Citizenship in Cold War America: The National Security State and the Possibilities of Dissent (University of Massachusetts Press, 2014)

This book excavates the contradictions embedded in liberal democracy through a focus on political culture during the early Cold War years. It demonstrates that the Cold War “state of exception” made visible in new ways the unevenness and limitations of American citizenship. Exploring episodes that are often forgotten in standard accounts of Cold War history, Citizenship in Cold War America uncovers a wide-ranging debate about the legitimacy of the national security regime. Some of those at the center of this debate–women like Ellen Knauff, a German-Jewish war bride who was detained at Ellis Island for years because of allegations she was a Czech spy, or Annie Lee Moss, an African American widow whose government job was jeopardized when Senator Joe McCarthy targeted her as a Communist and a security threat–ultimately triumphed over government officials to realize their rights as citizens. Others who raised deeper questions about the parameters of democracy and citizenship were less successful. Among them were activists such as Ruth Reynolds and Lolita Lebrón, who advocated an end to U.S. empire in Puerto Rico, and the psychiatrist and notorious anti-comics crusader Fredric Wertham, who sought to change the very definition of national security. Demonstrating that race and gender often shaped critiques and defenses of U.S. policy in fundamental ways, the “citizenship stories” told here show how ordinary women and men exposed the gap between democratic ideals and government policies.

Selected Reviews

“In the hands of this capable author, what seem like disparate morality tales from a bygone era become interconnected pieces of a puzzle that reveals much about the Cold War US. The central paradox concerns how the US positioned itself as the defender of liberty and democracy abroad yet sanctioned such egregious efforts to silence dissent at home….In a marvelous conclusion, Friedman shows how the national security state of the 1950s compares to the post-9/11 world of today….Highly recommended.” — B. CHOICE Reviews

“The episodes Friedman uncovers are absolutely crucial civics lessons that should enter the mainstream of our teaching on the postwar/cold war years.” — Laura McEnaney, author of Civil Defense Begins at Home

“This is an arresting book, grounded in truly formidable archival research, illuminated by well-chosen and diverting case studies, and written with deft and elegant use of the English language.” — American Historical Review

“A compelling and important book on citizenship and national identity during the Cold War….a must-read for scholars interested in the domestic Cold War.” — H-Diplo

“This work dedicated to the dialectic between the construction of the national security state, dissent, and the redefinition of citizenship in Cold War United States is certainly one of the most important books of history about policy across the Atlantic in recent years.” — Ricerche di storia politica

Prurient Interests: Gender, Democracy, and Obscenity in New York City, 1909-1945 (Columbia University Press, 2000)

Prurient Interests examines New York’s rich commercial culture–particularly motion pictures, Broadway and burlesque–to analyze the origins of a modern system of obscenity regulation. Focusing on contests between white middle-class clubwomen, male vice reformers, Protestant, Jewish and Catholic clerics, civil libertarians and feminists, the book maps the transition from a regulatory system concerned with “vulnerable viewers” to one that, in privileging the interests of the “average person,” was hailed as ostensibly more democratic. It shows that the legal redefinition of obscenity was a fundamentally gendered process, and that the discourse of democracy enabling that redefinition advanced the masculinization of authority over cultural portrayals of sex. The contests that the book details live on in the culture wars of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.


“The Empire at Home: Radical Pacifism and Puerto Rico in the 1950’s,” in Howard Brick and Gregory Parker, eds., A New Insurgency: The Port Huron Statement and Its Times (University of Michigan Press, 2015), pp. 253-64.

“Getting ‘Down and Dirty’ at the Berks: A Conversation about Feminism, Queer Politics, and the Many Meanings of Sexual Performance,” Journal of Women’s History 24, 2 (2012): 171-97 (invited contributor).

“Ruth Reynolds and the Struggle for Puerto Rican Independence,” MaComere (The Journal of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers & Scholars) 12, 2 (2010): 95-103.

“The Strange Career of Annie Lee Moss: Rethinking Race, Gender, and McCarthyism,” Journal of American History 94, 2 (2007): 44-68.

  • Reprinted in Kathleen Donohue, ed., Liberty and Justice for All? Rethinking Politics in Cold War America (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012).
  • Winner, 2007 Berkshire Conference Article Prize.

“The Smearing of Joe McCarthy: The Lavender Scare, Gossip, and Cold War Politics,” American Quarterly 57, 4 (2005): 1105-29.

  • Reprinted in Kathleen Feeley and Jennifer Frost, eds., When Private Talk Goes Public: Gossip in United States History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

“Sadists and Sissies: Anti-pornography Campaigns in Cold War America, Gender and History 15, 2 (2003): 213-239.

Contributor to “Forum: Gender and Nation in Post-war Visual Culture, Gender and History 15, 2 (2003): 179-90.

“‘The Habits of Sex-Crazed Perverts’: Campaigns Against Burlesque in Depression-Era New York City, Journal of the History of Sexuality 7, 2 (1996): 203-238.

Blog Posts

“I Had the First Orgasm”:  Monica Lewinsky and the Politics of Heterosexuality in the 1990’s

Stonewall:  Debating the Subject of History

In Progress

“Sex in the Clinton Years”

This book-in-progress puts into dialogue the sex scandals that plagued William Jefferson Clinton’s presidency and the policy interventions that reshaped the late twentieth century social and political landscape. Grappling with the real changes wrought by the civil rights, feminist, and queer movements, including a slow but important shift in women’s political representation and authority as well as the emergence of the culture wars, it analyzes the response to and impact of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal in the context of initiatives that Clinton either originated or (sometimes reluctantly) endorsed, among them Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (1993), the Violence Against Women Act (1994), the Defense of Marriage Act (1996), and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (1996). The project reads the Lewinsky scandal not simply in terms of Bill Clinton’s sexual neuroses, not as solely revelatory of changing and contested sexual mores, nor as merely an expression of partisan conflict, but as a moment when heterosexuality’s relationship to the state, to governmentality, and to political legitimacy was reshaped and refined. It asks how Clinton’s presidency revealed and advanced crucial sexual-political transformations in America at the end of the twentieth century.