Dorothy Sue Cobble
Dorothy Sue Cobble is an American historian, and a specialist in the historical and contemporary study of work, social movements, and social policy. A distinguished professor emerita of history and labor studies at Rutgers University, she is the author of multiple prize-winning books and articles.
Dorothy Sue Cobble grew up in a blue-collar family in Atlanta in the 1950s. She credits her passion for issues of justice and inequality to the fierce debates about civil and human rights that surrounded her in high school, to the sermons she heard in church, and to her father’s pioneering work on minimum-wage legislation in Georgia as a lobbyist for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. The jobs she held while completing her education profoundly shaped her thinking about work and labor reform. She worked as a waitress, receptionist, file clerk, union shipscaler and stevedore, and eventually as an editorial assistant at TV Guide Magazine before receiving a B.A. degree in American Studies, cum laude, from the University of California at Berkeley and a Ph.D. in History from Stanford University.
After joining the faculty at Rutgers University in 1986, Professor Cobble founded the Center for Women and Work at the School of Management and Labor Relations in 1992 and served as its first director. She directed the University’s statewide Institute for Research on Women from 2001 to 2004.
For more on Cobble’s background, read this 2010 profile, read her interview with the 2022 VFA Pioneer Histories Project, or view her best books recommendations at shepherd.com/best-books/how-working-women-changed-the-world.
Books & Accolades
Dorothy Sue Cobble is the author and editor of six acclaimed books. The Other Women’s Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights (Princeton University Press, 2004) upended the conventional story of US feminism by uncovering the full extent and power of a mid-century women’s movement organized around the needs of mothers and low-income women. It won the 2005 Philip Taft Book Prize for the best book in American labor history and other awards.
Cobble’s first book, the prize-winning Dishing It Out: Waitresses and Their Unions in the Twentieth Century (University of Illinois Press, 1991), offered an evocative account of the history of hotel and restaurant work, the inventive methods used by low-income service workers to improve their lives, and the discriminations women and people of color faced in the industry. The lessons of Dishing it Out for contemporary union campaigns among hospitality and other workers continue to be relevant, as revealed in Cobble’s April 28 2022 Zagat interview with Anne Cruz, “What History Can Teach Us About Unionizing."
Her new book, For the Many: American Feminists and the Global Fight for Democratic Equality (Princeton University Press, 2021) is the first history of 20th century US feminism as a global story. In it, Cobble reveals the grit, courage, and wisdom of the women who led the fight for economic justice and social democracy in the United States and around the world.
She is also the co-author (with Linda Gordon and Astrid Henry) of Feminism Unfinished: A Short, Surprising History of American Women's Movements (Norton, 2014) and the editor of The Sex of Class: Women Transforming American Labor (Cornell University Press, 2007) and Women and Unions: Forging A Partnership (Cornell University Press, 1993). Watch excerpts on C-span from the book launch of Feminism Unfinished here.
She won the Sol Stetin Award for Career Achievement in Labor History from the Sidney Hillman Foundation in 2010. In 2016, she held the Swedish Research Council’s Kerstin Hesselgren Professorship at Stockholm University. In 2017, Stockholm University awarded her an Honorary Doctorate in Social Science. In 2018, she was elected to the Society of American Historians, a national organization honoring literary distinction in the writing of history.
Articles, Fellowships & Lecturer
Professor Cobble has written numerous widely read 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, Danish, Icelandic, Japanese, French, and Portuguese. For an interview with Cobble about her 2018 article on the women founders of the International Labour Organization taped in Geneva at ILO headquarters, click here.
She is the recipient of fellowships and research funding from, among others, the Swedish Research Council, 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, and the U. S. Department of Labor.
Cobble is an Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer, a position that enables her to speak to diverse audiences across the country hosted by colleges, historical societies, museums, and teacher workshops. To listen to her public lecture at Minnesota History Center in November of 2019 click here.
For a full list of Cobble’s books, essays, public appearances, and awards, information, consult her cv.