|Laetitia Moon Conard (1871-1946) (undated photograph)|
Grinnell Historical Museum
***Elizabeth Laetitia Moon was born in 1871 on a farm just inside the eastern border of Pennsylvania. A child of observant Quakers, Elizabeth attended Quaker schools, graduating from Westtown Friends Boarding School in 1889, after which she attended Smith College, from which she received her bachelor's degree in 1894. Two years later she took an M.A. from Smith, then went to Paris where in 1896-97 she studied at the Sorbonne. Returning to the United States, she enrolled at the University of Chicago where in 1899 she received a Ph.D., having written a dissertation upon the religious practices of native Americans. In all this, she exceeded the accomplishments of most of her coevals.
The following year she married Henry Shoemaker Conard, a fellow Quaker who himself had attended and later taught at Westtown. A botanist, Conard studied at the University of Pennsylvania, but in 1906 the couple moved to Grinnell, Iowa where Henry took up a position on the college faculty. A daughter—Elizabeth—had been born to the Conards while they were still living in Pennsylvania. In Iowa a second daughter, Rebecca, was born in 1909, and in 1912 a third child, Alfred, joined the family, helping fill the Conard home at 1310 Elm.
|Conard Home, 1310 Elm Street (undated photograph)|
Grinnell Historical Museum
However, in 1925 Mrs. Conard went to New York City to study at Columbia University, and after her return began to teach at the college. Sometimes described as lecturer in economics, she actually helped found the discipline of sociology at Grinnell College, as Susan Ferguson and Katie Mears have written in a fine, so far unpublished study. For the fifteen years before her 1941 retirement, Conard received no salary, despite having introduced an entire sociology curriculum. At the occasion celebrating the half-dozen 1941 retirees, College President Samuel Stevens recognized in Conard "a brilliant and wise woman who has made the subject matter of sociology of vital significance." Remarks at a follow-up celebratory dinner were less enthusiastic and reflected gender stereotyping. Symbolic honors went to zoology Professor H. W. Norris "because of his scholarship and being a 'bright light' on the campus," while Dr. Edward Steiner earned his "because of his honor, dignity and courtesy." "Mrs. Conard," who also had a Ph.D. and no less reason to be called "Dr.," was said to deserve honors "because she had been a good wife, friend, and teacher."
Time has overcome some of the inattention that Conard endured in her lifetime. But what remains largely unattended in Grinnell—both college and town—is Conard's political activity, and it is to that aspect of Laetitia Conard's life that this post now turns.
Right Reverend Paul Jones, Episcopal Bishop of Utah, 1916-1918
Dan Bammes, "Utah Episcopalians Remember Pacifist Bishop"
|Frederick J. Libby (1874-1970), ca. 1942|
The Quaker Testimony for Peace: Archival Resources at Swarthmore College
|Robert LaFollette (1855-1925), undated photo|
In the 1924 election LaFollette won his home state of Wisconsin and a respectable portion of the national vote, but it was Calvin Coolidge who won the presidency. The race had exhausted LaFollette, however, and he died only a few months later, the promise of a new politics evaporating. As the 1928 presidential election neared, Conard turned to yet another third-party candidate, Norman Thomas (1884-1968), newly elevated to head the Socialist Party. An article in the November, 1928 Scarlet and Black quoted Conard on the unknown candidate. "Norman Thomas," Conard said,
is an absolute pacifist, partly because he knows people, partly because he is an exceptionally clear thinker, and partly because of his indomitable energy in going straight to the heart of every problem....Norman Thomas is for the underdog. He is internationally minded....Despite Conard's enthusiastic support, Thomas, a little-known Presbyterian minister, made little dent in the 1928 electoral victory of Herbert Hoover. But, like LaFollette's loss in 1924, Thomas's 1928 failure did not drive Conard away; indeed, as the Depression grew increasingly deep and international politics grew more strained, Conard was more drawn to Socialist Party politics than ever.
|Delegates to the 1929 Conference on the Cause and Cure for War, Washington, DC|
Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/hec.35230/)
|Sherwood Eddy (1871-1963) (undated photograph)|
|Grinnell Herald, August 29, 1930, p. 1|
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) was a member of Conard's same 1930 seminar, and he reported in Christian Century having discovered, like Conard, great enthusiasm for changes being effected in Russian society. Niebuhr described the group's visit to Bolshovo, a collective farm twenty miles outside Moscow that Eddy's group visited every year. Niebuhr also reported on the 1929 movie, "Turksib," that the group had viewed. Both these experiences doubtless contributed to Conard's conviction that the revolution's progress and fascination with machinery had generated immense enthusiasm.
|Strastnoi (Passion) Monastery as represented in pre-revolutionary postcard (Wikimedia Commons)|
Conard remarked upon the Museum when, after her return home, she addressed the college Cosmopolitan Club in December, 1930. Although she was confident that "religion will return," she observed to Grinnell students that the Anti-Religion Museum had persuaded her that "atheism is truly a religion endeavoring to cast out the superstitions which have delayed the human race for centuries" (Scarlet and Black December 10, 1930).
|Tanager vol. 5, no. 2 (January, 1931):40-42|
Special thanks to Chris Jones, Grinnell College Special Collections, for making this material available to me
partakes of the nature of a religion. The fervor inspired by its tenets results in a willingness to endure hardships equal to those of the sects.... We who were guided around the Anti-Religious Museum by an ardent atheist and who noticed her seriousness and deep emotion as she came to the corner which exhibited the activities of the young atheist society knew that this apostle believed sincerely that atheism is throwing down the idol thrones and eliminating the oppressive authority of capitalist religion...Conard went on to say that she thought the greatest failure of the Christian religion lay in its neglect of the welfare of the masses, a charge easily laid at the feet of Russian Orthodoxy. Key to this failure, she thought, was the association of religion with war, a point highlighted in displays at the Anti-Religion Museum, where seminar participants saw photographs "of priests blessing columns of soldiers starting to the front" as well as other exhibits that linked the church to war. No doubt these displays appealed strongly to the pacifism with which Conard had grown up.
Grinnell's Russia traveler also felt sympathy for the Soviet effort to wipe out class distinctions. More than once Conard told audiences about the "one class" she had found in Russia, and how deeply impressed she was with official efforts to measure everything, and thereby bring science to bear upon social and economic development (perhaps a reflection of her own growing commitment to sociological methods as illustrated in her later study of the effects of the Depression on family life). At the same time, Conard was bluntly critical of Soviet efforts to limit access to information, warning of the power this course invested in government.
***These and other themes drawn from her European sojourn continued to resonate with Conard in the early 1930s as she grew closer to becoming a candidate for statewide office in Iowa. She continued to address various groups, like the League of Women Voters, before whom at a 1931 luncheon in Iowa City Conard talked about "women in industry." Presumably in this period she gave increasing thought to how she might contribute more to Depression-era America, because at the July, 1932 convention of the Iowa Socialist party, Conard was named candidate for Governor, her photograph appearing atop a cluster of photographs of the party's nominees.
|Des Moines Register July 25, 1932, p. 2|
The Socialist party of Iowa has nominated for governor a woman of character and intelligence, teacher of sociology at Grinnell College, Mrs. Laetitia M. Conard. It has adopted a platform that includes a few shots at the capitalistic system, naturally, but that is largely made up of such planks as one demanding a graduated income and inheritance tax, another insisting that the tariff be made effective on agricultural products, another declaring for the shorter work week, another recommending an international economics conference for tariff reduction, and so on...The newspaper went on to cast doubt on the party's prospects and its proposed solutions to America's problems:
The Socialist party organization in Iowa is very skimpy indeed...[and] we are a long way from the view that national ownership and management of industries, involving necessarily control by government bureaus and a great subordinating of the individual to the dictation of the government, is the cure for our economic troubles, as serious as those are.Other responses to Conard's nomination were even less supportive. A month after the Socialist Party convention the Algona Upper Des Moines newspaper openly wondered whether "the candidacy of Mrs. L. M. Conard, wife of a professor in Grinnell College, for governor on the socialist ticket in Iowa will be a profitable ad for that college." Conard herself, however, was undaunted, and embarked upon a series of speeches intended to spread the word about socialist solutions to the country's problems.
|Daily Iowan September 18, 1932|
|Cedar Rapids Gazette October 10, 1932, p. 16|
Throughout the autumn Conard carried the message to audiences around the state. The Grinnell newspaper did not often report on these appearances, but a Grinnell Herald article in late October printed responses to a series of questions put to all the gubernatorial candidates by the editor. Conard's replies—usually more detailed and coherent than her fellow candidates'—were printed in full, and allowed her to develop some of the themes of the Socialist campaign.
For example, when asked about repeal of the 18th Amendment (that had instituted prohibition), Conard declined to endorse repeal, but went on cleverly to urge the repeal of unemployment. "By taking over the industries or by compelling those who run industry to cooperate in taking care of all employable people hunting jobs, the temptation to bootlegging will be much decreased," she argued. Conard went on to favor a state income tax, oppose a state sales tax, favor compulsory unemployment insurance in Iowa, and retain a minimum wage for teachers. She advocated state assistance to local relief funds, opposed mandatory military training in the state's high schools and universities, and encouraged local government to maintain ownership over utilities.
|Lucas Country Results of 1932 Election (Chariton Herald-Patriot November 11, 1932)|
|Grinnell Herald November 11, 1932|
Late in February Conard spoke before the college's Sunday Evening Club, referencing her 1930 trip to Moscow. Russian youth, she contended, saw Americans as purposeless because of their "exaggerated regard for material values and the blind religious concepts of American young people...." In March she was discounting American newspapers, which "have not accepted the responsibilities of presenting political news so that the voter can determine what he is doing." Instead of newspapers Conard endorsed voters' leagues and open forums in all parts of the country which, in her opinion, better instructed the citizen in the affairs of his country.
***In subsequent years, Conard continued her political activity alongside her on-going teaching duties at the college. Her views, so far as one can find them repeated in the press, did not change. A Des Moines Register article in early February, 1934, for instance, reported that Mrs. Conard had addressed a college class in church, asserting that capitalism is "out of place with the original teachings of Jesus." The next month she was in Estherville, addressing the annual convention of the Iowa League of Women Voters on "women in industry." Back on campus, Conard was telling initiates of Phi Beta Kappa that prerequisites of a scholarly attitude were "an inquisitive mind, insistence upon verification of information, and modesty," characteristics that would also no doubt serve public officials well.
|Des Moines Register August 12, 1934, p. 19|
|Des Moines Register August 10, 1936, p. 3|
As she had years earlier, Conard repeated her view that the dominant political parties represented little choice. "From the point of view of a socialist," she told an October, 1936 meeting of the Iowa League of Women Voters, "republican and democratic parties are as much alike as two peas in a pod...a capitalist pod." Conard declared that, were voters to elect them, socialists would solve the three great problems bequeathed to society by capitalism: inadequate food, clothing and housing for the masses; industrial autocracy; and the prevalence of war and militarism.
Iowa voters, however, were no more moved by these claims in 1936 than they had been four years earlier, and Conard lost badly to Clyde Herring, the Democrat who had beaten her for the governor's chair in 1932. No record of Conard's reaction to this loss survives, but she cannot have been too surprised by the outcome as she had expended a miserly sum in the campaign. The Des Moines Register, publishing expenditures declared by all the candidates, as required by law, noted that Conard had spent for her Senatorial campaign a total of $5.23, which is little enough, but her Socialist partner, James P. Russell, candidate for governor, reported no expenses whatsoever!
|Des Moines Register November 13, 1936, p. 7|
In any event, soon thereafter war once more pervaded American politics, openly challenging Conard's long commitment to pacifism and her opposition to war. A few weeks after the 1940 election Conard published a letter in the Des Moines Register, defending eight students of Union Theological Seminary who had been imprisoned for refusing to register for the draft. Borrowing her argument from another's defense of the students, Conard lauded the students' bravery and the fact that they responded to their consciences in defying the law. "I would add," Conard continued, "my belief that a valuable and not inconsiderable part of the early settlers of this country were made of such stuff as these men. Some of us are glad to be descended from them."
But as war took ever more control of America, Conard's voice grew harder to hear. Perhaps she tired of trying to attract the attention of a disinterested citizenry. Or perhaps she realized that for now only small, personal deeds might make a difference in a country consumed by war. As I have posted elsewhere, in 1942 she and her husband welcomed to Grinnell a handful of American Japanese students who thereby were spared the internment camps so unjustly visited upon American Japanese. Two of those students found their first home in Grinnell with the Conards on Elm Street.
Otherwise, Conard continued her scholarship, telling the Scarlet and Black at the time of her retirement that she hoped to complete her study of the "Kingdom movement," a subject that returned her to some of her early research on religion. All the same, Conard must have seethed at the ways in which wartime America prospered. Little was heard from her in these last years, and apparently her health gradually deteriorated. Her obituary, announcing her November, 1946 death, noted that Conard had spent the last twenty-three months of her life in hospital before meeting the end of a "blameless life, full of good works." The obituary mentions her candidacy for governor in 1932, but no other attempts at elective office. Instead, it mentions her advocacy of various local groups—Uncle Sam's Club; Goodfellows; First Friends Church; PTA; and League of Women Voters. In addition, the obituary observes, "she was deeply interested in every movement for pacifism and against war, and to the fullest extent of her ability contributed to some fifty organizations for human betterment," thereby bringing "her own distinct contribution to the community which was her home for so many years."
|Conard's gravestone, Westfield Cemetery|