Wilson Center Experts

Robyn Muncy

Fellow
United States Studies

Expertise:
North America
;
United States
Affiliation:
Associate Professor of History, University of Maryland, College Park
Wilson Center Project(s):
"Progressivism and the Great Society: Josephine Roche and the Reform Tradition in Twentieth-Century America"
Term:
Sep 01, 2007
-
May 01, 2008

Coming of age in the midst of anti-war demonstrations, grape boycotts, and women's consciousness-raising groups sparked my interest in reform movements. Seeking to understand how progressive social change happened, I entered the doctoral program in U.S. history at Northwestern University in 1982 and soon began working as a precinct captain in Chicago Mayor Harold Washington's Democratic Party. My dissertation, completed in 1987, asked why middle-class, white women were so prominent among those who kept progressive reform alive across the conservative 1920s. The question seemed pertinent in 1980's America. The dissertation argued that in the early twentieth century, when Progressivism was sweeping the U.S., a particular group of women reformers established an interlocking set of voluntary organizations, government agencies, and educational programs in which they institutionalized their reform values and goals. This "female dominion" allowed child welfare activists and those interested in protective labor legislation to socialize a new generation of women into their progressive faith. Thus, the continuities among women reformers. While teaching at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, I revised the dissertation to produce Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform, 1890-1935, published in 1991 by Oxford University Press. First book finished, I moved to the University of Maryland and began to study other aspects of Progressivism, especially the ways that gender shaped men's participation in the movement. This interest ultimately produced an article analyzing the ways that gender figured in the debate over corporate power in the Progressive era (American Studies, 1997). Now interested in wider questions about the ways that manhood and womanhood had changed over time, I co-edited with Professor Sonya Michel a book of documents mapping out the history of gender in the U.S. since 1865. It was published by McGraw-Hill in 1999.As the documentary history neared completion, social scientists began debating the trajectory of civic participation in the 20th-century U.S. Having studied women's voluntary organizations in the early twentieth century and wondered about their later decline, I was fascinated by the issue. My own contribution to the debate appeared in the Journal of Social History in 2004 and encouraged me to teach a course on the history of democracy in America. While preparing that course, I studied the proceedings of the founding convention of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, a progressive labor federation emerging in the 1930s. To my great puzzlement, a woman named Josephine Roche was introduced there as the "greatest woman of our time." Since Roche was the owner of a mining company, my curiosity was piqued: how could it be that an industrialist in an industry noted for anti-labor violence was considered a friend to some of the most militant labor unionists in Depression-era America? That curiosity resulted in my current project, the biography of Roche, which explores connections between Progressivism, the New Deal, and the Great Society as well as the history of health policy and labor relations in the twentieth-century U.S.
 

Education

B.A. (1977) Religion/Philosophy and Psychology, Lindenwood College; M.A. (1980) European History, University of Idaho; Ph.D. (1987) U.S. History, Northwestern University
 

Subjects

Health Care Policy,History,Social Welfare Policy,U.S. History,U.S. Studies,Women in Politics,Women's History (U.S.)
 

Experience

  • Assistant/Associate Professor of History, University of Maryland, College Park 1990-Present
  • Visiting Associate Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania, Fall 1994
  • Assistant Professor of History, Le Moyne College, Syracuse, NY, 1987-1990

Expertise

Twentieth-century U.S. women's history, women and social policy, history of reform movements, history of progressivism/liberalism in the twentieth century

Project Summary

This project is a political biography of Josephine Roche. It introduces Roche to American history as one architect of the U.S. social welfare regime and also demonstrates that and how a continuous reform tradition connected the three major periods of liberal reform in twentieth-century America. Roche's long career as a social worker, coal magnate, New Deal policymaker, and creator of a union health care system reveals that the general shape of social provision in the post-World War II era as well as many specific programs of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society descended from the Progressive movement of the 1910s.

Major Publications

  • Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform, 1890-1935. (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1991).
  • Engendering America: A Documentary History, 1865 to the Present, co-authored with Sonya Michel (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1999).
  • "Cooperative Motherhood and Democratic Civic Culture in Postwar Suburbia, 1940-1965," Journal of Social History (December 2004): 285-310.

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