Josephine Roche (1886–1976) was a progressive activist, New Deal policymaker, and businesswoman. As a pro-labor and feminist member of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, she shaped the founding legislation of the U.S. welfare state and generated the national conversation about health-care policy that Americans are still having today. In this gripping biography, Robyn Muncy offers Roche’s persistent progressivism as evidence for surprising continuities among the Progressive Era, the New Deal, and the Great Society.
Muncy explains that Roche became the second-highest-ranking woman in the New Deal government after running a Colorado coal company in partnership with coal miners themselves. Once in office, Roche developed a national health plan that was stymied by World War II but enacted piecemeal during the postwar period, culminating in Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s. By then, Roche directed the United Mine Workers of America Welfare and Retirement Fund, an initiative aimed at bolstering the labor movement, advancing managed health care, and reorganizing medicine to facilitate national health insurance, one of Roche’s unrealized dreams.
In Relentless Reformer, Muncy uses Roche’s dramatic life story—from her stint as Denver’s first policewoman in 1912 to her fight against a murderous labor union official in 1972—as a unique vantage point from which to examine the challenges that women have faced in public life and to reassess the meaning and trajectory of progressive reform.
Robyn Muncy is associate professor of history at the University of Maryland. She is the author of Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform, 1890–1935 and the coauthor of Engendering America: A Documentary History, 1865 to the Present.
"Josephine Roche finally has her due, thanks to Robyn Muncy's sparkling political biography. Policewoman and business owner, labor-relations and public-health pioneer, political insider and female outsider, Roche emerges warts and all as a slayer of inequality. More than an exercise in recovery, Relentless Reformer challenges conventional wisdom on the detrimental impact of private welfare on public programs as it charts the persistence of a democratic, state-centric progressivism over the course of the twentieth century."--Eileen Boris, Hull Professor of Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
"Relentless Reformer brings to life one of this country's truly great twentieth-century feminists. A visionary who knew how to get things done, Josephine Roche worked with presidents, governors, and union leaders to achieve her ideal of industrial democracy. Robyn Muncy's masterful and page-turning biography should be required reading for all feminists and progressive reformers working today."--Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League
"Muncy's deft interpretation of Josephine Roche's life takes us on a fascinating journey that sheds new light on the tenacious struggles between Left and Right, the uneven history of labor progressivism, and the enduring importance of personal networks in American politics. Relentless Reformer is a lively and important addition to the history of American political development in the twentieth century."--Kathryn Kish Sklar, author of Florence Kelley and the Nation's Work: The Rise of Women's Political Culture, 1830-1900
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