Civilizing Capitalism: The National Consumers' League, Women's Activism, and Labor Standards in the New Deal Era

Civilizing Capitalism: The National Consumers' League, Women's Activism, and Labor Standards in the New Deal Era

Civilizing Capitalism: The National Consumers' League, Women's Activism, and Labor Standards in the New Deal Era

Civilizing Capitalism: The National Consumers' League, Women's Activism, and Labor Standards in the New Deal Era

Synopsis

Offering fresh insights into the history of labor policy, the New Deal, feminism, and southern politics, Landon Storrs examines the New Deal era of the National Consumers' League, one of the most influential reform organizations of the early twentieth century.

Founded in 1899 by affluent women concerned about the exploitation of women wage earners, the National Consumers' League used a strategy of "ethical consumption" to spark a successful movement for state laws to reduce hours and establish minimum wages for women. During the Great Depression, it campaigned to raise labor standards in the unregulated, non-union South, hoping to discourage the relocation of manufacturers to the region because of cheaper labor and to break the downward spiral of labor standards nationwide. Promoting regulation of men's labor as well as women's, the league shaped the National Recovery Administration codes and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 but still battled the National Woman's Party, whose proposed equalrights amendment threatened sex-based labor laws.

Using the National Consumers' League as a window on the nation's evolving reform tradition, ###Civilizing Capitalism# explores what progressive feminists hoped for from the New Deal and why, despite significant victories, they ultimately were disappointed.

Excerpt

On March 12, 1929, in a rayon plant in Elizabethton, Tennessee, section leader Margaret Bowen was demoted after she asked for a raise from the $10.64 she received for a fifty-six‐ hour week. Over five hundred women walked out in support of Bowen. Soon more than 5,000 workers, 70 percent of them women, had left the local mills. The next month, in Gastonia, North Carolina, almost 2,000 employees of the Loray mills went on strike, demanding better pay and working conditions. One woman who had worked in a Gastonia mill since she was fourteen reported, "We worked thirteen hours a day, and we were so stretched out that lots of times we didn't stop for anything. Sometimes we took sandwiches to work, and ate them as we worked. Sometimes we didn't even get to eat them. If we couldn't keep our work up like they wanted us to, they would curse us and threaten to fire us." Hundreds more mill women struck in Marion, North Carolina, in July. They told a similar tale: "I work twelve hours and twenty minutes a day and I am completely worn out at stopping time. Men and women who work in the mill are weak and sallow looking, some of . . .

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