Servants of the State: Managing Diversity & Democracy in the Federal Workforce, 1933-1953

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University of Georgia Press, 2002 - History - 271 pages
Servants of the State traces the halting rise of a pluralistic attitude in hiring and promotion procedures within the federal government. Ranging from the Great Depression to World War II to the early days of both the civil rights movement and the Cold War, Margaret Rung reveals how circumstances in each of these eras shaped how federal managers conceptualized merit for female and African American workers. At the same time, Rung shows how labor relations, as practiced by the nation's most prominent employer, reflected and fostered broader social and cultural debates concerning American identity in a diverse and democratic society.

Rung draws on an impressive array of sources, including previously unexamined archival materials, oral histories, and personnel manuals, as she tells how federal administrators and employees destabilized earlier patterns of discrimination based on white male privilege--only to confront new challenges engendered by personnel trends grounded in sociology and psychology. In the end, a renewed commitment to democracy and social justice in the 1930s and 1940s did not entail a complete restructuring of government labor relations policy or the merit system. By midcentury, labor segmentation based on race and gender within the federal civil service still existed, as did the tension between managers' desire to support individual initiative and their desire to remedy categorical discrimination against blacks and women.

Questions of individual merit versus group rights remain central to our discussions about the relationship between equality and pluralism. Servants of the State highlights the fluid meaning of merit by focusing on this critical concept in the public-sector workplace. By covering an area frequently ignored by historians, it adds an important historical dimension to current affirmative action debates and other issues that touch on pluralism and individual opportunity.



Prior to the New Deal
Building the New Deal Civil Service
Managing Human Relations in the Wartime
Unions and Federal Labor Policy
Gender and the Civil Service
Race and Merit

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About the author (2002)

Margaret Rung is an associate professor of history at Roosevelt University.

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