Indispensable Outcasts

Hobo Workers and Community in the American Midwest, 1880-1930
Author: Frank Tobias Higbie
Seasonal workers in the Midwest during the Progressive Era
Paper – $22
Publication Date
Paperback: 01/01/2003
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About the Book

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.

About the Author

Frank Tobias Higbie is a professor of history at UCLA and the author of Labor's Mind: a History of Working-Class Intellectual Life.


"Higbie has produced a well-written and enlightening interdisciplinary study of seasonal laboring classes, with thoughtful criticism of the Progressive Era culture and successful persuasion regarding the considerable role hobo workers played in the social relations of the turn-of-the-century American Midwest."--Journal of Illinois History

"A penetrating new history of the nation's first large-scale temporary industrial work force. Higbie's challenging arguments about the complex and multivalent sources of class identity should serve as a guide to anyone writing about the social and cultural conflicts of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century America."--The Journal of American History


“A wonderful book, beautifully written and filled with insight and innovation.”--Cindy Hahamovitch, author of The Fruits of Their Labor


Winner of the Sharlin Memorial Award in Social Science History, 2004. Winner of the Taft Labor History Prize, 2004.