The Fierce Life of Grace Holmes Carlson

Catholic, Socialist, Feminist

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Donna T. Haverty-Stacke
  • New York: 
    New York University Press
    , December
     312 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


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.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Donna T. Haverty-Stacke is professor of history at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY, where she teaches courses in US cultural, urban, labor, and legal history. Haverty-Stacke is the author of America’s Forgotten Holiday: May Day and Nationalism, 1867–1960 (NYU Press, 2009) and Trotskyists on Trial: Free Speech and Political Persecution since the Age of FDR (NYU Press, 2015) and co-editor with Daniel J. Walkowitz of Rethinking U.S. Labor History: Essays on the Working-Class Experience, 1756–2009 (Continuum, 2010).


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