Women of Courage: Jewish and Italian Immigrant Women in New York

By Rose Laub Coser; Laura S. Anker et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter Nine
Work, Unions, and Identity: "To Make for Herself a Person"

For immigrant women who entered American workplaces within the ideological framework of the home, the factory opened up new possibilities for comradeship and self-sufficiency. "When I came here I think I was either seventeen or eighteen and I got a job right away where they used to make children's rompers. . . . My uncle worked there and he took me in," Laura Heller recalled. "I used to make three and four dollars a week and with the money I had to keep up myself. . . . I had to save a dollar in case I was laid off . . . and I used to send home. . . . I brought over my brother . . . then my sister. . . . She had a husband here but he had a sickness . . . so I brought over my sister and my nephew." Family needs came first: "I didn't come here for pleasure," Laura explained. "But there were times when I wanted to be nice dressed like the other girls at work . . . and to go out and to meet boys and in myself to make a hit." Any money left over could be used to satisfy these new tastes for consumption and recreation Laura had acquired on the job:

The first few years were very bad what I made wasn't enough . . . and from whatever I made I looked to send home more than to leave for me. . . . So I deprived myself from a lot of things that I couldn't have. . . . Close to 10 years I went on with that life . . . but then I changed from children's clothes to dresses. When I worked for dresses I made more money. . . . Then I had more for myself and I was able to help out more. . . . I could save for a nice dress . . . or to go out to the movies with the other girls. . . . The living was nicer.

Since Jewish and Italian wives directed the household economy, their wage earnings could be used to pay for simple luxuries or to accumulate small savings. For this reason, an Italian respondent recalled, her very ability to earn money

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