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From "The Nation," on Jane Jacobs and Others.

  • Subject: [cg] From "The Nation," on Jane Jacobs and Others.
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Wed, 26 Apr 2006 22:26:18 EDT

In a message dated 4/26/2006 10:02:28 P.M. Eastern Standard Time,  
BPCPC1@aol.com writes:

THE  NATION
review | posted March 16,  2006 (April 3, 2006 issue) 
Three  Who Made a Revolution 
Rebecca Solnit 
At a dinner table  last fall, I mentioned that Women's Strike for Peace did 
some extraordinary  things in the early 1960s, not least helping to bring down 
the House  Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). A well-known political 
writer sitting  across from me sneered that the women in WSP were insignificant 
and that HUAC  didn't exist by then anyway. He was wrong on both counts, but 
his remark  wasn't surprising. The way people talk in decades suggests that the 
1950s and  '60s never overlapped and thereby blanks out the first half of the 
latter  decade to make the second half into "the '60s," that era popularly 
imagined as  a revolutionary romp by a bunch of antiwar young men. In fact, those 
young men  took up a revolutionary challenge raised in part by middle-aged 
women who  launched some of the key ideas and fought some of the first battles 
in their  defense. The radical and powerful Women's Strike for Peace did it in 
the  streets (and in the hearings chamber--Eric Bentley, in his history of 
HUAC,  credits WSP with striking the crucial blow in the fall of "HUAC's 
Bastille" in  1962). Jane Jacobs, Rachel Carson and Betty Friedan did it in books.  
Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American  Cities appeared in 1961, 
Carson's Silent Spring came out the  following year and Friedan's The Feminine 
Mystique appeared in 1963.  These three intellectual bombs collectively assailed 
almost every institution  in American and indeed industrial and Western 
society. Jacobs ripped into the  reinvented postwar city, urban planners' obsession 
with segregating home from  work, rich from poor, urban dwellings from the 
street and from commerce,  business from residential, people from one another, 
making cities over in the  new image of suburbia--and by implication, the belief 
in progress and  technology and institutional control. Carson radically 
questioned the faith in  big science and its disastrous new solutions to age-old 
problems, and maybe  even the old Cartesian worldview of isolated fragments, 
which she replaced  with a precocious vision of ecosystems in which contaminants 
like DDT and  fallout kept traveling from their origins to touch and taint 
everything.  Friedan took on the women's half of the American dream, gender, 
patriarchy and  the middle-class suburban family, bringing the assault full circle. 
After all,  the suburbanization Jacobs excoriated was designed to produce the 
 all-too-private lives Friedan investigated. Together, these three writers  
addressed major facets of the great modern project to control the world on  
every scale, locating it in the widespread attacks on nature, on women and on  
the chaotic, the diverse, the crowded and the poor. Their work transformed our  
perceptions of the indoor world of the home, the outdoor world of cities and  
the larger realm of the biosphere, opening vast new possibilities for social  
transformation.  
It's true, as some critics have argued, that Jacobs, Carson  and Friedan 
mostly avoided a deeper systemic analysis. Yet such an effort is  implicit in 
Friedan's constant references to the marketers and advertisers who  wish to keep 
women as good consumers, in Jacobs's scorn for top-down solutions  and 
grand-plan developers, in Carson's condemnation of the chemical  manufacturers and 
pest-prone monocropping of agribusiness. Silent  Spring declares, "There is still 
very limited awareness of the nature of  the threat. This is an era of 
specialists, each of whom sees his own problem  and is unaware of or intolerant of 
the larger frame into which it fits. It is  also an era dominated by industry, 
in which the right to make a dollar at  whatever cost is seldom challenged." 
Rereading their books, I wonder if they  didn't name the beast because their 
old-left contemporaries who did proffered  such an unappealing alternative to 
corporate capitalism and were being  persecuted for doing so. Or perhaps they 
just weren't interested in that kind  of broad prescription--their books, after 
all, were broad enough.  
What's more, the standard-issue socialism of the era was far less radical  
than the ostensible "reformism" of these three writers, insofar as it accepted  
the premises of a civilization that was flawed from birth. Lurking as an  
unexpressed and possibly inexpressible idea in these three books is a  searching 
critique of industrial civilization as a whole, and maybe some other  aspects 
of Western civilization all the way back to when Adam blamed Eve. If  they 
failed to join the revolution of their time, they laid the groundwork for  the far 
grander one that was coming: the one rethinking nature, agriculture,  food, 
gender, sex, race, domestic life, home and housing, transportation,  energy 
use, environmental ideas, war, violence and a few other things--the one  that has 
made it possible to question every authority and tradition.  
Death and Life and Silent Spring are still  magnificent, still readable, 
though only the former seems contemporary.  Jacobs's book describes with brilliant 
specificity what works and what doesn't  in cities, in language that is 
fearless and crisp as a trumpet blast: "The  pseudoscience of city planning and its 
companion, the art of city  design...have not yet embarked on the adventure 
of probing the real world."  She describes the social ecology of cities, 
enumerating what generates safety,  pleasure, liveliness, complexity, civilization 
as an everyday outdoor  experience. Many concessions have been made to her 
hugely influential  arguments--the building of Le Corbusier-style housing projects 
for the poor  has more or less ceased, and my own city, San Francisco, has 
made a number of  decisions one suspects she approves, such as rebuilding an 
earthquake-damaged  stretch of elevated highway as a broad surface street with 
pedestrian  amenities.  
But much of  what she describes as wrong is still wrong, and places like Las 
Vegas and  Phoenix seem to have devoted themselves to defying her every 
insight and  prescription. Often viewed as conservative for its lack of enthusiasm 
for big  government, Death and Life was not about the virtues of free 
enterprise  but of local control. What it celebrated most was life in public, the 
everyday  life of the streets that seven years later would become the extraordinary 
life  of the streets in protest, demonstration and revolt, in Prague, in 
Paris, in  Mexico City and in cities and on campuses across the United States. 
(Jacobs  was so opposed to the Vietnam War she moved her family to Toronto, 
getting her  draft-age sons out of the reach of the Army.)  
Carson's book is extraordinary to revisit. To read its early  passages is 
like listening to God call the world into being during the days of  its creation, 
even if this is only the world of environmental ideas: A passage  here evokes 
issues taken up by Alfred Crosby in Ecological Imperialism,  one there 
recalls Vandana Shiva's critiques of biotechnology, another seems to  prefigure 
Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire, another Sandra  Steingraber's Living 
Downstream, and her strong clear voice is still  audible in Terry Tempest Williams's 
environmental writing. Carson wasn't the  first to come to grips with many of 
these environmental crises looming at the  end of the 1950s; her brilliant 
achievement in Silent Spring was to  synthesize technical information hitherto 
unavailable to the general public  and to make that newly awakened public 
understand and care.  
The book had a colossal impact from the beginning and is often  credited with 
inspiring the DDT ban that went into effect nationwide in 1972.  Though some 
now challenge the relationship between DDT and eggshell-thinning  in wild 
birds, species from brown pelicans to bald eagles and peregrine  falcons have 
rebounded from the brink of extinction since the ban.  Conservatives like Michael 
Crichton prefer to blame Carson and  environmentalists for "millions of 
deaths" from malaria, but the ban was never  applied worldwide and DDT is still used 
selectively overseas (Carson pointed  out that since mosquitoes quickly 
develop resistance to DDT, as insects do to  many other pesticides, the stuff is 
hardly a cure-all). But picking on Carson  over DDT misses the point that she 
was the first to describe the scope of the  sinister consequences of a chemical 
society, the possibility that, with  herbicides, pesticides and the like, we 
were poisoning not just pests, or  pests and some songbirds and farmworkers, 
but everyone and everything for a  very long time forward. As one chapter 
opening puts it, "For the first time in  the history of the world, every human being 
is now subjected to contact with  dangerous chemicals, from the moment of 
conception until death." Still true.  And if the particulars of the chemicals 
identified by Carson have changed  enough that her book no longer has the 
currency Jacobs's does, that may be one  measure of its success. Another is the far 
greater environmental literacy of  the public, the necessary precursor to any 
broad environmental movement.   
 (javascript:email_article_popup())  (http://capwiz.com/thenation) In The 
Feminine  Mystique Friedan, who died earlier this year at age 85, described an 
array  of nebulous social forces--women's magazines, Freudian psychology,  
politicians' speeches, advertising and more--pressuring and persuading women  to be 
stay-at-home mothers, producing the baby boom and consuming household  and 
beauty products and demeaning, demoralizing ideas about their  capabilities. Her 
job was hardest of all, because these forces weren't  technically coercive; 
to prove that they were, she had to argue against the  powerful facade of 
contented domesticity, a facade not only men but many women  were (and are) bent on 
preserving. Simply by demonstrating the forces that had  pushed women back 
into the home after the war and into a more retrograde  version of female 
identity, Friedan was digging deep and fighting hard; if her  book now seems overly 
focused on middle-class married white women with kids,  it carved out wholly 
new territory to think about what we might nowadays call  the production of 
identity and the possibility of resistance.  
In many respects, The Feminine Mystique seems  dated now. Friedan's 
background in psychology seems to have made her  susceptible to a lot of the era's 
clucking over "delinquency," homosexuality,  adultery and promiscuity, as though 
she were witnessing the first stirrings of  what would become feminist and 
sexual revolutions without seeing the  implications. Nor does she question the 
foundations (if not the delights) of  marriage, affluence or suburbia. Still, 
there are fleeting moments when she  recognizes the links between the "feminine 
mystique" and consumer capitalism,  as in her observation that "in the suburbs 
where most hours of the day there  are virtually no men at all...women who 
have no identity other than sex  creatures must ultimately seek their reassurance 
through the possession of  'things.'"  
Friedan's inchoate solution to "the problem that has no  name" seems to be 
that these educated middle-class women need careers or some  kind of 
intellectual stimulation, a solution far less profound than her  analysis of the problem, 
and one that overlooked the women who were already  invading politics. In The 
Feminine Mystique she said of the 1950s, "It  was easier to look for Freudian 
sexual roots in man's behavior, his ideas, and  his wars than to look 
critically at his society and act constructively to  right its wrongs." Of course, 
Friedan would go on to think more radically  about what women's lives could 
become and what we could change, and of course  in writing for women's magazines 
and then taking up a five-year residence at  the New York Public Library's 
Allen Room, where she wrote her landmark book,  she was having more of a career 
than she let on--not to mention a history of  youthful activism in left and 
labor politics that she seldom discussed.   
Jacobs and Carson were also working--the former as an  editor at 
Architectural Forum, the latter as an independent writer.  Indeed, they and the WSP 
activists seem like the women Friedan imagined but  did not actually portray in her 
book. Married with three children, Jacobs  continued a professional life of 
writing, engaging in the world of ideas and,  by the time her book appeared, 
fighting Robert Moses's plan to put an  expressway through Greenwich Village's 
Washington Square. Indeed, she was able  to shame the nation's anointed 
urbanist, Lewis Mumford, into supporting the  cause, even though he had just 
patronized her book in The New Yorker as  "Mother Jacobs's Home Remedies" and reduced 
her description of the rich social  life an urbanite might experience on the 
street to "the little flirtations  that season a housewife's day."  
Sexism in those days went around undisguised;  Time magazine, in the course 
of asserting that DDT posed no human  health problems, brazenly portrayed "Miss 
Carson" as "hysterically  overemphatic" with a "mystical attachment to the 
balance of nature," her book  as an "emotional and inaccurate outburst." Carson, 
who never married but  raised a couple of nieces and a great-nephew, had been 
a successful scientist  and writer within the federal government before she 
became an independent  full-time and bestselling author in 1952. Silent Spring 
was published  in September 1962. The Cuban missile crisis began a month 
later, and for a  while people in the United States thought they wouldn't have the 
luxury of  dying slowly from chemicals, rather than suddenly from bombs.  
A year earlier, the United States and the Soviet Union had  decided to resume 
nuclear testing after an informal three-year moratorium. In  response, six 
women met in Washington, DC, and began to organize what became,  on November 1, 
1961, a nationwide strike of tens of thousands of women in  sixty cities 
across the country--mostly married-with-children middle-class  white women whose 
radical potential would grow with the decade. The  aboveground tests were 
already known to create radioactive clouds that drifted  over the earth, dropping 
radioactive byproducts as they went. Strontium 90 was  seeping into mother's 
milk and thereby into newborn children; the weapons that  were supposed to 
protect civilians in case of an all-out war were routinely  contaminating them. 
Using their status as middle-class moms as a shield, WSP  activists plunged into 
the fray, taking risks no one else had dared, refusing  to screen out potential 
communists and reaching out to women in the USSR.  Within a couple of years, 
they had helped bring into being the Limited Test  Ban Treaty (an achievement 
acknowledged by UN chief U Thant and President  Kennedy) and made a mockery of 
HUAC's anticommunist inquisitions. In early  1964, they were among the first 
to oppose the Vietnam War.  
Epochal insurrection was breaking out all over during  what is often seen as 
the nation's most repressive era. The civil rights  movement was in full swing 
(though the contributions of key players like Ella  Baker and Rosa Parks 
would be marginalized and/or downplayed). In the 1950s  the Mattachine Society and 
Daughters of Bilitis organized, respectively, gays  and lesbians; the 
Daughters held their first national conference in San  Francisco in 1960, the year 
students and labor protested HUAC's anti-educator  hearings in that city in one 
of the first confrontations that looked like "the  '60s." Tom Hayden spent the 
summer of 1960 with students in SLATE, the  Berkeley student activists' 
organization, and brought what he learned back to  Michigan and Students for a 
Democratic Society. The history of SDS is  well-enough known at this point; that 
WSP was working side by side with SDS on  antidraft and antiwar organizing has 
been airbrushed out of history's official  portrait. But the later '60s only 
reaped what the more daring had sown at the  beginning of the decade. And among 
the most visionary sowers were those women  whose achievements as books and 
bans and changed roles are still here.   
An e-mail arrived as I was finishing this essay,  detailing the work of four 
or five women researching and deploying new  bioremediation technologies in 
the cleanup of New Orleans' toxic residues.  Based at the Common Ground 
community center, these women are scientists,  environmentalists and urban activists 
all at once, and the e-mail goes on to  describe them conferring while a young 
man reads a book to three girls in  daycare. It's hard to imagine this 
guerrilla cleanup team now without Carson,  Friedan and Jacobs then. "Only a book" is 
a popular epithet, implying that  writing always takes place on the 
sidelines, but these three make it clear  that books can change the world
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  THE NATION
review | posted March 16, 2006 (April 3, 2006 issue) 
Three Who Made a Revolution 
Rebecca Solnit

At a dinner table last fall, I mentioned that Women's Strike for Peace did 
some extraordinary things in the early 1960s, not least helping to bring down 
the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). A well-known political writer 
sitting across from me sneered that the women in WSP were insignificant and 
that HUAC didn't exist by then anyway. He was wrong on both counts, but his 
remark wasn't surprising. The way people talk in decades suggests that the 1950s 
and '60s never overlapped and thereby blanks out the first half of the latter 
decade to make the second half into "the '60s," that era popularly imagined as 
a revolutionary romp by a bunch of antiwar young men. In fact, those young 
men took up a revolutionary challenge raised in part by middle-aged women who 
launched some of the key ideas and fought some of the first battles in their 
defense. The radical and powerful Women's Strike for Peace did it in the streets 
(and in the hearings chamber--Eric Bentley, in his history of HUAC, credits 
WSP with striking the crucial blow in the fall of "HUAC's Bastille" in 1962). 
Jane Jacobs, Rachel Carson and Betty Friedan did it in books. 
Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities appeared in 1961, 
Carson's Silent Spring came out the following year and Friedan's The Feminine 
Mystique appeared in 1963. These three intellectual bombs collectively assailed 
almost every institution in American and indeed industrial and Western society. 
Jacobs ripped into the reinvented postwar city, urban planners' obsession with 
segregating home from work, rich from poor, urban dwellings from the street and 
from commerce, business from residential, people from one another, making 
cities over in the new image of suburbia--and by implication, the belief in 
progress and technology and institutional control. Carson radically questioned the 
faith in big science and its disastrous new solutions to age-old problems, and 
maybe even the old Cartesian worldview of isolated fragments, which she 
replaced with a precocious vision of ecosystems in which contaminants like DDT and 
fallout kept traveling from their origins to touch and taint everything. 
Friedan took on the women's half of the American dream, gender, patriarchy and the 
middle-class suburban family, bringing the assault full circle. After all, the 
suburbanization Jacobs excoriated was designed to produce the all-too-private 
lives Friedan investigated. Together, these three writers addressed major 
facets of the great modern project to control the world on every scale, locating 
it in the widespread attacks on nature, on women and on the chaotic, the 
diverse, the crowded and the poor. Their work transformed our perceptions of the 
indoor world of the home, the outdoor world of cities and the larger realm of 
the biosphere, opening vast new possibilities for social transformation. 
It's true, as some critics have argued, that Jacobs, Carson and Friedan 
mostly avoided a deeper systemic analysis. Yet such an effort is implicit in 
Friedan's constant references to the marketers and advertisers who wish to keep 
women as good consumers, in Jacobs's scorn for top-down solutions and grand-plan 
developers, in Carson's condemnation of the chemical manufacturers and 
pest-prone monocropping of agribusiness. Silent Spring declares, "There is still very 
limited awareness of the nature of the threat. This is an era of specialists, 
each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the 
larger frame into which it fits. It is also an era dominated by industry, in which 
the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged." Rereading 
their books, I wonder if they didn't name the beast because their old-left 
contemporaries who did proffered such an unappealing alternative to corporate 
capitalism and were being persecuted for doing so. Or perhaps they just weren't 
interested in that kind of broad prescription--their books, after all, were 
broad enough. 
What's more, the standard-issue socialism of the era was far less radical 
than the ostensible "reformism" of these three writers, insofar as it accepted 
the premises of a civilization that was flawed from birth. Lurking as an 
unexpressed and possibly inexpressible idea in these three books is a searching 
critique of industrial civilization as a whole, and maybe some other aspects of 
Western civilization all the way back to when Adam blamed Eve. If they failed to 
join the revolution of their time, they laid the groundwork for the far 
grander one that was coming: the one rethinking nature, agriculture, food, gender, 
sex, race, domestic life, home and housing, transportation, energy use, 
environmental ideas, war, violence and a few other things--the one that has made it 
possible to question every authority and tradition. 
Death and Life and Silent Spring are still magnificent, still readable, 
though only the former seems contemporary. Jacobs's book describes with brilliant 
specificity what works and what doesn't in cities, in language that is fearless 
and crisp as a trumpet blast: "The pseudoscience of city planning and its 
companion, the art of city design...have not yet embarked on the adventure of 
probing the real world." She describes the social ecology of cities, enumerating 
what generates safety, pleasure, liveliness, complexity, civilization as an 
everyday outdoor experience. Many concessions have been made to her hugely 
influential arguments--the building of Le Corbusier-style housing projects for the 
poor has more or less ceased, and my own city, San Francisco, has made a 
number of decisions one suspects she approves, such as rebuilding an 
earthquake-damaged stretch of elevated highway as a broad surface street with pedestrian 
amenities. 

But much of what she describes as wrong is still wrong, and places like Las 
Vegas and Phoenix seem to have devoted themselves to defying her every insight 
and prescription. Often viewed as conservative for its lack of enthusiasm for 
big government, Death and Life was not about the virtues of free enterprise 
but of local control. What it celebrated most was life in public, the everyday 
life of the streets that seven years later would become the extraordinary life 
of the streets in protest, demonstration and revolt, in Prague, in Paris, in 
Mexico City and in cities and on campuses across the United States. (Jacobs was 
so opposed to the Vietnam War she moved her family to Toronto, getting her 
draft-age sons out of the reach of the Army.) 
Carson's book is extraordinary to revisit. To read its early passages is like 
listening to God call the world into being during the days of its creation, 
even if this is only the world of environmental ideas: A passage here evokes 
issues taken up by Alfred Crosby in Ecological Imperialism, one there recalls 
Vandana Shiva's critiques of biotechnology, another seems to prefigure Michael 
Pollan's The Botany of Desire, another Sandra Steingraber's Living Downstream, 
and her strong clear voice is still audible in Terry Tempest Williams's 
environmental writing. Carson wasn't the first to come to grips with many of these 
environmental crises looming at the end of the 1950s; her brilliant achievement 
in Silent Spring was to synthesize technical information hitherto unavailable 
to the general public and to make that newly awakened public understand and 
care. 
The book had a colossal impact from the beginning and is often credited with 
inspiring the DDT ban that went into effect nationwide in 1972. Though some 
now challenge the relationship between DDT and eggshell-thinning in wild birds, 
species from brown pelicans to bald eagles and peregrine falcons have 
rebounded from the brink of extinction since the ban. Conservatives like Michael 
Crichton prefer to blame Carson and environmentalists for "millions of deaths" from 
malaria, but the ban was never applied worldwide and DDT is still used 
selectively overseas (Carson pointed out that since mosquitoes quickly develop 
resistance to DDT, as insects do to many other pesticides, the stuff is hardly a 
cure-all). But picking on Carson over DDT misses the point that she was the 
first to describe the scope of the sinister consequences of a chemical society, 
the possibility that, with herbicides, pesticides and the like, we were 
poisoning not just pests, or pests and some songbirds and farmworkers, but everyone 
and everything for a very long time forward. As one chapter opening puts it, 
"For the first time in the history of the world, every human being is now 
subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until 
death." Still true. And if the particulars of the chemicals identified by Carson 
have changed enough that her book no longer has the currency Jacobs's does, 
that may be one measure of its success. Another is the far greater 
environmental literacy of the public, the necessary precursor to any broad environmental 
movement. 







In The Feminine Mystique Friedan, who died earlier this year at age 85, 
described an array of nebulous social forces--women's magazines, Freudian 
psychology, politicians' speeches, advertising and more--pressuring and persuading 
women to be stay-at-home mothers, producing the baby boom and consuming household 
and beauty products and demeaning, demoralizing ideas about their 
capabilities. Her job was hardest of all, because these forces weren't technically 
coercive; to prove that they were, she had to argue against the powerful facade of 
contented domesticity, a facade not only men but many women were (and are) bent 
on preserving. Simply by demonstrating the forces that had pushed women back 
into the home after the war and into a more retrograde version of female 
identity, Friedan was digging deep and fighting hard; if her book now seems overly 
focused on middle-class married white women with kids, it carved out wholly new 
territory to think about what we might nowadays call the production of 
identity and the possibility of resistance. 
In many respects, The Feminine Mystique seems dated now. Friedan's background 
in psychology seems to have made her susceptible to a lot of the era's 
clucking over "delinquency," homosexuality, adultery and promiscuity, as though she 
were witnessing the first stirrings of what would become feminist and sexual 
revolutions without seeing the implications. Nor does she question the 
foundations (if not the delights) of marriage, affluence or suburbia. Still, there are 
fleeting moments when she recognizes the links between the "feminine 
mystique" and consumer capitalism, as in her observation that "in the suburbs where 
most hours of the day there are virtually no men at all...women who have no 
identity other than sex creatures must ultimately seek their reassurance through 
the possession of 'things.'" 
Friedan's inchoate solution to "the problem that has no name" seems to be 
that these educated middle-class women need careers or some kind of intellectual 
stimulation, a solution far less profound than her analysis of the problem, 
and one that overlooked the women who were already invading politics. In The 
Feminine Mystique she said of the 1950s, "It was easier to look for Freudian 
sexual roots in man's behavior, his ideas, and his wars than to look critically at 
his society and act constructively to right its wrongs." Of course, Friedan 
would go on to think more radically about what women's lives could become and 
what we could change, and of course in writing for women's magazines and then 
taking up a five-year residence at the New York Public Library's Allen Room, 
where she wrote her landmark book, she was having more of a career than she let 
on--not to mention a history of youthful activism in left and labor politics 
that she seldom discussed. 
Jacobs and Carson were also working--the former as an editor at Architectural 
Forum, the latter as an independent writer. Indeed, they and the WSP 
activists seem like the women Friedan imagined but did not actually portray in her 
book. Married with three children, Jacobs continued a professional life of 
writing, engaging in the world of ideas and, by the time her book appeared, fighting 
Robert Moses's plan to put an expressway through Greenwich Village's 
Washington Square. Indeed, she was able to shame the nation's anointed urbanist, Lewis 
Mumford, into supporting the cause, even though he had just patronized her 
book in The New Yorker as "Mother Jacobs's Home Remedies" and reduced her 
description of the rich social life an urbanite might experience on the street to 
"the little flirtations that season a housewife's day." 
Sexism in those days went around undisguised; Time magazine, in the course of 
asserting that DDT posed no human health problems, brazenly portrayed "Miss 
Carson" as "hysterically overemphatic" with a "mystical attachment to the 
balance of nature," her book as an "emotional and inaccurate outburst." Carson, who 
never married but raised a couple of nieces and a great-nephew, had been a 
successful scientist and writer within the federal government before she became 
an independent full-time and bestselling author in 1952. Silent Spring was 
published in September 1962. The Cuban missile crisis began a month later, and 
for a while people in the United States thought they wouldn't have the luxury of 
dying slowly from chemicals, rather than suddenly from bombs. 

A year earlier, the United States and the Soviet Union had decided to resume 
nuclear testing after an informal three-year moratorium. In response, six 
women met in Washington, DC, and began to organize what became, on November 1, 
1961, a nationwide strike of tens of thousands of women in sixty cities across 
the country--mostly married-with-children middle-class white women whose radical 
potential would grow with the decade. The aboveground tests were already 
known to create radioactive clouds that drifted over the earth, dropping 
radioactive byproducts as they went. Strontium 90 was seeping into mother's milk and 
thereby into newborn children; the weapons that were supposed to protect 
civilians in case of an all-out war were routinely contaminating them. Using their 
status as middle-class moms as a shield, WSP activists plunged into the fray, 
taking risks no one else had dared, refusing to screen out potential communists 
and reaching out to women in the USSR. Within a couple of years, they had 
helped bring into being the Limited Test Ban Treaty (an achievement acknowledged 
by UN chief U Thant and President Kennedy) and made a mockery of HUAC's 
anticommunist inquisitions. In early 1964, they were among the first to oppose the 
Vietnam War. 
Epochal insurrection was breaking out all over during what is often seen as 
the nation's most repressive era. The civil rights movement was in full swing 
(though the contributions of key players like Ella Baker and Rosa Parks would 
be marginalized and/or downplayed). In the 1950s the Mattachine Society and 
Daughters of Bilitis organized, respectively, gays and lesbians; the Daughters 
held their first national conference in San Francisco in 1960, the year students 
and labor protested HUAC's anti-educator hearings in that city in one of the 
first confrontations that looked like "the '60s." Tom Hayden spent the summer 
of 1960 with students in SLATE, the Berkeley student activists' organization, 
and brought what he learned back to Michigan and Students for a Democratic 
Society. The history of SDS is well-enough known at this point; that WSP was 
working side by side with SDS on antidraft and antiwar organizing has been 
airbrushed out of history's official portrait. But the later '60s only reaped what 
the more daring had sown at the beginning of the decade. And among the most 
visionary sowers were those women whose achievements as books and bans and changed 
roles are still here. 
An e-mail arrived as I was finishing this essay, detailing the work of four 
or five women researching and deploying new bioremediation technologies in the 
cleanup of New Orleans' toxic residues. Based at the Common Ground community 
center, these women are scientists, environmentalists and urban activists all 
at once, and the e-mail goes on to describe them conferring while a young man 
reads a book to three girls in daycare. It's hard to imagine this guerrilla 
cleanup team now without Carson, Friedan and Jacobs then. "Only a book" is a 
popular epithet, implying that writing always takes place on the sidelines, but 
these three make it clear that books can change the world. 


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