My research interests center on the social and cultural history of the U.S. since World War II, but I have also written on the Gilded Age and Progressive Eras. My focus is the intersections among gender, cultural, labor and economic history. I have a strong background in U.S. visual and popular culture as well. My training is in American studies and I rely on an interdisciplinary approach in my work.
My newest book is Feminism’s Forgotten Fight: The Unfinished Struggle for Work and Family (Harvard University Press, 2018). The book shows the rich 1960s and 1970s feminist activism on behalf of issues that we call today “work and family”--from child care and family leave, to involved fatherhood and shared housework. Feminism’s Forgotten Fight offers a lively revisionist history of the American women’s movement. It debunks the myth that feminists threw women into the workplace, and then ignored them. This hidden history of activism provides a fresh story of second-wave feminism.
Feminists never simply wanted to insert women into the workplace as replicas of 1950’s men. Rather, liberal and radical activists, white women and women of color reconceptualized sex roles and the family order. They demanded that the government support caring for children by providing both allowances for mothers staying at home and universal child care. Exposing the prevailing male-breadwinner/female-homemaker norm as discriminatory and out of step with most Americans’ lives, feminists put forward creative proposals to reshape workplaces and government policies, many of which, such as flex- and part-time work, now seem prescient. Historians have acknowledged many of these goals, but Feminism’s Forgotten Fight is the first study to examine feminist campaigns for them in depth and to connect them all within an overarching narrative. With compelling stories of local and national activists, and of crucial judicial battles, this book restores the comprehensive vision feminists pursued. Feminism’s Forgotten Fight offers a timely intervention for the resurgent feminism of the Trump era.
Feminism’s Forgotten Fight forms part of a larger project, The Rise of the Working Family: Working Mothers and U.S. Culture in Postindustrial America. This book traces the rise of the working family in the second half of the twentieth century. The Rise of the Working Family provides an integrated narrative of two of the most fundamental historical changes of the last fifty years in the United States—simultaneous gender and economic revolutions, revolutions that particularly transformed women’s roles and working lives.
Historians understand the unskilled male industrial worker to be the emblem of industrial capitalism; they have yet to understand how the working mother is the emblem of the postindustrial order. With the new service economy, working mothers moved front and center. They dominated popular conceptions of the labor force and occupied growing sectors of the economy, particularly the expanding “care” sector. I explore the ongoing political and social conflict about what would replace the ideal of a family shaped by a male breadwinner and female homemaker in the face of massive economic change.
My earlier scholarship examined gender, culture, and labor in the art world at the turn of the century. In Painting Professionals: Women Artists and the Development of Modern American Art, 1870-1930 (University of North Carolina Press, 2001), I traced the careers of two generations of American women artists who flooded the art world starting in the 1870s. I showed the significance of culture to Progressive Era social reform with an edited document collection, How Did Settlement Workers at Greenwich House Promote the Arts as Integral to a Shared Social Life? for Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000 (Alexander Street Press, 2006).
My work has been featured on CNN.com, The Christian Science Monitor, the Huffington Post, and on public radio’s “To the Point.” I lecture regularly on the women’s movement, women in the art world, postwar America, and the Gilded Age and Progressive Eras. I have been featured on C-SPAN’s Talking History.
Fordham News interviewed Dr. Swinth about her new book, Feminism's Forgotten Fight. Read New Book by History Professor Recasts Second-Wave Feminism.