Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York

By Kathy Peiss | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
REFORMING WORKING WOMEN'S RECREATION

While entrepreneurs avidly promoted working women's presence in commercial recreation, middle-class reformers assailed the noisy familiarity and tawdry glitter of dance halls and resorts. "Let us see the amusement exploiter just as he is," warned one middle-class spokesman. "With him the love of fun in the human heart is a cold matter of dollars and cents. He buys youth's freshness of feeling in return for sundry ticklings of sensation, and blights its glad spontaneities with his itching palm." 1 Cheap amusements threatened to inundate New York, appealing to the "low" instincts of the masses, debasing womanly virtues, segregating youth from the family, and fostering a dangerously expressive culture. Reformers imbued the everyday pleasures of working women with a moral reading that linked cheap amusements to promiscuous sexuality and heterosocial relations. The image of the flashily--dressed working woman, joking and flirting with men, spieling late into the night, enjoying a newfound sense of social freedom, resonated uncomfortably within the middle-class public.

This was a period of ferment for middle-class Americans, when new ideas about womanhood, sexuality, and leisure were actively being debated. By the late nineteenth century, the roles of bourgeois women had extended far beyond the home, to include philanthropy and reform, political activity, and professional work. This "New Woman" questioned the "natural" division of women and men's lives into separate spheres of social activity. Still, Victorian values guided most middle-class women in affirming the virtues of chastity and decorum among single women and the primacy of motherhood and domesticity after marriage. The heterosocial culture and expressive sexuality enjoyed by working-class youth,

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Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page ii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 3
  • Chapter One - the Homosocial World of Working-Class Amusements 11
  • Chapter Two - Leisure and Labor 34
  • Chapter Three - Putting on Style 56
  • Chapter Four - Dance Madness 88
  • Chapter Five - the Coney Island Excursion 115
  • Chapter Seven - Reforming Working Women's Recreation 163
  • Conclusion 185
  • Notes 189
  • Index 237
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