Awakening the "Forgotten Folk": Middle Class Consumer Activism in Post-World War I America

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Overview

Title
Awakening the "Forgotten Folk": Middle Class Consumer Activism in Post-World War I America
Contributors
Robbins, Mark Walter (creator)
Buhle, Mari Jo (director)
Self, Robert (reader)
Gorn, Elliott (reader)
Brown University. History (sponsor)
Doi
10.7301/Z02J695F
Copyright Date
2009
Abstract
This dissertation explores the political, cultural and social identities of middle class Americans in the post-World War I period - their greatest moment of class consciousness then to date. Identifying as "middle class consumers," they formed "home garden committees" to combat rising food prices, founded "wear overalls clubs" to bring down the cost of clothing, organized the first "middle class" tenant associations to protect themselves from rent increases, and even attempted to establish a "middle class union." Feeling "squeezed" between elites and the working class, this growing contingent of salaried "brain workers" blamed their situation on capitalist "profiteers" and "unproductive" workers during a national upsurge of strikes. I argue that in the post-World War I period, middle class Americans developed and organized around a shared identity that simultaneously reflected their acceptance of their roles as consumers and their ambivalence toward consumer society. Middle class Americans sought to impose a set of producerist values onto an emerging consumer economy that seemingly favored the working and elite classes, during a significant period of transition in middle class identity from a nineteenth century producerism to a growing consumerist subjectivity. These Americans drew on the Progressive Era organizing strategy of state-centered voluntarism, and called for an even more direct state intervention into the market. They also separated themselves from the working class, and shifted progressive goals to reflect their own self-interested values. These values, they asserted, were those of "consumers"- those of the "people."
Keywords
organizing
World War I
Interwar
Progressive Era
Middle class
Consumers
Labor
World War (1914-1918)
Notes
Thesis (Ph.D.) -- Brown University (2009)
Extent
ix, 374 p.

Citation

Robbins, Mark Walter, "Awakening the 'Forgotten Folk': Middle Class Consumer Activism in Post-World War I America" (2009). History Theses and Dissertations. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library. https://doi.org/10.7301/Z02J695F

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