Peggy Ann Brown, Ph.D.
Washington, D.C. Independent Historian
Here are some examples of my own research. Click the title of each to learn more.
The Awakening: 1920s Ku Klux Klan Musical: Reading through a 1927 newspaper for a client several years ago, I came upon a photograph of Klanspeople in full regalia. The image startled and puzzled me, especially as it was juxtaposed with a photo of high kicking chorus girls and an article on the local Klan's successful stage show. I realized that I knew little about the Second Klan, as historians have named the 1920s movement (the Reconstruction Klan being the first, and the Civil Rights era Klan the third). I started researching The Awakening and reading more about the 1920s Klan (which actually extended from 1915 to the early 1930s). Founded in 1915 by William J. Simmons, a failed Methodist minister and recruiter for fraternal groups, the Second Klan combined nostalgia for the 1870s Klan with the aspects of fraternalism he loved best: "secrecy, ritual, and social networking." Simmons used the 1915 opening of D.W. Griffith's racist epic, Birth of a Nation, to jumpstart his new organization. Equally hoping to build on the film's appeal was Jimmie Hull, a Texas entrepreneur who produced home talent and minstrel shows for local groups throughout the Southwest. Hull wrote a melodrama which drew from Griffith's film and created a stage show which interspersed song and dance numbers between the play's acts. Between 1924-1927, he staged 16 productions of The Awakening in six states plus Washington, D.C.
Corn Hog Diplomacy or Vodka, Women, and 'Home on the Range': One of my favorite research experiences was working for Irving R. Levine, former NBC News correspondent. Most people remember Mr. Levine as NBC's bow-tied chief economics reporter in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. This groundbreaking coverage was, however, just one more phase of a news career that began in 1947 with the International News Service and continued with the Nightly Business Report until his passing in 2009. His 45 years with NBC began with ten-minute "roving reporter" color broadcasts on the Today Show in 1954 and 1955, designed to boost interest in RCA's then-new color televisions. In the summer of 1955 he received permission from the Kremlin to accompany a U.S. agricultural delegation to Moscow and stayed on when the farm experts returned home, thus launching a fifteen year stint as a European correspondent based first in Moscow and later in Rome. With Mr. Levine's encouragement, I began researching the agricultural delegation, its participants, news coverage, and impact. For more information, see my article "Diplomatic Farmers: Iowans and the 1955 Agricultural Delegation to the Soviet Union" in the Winter 2013 issue of The Annals of Iowa.
Helicon Home Colony: As a graduate student at George Washington University, I studied American Religious History as one of my doctoral fields. I became especially interested in communal groups that established living arrangements separate from the American mainstream. Although many of these communities were religious-based, others were designed to promote political principles or to improve members' moral and economic standing. Helicon Home Colony, established by The Jungle author Upton Sinclair in 1906, falls into the latter category. Both uncomfortable with hiring servants and discovering the pool of what they viewed as well-qualified people shrinking, the colonists sought a new way of living that would ease their domestic burdens while maintaining the well-run home they still desired for themselves and their children. My dissertation on Helicon Home Colony is a study of their efforts.
Edward Bellamy: One of my first graduate school courses was Intellectual History taught by Marcus Cunliffe, who encouraged students to look beyond the surface meaning of the books and essays we read. Among the works we studied was Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, 2000-1887, the classic late 19th century utopian novel. Pursuing a doctoral field in Americana at the Library of Congress, I recalled my interest in Bellamy and undertook a closer study of his writings and impact. Under the direction of Jean Preer, I completed annotated bibliographies on Edward Bellamy and Kaweah Cooperative Colony. Professor Preer taught me to examine a topic from as many different perspectives as possible; this is the approach I continue to use as I assist others with their research. Click here for a bibliographic essay on Bellamy.