Lecture Shines Light on Women’s Historical Roles in the Palisades


Theatre Palisades was packed to capacity on Wednesday, May 2, in anticipation of Pacific Palisades Historical Society guest speaker Janet Farrell Brodie’s lecture about Palisadian women and local activism in the Cold War era. A professor in the History Department of Claremont University, Brodie has lived in the Palisades since 1980. Her interest in the women who came before her is a longtime passion.

Now the rise of domesticity after World War II is highly documented. But as Brodie expressed, many women resisted becoming totally domestic by taking part in important activities connected to the Cold War. They prepared atomic survival kits, administered first aid, ensured there was a sufficient supply of food and medicine in the home, and organized civil defense preparedness programs. All over California, women entered schools and practiced drills for atomic attacks. Girl Scouts worked in aerial defense units.

Palisadian women in particular were heavily involved in stocking fallout shelters in the 1950s. In fact, during this period, Brodie emphasized that Palisadian women were exceptionally busy. They flocked back to community engagements, including work with women’s clubs, churches and the historical society. They were businesswomen, real estate brokers and bankers. They sponsored lunches and dinners at their homes for political candidates.

There were a number of prominent Palisadian women who got written about in the Palisadian newspaper (which evolved to become the Palisadian-Post). One such woman was Zola Clearwater, a Methodist who actually took over running the paper after her husband Clifford passed away. Equally powerful women were Phillis Genovese, E.J. Kennedy and Lelah Pierson (the latter whom donated the land which Theatre Palisades was built upon). It is interesting to note that Nancy Reagan lived in the Palisades for 30 years. People looked to her as an active mother who helped craft Ronald’s political persona.

As far as additional evidence of Palisadian activities, Brodie noted that some were perfectly happy to work as homemakers. She showed slides of women shopping and meeting in women’s clubs in the ’50s.

If anyone is interested in doing some personal research, archives are currently being digitized by the Historical Society and will soon be made available to everyone. Physical records are held in Santa Monica Public Library.

To conclude the evening, Brodie urged the audience to not throw away their histories, as boxes in the garage can be an absolute “treasure trove” of goods.