Suzanne La Follette: Feminist Conservative

Suzanne La Follette

In 1964, a member of the politically celebrated La Follette family announced her endorsement…for Barry Goldwater. This is strange as the La Follette family has been associated with progressive values given its most famous member, Senator Robert La Follette (R-Wis.), who stood for a great many progressive causes in his day and was without doubt the most left-wing Republican senator in his time. Suzanne La Follette (1893-1983) found no inconsistency with her support for her cousin in 1924 and her support for Goldwater in 1964. She even asserted her belief that “Fighting Bob” would, if alive, also support Goldwater! La Follette held that it was not her who had moved to the right, rather the politics of the United States that had moved to the left in forty years. The latter was undoubtedly true, as the nation reelected Calvin Coolidge in 1924 and elected Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. However, I question that La Follette would endorse Goldwater, as his son, La Follette Jr., strongly supported the New Deal and this support hardly wavered during his Senate career. Suzanne La Follette was the daughter of Congressman William La Follette (R-Wash.), who sided with the Bull Moose faction and had an overall moderate record. She was an ardent advocate of women’s suffrage and was supported by her family in her ambitions. La Follette stated that the men in her life had all been “good feminists” (Simkin). She regarded the state not as a benefactor of women but rather an entity that limited the freedom of women. La Follette was also from the time of the Bolshevik Revolution a foe of communism.

In 1919, she joined The Nation, at that time run by Oswald Garrison Villard, and the following year she joined up with The Freeman with libertarian Albert Jay Nock, who mentored her. La Follette considered societal taboos on single motherhood and female sexuality to be a form of subjection of women…that they weren’t fulfilling their prescribed duty for society by getting married. She wrote as such in Concerning Women (1926), arguing “The ultimate emancipation of women then will depend not upon the abolition of the restrictions which have subjected her to man – that is but a step, though a necessary one – but upon the abolition of all those restrictions of natural human rights that subject the mass of humanity to a privileged class” (Simkin). La Follette believed that women should be able to have full command of their lives. She also wrote freelance for numerous intellectual publications of the day including H.L. Mencken’s American Mercury and New Republic. In 1930, La Follette founded New Freeman, which was a libertarian paper that critiqued government intervention in domestic and foreign affairs, which lasted until December 1934.

In 1937, La Follette participated as secretary in the Dewey Commission to determine the validity of the Moscow Treason Trials as well as the accusations against Leon Trotsky. The commission found them to be completely false, which they were, and she participated in the writing of the final report Not Guilty. The trials had been prompted by the murder of popular Politburo member Sergei Kirov, who likely was murdered as a result of plotting by Stalin and the NKVD both to get a potential competitor for power out of the way and as a pretext to initiate the Great Terror by alleging a great conspiracy to murder him (Linder). In the 1940s, she worked on behalf of the American Federation of Labor, and worked to keep communists out of the organization, who would instead exercise their influence in chapters of the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

In 1950, La Follette cofounded The Freeman with John Chamberlain and Henry Hazlitt. Within two years, however, disagreements arose among them as Chamberlain and La Follette took positions favorable to Joseph McCarthy and endorsed Robert Taft for president. Hazlitt did not agree, and he commented on the situation, “[I[t quickly turned out that both Suzanne [La Follette] and Forrest [Davis] were bent on making The Freeman a McCarthy and primarily an anti-communist organ rather than an exponent of a positive libertarian philosophy. I regarded McCarthy as a sort of bar room fighter, often reckless and sweeping in his accusations” (Blanchette). Ultimately Hazlitt won the battle as the editorial board sided with him, with Chamberlain, La Follette, and Davis resigning.

In 1955, La Follette was one of the founders of National Review and was managing editor until retiring from the post in 1959. She was among the founders of the Conservative Party of New York and ran for Congress for the 19th district (Manhattan) in 1964, only getting about 1% of the vote. Concerning Women got renewed interest with the women’s rights movement and was republished in 1972.

References

Bird, D. (1983, April 27). Suzanne La Follette is Dead at 89; Writer, Editor and Early Feminist. The New York Times.

Retrieved from

Blanchette, J. (2006, January 1). The Freeman: Through the Years. Foundation for Economic Education.

Retrieved from

https://fee.org/articles/the-freeman-through-the-years/

Linder, D.O. The Moscow Purge Trials (1936-38): Selected Links & Bibliography. University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.

Retrieved from

http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/moscowpurge/moscowlinks.html

Riggenbach, J. (2011, June 24). The Life and Work of Suzanne La Follette. Mises Institute.

Retrieved from

https://mises.org/library/life-and-work-suzanne-la-follette

Simkin, J. (2020). Suzanne La Follette. Spartacus Educational.

Retrieved

https://spartacus-educational.com/Suzanne_La_Follette.htm

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