Participant Info

First Name
Last Name
Smith College
Website URL
modern U.S. history, women's history, labor, global capitalism, gender and race, unions and worker organizing, working women, Puerto Rican needleworkers, feminism, women's liberation, popular culture, social movements, reproductive justice
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Personal Info

About Me

Aimee Loiselle is interested in the postwar U.S. as a hub for transnational labor and capital. She specializes in the histories of working women, gender, and race with attention to both labor and economics. Her studies also explore how popular representations of women and work and cultural narratives of women as labor obscure historical complexities. Her dissertation earned the 2020 Lerner-Scott Prize from the Organization of American Historians (OAH), and Loiselle received the Catherine Prelinger Award from the Coordinating Council for Women in History (CCWH) for the book project.

Her project Creating Norma Rae: Southern Labor Organizers and Puerto Rican Needleworkers Lost in Reagan’s America brings together tools from women’s labor history, history of capitalism, and cultural history to explore the larger historic circumstances that led to the production of the 1979 movie Norma Rae. It then examines the cultural work the film did to reconstitute the narrow notion of the white American working class. Using a wide frame and interdisciplinary methods, she argues U.S. government offices and textile and garment enterprises incorporated women of the New South and Puerto Rico into manufacturing in distinct yet interrelated ways at the turn of the twentieth century. A fascination with poor white southerners, however, led media to focus on Crystal Lee Sutton during the 1970s. The book does not simply recover Sutton but reevaluates the context in which she worked and organized, expanding it beyond the South to the Atlantic U.S., including Puerto Rico.

The detailed study of Norma Rae then shows how popular culture works to rearticulate familiar meanings and obscure such disconcerting complexities due to its own reliance on gendered and racialized narratives as studios pursue the widest possible sales. The book highlights how Hollywood professionals used legal contrivances to remove Sutton from the movie production and change its title when her insistence on the collective effort of workers did not suit their commercial ambitions. The result elided a long history of southern and civil rights labor activism and contributed to the erasure of Puerto Rican needleworkers. It emphasizes the importance of capitalist mechanisms in the arena of cultural politics, especially regarding questions of who contests and shapes the visibility and meanings for “working class,” “worker,” and “American.”

Loiselle focuses on working women and their interactions with transnational currents of labor and capital. She studies the ways women workers navigate and resist both their immediate conditions and the larger economic systems in which they work. Loiselle also explores how media images of women workers articulate cultural narratives about work, gender, race, femininity, and sexuality in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Such narratives intersect in potent ways with economic policies, employment practices, and global transformations in capital while often obscuring the experiences, voices, and actions of women workers.

Recent Publications

Articles and Chapters

“U.S. Imperialism and Puerto Rican Needleworkers: Sovereignty, Citizenship, and Women’s Labor in a Deep History of Neoliberal Trade.” International Labor and Working-Class History, forthcoming Spring 2021.

“Puerto Rican Needleworkers in Colonial Migrations: Deindustrialization as Pathways Lost,” Journal of Working-Class Studies, Special: Social Haunting, Classed Affect, and the Afterlives of Deindustrialization, December 2019, .

“Austerity Undermines Every Effort at Equity and Justice,” Women, Gender, and Families of Color, Spring 2018.

Selected Nonfiction

“Mary McCurdy” and “Lucy J. Sprague,” Black Women Suffragists Collection, Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000, Summer 2018.

“International Women’s Day and American Exceptionalism,” Classism Exposed, Class Action, March 2018.

“The Norma Rae Icon: Protest as a Spectacle of the Inspirational Individual,” In Media Res: A Media Commons Project, May 8, 2017.

“A Laboratory for Neoliberalism: Puerto Rican Needleworkers,” El Sol Latino,, May 2017.

“Mini-Interview Project #42: Aimee Loiselle in Conversation With Grace Smith, Yup’ik Activist.” The Rumpus, May 2011.

Book Reviews

Jack Roper, The Last Orator for the Millhands: William Jennings Bryan Dorn, 1916–2005 (2019), in The Journal of Southern History, forthcoming Spring 2020.

Lane Windham, Knocking on Labor’s Door: Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide (2017), in Canadian Journal of History, Winter 2019, .

Traci Parker, Department Stores and the Black Freedom Movement: Workers, Consumers, and Civil Rights from the 1930s to the 1980s (2019), in Black Perspectives, Fall 2019, .

In Progress

“‘That Certain Stamp of Southern Pride on Their Faces’: Opelika and Norma Rae’s Patina of Authenticity,” preparing for submission.


“Mother Jones,” Century of the Woman, The Hill, September 2020,

Selected Fiction

“Ban,” selection for the volume’s Discussion Guide. Ars Medica (Fall 2011): 16-20.

“Happy Sometimes.” Yellow Medicine Review (2011): 95-104.

“Souvenirs.” American Fiction (Moorhead, MN: New Rivers Press, 2010), 45-58.

“He Used to Say Te Quiero Everyday.” Steam Ticket (2010): 10-11.

Media Coverage
Print: “Scholarship Stories,” College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Annual Dean’s Report, April 2018; “Vox Populi on Ad Hoc Committees,” Western Mass Politics & Insight, January 27, 2014
Country Focus
U.S. in transnational context
Expertise by Geography
Caribbean, United States
Expertise by Chronology
Modern, 20th century, 21st century
Expertise by Topic
Capitalism, Colonialism, Economic History, Gender, Higher Ed, Labor, Politics, Race, Women