SURF

Carolyn Zola

Redefining Worker Identity in the 1920s

From 1923 to 1929, a period characterized by economic prosperity in the United States, Mather and Company created and distributed hundreds of motivational workplace posters that were hung in offices and factories across the country. Covering a broad range of topics, the posters sought not only to inform workers on matters related to workplace safety but also to redefine worker identity by using the language and ideology of the labor movement, while dramatically reshaping the meanings of such language. My research project, which will form the basis of my senior thesis, will explore the ways in which the Mather and Company workplace posters redefined fundamental ideas such as cooperation and fairness, which had for decades been the moral ground staked out by the labor movement, while masking a reinforcement of traditional ideas of hierarchy and discipline.

Message to Sponsor

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity given to me by SURF and the Wishek Fund to spend my summer delving deeply into the subject of worker identity in the 1920s. I transferred to Berkeley from community college last fall and am thrilled and honored to have such an opportunity; I could never have imagined this a year ago. I also feel truly grateful for the chance to continue to learn from my mentor, Professor David Henkin. Already our conversations have deepened the way I consider historical questions and have challenged me to look beyond obvious answers to more intriguing, complicated possibilities.
  • Major: History
  • Sponsor: Wishek SURF fellow
  • Mentor: David Henkin, History