When the Invisible Empire Stormed the Front Range: The Reign of the 1920s Ku Klux Klan in Boulder County, Colorado, Aaron Fox
Link to Full Thesis: http://scholar.colorado.edu/honr_theses/994/
On the topic of the history of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado, historian Patricia Limerick says, “It is a cautionary tale. If we are not in denial of the power of the Klan in Colorado, we are better set up to be more honest about ourselves and who we are now” (Speer, 2017). This thesis explores the Boulder, Colorado Klan’s involvement in county politics and government in the 1920s. Boulder County has a long history of settlement by Latinos, who were targeted by the Klan, but this history remained largely untold until 2016. Because this thesis was written in 2015, it does not include extensive discussion of that history. For more information about treatment of Latinos by the Klan in Boulder County, see the Boulder County Latino History Project (http://bocolatinohistory.colorado.edu/) and Latinos of Boulder County, 1900-1980 by Marjorie K. McIntosh (http://bocolatinohistory.colorado.edu/sites/default/files/McIntosh-Latinos-Volume1.pdf–for specifics about Latinos’ experience with the Klan, see pages 109-126).
Works Cited: Speer, J. (Producer & Director). 2017. KKK. Colorado Experience. Retrieved from http://video.rmpbs.org/video/2365937256/.
During the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan reemerged in the United States. This second manifestation of the Invisible Empire spread from its traditional homeland in the South to almost every other region in the United States. It gained tremendous support through shrewd campaigning, using modern forms of advertising and by diagnosing local issues in communities and offering idealistic solutions. Racial superiority remained a part of the national platform, but other forms of intolerance came to the forefront. Anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, and nativism became segments of a larger “100 percent Americanism” ideology that the Klan hoped to spread throughout the country. Additionally, Klan leaders used a more conservative form of Protestantism to attract more moderately minded white men and women. Other issues that the Klan argued for were improved law and order, education reform, moral authoritarianism and civic engagement.
One area in Colorado, Boulder County, had significant Klan activity during the 1920s. The cities of Boulder, Lafayette and Longmont all had local Klan lodges. In different ways, the Invisible Empire’s ideology resonated with some inhabitants of the Boulder County. Unfortunately, this history has been relegated to a few paragraphs in local histories. This thesis analyzes the development of the Klan in each city and provides some preliminary reasons behind the Klan’s ascension and decline in the county.
Our cause is true Americanism. This means in all vital things a superior Christian civilization for America. Our destiny is the common welfare, materially and mentally, physically and spiritually, upon a plane high above any mankind has ever known. We have the heritage, the resources, the opportunity, for the achievement of the noblest and best in human happiness and power. Our crusade has that glorious goal.
—Hiram Wesley Evans, former Imperial Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
On October 24, 1923, Hiram Wesley Evans, the national leader (Imperial Wizard) of the Ku Klux Klan gave this address to commemorate Klan Day at the Texas state fair in Dallas and to outline one of the Ku Klux Klan’s basic tenets: immigration restriction. Evans’s audience included thousands of Klansmen and women who had gathered to celebrate the Klan’s expansion and astounding rise in popularity.
It may be difficult to imagine the Ku Klux Klan, a secretive organization that is primarily characterized as a group of Southern, bigoted white men parading around in sheets and burning crosses, as a mainstream political and social force at any point in United States history. In fact, the Klan in the 1920s gained tangible power in state and local politics and, during its peak, boasted between three and six million members. Three major national conditions gave the Klan an ideal opportunity to spread throughout the United States. First, this second version of the Klan became an outlet for white, Protestant men and women who faced an assortment of social and cultural divisions that had spread throughout the post-World War I United States. These issues included Prohibition, immigration, and a so-called deterioration of social values, labor conflict, and religious conservatism. Additionally, a national economic recession hit the United States after World War I primarily because the European demand for American agricultural and manufactured goods decreased substantially. Finally, and perhaps most opaquely, the Klan mirrored some of the mystical and social elements of such popular fraternal organizations as the Odd Fellows, Masons, and Kiwanis.
The Klan during this time often ostentatiously exploited these feelings of unease to argue vehemently against many fundamental qualities of the United States. Hiram Wesley Evans and the national leaders of the Klan in the 1920s also used these criticisms to energize their campaign and broaden the appeal of the organization to as many white, Protestant men and women as they could. Again, contrary to popular belief, they succeeded in expanding their hooded order across the United States. One analysis found that seven of the ten states that reported the highest number of Klan events lay outside of the South--the Klan’s traditional homeland. Several scholars have provided lengthy analyses of the national Klan during the 1920s that highlight the adaptability and strength of the movement. These analyses provide valuable overviews, which help frame the Klan as a national movement. Some have also studied individual states to determine the Klan’s successes and failures at a more regional level. Colorado, for example, became the stronghold of Klan support in the Rocky Mountain West. With approximately 35,000 members, the Colorado Klan, for a time, effectively wove itself into the social fabric of the state.
Along with statewide investigations, other scholars have examined smaller, more obscure communities to better gauge how the Klan operated and attracted followers. Within Colorado, one community in particular has received scant study: Boulder County. During the 1920s, Boulder County did not escape the spread of Klandom. Instead, the Klan, with relative ease, infiltrated the local governments and/or spread throughout the towns of Boulder, Lafayette and Longmont. These three towns provide excellent case studies into the reasons behind the Klan’s ascendance and swift demise. A local study like this offers an opportunity to compare the Klan’s development in three geographically-close yet diverse, unique areas that were all influenced by the Invisible Empire. The main questions that arise from a community study like this include: How did the Klan operate in each city? Why did it proceed? What are the notable similarities and differences between the klaverns (local Klan chapters) in each city? Why did each Klan experience a rapid demise? Through the use of secondary works and primary sources from the era, one can begin to answer these questions. Klan members typically concealed their identities, so analyzing this movement required a methodology based on newspaper records, oral histories, Klan literature and secondary sources. Moreover, the sources examined spoke of klaverns in other smaller towns and cities such as Erie, Louisville and Nederland. I chose to focus on Boulder, Lafayette and Longmont because they were the three most populated cities and the resources available only briefly mentioned Klan activity in other communities in Boulder County.
Today, an observer would be hard-pressed to imagine the Ku Klux Klan operating in Boulder County. The city of Boulder is often described as a far left-leaning community where cultural pluralism is encouraged. Lafayette boasts similar political and social tendencies, while Longmont could be characterized as more politically moderate, but still generally as a socially liberal city. Boulder County during the 1920s, however, proved to be an appropriate community for various forms of Klan activity because the social, political and economic landscapes of the county varied dramatically from those of the present day. Indeed, hundreds of Boulder County inhabitants joined the KKK during the 1920s.
The violence and bigotry perpetrated by the Klan throughout its history should not be understated. There is no doubt that the Klan used brutal methods to propagate its hateful agenda, and one should not disregard this element of the organization. A similar perspective, to an extent, should be used when analyzing the KKK in Boulder County. One former resident of Lafayette described an instance when the editor of the Lafayette Leader, the primary newspaper in Lafayette during the 1920s, was taken to the edge of town and threatened because of an anti-Klan editorial he had written. The Klan in Boulder County still utilized these fear tactics to target people who did not fit the “100 percent American” profile the Klan so vehemently argued for; that is, Klansmen and women aimed their acrimonious rhetoric and actions against people of color, Catholics, Jews and immigrants.
At the same time, one should not simply dismiss the movement as a case of “backward,” people propagating fanatical ideologies. Although their mission would be abhorred by people professing mainstream modern standards, nativism and racial intolerance were not exclusively extremist viewpoints during the 1920s. In 1921, for example, a Republican congressman from Washington, Albert Johnson, remarked that “abnormally twisted, unassailable Jews...filthy, un-American and often dangerous in their habits” threatened to overwhelm the country. One author notes that the restrictionist, anti-immigration policies of the 1920s not only severely hindered the opportunities of immigrants, but that they “did so in a blatantly racist way that perpetuated old injustices and created new ones, which endured for decades.”
The increase in nativist sentiment throughout the United States coincided with other severe cultural and societal clashes. Supposed sexual deviance, Prohibition, urban sprawl, conservative Protestantism, the decline of Progressivism, and the rise of conservatism all became tinder for passionate debates throughout the United States. Boulder County was not immune to these fiery disputes and many residents wrestled with these issues. By 1882, for example, the city of Boulder had eighteen saloons operating within city limits. Twenty-five years later, a city ordinance outlawed the consumption and sale of alcohol. It would take another sixty years for Boulder to reverse the ordinance and officially become a wet city again. These types of debates spread throughout the county and made it an ideal recruiting ground for the 1920s version of the Klan. Additionally, as will be discussed later, each klavern operated with autonomy and attempted to carry out both idealistic and concrete policies. The policies that the Boulder klavern envisioned, for example, may have differed from or aligned with those of the Longmont or Lafayette klaverns. At different points in time, the various Boulder County Klan members sought change through the traditional political system and through extralegal methods. Moreover, evidence underscores an equally important element of the 1920s Klan: that it attracted people who wanted the thrill of joining a mystical, secretive organization. As a result of the genuinely entertaining value of the Klan, members most likely considered it to be a leisure-filled activity, rather than an obligatory responsibility. Through its dexterous political and social advertising, the Klan drew support from a large constituency throughout the United States, Colorado and Boulder County. A closer examination of Klan operations in Boulder County emphasizes the Klan’s appeal for law and order, conservative Protestantism, nativism, solidarity among Protestant businesses, and civic-minded reform.
II. The Klan in Colorado:
As the preeminent economic and social center in the Rocky Mountain West, Colorado would become an integral part of the national Klan during the 1920s. Its topographical layout would initially, however, make it seem like a difficult place for the Klan to spread. Characterized by treeless plains to the east and the majestic Rocky Mountains to the west, Colorado lured cattle ranchers and crop-growing farmers who dispersed throughout the state. But Colorado underwent an urban surge during the early 1900s that caused an influx of industries and businesses to pop up throughout the state. Along with this economic and demographic expansion that increased the viability of the Klan in Colorado, the state’s nativist history laid a foundation for the Klan’s growth.
By the 1840s, nativism and anti-Catholicism had materialized through ballot boxes throughout the United States. A tradition of Protestant domination and a rush of immigrants from countries like Germany and Ireland caused a wave of fear and targeted discrimination towards newcomers. Aggressive nativist sentiment morphed into a political entity with the creation of the Know-Nothing Party during the 1850s. It shared many qualities with the second Klan, including a meteoric rise and precipitous fall. Moreover, it was a “highly secretive, ritualistic, fraternal order.” Members of the Know-Nothing party emphatically denounced the Catholic Church and any Papal control over traditionally American institutions like schools and government. As a third party, the Know-Nothings were unable to sustain political victories achieved during the 1854 and 1855 elections. Additionally, the Know-Nothings were affected by the same political ineptness that plagued the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s. As the progenitor of an anti-Catholic, nativist tradition, it would heavily influence the political landscape in the United States for decades.
After [founder of the second Ku Klux Klan Colonel William J.] Simmons’ visit, Klan leaders in Colorado naturally identified Denver as the premier location for a state headquarters. Boasting over 25,000 inhabitants, Denver was far more populous than the surrounding communities in the Front Range. Like the center of a black hole, the Denver Klan’s gravitational pull exerted the most influence on the counties that were the closest geographically. The diffusion of urbanized areas in Colorado made it an ideal situation for Klandom to spread quickly. Situated only 30 miles from Boulder, Denver was relatively close to the other urban areas in Colorado including Greeley (54 miles), Colorado Springs (70 miles) and Pueblo (112 miles). This close proximity allowed for Boulder County to be tremendously influenced by Denver. This intrinsic connection, however, did not cause all of the Boulder County klaverns to become homogenized clones of Denver’s klaverns.
III. The “Athens of the West”: The Klan in the City of Boulder:
The fact that the three cities examined in this thesis--Boulder, Lafayette and Longmont--each had a functioning klavern in the 1920s speaks to the Klan’s considerable flexibility. Before the Klan arrived in Boulder County, each city had distinct characteristics, which clearly distinguished them from one another. As with any community, various factors converged to shape the identities of each of the three cities. The University of Colorado, for example, heavily influenced Boulder. Coal mining became the staple economic force in Lafayette, and agricultural crops like sugar beets brought people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds to Longmont. More than anything, state Klan leaders saw Boulder County as a community in which it could appeal to conservative Protestantism, civic activism and moral authoritarianism.
On a national scale, scholars have hesitated to reduce support of the Klan to purely economic factors. Macro-level analyses discuss the agricultural recession driven by the end of World War I. Within a community the size of Boulder, however, one can see that attempts were made to create a well-incorporated economic network among Protestants. In addition, writers for the Rocky Mountain American professed support for the active enforcement of Prohibition and the implementation of Protestantism within public schooling. All of these themes coalesced into an underlying message of “100 percent Americanism.” In one editorial, Francis devotes a significant amount of space to denouncing opponents of the Klan, “an organization which stands for 100% Americanism and speaks for the great majority of Christian Americans.”. Combining ultra-patriotic idealism with mainstream Protestant beliefs became a recurring theme in the publication.
This thesis should not be characterized as alarmist. It should, however, be a reminder that few communities have impeccable pasts. Boulder County is not immune to scrutiny and its past should be carefully analyzed. Even though the 1920s Ku Klux Klan is no longer depicted as an unconditionally extremist organization, its principles were still steeped in intolerance, prejudice and exclusion. These events should not be confined to a few lines in a folksy history of Boulder County; it should be visible for all to see, even if there are seemingly invisible forces at work.
Dr. H.W. Evans, The Menace of Modern Immigration (Dallas, Texas: October 24, 1923), 3.
Shawn Lay, Invisible Empire in the West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 19.
Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty!: An American History (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009), 741; and Robert Alan Goldberg, Hooded Empire: The Ku Klux Klan in Colorado (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), vii.
Rory McVeigh, The Rise of the Ku Klux Klan: Right-Wing Movements and National Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 15.
Roger Daniels, Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882 (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004), 48.
Blanche Moon, interview by Anne Dyni, 1990, Maria Rogers Oral History Program, Carnegie Library for Local History, Boulder, CO.
Phyllis Smith, A Look at Boulder: From Settlement to City (Boulder, CO: Pruett Publishing Company, 1981), 155.
Carla Joan Atchison, “Nativism in Colorado Politics: The American Protective Association and the Ku Klux Klan” (MA thesis, University of Colorado at Boulder, 1972), 17.
Goldberg, Hooded Empire, 5.
John B. Schoolland, Boulder in Perspective: From Search for Gold to The Gold of Research, (Boulder, CO: Johnson Publishing Company, 1980), 176
Unsigned editorial, Rocky Mountain American, February 27, 1925.
I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.
—Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
In today’s age of digital technology, the nearly ubiquitous presence of recording devices has become a fact of modern life. Criminals performing illegal activities are caught on tape. Abuses by police officers are filmed by passersby or by mandatory body cameras. Pictures and videos are hosted by social media platforms that create a unique experience of global interconnectedness. At the same time, today’s governmental agencies have unprecedented access—legal or otherwise—to the private data of their citizens’ lives. Recent leaks by whistleblowers have shown the rampant and widespread nature of these civil liberties abuses, and more people are becoming aware that our government is not the benevolent entity it often proclaims itself to be. With the advent of the internet, individuals from all over the world may now access, study, and share information with unparalleled ease.
On March 13, 1997, an event known as the Phoenix Lights occurred over Phoenix, Arizona. Between the hours of 7:30pm and 10:30pm, thousands of residents witnessed two Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) events: an enormous V-shaped object flying silently overhead and a group of strange lights hovering in the sky. Unlike mass sightings in the past, the Phoenix Lights was captured on video, preemptively disproving any possible claims of mass hysteria or mistaken witnesses. This was not the case when the UFO phenomenon took center stage in the 1940s and 1950s. Initially, unidentified flying objects garnered marked interest by the United States Air Force, which even admitted concern to the press. As the number of sightings continued to rise, especially in the late 1940s and 1950s, the official stance shifted from one of interest to one of denial. Great steps were taken by the Air Force to discredit the UFO phenomenon, though many of the events were never officially disproven or resolved. Instead, the official position concerning UFO events, and the relevant policies, reveal a concerted effort to cover up information and skew public perception—an idea that was perhaps difficult to fathom at the time, though easier to accept today.
Ancient Accounts and Modern Sightings
If “they” discover you, it is an old but hardly invalid rule of thumb, “they” are your technological superiors.
—NSA analyst and author, 1968
Throughout human history there have been innumerable reports of strange objects in the sky. Biblical texts speak of a chariot of fire ascending into the heavens. Vedic texts describe ancient aerial warships called vimanas. Indigenous cultures throughout the world describe visitation from unknown objects in the sky—the Hopi in North America, the Dogon in Africa, the Inca in South America, the Aboriginals of Australia, and the list goes on. Indeed, artwork spanning the ages is replete with depictions of flying anomalies, though whether these are the same types of unidentified objects seen today is impossible to say. Still, worldwide accounts of flying objects before the advent of modern aviation are odd occurrences worth noting.
For the purposes of this study, we will begin our UFO analysis with the foo fighter sightings during World War II. “Foo fighters” was the term given to unexplained aerial phenomena encountered by pilots during the war. These entities were typically described as “balls of light,” and scores of pilots from various nations witnessed seeing—even, interacting—with these strange objects. Pilot Lieutenant Meiers had this to say: “When I first saw the things off my wing tips, I had the horrible thought that a German on the ground was ready to press a button and explode them. But they don’t explode or attack us. They just seem to follow us like will-o’-the-wisps.”1 Another pilot, Lieutenant Wallace Gould, reported a set of lights that followed his plane before soaring to 20,000 feet in a matter of seconds.2 Similar accounts flooded in from around the world, many speculating that the foo fighters were under intelligent control.
Aerial warfare during War World II was at unprecedented high, in terms of both technology and secrecy. While the United States was covertly developing the atom bomb, under the Manhattan Project, German and Russian engineers and scientists were busy developing their own cutting-edge weaponry. In fact, secrecy was considered so vital to national security that for more than two years the Manhattan Project was unknown to a single member of Congress, despite a final cost of over $2 billion.3 Indeed, the foo fighter phenomenon was initially considered a form of secret enemy weaponry, with some even speculating the lights constituted psychological warfare since “it is not the nature of the fire-balls to attack planes.”4 Whatever the case, the unidentified flying objects were discussed openly with the public, as both civilians and military personnel struggled to determine the origin of the dexterously maneuvering lights.
Public discourse on UFO phenomena by Air Force officials was short-lived. In July 1947, the Roswell Incident—perhaps the most widely publicized UFO story—occurred in Roswell, New Mexico. Countless books and articles have been written about the crash in the desert, though whether the downed object was a weather balloon or some other flying object remains the source of controversy. It is unlikely that conflicting accounts by civilian and military personnel will ever be resolved publicly. Secrecy is key to national interests, so authorities say, and official policy has been to rebuff any further inquiries into the matter. In fact, just weeks after the Roswell incident President Truman signed the National Security Act, thereby establishing the Central Intelligence Agency—an institution now known for organizing foreign coups, torturing prisoners, facilitating the drug trade, spying on citizens, and even committing egregious human rights violations with programs like Project MK-Ultra. Interestingly, Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter, the first Director of the CIA (1947-1950), was also among the first advocates for public disclosure of governmental information concerning UFOs, even serving on the Board of Governors for the non-profit National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP).5
Project Sign, Psychology, and Radar
It is a mistake to believe that a science consists in nothing but conclusively proved propositions, and it is unjust to demand that it should. It is a demand only made by those who feel a craving for authority in some form and a need to replace the religious catechism by something else, even if it be a scientific one.
Before the founding of NICAP and other civilian organizations, the government instituted its own group to collect and analyze UFO reports: Project Sign. In September 1947, the chief of the Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC) sent a letter to the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces urging him to establish a permanent project to investigate UFO reports.6 The Commanding General granted ATIC’s request and launched Project Sign. Initially, ATIC, one of the most highly specialized intelligence units in the Air Force, believed that reported UFOs were real. The riddle they hoped to solve was whether the UFOs were of Russian or interplanetary origin.7 After further analysis, the maneuvering capabilities of the reported UFOs were understood to be so advanced that many of the ATIC members who believed the objects to be of Russian origin still thought the Russian advancements were coming from “some unknown race with a highly developed state of technology [that] could build such vehicles.”8 Despite thorough investigations from competent personnel, top military brass were not readily acceptant of Project Sign’s notions of interplanetary vehicles.
In December 1949, after nearly two years of investigating UFO reports, Project Sign was terminated, though the Air Force discreditation campaign was just beginning. In an official press release, the Air Force claimed “there is no evidence the [UFO] reports are not the results of natural phenomena.”9 The announcement further claimed that all reported UFOs resulted from one of three things: misinterpretation of conventional objects, mass hysteria, or hoaxes.10 A secret memo from General Nathan Twining USAF reveals quite a different assessment:
The phenomenon reported is something real and not visionary or fictitious. . . . The reported operating characteristics such as extreme rates of climb, maneuverability (particularly in roll), and action which must be considered evasive when sighted or contacted by friendly aircraft and radar, lend belief to the possibility that some of the objects are controlled either manually, automatically or remotely.11 [emphasis in text]
A declassified memo from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover unveils another angle of deception occurring far from the public eye, this time pertaining to the Roswell crash: “We must insist upon full access to discs recovered . . . the army grabbed it and would not let us have it for cursory examination.”12 How could Hoover be requesting access to discs when the official story claimed the wreckage was downed weather balloons? Whatever these flying entities were, they were certainly real and not explainable as conventional objects.
Explaining UFOs as a type of mass psychological phenomenon was another broad dismissal tactic that gained traction with the public. Unwittingly perhaps, historians like William Graebner have latched onto the idea that widespread Cold War anxiety manifested itself publicly in the form of UFOs and other strange sightings.13 Renowned psychologist Carl Jung, a far better expert on the matter than most historians, thought otherwise. As Jung notes in his book Flying Saucers, “it was the purpose of this essay to treat the UFOs primarily as a psychological phenomenon. . . . Unfortunately, however, there are good reasons why the UFOs cannot be disposed of in this simple manner.”14 He then explains that “it remains an established fact, supported by numerous observations, that UFOs have not only been seen visually but have also been picked up on the radar screen and have left traces on the photographic plate.”15 He concludes this passage by allowing that UFOs could still be a psychological phenomenon if “psychic projections throw back a radar echo.”16 Due to the extensive nature of Jung’s analysis, and his public declarations of UFO validity, this final line appears more tongue-in-cheek than serious. The point is this: UFOs cannot be categorically dismissed as a form of public hysteria.
To understand how radar played a role in confirming the physical existence of unidentified objects flying in the sky, let us look at two cases. Although there is a veritable cornucopia of similar stories from credible witnesses, one such account took place on the night of January 28, 1953 near Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. A pilot on his return to base noticed an extremely bright light that did not appear to be a star. After checking his fuel levels, he decided to approach the light to determine its source. As he neared the light, he noticed that it did not appear to be a plane either. Instead, the massive glowing light began changing colors, cycling from white to red. When he was nearly upon the object, he was finally able to see the triangular shape of the craft—and, in fact, it appeared to split into two triangular crafts, which disappeared in classic UFO manner: “It was just like someone turning off a light – it’s there, then it’s gone.”17 Turning back to base, the pilot radioed ground station to announce his approach but was interrupted by the ground operator who told him he had watched the UFO chase on radar.18
Accounts like these are not limited to military personnel. A New York Times headline from July 22, 1952 reads, “Flying Objects near Washington [DC] Spotted by Both Pilots and Radar.” The article details events from the prior night, during which a series of UFOs passed near the nation’s capital. A seventeen-year veteran pilot of Capital Airlines spotted the objects, describing them as “like falling stars without the tails.”19 The Washington National Airport air traffic control center reported that “its radar operators had picked up eight of the slow-moving objects around midnight last Saturday.”20 Civilians who were in the area also reported seeing the “saucers.” According to witnesses, the objects were “silvery in color, tinged with red on the rims, [and] were flying in a ‘V’ formation of five.”21 In the words of one local, “I almost fainted when I looked up at the sky and saw what looked to me like five large dinner plates flying through the sky.” And another: “They gave off a glow and didn’t make a sound.”22
The day following this sighting, the Air Force was uncharacteristically quiet, claiming that “no sightings were reported by ‘Operation Skywatch,’ the round-the-clock ground-observer operation now underway around the northern arc of the United States.”23 Almost a week later, however, similar UFOs were sighted in the same Washington DC area by both man and radar, prompting the Air Force to scramble interceptor jets. Despite a two-hour delay in getting the planes off the ground, “one pilot reported seeing ‘lights’ that he had not been able to overtake.”24 Pressed to comment on the recent flurry of UFO activity, the Air Force maintained a non-committal position: “It still did not know whether any such thing as a ‘saucer’ existed.”25 Although the existence of some type of unidentified aerial vehicles was hard to deny, the Air Force in 1952 had still not solidified its ultimate stance on the phenomenon: one of categorical denial.
Project Blue Book, NICAP, Official Policy and Controversy
The first rule in keeping secrets is “nothing on paper.”
—CIA Director Richard Helms
In February 1949, Project Sign was phased out and Project Grudge began. Little changed in operational policy: “the project was to continue to investigate and evaluate reports of sightings of unidentified flying objects.”26 Captain Edward J. Ruppelt—who would later head Project Blue Book, Project Grudge’s successor operation—describes the project change as a type of personnel shake up. Members of Project Sign, top intelligence specialists from ATIC, were “purged” from the operation. Ruppelt describes the ensuing period as “The Dark Ages,” a time in which Project Grudge personnel engaged in a “two phase program of UFO annihilation.”27 According to Ruppelt, “the first phase consisted of explaining every UFO report. The second phase was to tell the public how the Air Force had solved all the UFO sightings.”28 Solving each case would eliminate the unidentified nature of the objects in question, thereby eliminating the UFO phenomenon as a whole. Unfortunately for the Air Force, this would prove no easy feat.
After less than a year, Project Grudge was phased out. Its legacy, however, is the massive report titled “Unidentified Flying Objects Project Grudge,” Technical Report No. 102-AC-49/15-IOO. Typically referred to as “the Grudge Report,” this 600-plus page document was ostensibly a case-by-case inspection of all reported UFO cases. The most noteworthy aspects of this document are its conclusions:
1. Evaluation of reports of unidentified flying objects constitute no direct threat to the national security of the United States.
2. Reports of unidentified flying objects are the result of:
a. A mild form of mass hysteria or "war nerves."
b. Individuals who fabricate such reports to perpetrate a hoax or seek publicity.
c. Psychopathological persons.
d. Misidentification of various conventional objects.29
With this document, the era of categorical denial was ushered in. As Ruppelt points out, a note attached to the bottom of the report indicates the Air Force was unwilling to change their stance, regardless of future inquiries: “It is readily apparent that further study along present lines would only confirm the findings presented herein.”30
It was with this new, unwavering position that Project Blue Book was introduced. Although Ruppelt’s 1956 book The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects is an invaluable firsthand account of Project Blue Book operations, his conclusions regarding the capitulation of UFO believers fail to capture the range of dissent. In his words, “the anti-saucer faction was born because of an old psychological trait, people don't like to be losers. To be a loser makes one feel inferior and incompetent.”31 Certainly, pressure from peers and superiors is enough to make one rethink one’s position, and—undoubtedly—this happened within the UFO community. Still, there is evidence that not everyone yielded to pressure and surrendered his beliefs. In fact, many high-ranking figures were determined to keep UFO investigations public, eschewing official rhetoric.
Perhaps the most outspoken critic of the spreading government cover-up was Major Donald Keyhoe, retired Marine Corps naval aviator and cofounder of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena. Keyhoe wrote several books during the 1950s and 1960s that documented inconsistencies between reported UFO data and official responses and policies. His personal and professional connections also gave him nearly unparalleled access to inside information, at least from a civilian perspective. The information Keyhoe presents is well-cited by most modern UFO researchers, and, indeed, his perspective was highly valued by his contemporaries, as well—for example, Ruppelt and Jung. As Director of NICAP, Keyhoe had a consortium of prominent figures working to secure disclosure of UFO information, including Vice-Admiral Hillenkoetter, former Director of the CIA; Dr. Earl Douglass, religious writer and columnist; Major Dewey Fournet, former Pentagon monitor of the Air Force project; J.B. Hartranft, President of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association; Colonel R.B. Emerson, U.S. Army Reserve, Frank Edwards, TV and radio commentator; Professor Charles Maney, physicist, Defiance University; Rear Admiral H.B. Knowles, USN, Ret.; and a host of rocket and space experts, flight surgeons, astronomers, aeronautical engineers, electronic experts, and pilots of all varieties.32 In short, NICAP was a formidable organization with an impressive list of members.
NICAP was founded as a non-profit, private organization in 1956, and by the end of the decade it had amassed a membership that covered all fifty states and thirty foreign countries.33 And, despite whatever the Air Force may have wished to the contrary, UFO sightings continued to pour in across the country—and the world. In order to combat the continued emergence of new reports, the Air Force issued two directives aimed at silencing witnesses by threatening legal punishment: JANAP 146 and AFR 200-2. This raises the question: if UFOs could be easily explained as common occurrences, then why all the secrecy? Carl Jung had this to say about official policies: “What astonishes me is that the American Air Force, despite all the information in its so-called fear of creating panic[,] seems to work systematically to that very thing. It has never yet published an authentic and certain account of the facts.”34 In other words, open and honest communication by the government would foster public trust, but the secretive and punitive nature of Air Force regulations had the opposite effect.
Joint-Army-Navy-Air-Publication (JANAP) 146 was first issued in 1949, though the directive underwent a number of revisions over the years. This order, under the subheading CIRVIS (Communication Instructions for Reporting Vital Intelligence Sightings), was meant to clamp down on reports of UFO sightings being leaked to the public. Directed specifically at pilots—military, naval, and even airline personnel—this order instructed that UFO sightings be immediately relayed from anywhere in the world to a predetermined emergency station. It was forbidden to discuss the subsequent reports with anyone in the public, with infractions punishable by fines and imprisonment. JANAP 146 also “[muzzled] all members of the Defense Department, the CAA, the Civil Aeronautics Board, and any other agency involved with CIRVIS reports.”35 Punishment could even be extended to private citizens if they violated any aspect of the order. Even before 1950, an official UFO blackout was underway.
AFR 200-2, another government directive, was first introduced in August 1953. Like JANAP 146, this order was meant to restrict public access to UFO information. Perhaps the most telling passage in this regulation is Section B-9: “[I]nformation regarding a sighting may be released to the press or the general public by the commander of the Air Force base concerned only if it has been positively identified as a familiar or known object.36 [emphasis in text] Essentially, all official press releases would dispel rumors of UFO activity because each disclosed sighting would be accounted for as an identified object, while unidentified objects would remain under wraps. Another key passage in this regulation is Section A-3: “Since the possibility cannot be ignored that UFOs reported may be hostile or new foreign air vehicles of unconventional design, it is imperative that sightings be reported rapidly, factually, and as completely as possible.”37 Clearly, this section contradicts the Air Force’s public position of categorical deniability, showing marked interest in UFO activity and the potential threat to national security.
Six years later, the UFO phenomenon continued to plague the U.S. government, and in December 1959, the Air Force Inspector General issued special instructions to Operation and Training commands. Under the heading “UFO’s Serious Business,” the opening passage reads:
Unidentified flying objects—sometimes treated lightly by the press and referred to as “flying saucers”—must be rapidly and accurately identified as serious USAF business . . . As AFR 200-2 points out, the Air Force concern with these sightings is threefold: First of all, is the object a threat to the defense of the U.S.? Secondly, does it contribute to technical or scientific knowledge? And then there’s the inherent USAF responsibility to explain to the American people through public-information media what is going on in their skies.38
Ironically, much of the “light treatment” by the press was a result of official dismissiveness—the Air Force even labeling UFOs as “jokes” in public—and stigmatization of believers as misinformed at best, kooks at worst.39 As this document reveals, government officials took the UFO phenomenon seriously, in terms of both national security and as a potential for technological and scientific advancement. Although the final instructional point also suggests a benevolent responsibility on the part of Air Force representatives to keep the public abreast of UFO activity, the official rhetoric rarely strayed from one of deniability.
This information only became public in 1960 after a whistleblower leaked the Inspector General’s warning to the Senate Space Committee. A Washington Post article from the time notes, “The big-name privately financed Committee [NICAP] accuses the Air Force of deception in publicity describing unidentified flying object reports as delusions and hoaxes while sending private admonition to its commands.”40 Indeed, many in the UFO community voiced their displeasure with the contradictory nature of the Air Force’s public and private positions regarding the phenomena. As documents like AFR 200-2, JANAP 146, and the Inspector General’s warning became public, more people began to question the official policy line. Hillenkoetter understood—perhaps as only a former CIA Director could—that despite the Air Force’s public façade of nonchalance, “behind the scenes, high-ranking Air Force officers are soberly concerned about the UFOs.”41
Suppression, Obfuscation, and Obsoletion
Absolute power has no necessity to lie, it may be silent—while responsible governments obliged to speak not only disguise the truth, but lie with effrontery.
In 1958, Keyhoe was asked to appear alongside Air Force officials on the CBS’ Armstrong Circle Theater documentary show “UFO (Unidentified Flying Objects)—The Enigma of the Skies.” Despite a valid attempt at impartiality by Armstrong Theater staff, Keyhoe asserts that pressure from the Air Force “amounted to censorship of my script,” the content of which included publicly disclosing four secret Air Force documents and revealing publicly the punitively-binding regulations AFR 200-2 and JANAP 146.42 Before taping, Air Force officials warned the program staff that “if [Keyhoe] were permitted to make [his] disclosure, the AF would deny the documents’ existence. If necessary, they would also denounce the quoted source—their own former Project Chief [Ruppelt].”43 When Keyhoe went ahead with his planned script, his microphone was turned off mid-disclosure and CBS switchboards lit up across the country—why was Keyhoe being silenced? In response to Keyhoe’s assertions of Air Force secrecy, Major General Kelly USAF wrote a public letter to Keyhoe claiming the Department of Defense’s latest fact sheet on UFOs “reaffirms the United States Air Force position as to the non-existence of flying saucers” and “allegations that the United States Air Force withheld information on flying saucer reports are entirely in error.”44 Almost a year later, the Inspector General’s “UFO’s Serious Business” would become private official policy, directly contradicting Kelly’s public claim of UFO non-existence.
Major Keyhoe was not the only high-ranking official being stonewalled in the 1950s. After three years as Project Chief for Blue Book, Captain Ruppelt found himself in a precarious position after the Robertson Panel ruling. The Robertson Panel was a 1953 CIA-sponsored investigation into the findings of Project Blue Book, which noted “the lack of sound data in the great majority of cases, and concluded that most sightings could be reasonably explained if more data were available.”45 When the Grudge Report had come out four years earlier, a similar assertion had been made: most sightings could be explained. What neither conclusion addressed were the unexplained sightings—the “unknowns” as they were called; even if ninety percent of 10,000 cases were solved, that left 1,000 cases of unidentified objects. Dr. Thornton Page, a Robertson Panel scientist, would later admit that the panel “‘tended to ignore the five percent or ten percent [sic] of UFO reports that are highly reliable and have not as yet been explained.’”46
Years after this admission, Page provided further explanation: “H.P. Robertson told us in the first private (no outsiders) session that our job was to reduce public concern, and show that UFO reports could be explained by conventional reasoning.”47 In other words, this spy agency-backed panel was working toward a predetermined outcome, rather than simply seeking the truth. Here is what Ruppelt told Keyhoe about the process:
We’re ordered to hide sightings when possible, but if a strong report does get out we have to publish a fast explanation—make up something to kill the report in a hurry, and also ridicule the witness, especially if we can’t figure out a plausible answer. We even have to discredit our own pilots. It’s a raw deal, but we can’t buck the CIA. The whole thing makes me sick—I’m thinking of putting in for inactive.48
Indeed, Ruppelt was off the project within the year. And despite the flurry of UFO activity in 1952—particularly the disconcerting series of “flaps” around Washington, D.C.—the Robertson Panel findings effectively silenced the governmental UFO community. A new policy was put in place: debunk sightings and deter public interest, regardless of data.
After Ruppelt’s exit, the Project Blue Book staff was reduced from ten to three, and its UFO investigations became cursory procedures—rarely delving too deeply into any mysteries. Military orders—like AFR 200-2 and JANAP 146—threatened severe punishment for individuals who made their sightings public; indeed, official sightings dropped dramatically. At the same time, a CIA-enforced public debunking program was put in place to lull the public back into unquestioning acceptance of whatever governmental position was offered—in this case, the categorical public dismissal of the UFO phenomenon. These implementations did little to reduce the number of sightings—and evidence abounds of continued sightings from around the world up through the present moment—but they did manage to alter public perception. As the government solidified its position, fewer mainstream media sources challenged the proffered narrative, and individuals who did come forward were often ridiculed or disbelieved. In effect, the government program of silence was working.
To condemn a thing thus, dogmatically, as false and impossible, is to assume the distinction of knowing the bounds and limits of God’s will and of the power of our mother Nature. . . . It is dangerous and presumptuous, besides the absurd temerity that it implies, to disdain what we do not comprehend.
—Michel de Montaigne, “Measuring the True and False”
After nearly two decades of collecting UFO data, Project Blue Book ended in 1969. The impetus for its cessation was based on the findings of two government-sponsored programs: the Condon Committee and the University of Colorado’s “Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects.” Much like the Robertson Panel conclusions, the findings of these two groups were, at the time, cited as ostensible proof of the nonexistence of UFOs, and, as with the Robertson Panel, information would surface years later evidencing that predetermined conclusions had been reached by biased members of the committees.49 By this point, the government had already succeeded in tamping down public interest in the unexplained aerial phenomena, and official reports publishing foregone conclusions came as little surprise to those familiar with the topic. In a sense, the cover-up was a success—though the persistent UFOs still did not go away.
The 1940s and 1950s large-scale UFO sightings coincided with a period of dramatic technological advancement—particularly in the field of aviation. Aerial warfare in World War II was at its peak, and sightings of foo fighters were reported by numerous pilots of various nationalities. Before the invention of the U-2 spy plane in the mid-1950s and the SR-71 Blackbird in the mid-1960s, there was little doubt by military leaders around the globe that the flying capabilities of UFOs were indeed “otherworldly.” As aviation technology advanced rapidly in the post-World War II era, it is safe to assume that many unidentified aerial objects could be explained by natural phenomena or by newly developed aeronautics. Still, scores of UFOs were reported by credible witnesses, including veteran pilots and astronauts—even two U.S. presidents—and corroborated by radar evidence, perhaps even physical evidence. Although attempts to dismiss UFO sightings as a type of psychological phenomenon did gain traction in the media, researchers in the field, like Dr. Carl Jung, disputed such a broad contention.50
When UFOs arrived en masse in the mid-1940s, many believed the cause was nuclear weaponry. To be sure, numerous UFO sightings occur in areas known for nuclear testing, and reports of UFO activity over military instillations harboring nuclear weapons have been made by scores of military personnel. Given the currently available public information, determining the origin and motivation of UFO activity is reduced largely to conjecture. It is clear from leaked government documents that national security has always been a concern with unexplainable phenomena. Interestingly, in the 1959 Inspector General’s order, analyzing UFOs for possible scientific and technical knowledge was a secondary priority. This raises the question: would the government share any knowledge gleaned from UFO activity? Would it reveal any secrets if a craft were ever recovered? Regardless of what a citizen living in the 1950s would answer, most people today would probably say no. Given the current state of American global surveillance, widespread American hegemony, and the increasing amount of liberty-eroding American legislation, few individuals are delusional enough to believe in the unmitigated benevolence of the American government.
As the number of UFO sightings increased in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, official policy turned the UFO contingent into a group of outsiders. Many civilians no longer felt compelled to share their experiences, and most military personnel were convinced the punishment was not worth the disclosure. At the same time, CIA-backed disinformation disseminated through the strata of American society, and as it did, UFO questioning took on a more mocking tone. In this sense Ruppelt was right: UFO believers now belonged to the loser camp, and nobody wanted to be a loser. Debunking UFOs was no longer a question of analyzing facts, it was simply dismissing the notion without investigation—or worse, with ad hominem attacks. To borrow from historian David Jacobs, a truism began to emerge:
All debunkers make one or more of three fundamental mistakes: They do not know the evidence, they ignore the evidence, or they distort the evidence. Any one of these errors would be catastrophic and perhaps even scientifically dishonest when writing about something of accepted scientific consequence. Leaving in mistakes is tantamount to ignoring or to distorting the evidence. Unfortunately, when it comes to [UFO activity], all debunkers comply with the evidence truism. There are no exceptions.51
By the end of Project Blue Book, the Air Force had created a nearly airtight apparatus that could deflect UFO sightings with ease.
The reverberations of this UFO cover-up are still felt today. When John Podesta, senior advisor to President Obama, left his position in 2015, he had this to say about UFOs via twitter: “My biggest failure of 2014: Once again not securing the [disclosure] of UFO files.” 52 A newspaper article discussing this tweet also had a comment from Stephen Bassett, longtime UFO researcher and lobbyist:
In order for the truth embargo to end, the president must go to the Pentagon and they have to cut a deal, where the Pentagon gets assurances from the White House about how disclosure will take place, how the post-disclosure period will be conducted. . . . And the president has to get confirmation from the Pentagon that when he announces the ET presence, that they’re going to back him up. The whole purpose of this entire advocacy movement and everything I’m doing and other people are doing is to get that deal cut— that’s what it’s all been about for at least the last twenty-five years.53
In other words, the factional divisions of American bureaucracy need to be united before disclosure can take place. What will they reveal? That’s anybody’s guess. What is certain is that actions taken by the government—the Air Force and other intelligence agencies—in the 1940s and 1950s have created an environment in which public disclosure of UFO information would likely have severe repercussions, and years of deceiving, or misinforming, the public could exacerbate current public-government trust issues. Whatever the outcome should public disclosure take place, the concerted effort by government agencies to silence UFO discussion can be traced back over half a century, to mid-1940s America and the birth of a cover-up.
Associated Press. “Air Force Explains 2-Hour Delay In Chasing ‘Objects’ Over Capital.” New York Times, July 29, 1952. Accessed March 5, 2016. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Associated Press. “Balls of Fire Stalk U.S. Fighters in Night Assaults over Germany.” New York Times, January 2, 1945. Accessed March 18, 2016. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Associated Press. “Dr. Jung Says ‘Saucers’ Exist; Bars Psychological Explanations.” New York Times, July 30, 1958. Accessed March 6, 2016. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Associated Press. “No Evidence: Flying Disks Branded ‘Joke’ by Air Force.” Los Angeles Times, December 28, 1949. Accessed March 18, 2016. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Associated Press. “Flying Objects Near Washington Spotted by Both Pilots and Radar.” New York Times, July 22, 1952. Accessed March 6, 2016. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Associated Press. “Flying Objects Sighted Near Washington.” Daily Boston Globe, July 22, 1952. Accessed March 6, 2016. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Edwards, Frank. Stranger than Science. New York: Lyle Stuart, 1959.
Karig, Walter. “The U.S. Air Force and the Saucers.” Washington Post and Times Herald, January 22, 1956. Accessed March 5, 2016. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Keyhoe, Donald. The Flying Saucer Conspiracy. New York: Holt, 1955.
. Flying Saucers: Top Secret. New York: Putnam, 1960.
. “TV Ruckus on Flying Saucers.” Daily Boston Globe, February 2, 1958. Accessed March 6, 2016. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Ley, Willy. “Unidentified Flying Objects.” New York Times, August 12, 1956. Accessed March 5, 2016. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
“Mystery Air Objects Seen In Sky over LA.” Los Angeles Times, November 6, 1957. Accessed March 6, 2016. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Ruppelt, Edward. The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1956.
Serling, Robert. “Congress UFO Study Is Reported.” Washington Post and Times Herald, August 3, 1958. Accessed March 5, 2016. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Speigel, Lee. “Outgoing Obama Advisor John Podesta Has UFO Regrets.” Huffington Post, February 17, 2015. Accessed April 4, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/17
Spivak, Alvin. “AF Orders ‘Serious’ Flying Objects Check.” Washington Times, February 28, 1960. Accessed March 20, 2016. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
“UFO Is a Reflection from Arc Welders.” Washington Post and Times Herald, October 8, 1958. Accessed March 6, 2016. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Cantril, Hadley. The Invasion from Mars: A Study in the Psychology of Panic. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1940 (Princeton University Press, second edition, 1965).
Dolan, Richard. UFOs and the National Security State: Chronology of a Cover-up 1941-1973. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads, 2002.
Fox, James C., dir. Out of the Blue. Hannover House, 2002. Accessed March 5, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYPCKIL7oVw.
Graebner, William. The Age of Doubt: American Thought and Culture in the 1940s. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991.
Jacobs, David. Review of Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens by Susan A. Clancy. Journal of Scientific Exploration 20, no. 2 (Summer 2006). Accessed on March 21, 2016. http://www.ufoabduction.com/clancyreview.htm.
Jung, Carl. Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies . New York: Signet Books, 1969.
Klass, Philip. The Real Roswell Crashed-Saucer Coverup. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1997.
Randle, Kevin. Project Blue Book Exposed. New York: Marlowe & Co., 1997.
Bathing in Modernity: Undresseing the Influences Behind Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt's Bagneuses, Maiji Castro
Link to Full Thesis: http://scholar.colorado.edu/honr_theses/1264/
This thesis examines how the motifs used in bathing genre paintings from Greek and Roman myths to eighteenth-century eroticism are evident in the bathing series of Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt. The close professional relationship of Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt is evident in the shared themes and techniques in their work and in personal accounts from letters by each other and their contemporaries. Both Degas and Cassatt desired to move away from historical genre painting, and instead to portray the changing emotions and social constraints of modern life. However, the extensive tradition from the Aphrodite of Knidos to Ingres’ Valpinçon Bather of the erotic female nude impacted both their depictions and critics and scholars’ interpretations. I examine the prevailing iconography of the female nude through an analysis of the classical representations of the female nude, Japanese prints of bathers, and Degas and Cassatt’s respective depictions. I argue that a new way of examining modern understandings of privacy and cleanliness may have been at the root of Degas and Cassatt’s representations of bathers, but their classical training throughout Europe and the influx of Japanese prints of bathhouses influenced these representations.
Visions of the Female Nude
The idealized human body most commonly found in ancient Greece belonged to men, as there were many taboos against rendering the female body without clothes. In ancient Greece, before the mid fourth century BCE, depictions of the nude body pervading society were overwhelming of masculine figures. The ancient Greeks were restrained from depicting the female nude because of social and religious reasons. Socially, male nudes were more common because men felt the need to see themselves reflected in their images of heroes and gods, creating an archetype to strive towards. Religiously, female nudes were prohibited as a result of the multitude of myths revolving around the ire of goddesses and the downfall of the human men who viewed them unclothed.
The Aphrodite of Knidos, the original of which was destroyed, with only Roman copies remaining, was praised as the apotheosis of the female form. The sculpture was created for an Athenian temple, as an offering of gratitude to the Goddess Aphrodite after the successful defeat of the Spartans off of the Knidos Peninsula, the south-west coast of modern day Turkey. In the temple the sculpture was positioned such that worshippers who visited first approached the sculpture from the back and could view the sculpture in the round (fig. 1, Venus Colonna, Roman copy of Praxiteles’ Aphrodite of Knidos, fourth century BCE, Pius-Clementine Museum, Vatican City). The Aphrodite sculpture utilizes the contrapposto stance, with her left leg bent as if to take a step forward; this imparity of balance creates a gentle curvature of her body. The relaxed geometric curve remains an essential part of the female nude today and a familiar symbol of desire. The arc of her right arm emphasizes the sinuous line of her body as she modestly covers her genitalia. Aphrodite’s head is turned towards her left shoulder, exhibiting indifference towards any viewers who may be standing in front or behind her, and permits their gaze. Praxiteles’ success showed people that goddesses would not strike them down if depicted disrobed. However, Praxiteles still did not dare to represent Aphrodite in the nude without cause; her nakedness required a degree of elucidation. The explanation was provided by the water jar at Aphrodite’s side, a sign of the female body as a vessel, over which her robes are draped. In ancient Rome and Greece bathing was a way of life, and the water jug would be instantly recognizable in both Greece and Rome as another symbol of Aphrodite’s divine nature and her femininity. The Greeks related cleanliness to divinity; the elaborateness of the toilette and physical cleanliness directly related the individual's proximity to the gods. In Rome bathing was essential; bodily hygiene was not only promoted, but made accessible to all citizens by way of the clean water running through the numerous aqueducts. It was commonplace for both the upper and lower classes, men and women, to take advantage of the numerous public baths and fountains around the cities. The prevalent motif of bathing in Greek and Roman arts acknowledged this social expectation. Bathing was an indispensable part of most inhabitants’ day in both the Greek and Roman empires. Its social importance was reproduced in the Aphrodite of Knidos, which captures the moment either just before or after Aphrodite’s bath, signaling her divinity. The sudden opening of the female nude to artistic ventures was the impetus of an aesthetic shift, a response to 2 hygienic practices and especially scopophiliac desires in society exploited through images of bathing.
Praxiteles’ Aphrodite signaled a transformation in art: men were no longer as interested in portraying or seeing themselves in the nude; now they wanted to be able to see the ideal woman, a previously inviolable goddess, touched by their gaze. Michael Squire and John Berger argue vehemently for the indelible harm caused to women by the female nude. Squire argues that: “modern women are enslaved through the ancient Greek: today the female nude still performs a revolving dance for her cocksure male scopophiliacs.” This argument implies that male scopophiliacs would impose the idealization of the female nude on real woman. John Berger advances the argument, as he famously claims that:
Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman is herself a male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.
Berger argues that the female nude, starting with the Aphrodite of Knidos, is viewed as an object on display, and women have been transformed into objects as a result. The Aphrodite of Knidos supports Berger and Squire’s argument as the genesis of women as objects as she could be viewed from all angles, and her averted gaze did not challenge the male viewers’ inspection. Both of these arguments assert that the predilection of women as objects of the male gaze still pervades society today.
The essential elements of the Aphrodite of Knidos, including the placement of her feet, the sinuous curve from her hip to her breast, appearance of modesty, pretense for her nudity, and the added social connotations towards water and bathing, would be replicated time and time again by artists from Classicism to Romanticism. The small variants to the female nude came about as a result of varying social attitudes towards water.
While the rare immersive baths for rituals and inner purification were allowable, the scarcity of water meant that people were discouraged from taking full baths regularly. European denizens post Roman Empire were discouraged from bathing by relating the use of water for physical cleanliness with hedonism, fornication, the devil and sin. The story of Susanna and the Elders from the biblical book of Daniel, chapter 13, chronicles the events succeeding the moment when two lecherous old men solicit the married Susanna after watching her bathe alone. Although Susanna is innocent of any wrongdoing, when the elders accuse her of adultery after she refuses their advances, she is sentenced to death. Before Susanna is wrongly executed, Daniel interrupts the proceedings and demands a fair trial, during which she is proven innocent. Susanna and the Elders satisfies all the requirements of painting a female nude: some degree of modesty, men as spectators, and a reason for the nudity, while also vilifying bathing for pleasure. Regarding Susanna and the Elders as a subject for painting Mary D. Garrard said:
Few artistic themes have offered so satisfying an opportunity for legitimized voyeurism as Susanna and the Elders. The story was an opportunity to display the female nude, but with the added advantage that the nude’s erotic appeal could be heightened by the presence of two lecherous old men, whose inclusion was both iconographically justified and pornographically effective.
Susanna and the Elders (fig. 3, 1686, Stibbert Museum, Florence) by Luca Giordano (1634 - 1705) depicts the most voyeuristic moment of the story. In this painting Susanna’s body is turned fully forward her arm splayed out, leaving her body open to the viewer, as she rejects the elders’ advances and titillates the male audience. She is half covered demurely with a sheet and the bath is indicated by the shallow pool at her feet and the fountain streaming down from the cupid sculpture. Although her feet do not actually touch the water, its very presence indicates bathing invites sin and the devil.
Contrasting Giordano’s overt male gaze, is Artemisia Gentileschi’s (1593 - 1653) Susanna and the Elders (fig. 4, 1610, Pommersfelden, Schloss Weissenstein, Private Collection). In direct opposition to Giordano’s Susanna, Gentileschi’s Susanna is shown with her foot in the water; she is preparing to actually take a bath; it is not just a pretense. In Gentileschi’s painting the elders are looming threateningly above the innocent Susanna as one large imposing force. Susanna is seated on the step below the elders, barricaded into place by the stone wall. The position of her body is not open, inviting the gaze, but closed off as her knees point towards the side and her arms come across her body to ward off the elders. Her gesture can be read as derived from Michelangelo’s Adam Being Expelled from Paradise in the Sistine Chapel (1509), where the gesture is used to fend off the avenging angel, or a female version of Noli me Tangere. Both interpretations bestow a level of purity and divinity upon Susanna, whose face is frozen in a grimace of distaste and fear. The Pommersfelden Susanna is subject neither to Kenneth Clark’s ideas about the female nude as a form of art nor to John Berger’s ideas about the woman on display, as Giordano’s Susanna is. I argue that the female gaze of the artist changes the voyeuristic narrative; Gentileschi took a familiar subject matter and created a woman who was not on display or an allegory. Instead Gentileschi depicts a Susanna who is real, whose terror at the situation can be understood and felt; there is no scopophilic pleasure derived from this painting.
The Bourgeois Bather
Mary Cassatt had spent years traveling around Europe receiving her education from masters located in both studios and museums. However, her artistic style was stagnated by the inclinations of the male jury of the French official exhibitions. Edgar Degas’s invitation to Cassatt to join the Independents empowered her to find an individual voice and style away from the confines of the Academy-educated Salon. Degas and Cassatt’s artistic relationship was based on a mutual appreciation of the other’s works and skill. Their shared desire to illustrate and comment on modern life informed how they approached the familiar bathing female nude.
Degas, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and other artists, fed up with the jury process of the annual Salon, found a new way to show their work by holding their own exhibition titled the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers, etc. in 1874. This group of artists would later be grouped together as the Impressionists, although Cassatt and Degas never approved of the title, preferring to call themselves Independents. Their work was connected by their use of bright colors, loose brushwork and scenes of modern life that were prompted by Baudelaire’s Painter of Modern Life (1863). The exhibition was met with varying degrees of success as some lauded the work as a new approach to painting and others criticized their divergence from the classical canon. By 1877, Mary Cassatt had become frustrated with the sexist jury process of the Salon after her work was rejected for the third year in a row. Somehow aware of Cassatt’s rejection, Degas approached her and issued an invitation to exhibit with the Independents. Cassatt was the only American and one of three women to show with them. How exactly this invitation came about is unknown since the letters exchanged between the two were lost; additionally it is unknown if Degas and Cassatt were acquainted before 1877. It is conceivable they met before this time, because they ran in the same circles in Paris, but between 1874 and 1877 both Degas and Cassatt spent time traveling abroad, so it is also possible they had not met. Cassatt did not show work with the Independents until 1879, taking time to individualize her style and technique away from the restrictions of the Academy-based Salon.
Cassatt had a plethora of skill and determination that, encouraged and inspired by Degas, allowed her to challenge both social and artistic conventions. Through Degas's relationship with Cassatt, and perhaps the other bourgeois women in his life, he could glimpse and reproduce the effect society’s fetters had on the daily life of women in his own class. The common assumption that Cassatt was a follower or pupil of Degas is incorrect; they both learned from each other’s technique and outlook on life as artistic partners, to which their bathers attest. Additionally, their depictions of bathers predicate to their shared inspirations from both eastern and western sources.
Bathing in Modernity
The other precedent to Degas and Cassatt’s images of bathers came from the other side of the world in the form of widely disseminated prints from Japan. Degas and Cassatt were both admirers of Japanese prints, Degas even experimenting with fans as canvases on which to paint.
Degas and Cassatt studied Japanese prints avidly, and did sketches of them, just as they had done sketches of the classical masterpieces. They were interested in the Ukiyo-e prints of all genres both for their structural qualities, as displayed in Degas’s prints and pastels of Cassatt, and their subject matter.
Cleanliness and Propriety
The Ukiyo-e prints were one of numerous influences on Degas and Cassatt’s bathers’ series. Their other influences came from varying interpretations of Susanna and the Elders, as well as the Aphrodite of Knidos and Ingres. Through their bathers, Degas and Cassatt were striving to depict scenes of modern life, and challenge the hallowed Salon-approved subjects and techniques. They, and the other Impressionists, strove to create a modern iconography which appropriately represented the modern era. However, the subject of women bathing has an extensive and unique history which kept the baigneuses of Degas and Cassatt tied to the classical iconography.
The historic iconography and aesthetic associated with the position of the body and the symbolism of water are manifest in Degas and Cassatt’s bathers but visualize social changes regarding the toilette and in Cassatt’s case women’s moral character. In Degas’s bathers, despite the fable surrounding the ‘keyhole’ view and all the voyeuristic suggestions it implies, he did not seek to exploit their nudity. Their nudity, associated with bathing, comments on the rebirth of the toilette, the expected respectability of women, and their freedom in private spaces. Degas portrayed women who were being reborn in modernity, while Cassatt portrayed women who did not need to be reborn; they were shaping the next generation with moral and physical cleanliness. Degas and Cassatt had appropriated the iconography of the female baigneuse to elucidate modern perceptions pertaining to gender and hygiene.
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