City of Debtors: A Century of Fringe Finance | Wilson Center
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City of Debtors: A Century of Fringe Finance

Since the rise of the small-sum lending industry in the 1890s, people on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder in the United States have been asked to pay the greatest price for credit. Legal historian Anne Fleming explores the small-sum lending industry’s growth and regulation over the past century, focusing on developments at the state and local level.   Her approach reveals the overlooked challenges of governing a modern financial industry within a federalist framework, as well as how concerns about poverty and poor relief have shaped the debate over policing small loans.

Anne Fleming is an associate professor at Georgetown University Law Center. Her scholarship includes “The Borrower’s Tale: A History of Poor Debtors in Lochner Era New York City,” published in the Law & History Review in 2012. Before joining the Georgetown faculty, Fleming practiced as a staff attorney for South Brooklyn Legal Services, representing low-income homeowners facing foreclosure, and taught at Harvard Law School as a Climenko Fellow. She received a J.D., magna cum laude, from Harvard, and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania.

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Philippa Strum (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.



  • Eric Arnesen

    Professor of History, The George Washington University
  • Philippa Strum

    Global Fellow
    Former Director, Division of United States Studies, Woodrow Wilson Center


  • Anne Fleming

    Associate Professor, Georgetown University Law Center