Freda Kirchwey—writer, editor, publisher, opinionmaker, feminist, wife, and mother—was a salient figure in twentieth-century America, a beacon for liberals and activists of her era. A journalist with The Nation from 1918 to 1955—owner, editor, and publisher after 1937—she was an advocate of advanced ideas about sexual freedom and birth control and a tireless foe of fascism. The quintessential new woman, she combined a private and highly visible public life.
In this first full-scale biography of Kirchwey, Sara Alpern weaves the strands of gender-related issues with larger social explorations. An early feminist, from a privileged and progressive background, Kirchwey was determined to enjoy both career and marriage, but the early deaths of two of her three sons and strained relations with her husband led to self-doubt about her identity. Yet despite any hidden misgivings, her humanitarianism and outstanding journalistic and critical gifts projected her onto the larger stage of public life. Alpern richly describes Kirchwey’s extraordinary work editing The Nation, one of the longest surviving American liberal journals, and shaping public opinion on domestic and international affairs. Kirchwey focused on large political and international issues—the Spanish Civil War, democracy versus fascism and Nazism, pacifism and collective security, the plight of refugees and Zionism, McCarthyism and censorship, and, finally, the peaceful employment of atomic power.
Freda Kirchwey’s life story introduces a remarkable woman to a new generation struggling with personal and career goals as it recalls the efflorescence of liberalism for an older generation of readers.
Freda Kirchwey provides us with a sensitive interpretation of a major public figure. Focusing on the intersection of the personal and professional issues in Kirchwey’s life, the volume successfully weaves these strands into an integrated whole. Alpern’s book explores the new territory of professional women in the more public domain of journalism. In its biographical dimension, Alpern’s study is most valuable for the light it sheds on the efforts of early professional women to combine work and family. This thorny problem still besets us in the late twentieth century. American journalism will find a persuasive analysis of a significant periodical that helped shape (and continues to shape) American political commentary in the twentieth century. Perhaps most interesting to historians in the future is Alpern’s discussion of Kirchwey’s participation in the shifting coalitions of the new postwar world of the 1950s and the knotty problems associated with McCarthyism. This book is thoroughly researched, imaginatively conceived, and well written.
- 319 pages
- Harvard University Press
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