Davis Center: Intimacy amid Cold War: The Pen-friendships of Soviet and American Women


Friday, December 8, 2017, 1:00pm to 2:45pm


CGIS South, S450, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA



Alexis Peri, Assistant Professor of History, Boston University


The late Stalinist period was notorious as an era of isolationism and growing hysteria against western influence--including prohibitions against marrying foreigners. Likewise, the Truman administration’s anxieties about containing communism touched off a series of decrees to limit subversive speech and inspect Americans’ loyalties. And yet, during this tumultuous time, American and Soviet women were in regular, intimate contact. Between 1944 and 1952, they exchanged almost a thousand letters, attempting to safeguard peace and advance mutual understanding by becoming pen-pals. 

This paper delves into their conversations. It investigates how shifting US-Soviet relations came to bear on individual women as they confronted the complexities of ideology and policy through examples drawn from their own lives. Over the course of sharing the details of their lives, abstract ideological differences between the US and USSR became concrete and personally meaningful for them. Moreover, in order to craft responses to their correspondents’ queries, they had to reflect upon their societies’ political and ideological underpinnings. In the process, they discovered just how deeply their life choices and habits of mind were embedded in the political. Whether discussing foreign policy, motherhood, cinema, literature, or fashion, they constantly negotiate personal and political, national and international aims.  This paper demonstrates how-- despite their determination to remain friends--the pen-pals became embroiled in Cold War politics. 


Sponsored by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.

For more information, please call 617-495-4037.