CORVALLIS, Ore. – “What if Poor Women Ran the World? Some Lessons from Las Vegas” is the subject of the second lecture in the 2006-07 American Culture & Politics speaker series at Oregon State University.
Professor Annelise Orleck of Dartmouth College will speak at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 22, in Memorial Union Room 208 on the OSU campus.
Orleck will examine American poverty policy from the perspectives of poor women. Her research on welfare rights and community organizing in Las Vegas challenges the image of poor unmarried mothers that is often prevalent in political debates.
Her most recent book, “Storming Caesars Palace: How Black Women Fought Their Own War on Poverty” (Beacon Press, 2005), is the subject of her OSU lecture. In the book, Orleck follows a group of black mothers who migrated from the cotton fields of Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas to work as maids and cooks in Las Vegas’s burgeoning hospitality industry in the 1950s. Bringing with them a strong rights-consciousness, they became union activists and then welfare rights pioneers. These women pressured a recalcitrant state government into adopting federal programs and founded one of the nation’s most successful antipoverty programs, one run by and for mothers and their children.
Orleck will examine the successes of this movement and the attack on community-based antipoverty programs from the 1980s through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She will suggest what the nation’s social safety net might look like “if poor women ran the world” – and why such a vision is threatening to so many.
Orleck teaches courses in 20th-century U.S. history, Jewish history, and women’s and gender history at Dartmouth College. In “Common Sense and a Little Fire: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States 1900-1965” (University of North Carolina Press), she traced the lives and work of four Eastern European immigrant women whose experiences in rent protests, union activism, and New Deal state building reflected a uniquely working-class feminism. In her book “The Soviet Jewish Americans” (Brandeis University Press, 2001), she chronicled the experiences of the nearly 500,000 Soviet Jews who immigrated to the United States in the last third of the 20th century, and as editor of “The Politics of Motherhood: Activist Voices from Left to Right” (with Alexis Jetter and Diana Taylor, Dartmouth College Press, 1997), she brought together essays that demonstrate the power of motherhood to inspire various kinds of political activism.