Moses Greeley Lecture

2019 March, Moses Greeley Parker Lecture, Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center

The 1979 movie Norma Rae earned multiple awards and generated a pop icon that people continue to reference. Aimee Loiselle, a historian of women, work, capitalism and culture, will explore the movie as a pop phenomenon that obscured the complex conditions of the global textile and garment industry. Although Norma Rae returned the media spotlight to Crystal Lee Sutton, the inspiration for the movie who used it to call attention to ongoing union organizing by hundreds of mill hands, it was also a studio product intended to make money. Its narrative of an individual woman appealed to American audiences but elided decades of southern labor activism and the vital role of black civil rights activists in the 1960s. The movie’s use of the familiar and sentimental poor white southern mill hand also erased the connected twentieth-century labor and migrations of Puerto Rican needleworkers, fostering skewed notions of a white American working class and simplistic ideas of deindustrialization.