Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

MA in Women's History


Women’s History Graduate Program


This paper complicates the existing historiography about dust bowl migrants, often known as Okies, in Depression-era California. Okies, the dominant narrative goes, failed to organize in the ways that Mexican farm workers did, developed little connection with Mexican or Filipino farm workers, and clung to traditional gender roles that valorized the male breadwinner. This thesis tells a story that the dominant narrative obscures. Centering on exceptions, I highlight the life and political work of three, relatively unknown Okie women: union organizer Lillie Dunn, radical writer Sanora Babb, and Dust Bowl poet Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel. Together, their stories stand outside and in conflict with most of what is written about the history of Okies in California. Using such exceptions as a guiding framework, I engage several historiographical debates about the Dust Bowl migration, New Deal labor politics, capitalist agriculture, and shifting gender constructs of the 1930s. By complicating knowledge of Okie history and culture in California, this thesis builds on the arguments of earlier Dust Bowl historians to consider the possibility that a tradition of radicalism, interracial alliance, and proletarian feminism, a politics which centers working women’s experiences and communities and understands class and gender as mutually constitutive, is also part of the story.