Americans value equality, but have competing visions of what it should look like. The twentieth-century women’s movement was riven by class divisions. Elite women within the movement favored the uncompromising Equal Rights Amendment; while working women feared that it would undermine gains they had made in gendered workplace protections, and so favored the Women’s Status Bill, which would preserve regulation against exploitation of women workers. This division opened the possibility of business interests appealing to and splitting off a segment of organized American women.
In this episode of Stories from the Stacks, labor historian Emily Twarog, associate professor in the School of Labor & Employment Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, discusses how business interests appealed to the women’s movement with explicit validation of women’s socio-economic importance, and calls to rally women to the cause of free enterprise and the defense of the American way of life.
Using Hagley Library collections, including the National Association of Manufacturers collection, Twarog discovered that business interests organized systematic efforts to cultivate a pro-business, politically conscious and activated segment of women to deploy as a force for conservatism. At a time of record-high unionization, labor organizations made limited efforts to organize and empower women’s groups. Meanwhile, business interests successfully coopted the momentum of women’s organizations, and turned it to their own purposes.
To support her use of Hagley Library collections, Dr. Twarog received an Exploratory Research Grant from the Center for the History of Business, Technology, & Society. More information on funding opportunities for research at Hagley can be found here.
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Interview by Amrys Williams. Produced by Gregory Hargreaves.
Image: NAM staff, 1969, 1973418_079_20_004, National Association of Manufacturers photographs & audiovisual materials (Accesion 1973.418), Audiovisual Collections & Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum & Library, Wilmington, DE 19807.