Miller Center

Lily Geismer

History, University of Michigan

Don't Blame Us: Grassroots Liberalism in Massachusetts, 1960-1990

Geismer photo

Lily Geismer is Assistant Professor of History at Claremont McKenna College.

Geismer's teaching and research focuses on the intersections of political realignment, public policy, grassroots social movements and metropolitan history since World War II. Her first book Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party will be released in December 2014. She is currently beginning work on a new project that will examine the privatization of public policy, and the increasing promotion of market-based and individualist ideology to address social inequality by both political parties since the 1960s.

Geismer's dissertation recasted the conventional narratives of liberalism, civil rights, suburban politics, and electoral realignment. Most accounts of postwar suburban politics have focused primarily on Republican mobilization and fail to acknowledge that during the last half-century the Democratic Party has also become primarily suburban-centered in both base and outlook. Geismer's community study explored how suburban liberals shaped the social and political landscape in the Bay State and the nation in both progressive and problematic ways. Throughout the postwar period, grassroots liberal activists in Massachusetts proved particularly effective at working within the established channels of government to achieve the passage of laws that aligned with their suburban-centered vision of democracy and fairness. Many of these policies, nevertheless, provided individualist solutions to structural problems that often constrained more than enabled the achievement of spatial and racial equality. Tracing the evolution of this activism and ideology through the overlapping arenas of civil rights, housing, education, growth and development, environmentalism, feminism and antiwar activism, her dissertation revealed how Massachusetts has been able to preserve both its liberal reputation and racially and spatially segregated landscape. In doing so, her project aimed to prove to politicians, policymakers, and scholars across a variety of disciplines that both suburban liberals and Massachusetts need to be understood less for the reasons that they stood against the national tide and more for what they represent about American society and politics over the last 50 years.

Fellowship year: 2010

Mentor: Nancy Maclean, Duke University

Selected Recent Publications

Good Neighbors for Fair Housing: Suburban Liberalism and Racial Inequality in Metropolitan Boston.” Journal of Urban History 39, no. 3 (May 2013): 454-477.
Kennedy’s Liberalism.” in A Companion to John F. Kennedy, ed. Marc Silverstone, (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014).
Integrating Gender and Political History into Courses on Post-1945 U.S. History.” with Tamar Carroll, Perspectives on History: The Newsmagazine of the American Historical Association (March 2012): 28-30.

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