Skip to main content

This website is no longer being updated. Visit Dartmouth Now for all news published after June 7, 2010.

Dartmouth News
>  News Releases >   2005 >   August

Dartmouth author brings welfare mothers' fight to light

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 08/29/05 • Contact Genevieve Haas (603) 646-3661

In her new book Storming Caesars Palace, Dartmouth professor of history Annelise Orleck tells the remarkable story of the mothers of Las Vegas' Westside, a group of poor, mostly African-American women drawn to the desert boomtown by the promise of a better life. What they found was a system intent on taking a hard line against "welfare mothers." In her exhaustively researched narrative, Orleck reveals how this ignored, discounted group mobilized and fought back, bringing the fight to the gaming floors of the Caesars Palace casino as well as to the halls of Congress and the White House.

Led by Ruby Duncan, a hotel maid and mother of seven, the Westside mothers educated themselves and formed their own antipoverty organization, Operation Life, which won millions of dollars in federal contracts to run community programs that included Westside's first medical center, library, and senior citizen housing. These welfare mothers created job training programs and day care centers and helped poor women develop their own small businesses. According to Orleck, their story remains relevant to the current poverty crisis in America, as Congress prepares to vote this September on every federal program providing aid to the poor.

Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina, calls the book, "like a truly great novel, the revelation of a world unknown." Nell Irvin Painter, author of Sojourner Truth, says the work is "a lovely book of hope! With grace and with rigor, Annelise Orleck presents the War on Poverty from the vantage point of poor mothers who managed the system efficiently. Working against the assumption that black women must fail, the women of Operation Life made economic democracy real for a quarter of a century in the Jim Crow town of Las Vegas."

Orleck is available for interviews  and will give a reading from the book at the Norwich Bookstore on September 14 at 7 p.m.

Orleck is the author of two earlier books, Common Sense and a Little Fire: Working Class Women's Activism in the 20th Century U.S. and Soviet-Jewish Americans and she is the co-editor of The Politics of Motherhood: Activist Voices from Left to Right.

Dartmouth has television (satellite uplink) and radio (ISDN) studios available for domestic and international live and taped interviews. For more information, call 603-646-3661 or see our Radio, Television capability webpage.

Recent Headlines from Dartmouth News: