Constance Baker Motley and the American Century: A Biography of Race, Gender, Class and Social Change

Faculty Member: Tomiko Brown-Nagin 

This project considers what 20th century American history looks like if it is told through the life and workplace experiences of Constance Baker Motley—the black woman lawyer, politician and judge who rose from poverty to play a decisive role in three social movements that reconstructed American law and society. A public figure from the Popular Front era through the Reagan Revolution, Motley worked as a change agent in the labor, civil rights and women’s rights movements before ascending to the federal judiciary. This examination of Motley’s life and times reflects on race, gender, class and social change in the American Century and yields insights about four matters of general interest. The project comments on: biography and activism; identity and leadership; comparative race relations; and whether women and people of color truly can wield power in American institutions.

Responsibilities: This project employs the research methods of the school of socio-legal history. The student will aid the project by conducting research about issues in the secondary literature on gender and the workplace; the women's movement; women lawyers; leadership; and the immigrant experience in mid-twentieth century. The student will write memos describing the research. Students also will participate in organizing research already conducted for the project.


  • Must be a Harvard College undergraduate. If hired, will participate in the IQSS URS Program.
  • Student must have taken courses in twentieth-century American history and must be an adept researcher and writer.

To apply, please send resume and cover letter to