As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University's Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.

History 111 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer
The Cold War and the Domestic Arena

Propaganda Poster "How and What to tell a Communist"

Discussion Goals
  1. To understand the origins of second American Red Scare and the federal government's role in enforcing it.
  2. To learn about the role of American corporations and the American public in fostering an anti-communist, fearful environment.
  3. To examine the history of the American family from colonial times to the Cold War - a history that culminates in the creation of the ideal American family on television.

Goal #1: To understand the origins of Second American Red Scare and the federal government's role in enforcing it

Review of 1st Red Scare: Who was scared of whom and why?Poster - I still hate communism

Origins of the Second Red Scare: As WWII came to a close and the Great Depression was over, Congressional conservatives began to look for a way to discredit FDR’s New Deal policies - policies they believed to be too liberal and out of character with traditional American goals.

During the late 1940s, some conservatives began to spread the belief that the New Deal had been influenced by communism and communists. Further, some conservatives claimed that Truman was soft toward communism and ignorant of its real threat to America. Such conservative thought dramatically influenced the 1946 congressional elections when, for the first time since the 1920s, Republicans took control of both houses of Congress. Within a few years, the Second Red Scare was in full force.

What was the Second Red Scare? It targeted so-called "un-Americanism" - those people who were not believed to be patriotic or 100% American. Red Scare propaganda posterThe targets of the Second Red Scare were governmental officials, those who disapproved of governmental actions and actively sought change, and people in the movie industry - in other words, "liberals."
The Second Red Scare and the Federal Government

The federal government enforced the fear of communism and encouraged the growth of the second red scare through four distinct avenues:  President Truman's anti-communist beliefs and rhetoric; Congressional anti-communist actions; Senator Joe McCarthy's "Witch Hunt;" and J. Edgar Hoover's determination to stamp out communistic influences within the U.S.

Photograph of Harry Truman1. President Truman's anti-communist beliefs and rhetoric. Although Truman was clearly a liberal follower of New Deal politics that committed the federal government to civil rights programs - ensuring equal access to jobs and education, outlawing lynching and poll taxes, and desegregating the armed forces - he was no liberal when it came to communism.

Remember, that while FDR had not liked the fact that the Soviets wanted to create an Eastern European buffer zone of communist states, he could understand and accept it as a legitimate security objective - much like U.S. intervention in Latin America. But President Truman's view differed markedly from FDR's. Since Truman's long-term goal was freedom and democracy for Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, China, and the undeveloped world, the U.S. was obliged to confront any disagreement aggressively - not with negotiation, but with military might. Thus, Truman and his administration were directly responsible for changing national opinion - for transforming the Soviets from a great power that had goals that sometimes conflicted with the U.S. but were resolvable through negotiation and international diplomacy - into the "Soviet Anti-Christ" that threatened national security.

2. Congressional anti-communist actions.  During WWII, the Communist Party claimed 80,000 members in the US. Some - but only a very few - certainly occupied sensitive government positions. The American public, and some members of Congress, believed all of these Americans posed a huge threat to the security of the U.S. Thus, between 1947 and 1952, Congress took two steps that bolstered the nation's anti-communist sentiments.

Campaign photo for Joseph McCarthy for Senate3. Senator Joseph McCarthy's "Witch Hunt" - McCarthyism.  Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin won a Senate seat in 1946 after inventing a glorious war record for himself that included the nickname "Tail-gunner Joe" and several wounds - he even walked with a fake limp during the election.

During his first few years in the Senate, McCarthy tested the anti-communist waters with accusations. After the 1952 election, McCarthy became chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations and began a rampage through the nation's foreign affairs agencies by accusing communists of being everywhere in America

4. J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI's influence during the Red Scare. Hoover was one of the most powerful men in America and he was paranoid about Communism and its dangers to American democracy. How was he able to maintain his power for almost 50 years?

In short, Hoover was “a despot who ruled his fiefdom with complete autonomy.”  (J. Edgar Hoover: the Man and his Secrets. Curt Gentry, p. 407-414 )But the anti-communist hysteria was also promoted by corporate America and within the American public at large

Goal #2: To learn about the role of American corporations and the American public in fostering an anti-communist, fearful environment. "Communism and Twisted Education" anti-Russian poster

Hysteria in corporate America.

Hysteria in the American public.

Goal #3: To examine the history of the American family from colonial times to the Cold War - a history that culminates in the creation of the ideal American family on television

Note - The following is summarized and adapted from Dr. Stephanie Coontz, The Way We Never Were.

Colonial Families

  1. In colonial America, several types of families coexisted:
  2. Not one of these families mirror our "traditional American family" model = the nuclear family consisting of the male breadwinner, with the female homemaker and several childrren. All families depended in some way or another on the community in which they lived in for survival.
  3. Family life and childhood was also very different in colonial America.

Nineteenth Century Families

  1. Lewis Hine photo of child laborThe introduction of the wage labor system brings changes to the American family:
  2. The creation of the separate spheres within the middle and upper class insured that male-female relations were usually quite stilted. Women turned to other women, not their husbands, for intimate relations, and men often turned to women other than their wives for sexual satisfaction.
  3. Most families still experienced a great deal of disruption - war, disease, economic downturns, westward migration and resettlement. Slaves, servants, laborers could not have a solid family life because of their work demands.

Early 20th Century Families

  1. Early 20th Century families were based on new ideas within the white middle and lower middle classes - that family life was private and should not be touched by outside intervention, was not connected to the community, and that the family had a large role in fostering the individual fulfillment of its members
  2. The creation of the period that came to be known as adolescence gave youth a longer period of childhood
  3. A new belief arose that marriage should be the center of one’s emotional fulfillment - women did not need other women, and men did not need to turn to other women.

1950s Cold War Families

  1. For white America, the ideal families were shaped by the familiar television shows: Ozzie and Harriet, The Donna Reed Show, Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver. In these Photograph of Cleaver Family from Leave it to Beavertelevision families, we see the qualities that today are often thought to be those of the "traditional family." Stephanie Coontz, however, explains that far from being the traditional family as seen in history, the introduction of television families as the ideal American family produced "a qualitatively new phenomenon." This family was nuclear and separate from society and extended family networks and was based upon the idea that the nuclear family fulfilled virtually all its members' personal needs. Thus:
  2. This was a created family - a pretend family dreamed up by Hollywood that buried the actual complexity and history of the American family.
  3. This created television family suggests that families who do not fit the 1950s sit-com stereotype have "problems" that do not plague white, middle class families - and that these families are somehow responsible for such problems.  How?
  4. This television image perpetuates the myth that stable families consist of a mother who stays at home, a working father, and two well-behaved children who attend school.  How?
  5. This image projects marital bliss.  How?
  6. This image projects a self-reliant family that depends on the father's income and does not need a "handout."  How? Father Knows Best
Bottom line: this information gives us some clarity about how the sit com family was invented, but do we know why it was invented and why we still cling to this myth?
  1. Recently, some historians and sociologists have supported Stephanie Coontz's belief that these white, middle class, suburban families were invented to be capitalism's "answer to the communist threat." (p. 28) What better way to control information that to posit that the nuclear, not the extended family, was the one safe place for people to be - that is was to be controlled by the working father and that all other family ideas were to be subordinated to his beliefs
  2. Most people who study families believe that we continue to hold onto this idealized version of the American family for clear political reasons - there are some sectors in American society that believe societal values - especially those of the American family- have so declined that we are in danger of losing forever the so-called "traditional" family of the 1950s. Their reasoning continues that we must do everything we can to reproduce the era of prosperity and family stability in order to keep our economy, our families, and our children safe.


  1. The origins of the second Red Scare involved the actions of President Truman and Congressional conservatives who wanted to discredit Roosevelt's actions under the New Deal and to promote governmental actions designed to spread anti-communist beliefs.
  2. Communists were active in American politics before, during, and after World War II.  Some clearly passed important information to the USSR.  However, the vast majority of rank-and-file communists were not involved in any type of espionage or disloyalty.  Remember, it was not - and still is not - against the law to be a "card-carrying member of the Communist Party."
  3. Based upon limited knowledge and a great deal of supposition on the part of influential congressmen and President Truman, the nation was engulfed in an anticommunist hysteria that lasted throughout the 1950s and part of the 1960s.  This hysteria infiltrated the federal government, corporate American, and the public at large.
  4. Such fear tactics were hardly revolutionary in American society.  Since colonial times forward, Americans have vilified various "enemies" - people whom they perceived endangered the social, political, economic, and ideological status quo:  witches, freed African Americans, Native Americans, anti-war activists, communists, terrorists.
  5. The 1950s television family was a new invention in American history - an  invention created and maintained for political, social, and economic reasons. The image of the 1950s television family largely was created and has been supported by white, middle-class Americans. However,

Cover of 1955 book "The Happy Family"The Happy Family (story by Nicole, pictures by Corinne Malvern, Simon and Schuster 1955). Book contents quoted below come directly fromr

Father and Mother live in a pretty little house with their little boy Tony and their little girl Peggy. They have a pussy cat called Kiki and a dog called Skipper. They are a very happy family. The happiest time of day is when Father comes home from work. Mother gives him a kiss. Tony and Peggy run and shout: "Daddy, Daddy! Hello, Daddy!"

Father hangs up his coat and goes to work in the garden. Tony helps with the lawn mower. Peggy picks radishes and cuts flowers for the table. They work hard and get very hungry. But soon Mother calls from the window: "Wash your hands, everybody! Dinner is ready!" What a nice dinner! There is roast beef with baked potatoes, a big dish of peas from the garden, and lettuce and tomato salad. Most wonderful of all, there is an apple pie cooling on the window sill.

Kiki likes the roast beef. She looks at it and says: "Meow! Meow! Please somebody, give me a taste of this roast beef." Skipper too, looks at the roast beef with longing, and he lets out a big sigh. "I wish I had the bone, "he says. But Mother is smart and she knows just what Kiki and Skipper are thinking. "All right!" she says. "Come here, you two." She gives Skipper a bone and sets out a dish of gravy for Kiki.

Right after dinner, Mother says: "Let's do the dishes," and everybody goes into the kitchen. It is lots of fun. First Mother fills the sink with hot water and soap powder. Then she rinses the glasses. They come out clean and sparkling. Father says: "Let's help Mother. Tony and Peggy, will you please wipe the dishes? I will put them away." In a few minutes, they have washed, rinsed, and wiped all the glases, the plates, the knives, the forks and spoons, and the pots and pans.

Then Mother takes off her apron and they all go into the living room. "Now Daddy, tell us some stories," say Tony and Peggy. Father opens a book and reads them the story of The Three Bears and the story of Little Red Riding Hood and about Tom Thumb and the Little Gingerbread Boy and Hansel and Gretel. Suddenly Dad puts down the book and says "Eight o'clock!" Mother puts her knitting down and says to the children: "Time to go to bed." Before going to bed, Tony and Peggy have one more thing to do. They go to the bathroom and brush their teeth. Then Mother tucks them in bed and gives each one a big kiss.

It is morning again and the milkman brings milk for the family. Clickety-click go the bottles in a wire basket. Skipper watches him but does not bark. He just wags his tail. The milkman is a friend of his and Skipper does not bark at his friends. After everyone has had breakfast, Father is ready to go to work. Today he is picked up by a neighbor and sits beside the driver. "Good-bye!" says Mother to both of them. "Don't drive too fast, now!" Tony and Peggy take their lunch boxes and they go out to meet the school bus. All their little friends are at the corner, waiting for the bus too. They call out to Tony and Peggy: "Hurry! Hurry! The bus is almost here!"

Now Mother is all alone in the house. She is very busy because she likes to have everything clean and in order. She makes the beds and she cleans the rugs with the vacuum cleaner. Then she puts the soiled clothes in the washing machine. Swish, swish, go the clothes. Soon they are clean and hung on the line to dry. Later she irons a suit for Tony and a white dress for Peggy. When Tony and Peggy come home from school, they go with their mother to do the marketing. As they walk along, Mother thinks: "Now let's see, what do I have to buy today?" Tony and Peggy follow her and carry the bags. They are careful not to drop anything in the street.

Image from the book "The Happy Family"

Today is a big day. It is Peggy's birthday and Mother has baked a beautiful cake. She is very busy decorating the cake with candles and little flowers. Now with pink frosting she writes on the icing: PEGGY What a beautiful cake! How good it looks! When, oh when, is the party going to begin? At last the guests come and Peggy and Tony and all their friends sit around a table in the garden. Mother brings out the cake. All the candles are lighted and the children sing: "Happy Birthday, dear Peggy, Happy Birthday to you!" Just as the party is going to end, Father comes with two big boxes. One box is for Peggy and one is for Tony. "What is it? What is it?" they cry. They can hardly wait to open them. They hurry as fast as they can. Oh, what a wonderful surprise! Father has bought them two beautiful shiny bicycles.

The next day the whole family helps to pack a lunch. Then they jump on their bicycles and ride to the beach. Tony and Peggy have a lot of fun ringing the bells of their new bicycles: "Ding-a-ling. Watch out, everybody!" As soon as they arrive at the beach, Tony puts on his bathing suit and dives from the raft. "Come on in, Peggy! The water is fine!" While Tony and Peggy have their swim, Father and Mother unpack the lunch: hard-boiled eggs, all kinds of sandwiches, salad peaches, and ice-cream. A nice breeze is blowing from the sea and everyone has a big appetite.

It is late when they get back to their little house and everyone is tired. Soon, very soon, the whole family will be in bed and asleep. Good night.