Smoke Signals in the Short Twentieth Century: Gender and the Tobacco Industry in a Trans/National Context – Two Case Studies

Dagmar Wernitznig, U of Ljubljana

The proposed paper aims to unpack female political and public agency within tobacco factories by highlighting and contrasting two twentieth-century case studies, based on the European and North American continents at the intersections of gender, class, and race: The activism of the Klagenfurt-born Marie Tusch, an impoverished tobacco worker who propelled herself to a quite significant level of stardom amongst mostly male politicians of post-1918 Austria, as well as the organizational structures and policies of the National Consumers League with regards to tobacco issues during the first three decades of its foundation. This contribution analyses the diverse and differing working conditions for women employees in the tobacco sector and their socio-economic implications from a national and trans/border perspective, while also discussing ‘genderized’ processes and cultural norms within cigarette and cigar manufacturing plants from approximately 1900 to the Second World War. Firstly, a biographical approach should help illuminate the complexities of private versus public spheres in conjunction with labor movements by examining Marie Tusch’s life story before and after the dissolution of Austria-Hungary. Her political engagement for more and better workers’ and women’s rights finally and rather sensationally earned her a parliamentary seat in Vienna after the first Austrian elections with universal suffrage at the dawn of the First Republic, thus becoming a pioneering female representative to achieve such a mandate. Alongside parameters such as sex and class, the dimension of race, palpably, plays an imperative part in the tobacco production from an overseas and transatlantic angle. The nexus of race, consumerism, and female tobacco labor, again, is investigated for this talk by studying the initial phase of the National Consumers League, which rather eclipsed tobacco plants in the rural South with a primarily African American female labor force from its agenda and socio-political discourses in favor of urban sweat shops.

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 Presented in Session 96. The Political Economy of Gender at Work