Cold War Comforts
Canadian Women, Child Safety, and Global Insecurity
Paper 306 pp.
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Finalist for the 2013 Canada Prize in the Social Sciences awarded by the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences.
Cold War Comforts examines Canadian women’s efforts to protect children’s health and safety between the dropping of the first atomic bomb in Hiroshima in 1945 and the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Amid this global insecurity, many women participated in civil defence or joined the disarmament movement as means to protect their families from the consequences of nuclear war. To help children affected by conflicts in Europe and Asia, women also organized foreign relief and international adoptions.
In Canada, women pursued different paths to peace and security. From all walks of life, and from all parts of the country, they dedicated themselves to finding ways to survive the hottest periods of the Cold War. What united these women was their shared concern for children’s survival amid Cold War fears and dangers. Acting on their identities as Canadian citizens and mothers, they characterized with their activism the genuine interest many women had in protecting children’s health and safety. In addition, their activities offered them a legitimate space to operate in the traditionally male realms of defence and diplomacy. Their efforts had a direct impact on the lives of children in Canada and abroad and influenced changes in Canada’s education curriculum, immigration laws, welfare practices, defence policy, and international relations.
Cold War Comforts offers insight into how women employed maternalism, nationalism, and internationalism in their work, and examines shifting constructions of family and gender in Cold War Canada. It will appeal to scholars of history, child and family studies, and social policy.
Tarah Brookfield is an assistant professor at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford campus, where she teaches in contemporary studies, history, and youth and children studies.
“Building wonderfully on the work of the Cold War historians who precede her, Brookfield uses her own research to provide new voices that deepen our understanding of this precarious time in Canadian history. Cold War Comforts is an engaging look at the many women who navigated new waters to ensure a peaceful future for their children, and for our country.”
— Joanna Dawson, Canada’s History
“Brookfield’s very good book sheds a great deal of new light on Canadian women and the Cold War.... The book’s second section, ‘Abroad,’ is fascinating, and is the truly novel part of this study. Here we see Canadian women’s involvement in various campaigns involving children in other parts of the world: donations to, and fundraising for, United Nations-led efforts to improve the health and safety of children, such as UNICEF; fostering children in (non-Communist) countries such as North Korea, Hong Kong, and Greece; aid, in money and in kind, to children who had suffered the fall-out of the war in Vietnam; and the thorny and controversial question of international adoption, notably as it played out in Vietnam and Cambodia. The author’s analysis is perceptive and nuanced: she examines these complex issues from different angles, pointing out the problematic nature of the politics involved in some of these causes while at the same time drawing a sympathetic portrait of the Canadian women who believed so strongly in them. Brookfield is able to draw on existing works on some of these topics, notably the excellent and thought-provoking studies of adoption by Dubinsky and by Strong-Boag, but in most of the second part of her book she is breaking new historiographical ground. Where possible, the author attempts to ascertain the thoughts and sentiments of those on the receiving end of Canadian aid: for example, she shares with her readers some heartbreaking and perplexing extracts from letters written by South Korean children to their Canadian foster-parents and underlines the complex nature and unclear meanings of this fostering. In general, Brookfield makes excellent use of the records of voluntary associations and non-governmental organizations, as well as of governmental records such as those created by the Departments of External Affairs, Defence, and Health and Welfare, unearthing correspondence and other documents that testify to the persistent lobbying undertaken by some Canadian women. She also makes good use of oral histories, including some fifteen interviews that she herself conducted.... The analysis found in Cold War Comforts is important and original, and this study will undoubtedly interest scholars of social movements, of women’s activism, and of twentieth-century Canada more broadly.”
— Magda Fahrni, Université du Québec à Montréal, Histoire sociale/Social History
“If you wish to understand how the Cold War actually affected most Canadians, this is the book to read. Quite properly it directs our attention to women’s individual and collective efforts to ensure safety for children at home and abroad. Men might have supplied the Cold War’s military face, as with Dr. Strangelove, but the other not-so-gentle sex supplied many of the key strategists for peace. Tarah Brookfield does a wonderful job in telling us just how this happened. Her discussion of bomb shelters, disarmament campaigns, and support for the United Nations, foster parenting, and international adoption is lively and thoughtful and ought to help revitalize Canadian discussion of the relations between foreign policy and domestic affairs.”
— Veronica Strong-Boag, University of British Columbia, author of Fostering Nation? Canada Confronts Its History of Childhood Disadvantage (WLU Press, 2011)
“The years 1945 to 1975 take on a certain ‘golden era’ hue in collective memory, even while the domestic security this suggests belies the consistent, at times intense, Cold War anxieties of the larger global setting. In this study, Tarah Brookfield explores the historic complexities so deftly captured in her book’s title: the ‘Cold War comforts’ that the women at her story’s centre were so intent to bring about on behalf of children, ever the globe’s most vulnerable citizens. She offers a masterful analysis of the ways in which the period’s interwoven concerns about gender, family, class, ‘race,’ age, national identity and international security coalesced on the children who embody the future. In a lively and engaging manner, Dr. Brookfield draws upon the fascinating oral histories of the female historical actors and their families, to show how Canadian women faced the challenges of protecting and enhancing the welfare of children—our own and those of less fortunate nations—by vigorously taking up the cause of peace, security and human rights, at home and across the globe. As she demonstrates, although infused by ‘traditional’ commitments to maternalism, nationalism and internationalism, their courageous activism played a vital role in the reconfiguration of ideas and practices about gender, family, children’s rights and women’s roles that unfolded in this rapidly-changing postwar world. Tarah Brookfield’s Cold War Comforts: Canadian Women, Child Safety, and Global Insecurity, 1945-1975, is quite simply an inaugural study. It breaks new ground in our historical understanding of postwar Canadian society and culture, and national and international social policy formation, within shifting contexts of peace, war, and the persistent threat of global annihilation. We are delighted to welcome this important addition to Wilfrid Laurier University Press’s multidisciplinary Studies in Childhood and Family in Canada series.”
— Cynthia Comacchio, Department of History, Wilfrid Laurier University, series editor, Studies in Childhood and Family in Canada
“Most innovative in this study is Brookfield’s juxtaposing women’s disarmament and peace initiatives with foster parent and international adoption schemes. She shows how women as activists and individuals operated both at home and abroad, traveling to such Cold War hotspots as Greece, Korea, and Vietnam in an effort to carry out child protection work.... Importantly, although her focus is on women’s activism, she writes children into that activist history, showing how the Cold War infiltrated schools and fundraising and perhaps shaped children’s consciousness concerning their place in the emergent global village. It’s here that the reader searches for more; although it is a sign of a good book that it points so clearly to subsequent research questions.... This lively and rewarding book helps us reconceptualize important twentieth-century developments, confirming the place of women and children in the history of the Cold War.”
— Tamara Myers, Dept. of History, UBC, H-Net
“A compelling Cold War history whose engaging portraits—bomb-shelter civil defence enthusiasts, radical and anti-Communist child welfare crusaders, ‘ordinary’ mothers donating a baby tooth for radiation testing, prominent heads of foreign-aid projects, and the foster and adoptive mothers of children in the Cold War’s hot spots—breathe life into this analysis of maternalism and its links, both positive and problematic, to women’s nationalist and internationalist child-saving agendas.”
— Franca Iacovetta, president, Berkshire Conference of Women Historians