OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

OAH Distinguished Lectureship program 40 years 1981-2021

Dorothy Sue Cobble

Portrait of Dorothy Sue Cobble
Image Credit: Steve Hockstein

A distinguished professor of history and labor studies emerita at Rutgers University, Dorothy Sue Cobble specializes in twentieth-century politics and social movements. She is the author of multiple prize-winning books and articles. Her most recent book, For the Many: American Feminists and the Global Fight for Democratic Equality (Princeton, 2021), is a history of the twentieth-century feminists who fought for the rights of women, workers, and the poor in the United States and abroad. She is the recipient of fellowships from, among others, the American Council for Learned Societies, Russell Sage Foundation, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Charles Warren Center at Harvard University. She won the Sol Stetin Award for Career Achievement in Labor History from the Sidney Hillman Foundation in 2010. She held the 2016 Swedish Research Council's Kerstin Hesselgren Professorship at Stockholm University, and in 2017, Stockholm University awarded her an Honorary Doctorate in Social Science. Currently, she is writing on US worker movements for egalitarian democracy and how labor intellectuals of the past can help us reimagine a fairer, more inclusive America. 


Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

A politics for the many, not the few, predominated among American women over much of the twentieth century. In 1948, American historian Richard Hofstadter penned his classic text, The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It. This lecture tells a different story -- a story of how global women made American politics and how women's activism shifted America and the world toward equality and social democracy.
Cobble recovers the egalitarian economics of worker intellectuals of the past and reflects on how their visionary and subversive ideas can help us create a more just and prosperous society. Cobble charts labor's innovative demands for shorter worktime, guaranteed income, and workplace democracy. She reveals the surprising appeal of these ideas among working men and women at the turn of the 20th century, their widespread adoption in workplaces and social policy by the mid-twentieth century, and their rejection among elite intellectuals and decision-makers in the last third of the century. Today's progressive political imagination is diminished and less capable of speaking to and for the majority of Americans without attention to these lost left populist traditions.
In this talk Cobble traces the surprising persistence of the myth of working-class conservatism among scholars and public intellectuals. She explores the origins of the myth and the political and cultural effects of its popularity. Drawing on voting patterns and other evidence, Cobble refutes the prevalent stereotypes about workers and makes a case for the progressive political sensibilities present among America's working classes.

What Women Gained in 2020