Ethel Rosenberg and the Making of an American Icon

by Anne Sebba

Monday 4th October 2021

This is the extraordinary story of Ethel Rosenberg who was just 37 when she was electrocuted by the American Government for conspiracy to commit espionage, as she was a communist. The execution followed her trial in 1951 which contained multiple miscarriages of justice. The US Government knew they had no conclusive evidence against Ethel but they thought that charging her would make her husband talk. 

Since her execution there has been an outpouring of literature and art to tell her story including works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Martha Rosler. They used satire to show how women were expected to be nothing more than ideal housewives stuck in their kitchen. Even furniture was made depicting the infamous electric chair and Ethel's typewriter - one she was alleged to have used in order to spy. However, in the 70 years since her death she has become an American icon, a symbol of how fear and hysteria can make a government behave shamefully. Sometimes it requires artists to make sense of this catastrophic historical failure of justice.

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Anne Sebba is a well known writer specialising in biographies. She came to talk to us two years ago with her colourful and brilliantly researched account of Wallace Simpson. Anne is a local resident, living in Richmond.

Anne Sebba
Ethel Rosenberg Book
Ethel Rosenberg