The Reinvention of Tradition
This dissertation examines how a coalition of nationalist organizations invented, revised, and popularized the performance of patriotic traditions in everyday life in the United States. Between 1920 and 1955, the Nationalist Network encouraged public schools, local governments, and sports and entertainment venues to incorporate patriotic symbols and rituals into Americans’ daily lives. This “everyday nationalism” included traditions as simple as displaying the American flag in front of government buildings or as elaborate as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or performing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The Network’s strategy entailed popularizing patriotic traditions in American society before asking for the endorsement of the federal and state governments. Some of these traditions remain integral to American national identity in the twenty-first century, in large part because the Network normalized the idea that patriotism must be publicly performed. The Nationalist Network comprised a variety of civic, hereditary, and veterans’ organizations, most notably the Daughters of the American Revolution, American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars, which collaborated to advance their goal of spreading everyday nationalism. These organizations largely represented upper middle-class, white, Protestant, American-born citizens and the groups’ leaders believed that immigrants, people of color, workers, and others different from themselves were inherently less patriotic and needed to regularly perform patriotic traditions to truly become American. The Network began popularizing patriotic traditions as part of everyday life in the 1890s but between 1920 and 1955, its work became politically polarized. During these decades, right- and left-wing forces within the Network contested whether American national identity should be exclusive or inclusive. By examining the period between 1920 and 1955, we can see how different ideological factions of the Network used patriotic culture to appeal to Americans’ sense of national pride and to advance their particular beliefs about what the United States can and should represent.