Date of Award

Fall 2001

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Douglas Wheeler


This dissertation explores the literary/political pilgrimage of Martha Dodd Stern (1908--1990), an unusually promising writer. Using Martha's writings, government intelligence files like the Venona Transcripts, I develop a narrative and analytic family biography to analyze the faith of this leftist and develop a typology of the fellow traveler that shows its roots in the Progressive Era and their radicalization under the Great Depression and growth of fascism.

Martha's father, historian William E. Dodd (1869 to 1940), imparted to Martha his Wilsonian progressivism and resentment of social distinctions. Martha's experience in Nazi Germany (1933 to 1937) radicalized these roots. She placed her faith in the eschatological promise of Stalin. Unlike many fellow travelers, though, Martha became a Soviet agent while in Germany; her friends Mildred Harnack (1895 to 1943) and Soviet Boris Winogradow (ca. 1895 to 1939) most influenced her. Martha returned to America in 1937, melding public anti-fascism and espionage.

Martha's writings and activism clearly show that her anti-fascism crucial to her commitment to the USSR. Her best selling memoir Through Embassy Eyes (1939) showed fascism's evil and Stalinism's promise. Ambassador Dodd's Diary, edited with brother Bill Dodd (1905 to 1940), and her novels, Sowing the Wind (1945) and The Searching Light (1954) also dealt with the fascist menace. Working with her husband Alfred Stern (1890 to 1986), Martha pressed the same points through political activism, especially in the 1948 Wallace campaign for president.

In 1947, Hollywood producer Boris Morros identified the Sterns as Soviet agents. The FBI's large-scale investigation included not only the Sterns but members of the Sterns' social network like Vito Marcantonio, Paul Robeson, The Hollywood Ten, and Henry Wallace. Although these investigations potentially threatened protected rights, the FBI legitimately pursued its targets.

In 1957, the Sterns fled to the East Bloc to avoid prosecution. Martha's continuing pilgrimage sought the realization of the Stalinist utopia but its reality crushed her faith. Martha's life illustrates how well intentioned leftists embraced Stalinism, supported the USSR, and influenced Cold War political culture in America.