Reinventing the Body Politic: Women, Consumer Culture, and Civic Identity from Suffrage to the New Deal

My dissertation unites social feminism and consumer culture through the notion of the consumerist compromise. Striking an intermediate path using the tenets of consumer culture, social feminists argued that modern consumer conveniences granted women the free time to pursue interests outside the home, that women's status as consumers made them vital to the national economy, and that the complexities of modern industrial life blurred the lines between domestic and public spheres making politics increasingly significant to the quality of women's lives. Social feminist organizations accepted this image of modern American womanhood as a public relations strategy designed to increase female voter participation and, in turn, their leverage as lobbyists. The consumerist compromise helped social feminists' usher in a modern American liberalism consistent with their progressive social reform agenda and in which they served as experts in labor relations, industrial health and safety, and child welfare. Their success during the New Deal was the culmination of these efforts and reflected both their lasting impact on American politics and the limits of their political power.