Beyond Norma Rae

How Puerto Rican and Southern White Women Fought for a Place in the American Working Class

By Aimee Loiselle

Beyond Norma Rae

Approx. 320 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 31 halftones, 2 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7613-5
    Published: November 2023
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7612-8
    Published: November 2023

Gender and American Culture

Paperback Available November 2023, but pre-order your copy today!

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In the late 1970s, Hollywood producers took the published biography of Crystal Lee Sutton, a white southern textile worker, and transformed it into a blockbuster 1979 film, Norma Rae, featuring Sally Field in the title role. This fascinating book reveals how the film and the popular icon it created each worked to efface the labor history that formed the foundation of the film's story. Drawing on an impressive range of sources—union records, industry reports, film scripts, and oral histories—Aimee Loiselle's cutting-edge scholarship shows how gender, race, culture, film, and mythology have reconfigured and often undermined the history of the American working class and their labor activism.

While Norma Rae constructed a powerful image of individual defiance by a white working-class woman, Loiselle demonstrates that female industrial workers across the country and from diverse racial backgrounds understood the significance of cultural representation and fought to tell their own stories. Loiselle painstakingly reconstructs the underlying histories of working women in this era and makes clear that cultural depictions must be understood as the complicated creations they are.

About the Author

Aimee Loiselle is assistant professor of history at Central Connecticut State University.

For more information about Aimee Loiselle, visit the Author Page.


"Weaving together histories of capitalism, labor, and cultural production, Loiselle takes readers on a wide-ranging journey, from the textile and garment industries in Puerto Rico and the US South to picket lines, union halls, and Hollywood offices, where executives made consequential decisions about how to represent the American working class. In looking to the film representation of Norma Rae, Loiselle reveals that well-funded culture producers left audiences with a hollowed-out symbol of neoliberal individualism rather than the global working class fighting for collective rights. Loiselle reminds us that even our most beloved icons are complex historical and ideological constructions."—Jessica Wilkerson, author of To Live Here, You Have to Fight: How Women Led Appalachian Movements for Social Justice