In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America by Alice Kessler-Harris. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001, 416 pp., $35.00 hardcover.
In 1920, Julia C. Lathrop, the first head of the Children's Bureau, declared that "[t]he interests of women as wage earners are not the interests of children." Such rhetoric from a Progressive-era reformer and champion of labor illustrates one of the many ways in which ideas about gender have shaped US social policy. Alice Kessler-Harris's latest book, In Pursuit of Equity, provides a richly detailed analysis of the debates that ultimately led to federal benefits programs like Social Security, unemployment compensation, and Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
For Kessler-Harris, ingrained attitudes about gender--or what she calls "gendered habits of mind"--drive people's beliefs about family structure, the labor force, fairness and, above all, the nature of citizenship. These, in turn, have created the uneven mix of policies governing work, economic benefits and some of the most critical social issues of the past century.
How is social policy formulated in the United States? What are the forces and counter-forces, who are the individuals and pressure groups, what are the conflicting ideologies that have played pivotal roles in the development of domestic legislation that still affects millions of Americans? These are clearly crucial questions, perhaps ones only a meticulously researched study like In Pursuit of Equity could come to terms with. The book covers employment legislation and social policy from the early years …