Meet the Fellows: 2019 Newcombe Fellow Amy Zanoni

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship is the nation’s largest and most prestigious award for Ph.D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences addressing questions of ethical and religious values. The 2019 class of Fellows includes Amy Zanoni, a doctoral candidate in history at Rutgers University. Amy traces  her path to her research focus:

I started graduate school shortly after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, and battles over the ACA have raged ever since. As debates over health care have permeated national conversations, I have studied how people in the United States have envisioned the role of the government in providing health care and other services over time. My M.A. thesis examined Baltimore’s second-wave feminist movement in relation to its changing urban environment. I was especially interested in how activists articulated a need for state-based solutions to economic and social problems while also building grassroots institutions dedicated to filling services gaps in their community, how they fought for universal health care while also creating a free clinic in their neighborhood. Over time, I began to take greater interest in the history of social policy during the late twentieth century, and how a rapidly changing welfare state shaped the terrain on which activists operated. The public hospital emerged as an illuminating and under-examined site for parsing these questions. Within the walls of this municipal health care institution, patients and staff acutely felt the consequences of local, state, and federal policy decisions, and they waged struggles over access to and quality of care. Honing in on the activism of those who mobilized to defend the public institutions that caught those falling through the cracks of a non-universal health care system, my dissertation argues that activists formulated a vision I call the “safety-net welfare state.”

As I commence my final year of graduate study, conversations about the future of health care have gained new momentum. Today, more activists and policymakers are talking about Medicare for All, which vows to go further than the ACA in providing universal health coverage. Republican efforts to repeal and replace the ACA and roll back other federal health care and poverty programs, meanwhile, have escalated. As these debates play out in the coming months and years, I look forward to watching how the safety-net welfare state continues to play a role.

Amy’s dissertation, titled Poor Health: Retrenchment and Resistance in Chicago’s Public Hospital, 1945–2002, recasts the history of the modern American welfare state by analyzing the struggle over the privatization of Chicago’s only public hospital. For more information on the 2019 Newcombe Fellows, click here.



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