Women and the Cold War: A Unique Perspective with Archives Unbound

By Bob Lester

In the early 1950s, the Cold War contributed heavily to a change in American society and women’s roles. Once again, women were called upon to fulfill a role in the defense of America – on one hand to perpetuate the American population and on the other to promote American ideals abroad.

One of the more prominent women’s organizations created to promote American ideals, was the “Committee of Correspondence.” Beginning in 1952, this organization reached out to women political, social, and economic leaders in the Americas, the Western nations and newly-liberated Third World countries; to impress upon them Western democracy and to support the anti-Communist crusade. But, how did this organization achieve its goals and support America and the West’s political fight to win the hearts and minds of the global population? Who were the leaders and the members? What was accomplished during its existence? All of these questions and more can be answered in Archives Unbound’s digital collection entitled Transnational Organizing: The Committee of Correspondence, 1952-1969.

“The Committee of Correspondence Records, 1952-1969, provide a rich collection from which to explore gendered aspects of Cold War liberalism, the U.S. government’s clandestine and overt cultural propaganda operations, women’s relationships to U.S. foreign policy, and the varied goals and methods of women’s international organizations that interacted in United Nations forums and at international conferences during the first two decades of the Cold War. Like other Western women’s international organizations that participated at the UN through the newly established Commission on the Status of Women, the Committee advocated for women’s involvement in foreign policy making and in the post war global governance system; and like other US women’s organizations, they promoted the spread of “American values” around the globe and networking among women leaders in developed and developing nations.”1

In addition, to the Committee of Correspondence, another Archives Unbound collection provides a unique perspective on women’s roles in the Cold War through the transformation of the peace movement in the Pacific Rim area and its gradual changeover to supporting pro-Western Cold war ideals — The International Women’s Movement: The Pan Pacific Southeast Asia Women’s Association of the USA, 1950-1985.

These Archives Unbound collections provide unique support to learning through the use of primary sources. They fortify the more general historical resources, by providing an opportunity for you to “dig into the past,” discover the background of the ideas and debates that defined women’s roles in the Cold War. These collections provide an opportunity for critical thinking through an examination of the historical problems still facing America and the global community today.

1Garner, Karen (Associate Professor, SUNY Empire State College), Transnational Women: The Committee of Correspondence, “About This Collection.” Gale Cengage Learning, 2011

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