[Marxism] Rosalyn Baxandall, Feminist Historian and Activist, Dies at 76

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Oct 14 16:59:44 MDT 2015

NY Times, Oct. 14 2015
Rosalyn Baxandall, Feminist Historian and Activist, Dies at 76

Rosalyn Baxandall, a feminist historian who was among the first to bring 
scholarly attention to the historical role of women in the workplace and 
to expand the meaning of “women’s work,” died on Tuesday night at her 
home in Manhattan. She was 76.

The cause was kidney cancer, her son, Phineas Baxandall, said.

Ms. Baxandall served on the front lines of the feminist movement in New 
York in the late 1960s.

She helped create Liberation Nursery, the first feminist day care center 
in New York. As an early member of New York Radical Women and 
Redstockings, she picketed the 1968 Miss America pageant in Atlantic 
City, one of the most visible of the feminist protests of the ’60s, 
forever associated with a symbolic burning of restrictive women’s 
clothes that mainstream publications referred to as a “bra burning.”

She played a prominent role in the abortion “speakout” in the West 
Village in 1969, a forum at which women described in public their 
experiences in obtaining illegal abortions.

While teaching American studies at the State University of New York at 
Old Westbury, she, Linda Gordon and Susan Reverby assembled primary 
documents, including letters and diaries, that offered a sweeping 
history of women and labor. Their book, “America’s Working Women: A 
Documentary History, 1600 to the Present” (1976), was acquired for 
Random House by Toni Morrison, then a young editor there.

It remains a foundational text for students of American labor history 
and gender studies.

“That book was and continues to be the text that defines the contour of 
women’s labor history,” said Eileen Boris, a professor of feminist 
studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It recovered 
the voices and the actions of many kinds of women and many kinds of 
occupations from the early colonial period to the late 20th century.”

Rosalyn Fraad, known as Ros, was born on June 12, 1939, in Manhattan 
into a radical household. Her father, Lewis M. Fraad, was a Communist 
who worked for the Communist International, or Comintern, in Vienna in 
the 1930s and later became the chief of pediatrics at Albert Einstein 
College of Medicine in the Bronx. Her mother, the former Irma London, 
was a Communist lawyer and the niece of Meyer London, who was elected to 
Congress on the Socialist Party ticket in 1914.

“We threw Tampax at the F.B.I. agents who parked outside of our home for 
two days after my father refused to speak with them,” Ms. Baxandall and 
her sister Harriet wrote in an essay for “Red Diapers: Growing Up in the 
Communist Left” (1998), edited by Judy Kaplan and Linn Shapiro. “We 
giggled dirty words into the phone when told that it was tapped.”

Her mother’s deep unhappiness at suspending her career to raise children 
made a profound impression on her.

Ms. Baxandall attended Riverdale Country School in the Bronx and Hunter 
High School in Manhattan. As a teenager, she picketed the nuclear 
submarine base in Groton, Conn., with the Committee for Nonviolent 
Action, took part in peace campaigns by the American Friends Service 
Committee and agitated for civil rights and abortion rights.

She enrolled at Smith College but after a year, she transferred to the 
University of Wisconsin, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in French 
in 1961. She met and married a fellow student, Lee Baxandall, a leftist 
literary critic, whose enthusiasm for Marxism and European theater took 
them on an extended tour of East Germany, Hungary and Poland.

The marriage ended in divorce. Besides her son, she is survived by her 
sisters, Harriet Fraad Wolff and Julie Fraad, and two grandchildren.

After returning to the United States, Ms. Baxandall earned a master’s 
degree from the School of Social Work at Columbia University in 1963. 
She began working for the Mobilization for Youth, a social service 
organization on the Lower East Side, and then plunged into radical 
politics and the women’s movement, the subject of her book “Dear 
Sisters: Dispatches From the Women’s Liberation Movement” (2000), edited 
with Ms. Gordon.

Recalling those days in an interview with the feminist activist 
Jacqueline Ceballos in 1991, Ms. Baxandall said, “The one thing that I 
do have against the books that are written is they talk about all the 
politics and the splits, et cetera, but they don’t talk about the joy 
and fun we had.” She added, “We knew were changing history, and it was 

In 1971 she began teaching in the American studies department at the 
State University of New York at Old Westbury. She later served as head 
of the department for many years.

“By 1973, the guts had been taken out of the women’s liberation 
movement, and it was no longer innovative or exciting for me,” she wrote 
in the essay “Catching the Fire,” included in “The Feminist Memoir 
Project: Voices From Women’s Liberation” (1998), edited by Rachel Blau 
DuPlessis and Ann Snitow.

After retiring from SUNY in 2012, she taught in the labor studies 
program of the City University of New York and, through the Bard Prison 
Initiative, at the Bayview Correctional Facility, then a medium-security 
women’s prison in Manhattan.

She was the author of “Technology, the Labor Process and the Working 
Class: A Collection of Essays” (1976), “Words on Fire: The Life and 
Writing of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn” (1987) and, with Elizabeth Ewen, 
“Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened” (2000).

A new edition of “America’s Working Women,” extensively revised and 
updated, was published in 1995.

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