Women are people ... and citizens too! : changes in the Women's Bureau, 1944-1959

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Title: Women are people ... and citizens too! : changes in the Women's Bureau, 1944-1959
Author: Dunston, Jamie Lynn
Advisors: Frank Fee, Committee Member
Nancy Mitchell, Committee Member
David Zonderman, Committee Chair
Abstract: ABSTRACT DUNSTON, JAMIE LYNN. Women are People -- and Citizens Too! Changes in the Women's Bureau, 1944 - 1959. (Under the direction of David Zonderman.) In 1945, Rosie the Riveter was a revered icon of womanpower and feminine patriotism. By the time Leave it to Beaver made its television debut in 1957, however, June Cleaver had supplanted Rosie as the new face of the American housewife. Many historians have studied this shift, but few have taken an institutional approach to the topic. This thesis explores the changing status of women in the labor force during the postwar decade through the lens of the Women's Bureau, a branch of the Department of Labor, and the two women charged with its directorship between 1944 and 1961. This thesis examines the differences between Frieda Miller, Women's Bureau Director from 1944 - 1953, and Alice K. Leopold, Director from 1953 - 1961. Mid-level bureaucratic appointments are often overlooked, but time and again, national events remind us that these organizational managers not only reflect the political philosophies of the Presidents they serve, but are often in a position to influence their fields even more than the Presidents who appointed them. By studying personal papers, press articles, interviews, and labor statistics the researcher paints a complex picture of working women during the tumultuous demobilization following World War II and the women chosen to lead and represent them. This thesis describes the origins of the Women's Bureau, gives statistical snapshots of women’s labor patterns, and examines the human factors (like long hours, wage discrimination, and availability of child care) that affect labor policy. The researcher then presents comparative biographies of Miller and Leopold and illustrates the broad changes that accompanied the Leopold's succeeding Miller in 1953. Two more different historical characters would be difficult to imagine. Frieda Miller was a longtime labor activist and advocate, a single mother living with a female companion, and an outspoken proponent of a woman's right to training, employment, and protection from exploitation. Alice Leopold was a meteoric success as a businesswoman who left the workforce to be a homemaker for 18 years before entering public life and catapulting to a federal position. Her conviction that a woman's primary role was wife and mother combined with her firm belief that the same woman could contribute much more to society led her to champion women's education, involvement in community organizations, and opportunities for women to work once their children were self-sufficient. By studying these two women, the author hopes to gain a new understanding of the nature of women in America's labor force, past and present, and to examine the role of federal appointees in shaping public policy.
Date: 2008-11-20
Degree: MA
Discipline: History
URI: http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/resolver/1840.16/79

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