Aimee Loiselle

Jan 17, 2024

Beyond Norma Rae

How Puerto Rican and Southern White Women Fought for a Place in the American Working Class

University of North Carolina Press 2023

In the late 1970s, Hollywood producers took the published biography of Crystal Lee Sutton, a white southern textile worker, and transformed it into a blockbuster 1979 film, Norma Rae, featuring Sally Field in the title role. This fascinating book reveals how the film and the popular icon it created each worked to efface the labor history that formed the foundation of the film's story. Drawing on an impressive range of sources--union records, industry reports, film scripts, and oral histories--Aimee Loiselle's cutting-edge scholarship shows how gender, race, culture, film, and mythology have reconfigured and often undermined the history of the American working class and their labor activism. 

While Norma Rae constructed a powerful image of individual defiance by a white working-class woman, Loiselle's Beyond Norma Rae: How Puerto Rican and Southern White Women Fought for a Place in the American Working Class (University of North Carolina Press, 2023) demonstrates that female industrial workers across the country and from diverse racial backgrounds understood the significance of cultural representation and fought to tell their own stories. Loiselle painstakingly reconstructs the underlying histories of working women in this era and makes clear that cultural depictions must be understood as the complicated creations they are.

Aimee Loiselle is assistant professor of history at Central Connecticut State University.

Caleb Zakarin is the Assistant Editor of the New Books Network.

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