The Fierce Life of Grace Holmes Carlson
Catholic, Socialist, Feminist
Published by: NYU Press
- ISBN: 9781479892006
- Published: December 2020
Shares the story of the revolutionary Marxist and Catholic Grace Holmes Carlson and her life-long dedication to challenging social and economic inequality
On December 8, 1941, Grace Holmes Carlson, the only female defendant among eighteen Trotskyists convicted under the Smith Act, was sentenced to sixteen months in federal prison for advocating the violent overthrow of the government. After serving a year in Alderson prison, Carlson returned to her work as an organizer for the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and ran for vice president of the United States under its banner in 1948. Then, in 1952, she abruptly left the SWP and returned to the Catholic Church. With the support of the Sisters of St. Joseph, who had educated her as a child, Carlson began a new life as a professor of psychology at St. Mary’s Junior College in Minneapolis where she advocated for social justice, now as a Catholic Marxist.
The Fierce Life of Grace Holmes Carlson: Catholic, Socialist, Feminist is a historical biography that examines the story of this complicated woman in the context of her times with a specific focus on her experiences as a member of the working class, as a Catholic, and as a woman. Her story illuminates the workings of class identity within the context of various influences over the course of a lifespan. It contributes to recent historical scholarship exploring the importance of faith in workers’ lives and politics. And it uncovers both the possibilities and limitations for working-class and revolutionary Marxist women in the period between the first and second wave feminist movements. The long arc of Carlson’s life (1906–1992) ultimately reveals significant continuities in her political consciousness that transcended the shifts in her particular partisan commitments, most notably her life-long dedication to challenging the root causes of social and economic inequality. In that struggle, Carlson ultimately proved herself to be a truly fierce woman.
With verve and empathy, Haverty-Stacke guides us through the tangle of the personal and the political in a groundbreaking gendered study of radical lives. This is not only a finely wrought portrait of the exceptional, yet all but forgotten, revolutionary Marxist Grace Carlson; it is equally an incisive investigation of human fallibility and the contradictory nature of committed socialist activism, which has too-often been curated by mythologies and fears of self-disclosure. ~Alan Wald, author of The New York Intellectuals: The Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left from the 1930s to the 1980s
Donna Haverty-Stacke’s beautifully written biography is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of American feminism, religion, or the Left. Carlson’s life as a radical activist and feminist educator illuminates a significant strain within mid-century left-feminism and the role of religious faith in shaping political and class consciousness. This deeply humane portrait offers a brilliant example of biography’s capacity to illuminate political and social history. ~Robyn Muncy, author of Relentless Reformer: Josephine Roche and Progressivism in Twentieth-Century America
This beautifully crafted biography advances the how and why of radical becoming, unbecoming, and self-development. Haverty-Stacke takes us into the neighborhoods of working-class St. Paul, the schools of Catholic orders, the tumble of 1930s Minneapolis labor struggles, the inner world of a left party, and the intimacies of radical feminism to recover the life and words of Grace Holmes Carlson, the Trotskyist activist convicted of sedition on the eve of WWII, and expands the canon of feminist thought in the process. ~Eileen Boris, Hull Professor of Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
A magnificent biography. Donna Haverty-Stacke has done an impressive job of situating Grace Carlson within the context of her times. Never once is Haverty-Stacke condescending or patronizing toward Carlson or the communities in which she both participated and in which she found sustenance and solace. Her life is made so vivid and compelling that her death brought tears to my eyes. ~Steve Rosswurm, author of The FBI and the Catholic Church