Give Me a Break: A Roundtable on Workers, Bathrooms, and Breaks in the U.S. Workplace

Endorsed by the Labor and Working-Class History Association (LAWCHA) and the Business History Conference (BHC)

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: Gender and Sexuality; Labor and Working-Class; Race


This roundtable will discuss issues, conditions, and problems in the U.S. workplace related to bathrooms and breaks, including, but not limited to: the physical and emotional toll on workers when bathroom breaks are forbidden, constrained, or monitored; the use of bathrooms as space for self-care, information exchange, gossip, organizing, and spying; employer policies and state laws; how structural inequalities and assumptions about gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, and ability have shaped workers' access to and use of bathrooms; and interdisciplinary frameworks and methodologies (i.e., legal, medical, queer theory, oral history) for analyzing these histories.

Session Participants

Chair: Bryant Simon, Temple University
Bryant Simon is professor of history at Temple University. He is the author of A Fabric of Defeat: The Politics of South Carolina Millhands, Boardwalk of Dreams: Atlantic City and the Fate of Urban America, Everything but the Coffee: Learning About America from Starbucks, and most recently, The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives. Along with Jane Dailey and Glenda Gilmore, he co-edit the collection, Jumpin Jim Crow: Southern Politics from Civil War to Civil Rights. His research and scholarship has earned awards and honors from the Fulbright Commission, von Humboldt Foundation, the German Historical Institute, Urban History Association, Organization of American Historians, and the Smithsonian Institution. His work and popular commentary have been featured in the Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Christian Science Monitor, Raleigh News and Observer,, and numerous other outlets. Over last five years, Simon has lectured around the world and taught at the National University of Singapore, University of Tubingen, and University of Erfurt. In addition, since 2006, he has served as a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians. Last year, he was elected to the Society of American Historians.

Panelist: Coreen Derifield, East Central College
Coreen Derifield is an Assistant Professor at East Central College in Union, Missouri. She earned a Ph.D. in 2012 from Purdue University. She is interested in the intersections of work, community, and gender in rural America during the Post-World War II Era. She is currently finishing a manuscript for the University of Iowa Press tentatively titled Earning Her Keep: Iowa Women and the Development of an Industrial Workplace.

Panelist: Beth English, Organization of American Historians
Beth English is director of the Liechtenstein Institute's Project on Gender in the Global Community. She is a lecturer in the Princeton Writing Program, and is also an instructor with Princeton University’s Prison Teaching Initiative. She received her Ph.D. from the College of William and Mary, where she was a Glucksman Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor, and has taught at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research has been funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

English's research and teaching focus on gender, historical and contemporary labor and working-class issues, global economy, and the U.S. and Global Souths. She is the co-editor of Global Women's Work: Perspectives on Gender and Work in the Global Economy (with Mary E. Frederickson and Olga Sanmiguel-Valderrama, Routledge); author of A Common Thread: Labor, Politics, and Capital Mobility in the Textile Industry; and a contributing author to several edited volumes focusing on gender and on the U.S. South. Her recent articles include, “Global Women’s Work: Historical Perspectives on the Textile and Garment Industries” (Journal of International Affairs). Her article, "'I . . . Have a Lot of Work to Do': Cotton Mill Work and Women's Culture in Matoaca, Virginia, 1888-1895" was recognized as one of the Organization of American Historians' Best American History Essays of 2008 (David Roediger, ed.).

Panelist: Joey A. Fink, High Point University
Joey Fink is a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at High Point University. She specializes in U.S. labor and working-class history and women’s/gender history, as well as oral history theory and method. Her work has been published by Southern Spaces and in North Carolina Women, Their Lives and Times (UGA Press). She is working on her manuscript, The Many Norma Raes, which examines women’s leadership in the campaign to unionize the J.P. Stevens textile mills, a multi-faceted struggle for workers’ rights that connected the labor, women’s, civil rights, and occupational health and safety movements in the 1970s. Her public history work includes: fieldwork for the Southern Oral History Program; research and editing for the Smithsonian's Civil Rights History Project; appearances on North Carolina Public Radio; and contributions to documentaries on Charles Cannon and Terry Sanford.