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Donna T. Haverty-Stacke is a historian of working-class and radical politics who is interested in the intersection of that history with nationalism and collective memory, national security and free speech, gender identity, and Catholic activism. She teaches courses in U.S. cultural, urban, legal, and labor history.
Her first book, America’s Forgotten Holiday: May Day and Nationalism, 1867 – 1960 (NYU Press, 2009) combines the methods of both labor and cultural history to explore the changing nature of May Day, a holiday that the American labor movement founded in 1886 as part of its struggle for the eight-hour day. It explores how May Day’s working-class, socialist, anarchist, and communist supporters—by organizing and participating in parades and mass meetings—used the holiday to construct their own radical American identities and to create alternative definitions of Americanism. In this book Haverty-Stacke considers questions related to the viability of political dissent and freedom of speech expressed in such ritualized public actions as these annual May Day displays.
Haverty-Stacke continued this exploration of dissent and free speech in America, but from within a legal rather than a cultural framework, by examining the history of the first Smith Act trial held in 1941 in her second book, Trotskyists on Trial: Free Speech and Political Persecution since the Age of FDR (NYU Press, 2015). In her 2013 article published in The Journal of American History—“‘Punishment of Mere Political Advocacy’: The FBI, Teamsters Local 544, and the Origins of the 1941 Smith Act Case”—she examined the social, political and legal roots of this case. In the 2015 book, Haverty-Stacke builds on this exploration and expands its scope to engage with the history of the case itself, rooted in the relationship between early labor anticommunists and the young domestic security state, and its aftermath, as the Trotskyists continued to fight for the Smith Act’s repeal long after they were convicted. The book examines this decades-long civil liberties struggle, illuminating the history of both free speech law and radical political activism during the latter half of the twentieth century and demonstrating the promises and limitations of each.
In her most recent work, The Fierce Life of Grace Holmes Carlson: Catholic, Socialist, Feminist (NYU Press, Fall 2020), Haverty-Stacke presents the biography of Grace Holmes Carlson (1906 – 1992) in the context of Carlson’s times. Carlson was a leading Trotskyist partisan during the 1930s and 1940s and the only female defendant among the eighteen Trotskyists convicted under the Smith Act on the eve of America’s entry into World War II. In 1948 she ran for vice president of the United States under the Socialist Workers Party banner, but, in 1952, she defected from the SWP and returned both to her professional life as an educational psychologist and to the Catholic Church. In The Fierce Life, Haverty-Stacke explores the nuances of Carlson’s political, spiritual, and professional experiences to answer historical questions about feminism and the sexual politics of left-wing radicalism, the workings of class and gender identity, and the contours of lived Catholicism in mid twentieth-century America.
In addition, Haverty-Stacke edited, with Daniel J. Walkowitz, Rethinking Labor History: Essays on the Working-Class Experience, 1756 – 2009 (Continuum, 2010) and coordinated from 2013 – 2018 the Labor and Working-Class History Seminar at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House. She has also been interviewed about her research on NPR’s On the Media and The Takeaway.