“Critically connects the two sprawling scholarly and public conversations about race and memory in the United States. This is a must read for anyone who wants to better understand how the lost cause won and why middle-class white women were its most effective foot soldiers.”—Kristin Ann Hass, author of Sacrificing Soldiers on the National Mall
“Wendt’s comprehensive study is a significant contribution to our understanding of women’s roles in the growth of conservatism in America.”—June Melby Benowitz, author of Challenge and Change: Right-Wing Women, Grassroots Activism, and the Baby Boom Generation
In this comprehensive history of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), one of the oldest and most important women’s organizations in United States history, Simon Wendt shows how the DAR’s efforts to keep alive the memory of the nation’s past were entangled with and strengthened the nation’s racial and gender boundaries.
Taking a close look at the DAR’s mission of bolstering national loyalty, Wendt reveals paradoxes and ambiguities in its activism. While the Daughters engaged in patriotic actions long believed to be the domain of men and challenged male-centered accounts of U.S. nation-building, their tales about the past reinforced traditional notions of femininity and masculinity, reflecting a belief that any challenge to these conventions would jeopardize the country’s stability. Similarly, they frequently voiced support for inclusive civic nationalism but deliberately shaped historical memory to consolidate white supremacy.
Using archival sources from across the country, Wendt focuses on the DAR’s most visible work after its founding in 1890—its commemorations of the American Revolution, western expansion, and Native Americans. He also explores the organization’s post–World War II history, a time that saw major challenges to its conservative vision of America’s “imagined community.” The Daughters of the American Revolution and Patriotic Memory in the Twentieth Century sheds new light on the remarkable agency and cultural authority of conservative white women in the twentieth century.
Simon Wendt, associate professor of American studies at Goethe University Frankfurt, is the author of The Spirit and the Shotgun: Armed Resistance and the Struggle for Civil Rights.