OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Lara Vapnek

Portrait of Lara Vapnek

Lara Vapnek teaches history at St. John's University and specializes in the history of gender and labor in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century United States. She is the author of Breadwinners: Working Women and Economic Independence, 1865-1920 (2009) and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn: Modern American Revolutionary (2015). Her current research focuses on mothers, milk, and public health in New York City from the 1850s through the 1930s.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn described herself as a "mortal enemy of capitalism." This lecture explains how Flynn became a socialist and traces the arc of her career as an activist. She began as a teen-aged soapbox speaker on the streets of New York City. She became an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, where she helped lead landmark strikes in Lawrence, Mass. (1912) and Paterson, N.J. (1913). She joined the Communist Party in the 1930s, becoming a key leader, and serving time in prison during the McCarthy era. Her biography illuminates the history of the radical labor movement in the United States.
This lecture tells the story of three women who led early movements for gender and labor equality in the late 19th and early 20th-century: Jennie Collins; Leonora Barry; and Leonora O'Reilly. I discuss the personal and political factors that motivated their activism as well as their programs for change. This lecture explains how wage-earning women understood their place in America's expanding capitalist economy and it shows how they organized to demand equal rights at work and as citizens.
Where did domestic workers fit into popular discussions of the "working girl" at the turn of the twentieth century? This lecture explains how labor reformers focused public attention on women who worked in factories, but domestic workers themselves sought independence by leaving behind jobs in households in favor of work in industrial, retail, or clerical occupations. This lecture captures the tensions between female reformers and domestic workers, and it explains how differences of age, race, and ethnicity, limited women's occupational mobility.