Davis Lecture: “The Political Development of American Debt Relief”

Michael M. Davis Lecture Series

“The Political Development of American Debt Relief”


Americans have a long history with debt. They also have a long history of mobilizing for debt relief. Throughout the nineteenth century, indebted citizens demanded government protection from their financial burdens, challenging readings of the Constitution that exalted property rights at the expense of the vulnerable. Their appeals shaped the country’s periodic experiments with state debt relief and federal bankruptcy law, constituting a pre-industrial safety net. Yet, the twentieth century saw the erosion of debtor politics and eventual retrenchment of bankruptcy protections. In this book talk, Thurston traces how geographic, sectoral, and racial politics shaped debtor activism over time, enhancing our understanding of an early form of American social policy.

Learning Objectives

  • To trace the geographic, sectoral, and racial politics of debt relief over time, examining the roles played by social movements, interest groups, and constitutional interpretation.
  • To learn that throughout much of U.S. history, Americans have pressed their governments for relief from debts and legislators have mostly granted it.
  • To learn how civil rights organizations focused on fighting predatory arrangements that victimized Black Americans due to their exclusion from mainstream finance.


Presented by Chloe Thurston, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Political Science, Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University.​

Moderated by Colleen M. Grogan, PhD, is the Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Professor in the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice.


Tuesday, October 10, 2023

12:30PM-1:45PM (CT)

Edith Abbott Hall, Library

969 East 60th Street, Chicago, IL 60637


The event is free open to the public. Registration required.

Hybrid Presentation: In-person and virtual via Zoom

1.5 CEUs available for $30, select Add-On.

Lunch provided for in-person attendees, registration required.


About CEUs

  • Eligibility for CEU’s requires indication at registration, attendance to live event, and completion of the post-event survey.
  • Post event, pending attendance verification, a PDF copy of the CEU certificate will be sent to the email provided during registration.
  • 1.5-hour CEU’s are available for $30. The Professional Development Program (PDP) is a licensed State of Illinois provider of Continuing Education for social workers (LSW/LCSW), clinical psychologists, marriage and family therapists, and professional counselors (LPC/LCPC). License #s 159.000140, 168.000115, and 268.000004.


About the Presenter

Chloe Thurston, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Political Science and a Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research. Her research foci include American political development, political economy, and public policy, with a particular interest in how politics and public policy shape market inequalities along the lines of race and gender. She is the author of At the Boundaries of Homeownership: Credit, Discrimination and the American State (Cambridge University Press, 2018), her research has been published in Studies in American Political Development; Politics, Groups, and Identities; and the Journal of Public Policy, and commentaries have appeared in The Daily Beast, Ms., and The Monkey Cage (Washington Post), among others. Ms. Thurston is currently working on two projects related to the politics of credit, debt, and asset inequality in the U.S. The first of these (joint with Emily Zackin) examines the rise and fall of a protective debt relief regime in the United States. The second examines the political economy asset and wealth inequality following key civil rights reforms in the 1960s and 1970s. Ms. Thurston received her B.A. in economics and political science from Johns Hopkins University, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley. In 2019-2020, she was a member of the School of Social Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.


About the Moderator

Moderated by Colleen M. Grogan, PhD, is the Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Professor in the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. She is also the Deputy Dean for Curriculum for the Crown Family School and the Director for the Graduate Program in Health Administration and Policy (GPHAP). She is Associate Editor of Health Policy for the American Journal of Public Health and was the Editor of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy & Law from 2010-2016. Grogan is the Academic Director of the interdisciplinary Graduate Program on Health Administration & Policy (GPHAP) at the University of Chicago.

If you have any questions about access or to request a reasonable accommodation that will facilitate your full participation in this event such as ASL interpreting, captioned videos, Braille or electronic text, food options for individuals with dietary restrictions, etc. please contact the event organizer.