men), the right to dress as they pleased, engage in “free love,” legally access birth control and birth control information (illegal under the Comstock Law in the US and the Obscenity Law in the UK), the right to say “cunt,” “cock,” and “fuck” without going to jail, and medical reforms to reduce maternal mortality (in the 1920s, it was four times as dangerous to give birth as to work in the mines).