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Actions louder than words: Gender and political activism in the American radical pacifist movement, 1942–1972

Marian Beth Mollin, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines the relationship between gender and political culture in the American radical pacifist movement during the World War II, postwar, and Vietnam War years. Between 1942 and 1972, male and female radicals in the American peace movement translated their beliefs into action as they protested against racial segregation, resisted conscription, and opposed U.S. foreign and nuclear weapons policies through direct action and civil disobedience. As they struggled to create a new paradigm of nonviolent protest, they discovered that political activism was as much about personal transformation as it was about dissent and social change. The history of this vanguard political movement belies accounts that relegate women to the margins of American radicalism and grassroots struggles for social justice and peace. Women played an integral role in the radical pacifist movement: they worked behind the scenes and on the streets, and made substantial contributions to its trajectory and growth. The motivations and experiences of female activists defy the standard equation between masculinity and militant action and refute essentialized associations between women's pacifism and maternal concern. Working alongside of men, these women transcended the distinctions between public and private and challenged the tendency to link female activism to separatist strategies for empowerment. The study's secondary focus on race complicates what traditionally is described as an organic alliance between white peace activists and the black freedom struggle. Radical pacifists were inspired by and hoped to contribute to the emerging civil rights movement. Nevertheless, the different priorities of these two movements created a tense and ambivalent relationship. By engaging in creative acts of nonviolent resistance, radical pacifists redefined dissent in terms of personal sacrifice and risk-taking, all within an egalitarian framework that sought to overcome gender and racial difference. They did not succeed in fostering a pacifist mass movement for social change, nor did they always act in concert with their egalitarian ideals. In spite of these limitations, these men and women modeled a militant style of activism that challenged the cultural and political norms of modern American society and helped to reformulate definitions of gender in the political realm.

Subject Area

American history|Womens studies|Political science

Recommended Citation

Mollin, Marian Beth, "Actions louder than words: Gender and political activism in the American radical pacifist movement, 1942–1972" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9960775.