Selected Works

By legitimizing and intensifying bigotry, and insisting that only white Protestants could be “true Americans,” a revived and mainstream Klan in the 1920s left a troubling legacy that demands a reexamination today.
When Irish orphans were placed in Mexican-American homes in Arizona in 1904, Anglos responded by kidnapping them.
How public and private institutions attempted to copy with child abuse and violence against women.
Reproduction control has been controversial in the US for 150 years, and this book explains why.
The life of the great photographer Dorothea Lange
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Recent Opinion Pieces

Ku Klux Klan, Then and Now

August 16, 2017

The aggressiveness and ferocity of white nationalists and the “alt-right” in general is not a new phenomenon in this country. Some are members of a reviving Ku Klux Klan. Most Americans probably understand the Klan as a southern secret society that arose after the Civil War with one goal: reimposing servitude on African Americans and preventing them from attempting to claim the rights of citizens. In its second coming, in the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan differed in some ways yet retained a base commonality with its parent: revving up anger and fear that the country was being stolen by the wrong people. (more…)

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SayHerName: Police Killings of Black Women

May 25, 2015

Black Lives Matter protests have focused mainly on African American boys and men killed by police. Now the movement is growing, calling Americans to notice and recognize the many, many women—every one of them unarmed—killed by police. Calling the movement SayHerName demands that we not allow these women to become mere statistics, but remember them as beloved individuals, whose deaths caused great suffering to families and friends, and who rarely if ever realize justice.

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Police Violence and Police Unions

March 31, 2015

In November 2014, when the news arrived that the police officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, would not be indicted, I was in my home town, Portland, Oregon. I went to a hastily called demonstration in front of a courthouse. One of the speakers recited a list of young black men who had been killed by Portland’s police in recent years, which made me wonder: in my years away had I been taken in by Portland’s reputation as a city with green policies, good schools and public transportation, and respect for diverse population?

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Anti-Woman Terrorism

March 1, 2015

The proper definition of terrorism, often forgotten, is not only inflicting violence on civilians but doing so in order to intimidate, frighten and coerce others into conformity to the values of the terrorists. When the 19th-century Russian anarchist terrorists assassinated Tsarist agents, they did so in order to make others less willing to serve the Tsar. When southern white Americans lynched black men, they did so in order to scare other blacks out of resistance. Terrorism can be nonviolent: for centuries women were kept in line through calling those who spoke for women’s rights unladylike. Today telling women that they aren’t ladies doesn’t carry the same weight, and verbal terrorism has escalated into grosser and more direct threats.

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Some Hopeful News for a New Year

January 1, 2015

Anticipating a new year has made me yearn for some good news, something uplifting, encouraging, optimistic. Then I realized I had something like that, close to me: Hand in Hand, a network of five bilingual, bicultural schools for Israeli Jews and Palestinians. Despite Israel’s appalling and repressive government, Hand in Hand (Yad b’Yad in Arabic, the same in Hebrew) continues to thrive. Its 1200 students in five schools, and the 3000 adults committed to the schools, are producing alliances and friendships that cross ethnic/religious lines and stand up for peace and justice. It hopes to create five more schools in the next decade.

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Race, Class, and Women's Bodies: Historical Legacies

December 8, 2014

Originally published on 12/8/2014 on Telesur

The human body never stands free of social and historical power relations. Long after many assume that history is past, it lives on, and it leaves its marks on bodies. (more…)

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Thoughts on the Movement to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Israel

December 1, 2014

I’ve been immersed in discussions about the campaign to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel (BDS) for its occupation and repressive rule over Palestinians, and many have become quite heated, even though almost all my friends are critical of Israeli policy. The heat comes from shrillness and exaggeration on both sides—calling Israel fascist, calling BDS supporters anti-Semites, for example. I want to offer here the perspective of a scholar of social movements. I see BDS as a strategy for applying global pressure in the hopes of changing Israeli policy, a strategy that I support because it is having an impact. In fact, it is the only nonviolent strategy that has had an impact thus far. Here are two arguments for supporting it—and for making exceptions and trying something else as well, something that may be more productive for those of us in the US.

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No Shame: Abortion as an Honorable and Child-Centered Choice

November 5, 2014

Several decades ago I wrote the first ever history of US birth-control politics. After it was published I gave talks and wrote many articles about the issue, responding to the anti-abortion movement. But birth control as a whole, including both contraception and abortion, seemed to me so basic to modern life, so essential to any of us in the “99 percent,” that I assumed the opposition would gradually peter out. But it didn’t. I grew exhausted from repeating my arguments over and over. After some time, I went on to other topics as an historian and writer.

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Immigrant Women and Violence

October 2, 2014

Three true stories, with names and locations changed: Brazilian immigrant Virginia da Loma worked for a cleaning service in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The owner of the service came to find her one day as she was cleaning an empty house and got her to submit to his rape by threatening to fire her if she said no. Claudia Gomez’ boss at the vegetable packing plant where she worked in Florida began by telling her how attractive she was, that he simply couldn’t resist her; he repeatedly gave her tasks that put her alone with him. Then he threatened not only to fire her if she didn’t submit, but also to turn her in to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for finding and deporting undocumented immigrants.) When Angela Feliz, who cuts and packs lettuce in California, refused her foreman’s advances, he began harassing her by referring to her publicly as a dyke.

continue reading at telesur

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Feminism Unfinished

September 22, 2014

Published as "What 'Lean In' Leaves Out"
By Dorothy Sue Cobble, Linda Gordon, and Astrid Henry
The Chronicle of Higher Education

Feminism may be the social cause least understood by scholars. Many writers both scholarly and popular repeat a whole series of false claims about it: that feminism has been a middle-class white movement; that it concerned itself exclusively with sex, violence, and reproduction; that it considered men the enemy; that it has become an abstruse postmodern scholarly discourse; and that it is obsessed with marginal insider controversies such as that provoked by Michele Goldberg’s recent New Yorker piece on transgender people. Other misconceptions have coalesced around books by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook CEO, and Debora Spar, President of Barnard College. Although their arguments might at first look appear to contrast--Sandberg urges women to “lean in,” Spar advises them not to try to do everything—they ultimately rest on the same assumptions: that feminist triumph comes with the achievements of individual women, mainly the privileged few.

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