Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis




College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Lauren Sklaroff


The conspiracy case against Julius and Ethel Rosenberg was a formative event in the early stages of the Cold War, but it also set their two sons adrift in a domestic climate which emphasized domestic order but feared communists and those connected to communists within their midst. Michael and Robert Rosenberg’s lives remained in various states of instability from their mother’s arrest in August 1950 until they were adopted by Anne and Abel Meeropol in 1958. The placement of the Rosenberg children with the Meeropols came only after years of upheaval and family strife in which the notoriety of the Rosenberg case kept the boys in the public eye and prevented them from settling with a permanent guardian

The height of the battle over the Rosenberg children came in 1954, when New York state authorities removed them from the Meeropol home on charges that communists were exploiting the boys to raise funds. The state Department of Welfare and private Jewish childcare agencies petitioned for legal custody of the boys and their trust fund. The court cases which followed exposed the state’s commitment to controlling the futures of the Rosenberg children and led to conflict between anticommunist state forces, Rosenberg supporters, and professional child welfare workers. The case of Michael and Robert Rosenberg placed postwar American ideas on children and family in direct contention with Cold War anticommunism, and the eventual return of the boys to the Meeropols demonstrates the limits of the Red Scare and expands the understanding of the legacy of the Rosenberg spy case.

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