Dorothy Sue Cobble

PROFILE
Distinguished Professor
Unit(s): 
Labor Studies and Employment Relations (LSER)
CONTACT INFO
 848-932-1742
 50 Labor Center Way, New Brunswick, NJ 08903
EXPERTISE
  • Historical and contemporary study of work, social movements, and social policy in the United States and globally

Dorothy Sue Cobble, Distinguished Professor, holds a joint appointment in the Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations and the Department of History.

She received her Ph.D. in American History from Stanford University in 1986. She specializes in the historical and contemporary study of work, social movements, and social policy in the United States and globally.

Her books include Feminism Unfinished: A Short, Surprising History of American Women's Movements (co-authors Linda Gordon and Astrid Henry) (W.W. Norton, 2014); The Sex of Class: Women Transforming American Labor (Cornell, 2007); The Other Women’s Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America (Princeton, 2004), which won the 2005 Philip Taft Book Prize for the best book in American labor history and other prizes; Women and Unions: Forging A Partnership (Cornell, 1993); and the award-winning Dishing It Out: Waitresses and Their Unions in the Twentieth Century (University of Illinois, 1991). In 2010, she won the Sol Stetin Award for Career Achievement in Labor History from the Sidney Hillman Foundation in New York City. In 2016 the Swedish Research Council awarded her the 2016 Kerstin Hesselgren Professorship at Stockholm University.

Professor Cobble has written numerous articles for anthologies, scholarly journals, general interest magazines, newspapers, and on-line sites. Her essays are frequently reprinted and have been translated into Italian, Swedish, Japanese, French, and Portuguese. She is the recipient of fellowships and research funding from the Swedish Research Council, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Charles Warren Center for the Study of American History at Harvard University, the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the U. S. Department of Labor, and other sources. She is also an Organization of American Historians (OAH) Distinguished Lecturer, a position that enables her to speak to diverse audiences across the country hosted by colleges, historical societies, museums, and teacher workshops. Currently she is writing on global worker movements, women’s international reform networks, and America’s progressive political traditions from World War I to the present. She is also completing a biography of consumer, labor, and women’s rights activist Esther Peterson. Professor Cobble is an editor of the journal International Labor and Working-Class History, published by Cambridge University Press. 

For a profile of Dorothy Sue Cobble, please read the September 2010 issue of Rutgers' Focus.

Fair use provisions apply. Do not quote or cite without proper citations or acknowledgements.

"Economic Justice for All: Some Jersey Roots," New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 2:2 (Summer 2016): 1-19.

Cobble, "Future of Work: Shorter Hours, Higher Pay," Pacific Standard, August 2015.

Cobble, "Who Speaks for Workers? Japan and the 1919 ILO Debate Over Rights and Global Labor Standards," ILWCH 87 (Spring 2015), pp. 1-22.

Cobble, Gordon, and Henry, "What 'Lean in' Leaves Out," The Chronicle Review: Chronicle of Higher Education 9/24/2014.

Labor Today” (with Michael Merrill), Pennsylvania Legacies: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania 14:1 (Spring 2014): 40-41.

"A Higher ‘Standard of Life’ for the World: U.S. Labor Women’s Reform Internationalism and the Legacies of 1919Journal of American History 100:4 (March 2014) 1052-1084

"Pure and Simple Radicalism: Putting the Progressive Era AFL in its Time," and "Response to Commentators," Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas 10:4 (Winter 2013): 61-87, 111-16. 

Friendship Beyond the Atlantic: Labour Feminist International Contacts After the Second World War,” Arbetarhistoria (Stockholm, Sweden) 1-2/2009: 12-20. Invited article translated into Swedish. Published in English March 2012.

"Don't Blame the Workers," Dissent, Winter 2012.

"Gender Equality and Labor Movements: Toward a Global Perspective," Washington, DC: Report Prepared for the American Center for International Solidarity, February 2012.

"Occupy Wall Street Theater is A Jab at Political Paralysis," The Star-Ledger, December 18, 2011.

"The Wagner Act at 75: Intellectual Origins of an Institutional Revolution", ABA Journal of Labor and Employment Law 26:2, Spring 2011.

"Betting on New Forms of Worker Organization", Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Volume 7, Issue 3, Fall 2010.

"Labor Feminists and President Kennedy's Commission on Women", in No Permanent Waves, ed. Nancy Hewitt (Rutgers University Press, 2010) pp144-167.

"More Intimate Unions", in INTIMATE LABORS, eds. Eileen Boris and Rhacel Salazar Parrenas (Stanford University Press, 2010), 280-295.

"Women and Politics, 1920-1970," in Princeton Encyclopedia of U.S. Political History, edited by Michael Kazin (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009).

U.S. Labor Women's Internationalism in the World War I Era, Dorothy Sue Cobble, Revue Francaise D'etudes Americaines.

It's time for New Deal Feminism, The Washington Post, 12/13/09.

"Promise of Service Worker Unionism" in SERVICE WORK: CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES, edited by Marek Korczynski and Cameron Lynne Macdonald (New York and London: Routledge, 2009): 153-174.

The Sex of Class: An Introduction,” In The Sex of Class: Women Transforming American Labor, ed. Dorothy Sue Cobble. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007, pp. 1-12.

The Forgotten American Feminists, Translated into Japanese for a special issue on “US-Japanese Working Women’s Organizations,” Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Working Women 48 (August 2005) Toyko, Japan.

"Kissing the Old Class Politics Goodbye", International Labor and Working Class History, 67,
pp. 54-63.

Roundtable Discussion on The Other Women's Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America, Labor, 2:4, Winter 2005, pp. 43-62.

"A Tiger by the Toenail": The 1970s Origins of the New Working Class Majority, Labor 2:3, Fall 2005, pp 103-114.

"When Feminism Had Class", in "What's Class Got To Do With It?" American Society in the Twenty-first Century, ed. Michael Zweig (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004), 23-34.

"Halving the Double Day" , The Labor Origins of Work-Family Reform," New Labor Forum 12 (Fall 2003): 63-72.

" 'On the Edge of Equality’?: Working Women and the US Labour Movement.” (co-author
Monica Bielski Michal) In Gender, Diversity and Trade Unions: International Perspectives, ed. Fiona Colgan and Sue Ledwith. London: Routledge Press, 2002, pp. 232-256.

"Lost Ways of Unionism, Historical Perspectives on Reinventing the Labor Movement" in "Rekindling the Movement, Labor's Quest for Relevance in the Twenty-First Century", ed. Lowell Turner, Harry Katz, and Rick Hurd. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001, pp. 82-98.

"Historical Perspectives on Representing Nonstandard Workers." (co-author Leah F. Vosko). In. Nonstandard Work:The Nature and Challenges of Changing Employment Arrangements",, ed. Francoise Carre, Marianne Ferber, Lonnie Golden, and Steve Herzenberg. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000, pp. 291-312.

"History, Women's Work, and The New Unionism" in "Thought & Action", The NJEA Higher Education Journal, (1999), Vol. XV, No. 2.

A Spontaneous Loss of Enthusiasm": Workplace Feminism and the Transformation of Women's Service Jobs in the 1970s“. International Labor and Working-Class History 56, (Fall 1999): 23-44.

The Next Unionism: Structural Innovations for a Revitalized Labor Movement.” Labor Law Journal 48, No. 8 (August 1997): pp. 439-443.

Lost Ways of Organizing: Reviving the AFL's Direct Affiliate Strategy” Industrial Relations 36, No. 3 (July 1997): 278-301.

Reviving the Federation's Historic Role in Organizing” Institute for the Study of Labor Organizations; Working Papers, March 10, 1996, pp. 1-43.

The Prospects for Unionism in a Service Society.” In Working in the Service Society, edited by Cameron MacDonald and Carmen Sirianni. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996, pp. 333-358.

"Labor Law Reform and Postindustrial Unionism," Dissent Magazine (fall 1994), pp. 473-480.

Dorothy Sue Cobble and Michael Merrill. “Collective Bargaining in the Hospitality Industry in the 1980s” In Contemporary Collective Bargaining in the Private Sector edited by Paula Voos. Madison, Wisconsin: Industrial Relations Research Association, 1994, pp. 447-489.

Making Postindustrial Unionism Possible.” In Restoring the Promise of American Labor Law, edited by Sheldon Freidman, Richard Hurd, Rudolph Oswald, and Ronald Seeber. Ithaca: Cornell Univrsity ILR Press, 1994, pp. 285-302.

Recapturing Working-Class Feminism: Union Women in the Postware Decades.” In Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America edited by Joanne Meyerowitz. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994, pp. 57-83.

Organizing the Postindustrial Work Force: Lessons from the History of Waitress Unionism“ Industrial and Labor Relations Review 44, No. 3 (April 1991): 419-36.

Feminism Unfinished

Eschewing the conventional wisdom that places the origins of the American women’s movement in the nostalgic glow of the late 1960's, Feminism Unfinished traces the beginnings of this seminal American social movement to the 1920's, in the process creating an expanded, historical narrative that dramatically rewrites a century of American women’s history. Also challenging the contemporary “lean-in,” trickle-down feminist philosophy and asserting that women’s histories all too often depoliticize politics, labor issues, and divergent economic circumstances, Dorothy Sue Cobble, Linda Gordon, and Astrid Henry demonstrate that the post-Suffrage women’s movement focused on exploitation of women in the workplace as well as on inherent sexual rights. The authors carefully revise our “wave” vision of feminism, which previously suggested that there were clear breaks and sharp divisions within these media-driven “waves.” Showing how history books have obscured the notable activism by working-class and minority women in the past, Feminism Unfinished provides a much-needed corrective.


Dishing It Out: Waitresses and Their Unions in the Twentieth Century

"Rich in detail, studded with telling anecdotes, Dishing It Out is just as vivid and evocative as its title suggests. . . . This book speaks with clarity and good sense to the major debates in the history of work and gender and will become a landmark in our growing understanding of the relationships between the two."
-- Susan Porter Benson, author of Counter Cultures

"In this imaginative study of waitresses, work, and unionism, Cobble challenges us all to rethink the conventional wisdom about the relationship between craft unionism and the possibilities for women workers' collective action. Women's labor history will never be the same."
-- Ruth Milkman, author of Gender at Work: The Dynamics of Job Segregation by Sex during World War II

A volume in the series The Working Class in American History.


The Other Women's Movement

  • View the Table of Contents
  • Read the praise for The Other Women's Movement
  • Read the Abstract
  • Read the Roundtable discussion
  • Philip Taft Book Prize for the Best Book Published in Labor History in 2005.
  • Honorable Mention, Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award for 2004.
  • A Choice Outstanding Academic Book for 2004. Princeton University’s Noteworthy Books in Industrial Relations List, 2004.
  • New Jersey Council for the Humanities Noteworthy Booklist, 2005.

American feminism has always been about more than the struggle for individual rights and equal treatment with men. There's also a vital and continuing tradition of women's reform that sought social as well as individual rights and argued for the dismantling of the masculine standard. In this much anticipated book, Dorothy Sue Cobble retrieves the forgotten feminism of the previous generations of working women, illuminating the ideas that inspired them and the reforms they secured from employers and the state. This socially and ethnically diverse movement for change emerged first from union halls and factory floors and spread to the "pink collar" domain of telephone operators, secretaries, and airline hostesses. From the 1930's to the 1980's, these women pursued answers to problems that are increasingly pressing today: how to balance work and family and how to address the growing economic inequalities that confront us. The Other Women's Movement traces their impact from the 1940's into the feminist movement of the present.


Women and Unions

Fundamental economic and social transformations have catapulted women onto the front lines of social change. Women are the new proletariat worldwide and the contradictions women are articulating and experiencing now drive workplace reform. The needs of women workers will significantly inform the agenda of any successful labor movement of the future.

"There is no other collection of essays that covers the same range of topics, that has a union perspective, and that has been researched and written by such an outstanding assemblage of scholars and activists. The research has been comprehensive and conscientious, the analysis is sophisticated; the commentary is insightful." - Joyce L. Kornbluh, University of Michigan

"This volume is essential reading for anyone who cares about where our labor movement is heading and wants to help steer it in a direction which is consonant with the best of its traditions." - Roberta Till-Retz, University of Iowa


The Sex of Class:Women Transforming American Labor

Women now comprise the majority of the working class. Yet this fundamental transformation has gone largely unnoticed. This book is about how the sex of workers matters in understanding the jobs they do, the problems they face at work, and the new labor movements they are creating in the United States and globally. In The Sex of Class, twenty prominent scholars, labor leaders, and policy analysts look at the implication of this “sexual revolution” for labor policy and practice.

In clear, crisp prose, The Sex of Class introduces readers to some of the most vibrant and forward-thinking social movements of our era: the clerical worker protests of the 1970's; the emergence of gay rights on the auto shop floor; the upsurge of union organizing in service jobs; worker centers and community unions of immigrant women; successful campaigns for paid family leave and work redesign; and innovative labor NGO's, cross-border alliances, and global labor federations. The Sex of Class reveals the animating ideas and the innovative strategies put into practice by the female leaders of the twenty-first-century social justice movement.

The contributors to this book offer new ideas for how government can help reduce class and sex inequalities; they assess the status of women and sexual minorities within the traditional labor movement; and they provide inspiring case studies of how women workers and their allies are inventing new forms of worker representation and power.

Monica Bielski Boris, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Eileen Boris, University of California, Santa Barbara
Dorothy Sue Cobble, Rutgers University
Marion Crain, University of North Carolina and the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity
Nicola Dones, Labor Project for Working Families
Janice Fine, Rutgers University and the Center for Community Change
Netsy Firestein, Labor Project for Working Families
Heidi Hartmann, Institute for Women's Policy Research and George Washington University
Gerald Hunt, Ryerson University (Toronto, Canada)
Jennifer Klein, Yale University
Vicky Lovell, Institute for Women's Policy Research
Leslie McCall, Northwestern University
Ruth Milkman, University of California, Los Angeles
Karen Nussbaum, Working America, AFL-CIO
Maria Ontiveros, University of San Francisco School of Law
Katie Quan, University of California, Berkeley
Lydia Savage, University of Southern Maine
Vanessa Tait, University of California, Berkeley
Leah Vosko, York University (Toronto, Canada)
Misha Werschkul, SEIU

The 1919 ILO and the Rise of Transnational Labor Feminism

On September 15, 2013, a Swedish television network broadcasted Professor Dorothy Sue Cobble's presentation on The 1919 ILO and the Rise of Transnational Labor Feminism. See the video here.


The 2010 Sol Stetin Award

Professor Cobble accepts the 2010 Sol Stetin Award and speaks about her work and the life of Sol Stetin.

 


Women's ILO: Transnational Networks, Working Conditions and Gender Equality

During a two-day international workshop organized by the ILO Century Project and the European Institute of the University of Geneva, Professor Dorothy Sue Cobble discussed her research findings. The event, Women's ILO: Transnational Networks, Working Conditions and Gender Equality, was held in December 2012. Watch the video below for details.


The Myth of Working-Class Conservatism

Professor Dorothy Sue Cobble gave a talk, "The Myth of Working-Class Conservatism," at the Organization of American Historians annual convention in March 2008 in New York City. Professor Cobble presented as part of the event's panel, "Does Liberalism Have a Usable Past?"