cover of book

Indispensable Outcasts: Hobo Workers and Community in the American Midwest, 1880-1930
by Frank Tobias Higbie
University of Illinois Press, 2003
Paper: 978-0-252-07098-3 | Cloth: 978-0-252-02794-9
Library of Congress Classification HD5856.M65H54 2003
Dewey Decimal Classification 331.544097709041


Often overlooked in labor history, the hoboes who rode the rails in search of seasonal work nevertheless secured a place in the American imagination. Frank Tobias Higbie weaves together history, anthropology, gender studies, and literary analysis to reposition these workers at the center of Progressive Era debates over class, race, manly responsibility, community, and citizenship. Combining incisive cultural criticism with labor history, Higbie illustrates how these so-called marginal figures were in fact integral to communities and to cultural conflicts over class, masculinity, and sexuality. He draws from life histories, the investigations of social reformers, and the organizing materials of the Industrial Workers of the World to present a complex portrait of hobo life, from its often violent and dangerous working conditions to its ethic of “transient mutuality” that enabled survival and resistance on the road. 

Frank and compelling,Indispensable Outcasts examines hoboes within the sprawling story of American labor while meditating on writing history from the bottom up and the ways a fascination with personal narrative can color a historian's work.

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