Civilizing Capitalism

The National Consumers' League, Women's Activism, and Labor Standards in the New Deal Era

By Landon R. Y. Storrs

408 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 20 illus., appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4838-8
    Published: April 2000
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6099-1
    Published: July 2003
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7112-1
    Published: July 2003

Gender and American Culture

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Offering fresh insights into the history of labor policy, the New Deal, feminism, and southern politics, Landon Storrs examines the New Deal era of the National Consumers' League, one of the most influential reform organizations of the early twentieth century.

Founded in 1899 by affluent women concerned about the exploitation of women wage earners, the National Consumers' League used a strategy of "ethical consumption" to spark a successful movement for state laws to reduce hours and establish minimum wages for women. During the Great Depression, it campaigned to raise labor standards in the unregulated, non-union South, hoping to discourage the relocation of manufacturers to the region because of cheaper labor and to break the downward spiral of labor standards nationwide. Promoting regulation of men's labor as well as women's, the league shaped the National Recovery Administration codes and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 but still battled the National Woman's Party, whose proposed equal rights amendment threatened sex-based labor laws.

Using the National Consumers' League as a window on the nation's evolving reform tradition, Civilizing Capitalism explores what progressive feminists hoped for from the New Deal and why, despite significant victories, they ultimately were disappointed.

About the Author

Landon R. Y. Storrs is associate professor of history at the University of Iowa.
For more information about Landon R. Y. Storrs, visit the Author Page.


"Storrs probes a heretofore neglected period in NCL activity. . . . Her attentiveness to the nuances of political context and to the give-and-take required to maneuver within them constitutes a triumph of the historian's craft. Similarly, Storrs's evaluations of historiographical arguments . . . are extremely valuable, particularly to the non-specialist."--Journal of Women's History

"A valuable history of an organization that is often too readily dismissed in the years following the Progressive Era. . . . Storrs is at her best when she tackles the minute detail of the policies, ideologies, and strategies behind the creation of labor regulation during the depression. . . . Civilizing Capitalism convincingly shows the complex, frustrating, and ultimately inadequate development of federal labor regulation during the 1930s."--Journal of American History

"[A] rich and well-searched book . . . with detailed narrative and strong analysis. . . . [Provides] fruitful and original analyses of the relations among women's political movements and consumption."--Reviews in American History

"[An] expertly researched and richly woven history."--American Historical Review

"[A] clearly written and deeply researched book. . . . [that] deserve[s] wide attention and recognition."--Enterprise & Society

"A fascinating account. . . . [The] description of the fight for labor rights in the Southern states is an especially rich rendering. . . . Storrs is skillful in [her] creation of a balanced portrait of the strengths and shortcomings of 'equality' versus 'difference' feminism, as the concepts played out with respect to the workplace of the twenties and thirties."--Journal of Economic History