Glen Jeansonne

Writer, Historian

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Glen Jeansonne (1947-2018) author of more than 14 books served as a Professor of Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and was an award winning researcher versed in 20th century American political history. You can purchase Glen's latest release, Herbert Hoover: A Life (Penquin Random House) and previous works by arrowing through the "Books" section  and clicking on the cover photos.

Career Narrative

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Born in New Orleans, I grew up in New Roads, Louisiana, graduating valedictorian from Poydras High School in 1964 (GPA 3.97).  I enrolled at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, and graduated with a B.A. in history in 1968 (GPA 3.97); then earned my Ph.D. in history at Florida State University in 1973 (GPA 3.95). From the first grade at Bernard Terrace Elementary School in Baton Rouge through my Ph.D. at Florida State I finished first or second in my class every year.

During my senior year in high school I won a national essay contest and the Louisiana Bar Association essay contest.  Later that year I placed second in the Congressional District and third on the State examination in American history, and ranked second as best overall student in Pointe Coupee parish.  I placed second in Louisiana in an oratory contest and second statewide on a high school current events exam.I also played varsity football and basketball. In high school I became interested in the history of race, religion, politics and biography. I participated in debate and student government, published several poems, and was a page in the Louisiana State Legislature.  Enrolling at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette (ULL) in 1964, I majored in history and minored in English, with an emphasis on creative writing. I earned an equal number of credit hours in history and English.  I took journalism, was a reporter on the student newspaper for two years, and published in ULL literary and humor magazines. I played intramural football and basketball.
At ULL I was elected Treasurer, then President of the Men’s Student Government Association.  In May 1968, I graduated salutatorian in a senior class of nearly 2,000. I was a finalist for a Woodrow Wilson Graduate Fellowship.

While at ULL, I worked as a summer Intern for U.S. Senator Allen Ellender of Louisiana in Washington, D.C. Upon graduation, I accepted a National Defense Education Act (NDEA) fellowship at Florida State University. I also received fellowship or assistantship offers from the University of Virginia, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Temple University, and Louisiana State University. At FSU, I worked under the late William Ivy Hair, a Louisianan and a distinguished Southern historian.  Three of my seminar papers were published in scholarly journals.  My M.A. thesis about Louisiana’s 1959-60 gubernatorial elections was published in 1977 as Race, Religion, and Politics by the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. The race featured a manic breakdown by Governor Earl K. Long, the collapse of the Long versus anti-Long dichotomy that had polarized state politics, and the emergence of race as the paramount issue.

My Ph.D. dissertation, financed by a Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellowship, was a biography of “Judge” Leander H. Perez, a militant Louisiana segregationist, Dixiecrat, politician, state campaign manager for George Wallace in 1968, and boss of Plaquemines parish. Perez’s papers were in family hands, yet I was permitted to use them.  The dissertation was a finalist for the Allan Nevins Prize. The Louisiana State University Press published it as Leander Perez: Boss of the Delta (1977). Of my books, Leander Perez was the most difficult to research because there was no body of sources in the public domain. Later, I took part in the filming of two documentaries about Perez. After a second edition by the LSU Press in 1982, a paper version was published by the Center for Louisiana Studies in 1995, with a new concluding chapter describing the collapse of the Perez dynasty. In 2007 a third edition was published by the University of Mississippi Press. Perez had been a political ally of Huey Long, the Louisiana Kingfish who planned to challenge Franklin D. Roosevelt for the presidency in 1936, but was slain by an assassin in 1935.  The Perez biography led to my interest in a second confederate of Long, Gerald L. K. Smith, a Wisconsin-born preacher who left the ministry to enroll as organizer of Long’s Share Our Wealth Society.  After Long’s death, Smith became one of America’s most notorious anti-Semites and reactionary figures, running for president three times as a third-party candidate.

Gerald L K. Smith: Minister of Hate  (Yale University Press, 1988; paperback, LSU, 1997) was nominated for  the Pulitzer Prize in Biography, won the Wisconsin Writer’s Award for Best Academic Book, and received a prize from the Gustavus Meyers Foundation for contributions to the study of bigotry. After writing biographies of two of Huey Long’s lieutenants, I decided to write a biography of Huey himself.  Messiah of the Masses: Huey P. Long and the Great Depression (HarperCollins, 1993; Longman 1995) places Long in the context of state and national politics.

I interpret Long as a gifted politician, yet too provincial and unstable (possibly bi-polar), and too lacking in foreign policy expertise to win a national election.  The book served, in part, as the basis for a documentary on Long by the Arts and Entertainment “Biography” series, for which I was a commentator.Initially, my research focused on Louisiana, the South, biography, racism, and the politics of the extreme right.  Since the end of the 1980s I have expanded my work to include collective biography, women, national politics, popular culture, and original interpretations of epochs in American history. Transformation and Reaction: America, 1921-1945 (HarperCollins, 1994; Longman, 1995; Waveland, 2005) interprets the interwar period as an era in dynamic tension between change and resistance to change.  The period, which includes World War I, the prosperous 1920s, the Great Depression, and World War II, saw more change than virtually any era of comparable length.  This book, unlike my previous monographs, was a synthesis lending itself to broad generalizations. It encompasses one of the periods I have taught for most of my academic career. My research on Gerald Smith had led me to discover a movement of pro-Fascist women who opposed American participation in World War II, hated Jews and the Roosevelts and admired Adolf Hitler.  Women of the Far Right: The Mothers’ Movement and World War II (University of Chicago Press, 1996; paperback, 1997), extends the boundaries of women’s history to include the extreme right.  

These women were unique in their combination of maternal arguments, bigotry, and an unusual type of gender-consciousness that rejected feminism.  Women of the Far Right was a finalist for the Herbert Hoover Prize in 1996.  I also signed a contract to collaborate with a professional playwright in writing a historical play based on the life of Elizabeth Dilling, one of the characters in Women of the Far Right. Recently I completed a trade/text study of America since 1890 entitled A Time of Paradox: America Since 1890 (Rowman and Littlefield, 2006) which interprets the epoch as a time of an unprecedented velocity of change, a period of contradiction and irony in which we landed on the moon but could not cure the common cold, a time when technology acted as servant and master, a time in which the sexual revolution, arguably, was the most pervasive revolution of all. I explore in depth the politics, society, popular culture, race, gender,  and religion of the last decades of the century in detail, including holistic medicine, the popularity of Eastern mysticism, and the continued vitality of religious fundamentalism, not limited to Christianity.In 2009 I took time off my major work a study of Herbert Hoover’s presidency, to write Changing Times: A Biography of Barack Obama, which ends with Obama’s inauguration. It is chiefly an account of his life and campaign and ends with his inauguration.  

A Time of Paradox  resulted in two shorter books which interpret periods in the twentieth century, and include new prologues, epilogues, and conclusions: A Time of Paradox: America From Awakening to Hiroshima, 1890-1945  (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007) and  A Time of  Paradox: From the Cold War To the Third Millennium, 1945-Present, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), which carries the story through Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War. Especially since the 1980s, my work has included the study of religion, popular culture, technology, and literature. 

In  2011 Elvis Presley: Reluctant Rebel, was published. I authored the work in collaboration with David Luhrssen (a former student) and Dan Sokolovic (a present student).  Presley , a self-made poor white from East Tupelo, Mississippi, was a  symbol and catalyst for the musical, generational, civil rights, and sexual revolutions with a uniquely uninhibited style of performing, yet privately he was shy, devoted to his mother, and retained his religious and regional roots. A self-trained musician, influenced by black music, who never felt truly at home outside the South, he represented many of the ironies and contradictions of his time, its revolutionary change, and its elements of naivete and innocence.

My scholarly activities include editing.  From 1973-1975 I was associate editor of Louisiana History, the journal of the Louisiana Historical Association.  I co-edited with Light T. Cummins the series Reference Guides to State and Local History and with Cummins edited one of the volumes in the series,A Guide to the History of Louisiana (Greenwood Press, 1982).  For more than a decade I have edited the series “The Right in America,” for M. E. Sharpe, Inc.  I also  edited a series of essays commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Huey P. Long, Huey at 100:  Centennial Essays on Huey P. Long (Louisiana Tech University, 1995). All of my books remain in print with the exception of Race, Religion and Politics (1977), which was my M. A. thesis.

In addition to books, my publications include nearly sixty articles, more than one hundred and fifty review and popular essays, fiction, and satire. One of my satires, “You Can Write a Book or You Can Roast One,” was published in the  Chronicle of Higher Education . For several years I was the major history reviewer for the Milwaukee Journal. Many of my early articles dealt with the history and politics of Louisiana. I have retained an interest in Louisiana. In the Summer 2009 issue of Louisiana Cultural Vistas I published “Hank at the Hayride,” about Hank Williams’ performances at the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport. In the Fall 2010 issue of Cultural Issues I published “The Sunshine Governor:  Jimmie Davis in Music and Politics,” both co-authored by David Luhrssen. The Winter 2011 issue of Cultural Vistas includes my article on Huey P. Long, focusing on highway construction.Other scholarly activities include participation in the making of documentaries for public and commercial television, and interviews on National Public Radio, Public Television, and cable and commercial broadcasts.  My teaching career includes two years at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, three years at Williams College, thirty years at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and one year at the University of Michigan.  My focus is twentieth century American history including a variety of topics..   

I have supervised some forty graduate theses.  Six of my students have published them as books.  Despite a tight job market, former students are tenured at the University of Alabama, Notre Dame University, Wisconsin Lutheran College, the University of London and Milwaukee Area Technical College.  In 2004 one of my M.A. students won a full fellowship to the Ph.D. program at Columbia University. I hope to leave a legacy of students who will pass on to their students a sense of purpose that my teachers passed on to me. In my books I want to leave something that will endure beyond the context of time and place in which they were written. My teaching and writing continue to evolve and grow; it is not a static process.


The Advocate

"Long before the Cajun Navy hauled last month’s Louisiana flood victims to safety — and even before Hurricane Katrina inspired similar heroism — another volunteer flotilla helped rescue scores of people stranded by rising waters. That story unfolds in author Glen Jeansonne’s “Herbert Hoover,” a new biography of the much-maligned and perhaps under-appreciated president."
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Hoover endures in American history as the chief executive on the job when the Great Depression struck, an economic cataclysm that ultimately led to his re-election defeat. But one of Hoover’s biggest contributions to public life happened before he entered the White House, when he was asked to oversee the federal response to the Great Flood of 1927. That flood, which ravaged parts of Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi, tested Hoover’s ingenuity and resolve. “The Mississippi not only leaped over its banks; it crashed through or tunneled under containment levees, creating crevasses or breaks in the earthen walls, spreading yellowish muddy water over millions of acres, sweeping away homes and barns, immersing entire towns,” Jeansonne tells readers. “Altogether, more than 25,000 square miles of farmland and small towns were inundated and about 750,000 persons required evacuation or food and medical care.”Hoover’s first order of business was getting the stranded to safety. “His makeshift rescue fleet consisted of Coast Guard cutters, private yachts and skiffs, motorboats, enormous paddle-wheel steamers loaded with small boats, and a thousand craft built on the spot from crude sawmill lumber, propelled by a thousand purchased motors and manned by volunteers,” Jeansonne writes. “The flood brought out the best in some. Bootleggers lent their swift, maneuverable boats and their navigating skills to the massive rescue efforts. Army and private planes soared overhead, spotting survivors clinging precariously to trees and rooftops, and radioed the locations to the nearest boats, which plucked them from peril. Before Hoover assumed control, between three hundred and four hundred died; afterward, less than a dozen.”As the flood subsided, Hoover expressed admiration for the volunteer navy that had answered the Great Flood of 1927. “I suppose I could have called in the whole of the Army,” he said. “But what was the use? All I had to do was call in Main Street itself.”That volunteer spirit is alive and well in America, as the recent efforts of the Cajun Navy made clear. If he were still around, Herbert Hoover would be heartened, but perhaps not surprised.

~ The Advocate editorial SEP 22, 2016

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