Ellen Wayland-Smith

 

On her book The Angel in the Marketplace: Adwoman Jean Wade Rindlaub and the Selling Of America

Cover Interview of October 28, 2020

The wide angle

I found Jean Wade Rindlaub’s archive at the Schlesinger Library in the course of researching my first book, Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table. In that book I recount the very American history of the Oneida Community, a nineteenth-century Christian socialist free-love utopia that by the dawn of the twentieth century had transformed itself into Oneida Limited, America’s best-loved silverware company. Rindlaub was in charge of Oneida’s advertising during World War II and produced a nationally-acclaimed “Back Home for Keeps” ad campaign that really typified the conservative turn gender roles would take in the post-war period. In telling the story of Oneida’s shift from socialist Christian commune to corporate powerhouse, I was already tracing this peculiarly American symbiosis between business and Christianity. I found the sentimental Christian undertones in all of Rindlaub’s corporate work, as well as in her private life, a really fascinating puzzle that I wanted to learn more about. So I wrote this book.

As I mentioned, the alignment between business and a certain conservative strain of Protestantism is a longstanding American political tradition, one that witnessed its disastrous apotheosis in the election of Trump with evangelical support. I wrote about this history in The New Republic right before the 2016 election, and the essay serves as a segue between my two books. I was already thinking ahead to the twentieth century context and Rindlaub’s place in it when I wrote this piece on Donald Trump’s Capitalist Christianity.

I hope the book will be read as a part of the rich conversation now taking place, both within and outside the university, on the history of American conservatisms—a field that gained new relevancy with Trump’s 2016 presidential victory. I’m thinking specifically of Kevin Kruse’s and Kimberly Fein-Phillips’s work on corporate America’s longstanding resistance to New Deal economics, as well as Michelle Nickerson’s study of women’s conservative political movements in the 1950s in her book Mothers of Conservatism. In showing how major media networks and their corporate backers appealed to women’s Christian identities as a strategy to shore up free market economics, The Angel in the Marketplace offers a bridge between these fields.