Abstract: White Collars to Whiteness: Immigrants and Corporate Careers, 1910-1930

Will Cooley


For European immigrants, social mobility was not only a matter of socioeconomics, but was also a strategy to shed their racial stigmas as "backward," "foreign," and "undesirable." To become an accepted part of the American mainstream, one needed to be white. Though several routes to whiteness emerged, European immigrants realized that the most direct route was economic success. This, of course, was easier said than done. Immigrant communities respected immigrant entrepreneurs, but they marveled at the men and women who moved beyond their ethnic group and entered mainstream society through white-collar work. These attainments offered sharp refutations of the charges by mainstream media sources that immigrants were not fit to be true Americans. Unfortunately, immigrants found the middle-class workplace rife with prejudice, forcing them to negotiate their understandings of race and gender carefully. This paper examines how European immigrants and their children utilized white-collar corporate careers as a route to American, middle-class normative whiteness.