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Suzanne Mettler, Dividing Citizens: Gender and Federalism in New Deal Public Policy. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998. ix + 272 pp. $19.95 paper.

  • Joseph Luders (a1)


With so many studies of the New Deal, it is difficult to imagine anyone saying something new about this critical period in American politics, yet Suzanne Mettler has managed to do so. Bringing the gender biases of social policy boldly into the foreground, Mettler retells the story of the formation and implementation of New Deal social policies from a fresh perspective. Surpassing prior studies that concentrate on the gendered notions of the policymakers (such as the assumption of a male breadwinner), Mettler reveals how ostensibly gender neutral debates concerning policy design produced gendered outcomes nevertheless. In particular, Mettler demonstrates that New Deal policies consigned citizens to the governance of either national or state authorities on the basis of gender and points out the fundamental significance of this split. Whereas white male wage earners benefited from the national administration of uniform social policies, most women and minority men were indirectly excluded from these national policies and left under the jurisdiction of parochial and illiberal state governments, thereby dividing citizens. Instead of treating women as independent and rights-bearing citizens, state-administered programs treated beneficiaries as needing “supervision and protection” through a variety of invasive regulations. Incorporating women into the polity at the level of state government, Mettler contends, produced a distinctly inferior form of citizenship. To demonstrate her argument, Mettler presents a rich historical description of the enactment and implementation of Old Age Insurance (OAI), Old Age Assistance (OAA), Unemployment Insurance (UI), Aid to Dependent Children (ADC), and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA).


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