Citizen at Work

July 24, 2017

In the late 1950s, the National Association of Manufacturers produced a six-session political education seminar called “Citizen at Work.” It was designed as two hour sessions over six consecutive weeks for groups to exchange ideas based on the assigned reading, audio-visual aids, and guest speakers.

The NAM believed that the principle of free enterprise had not yet reached many American voters, unlike the political principles of labor organizers. They developed the Citizen at Work series to help correct the deficiency they saw in lack of grassroots political work by businessmen and others sympathetic to free enterprise.

The NAM sought to encourage businessmen – and women – to become involved in the political system and not just during election years. Becoming involved did not only mean involvement on the national level. Citizen at Work encouraged people to participate at all levels of government, such as attending a school board meeting, writing their representatives, meeting with government officials, working on a campaign for a political party, and encouraging political action by friends and neighbors.

First all women session meeting.
First all women session, Hagley Digital Archives.

The six sessions were: the challenge, answering the challenge, the national scene, political party organization, questioning the politician, and the roundup.

Each week generally followed the same format – showing film slides (or a short film during the third week), discussion of the presentation, discussion of readings for the week, and the assignment for the following week. During the fifth week, participants would have the opportunity to talk with guest politician(s) and ask questions. The sessions covered a variety of topics related to government and politics. They ranged from how the U. S. government is structured, to writing letters to legislators and the political responsibility of businessmen to vote.

Display promoting “Citizen at Work” seminar.
Display promoting “Citizen at Work” seminar, Hagley Digital Archives.

Citizen at Work was designed to be a non-partisan seminar; the intent was not to convince participants to join the Democratic or Republican parties. Instead, it hoped that participants were “in agreement that candidates and policies which promote the growth and extend the service of free, competitive enterprise in America will benefit, not just industry, but all the people of this land, by providing jobs, opportunities and goods.”

The materials used for Citizen at Work can be found within Hagley's AVD collection. This includes a 1959 copy of the Citizen at Work manual with edits, slides, a short film, supplemental materials, and photographs.