Now Hiring: The Feminization of Work in the United States, 1900-1995

Now Hiring: The Feminization of Work in the United States, 1900-1995

Now Hiring: The Feminization of Work in the United States, 1900-1995

Now Hiring: The Feminization of Work in the United States, 1900-1995


As the twentieth century draws to an end, the changing role of women appears as one of the dominant features of the era. In Now Hiring, historian Julia Blackwelder traces the century-long evolution of the American occupational structure and the ensuing rise in demand for female workers through the closing episodes of the Industrial Revolution and the advent of postindustrialism. Decade by decade, she adroitly traces the main lines of the development of the female work force and its interactions with education, family life, and social convention while developing a nuanced analysis of the differential patterns for various ethnic, racial, age, and socioeconomic groups.

Through vignettes of individual women, given context by statistical data that place them within larger patterns of work and family life, Blackwelder presents her arguments "with flesh on them." She offers a pioneering consideration of non-paid employment as part of the picture of women and work and incorporates an intriguing case study of the evolution of the Girl Scout organization. Her consideration of the interaction of race, class, gender, and economic forces in the evolving roles of working women--particularly since she weaves these issues into every discussion, rather than isolating them as afterthoughts--also makes an intellectual contribution to the field of women's studies. In her conclusion, Blackwelder summarizes the effects of a century of change in women's employment and delineates the social and economic challenges that will confront women and families of the twenty-first century.

Blackwelder portrays the larger economy as the premier driving force for patterns of female work. She demonstrates that the reconfiguration of the women's labor market followed the shift of the leading sector, from agriculture in the nineteenth century to manufacturing and eventually to service industries. In addition, she shows how changes in the labor market redirected female education and transformed family structures in the United States and how these changes in turn contributed to the further restructuring of job opportunities and salary structures.

Blackwelder analyzes how gender conventions have affected the employment of women: what industries would hire them, what positions they were considered for, what pay was considered appropriate. Considering how the shift in the national economy and the growing female permeation of the labor force changed the dynamics and economics of family life, she shows that although wage-earning wives gained more authority within marriage, they also assumed heavier responsibilities for the financial support of their families. As rising rates of separation and divorce further burdened mothers (who generally had child custody), women's economic advances paradoxically worsened their overall financial well-being.

This survey of U. S. women and work introduces students and general readers alike to these important topics, and the distinctiveness of Blackwelder's approach, blending quantitative data and oral history materials, as well as the cogency of her underlying arguments, give the book importance to scholars of labor and economic history and women's studies.


Contemporary backlash against working women in the United States and their rights to equity in employment generated the writing of this book. Because the backlash has so frequently perverted the historical record in defining concepts such as family values," "traditional women," and "traditional families," I hoped to let history speak for itself. Women's latitude to choose unpaid work over market labor has steadily decreased during this century, partly as a consequence of the major changes in the content of jobs that have steadily fed employers' efforts to hire women and partly as a consequence of the public's increasing dependence on commercial goods and services. The flow of women into the labor market began far in advance of this century, and similar trends accompanied economic development throughout the world. It seems highly unlikely, then, that paid employment among women will decline significantly in the future. We in the United States have consistently struggled at some level with a conflict between idealized notions of womanhood and women's employment. It is unlikely that debate over gender roles will fade away, but long-term economic trends also suggest that backlash will not reverse women's rising rates of employment.

In researching this book I turned first to statistics on the labor force and occupations, with the U.S. Bureau of the Census serving as the primary source of data. In addition, I used secondary analyses of labor force history and of the U.S. economy in the twentieth century. Federal statistics also provided a basic outline of educational expansion and school attendance. In examining women's work experiences, I relied heavily on interviews, some of which I collected myself, but most of which were obtained from oral history collections throughout the country. The U.S. Women's Bureau, the U.S. Office of Education, the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library, and the archives of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. (New York) yielded both primary and secondary sources on work and on the education and socialization of girls.

In writing this book I began with the economy itself as it has influenced hiring choices of employers and job choices of employees. I worked outward from the economy to examine the fit or lack of fit between employment opportunities and the messages about work that families, schools, girls' clubs, and women's literature directed toward women and girls, as well as the fit between hiring prospects and . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.