Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States

Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States

Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States

Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States

Synopsis

First published in 1982, this pioneering work traces the transformation of "women's work" into wage labor in the United States, identifying the social, economic, and ideological forces that have shaped our expectations of what women do. Basing her observations upon the personal experience ofindividual American women set against the backdrop of American society, Alice Kessler-Harris examines the effects of class, ethnic and racial patterns, changing perceptions of wage work for women, and the relationship between wage-earning and family roles. In the 20th Anniversary Edition of thislandmark book, the author has updated the original and written a new Afterword.

Excerpt

As a candidate for the presidency in 1980, Ronald Reagan explained to reporters why his wife Nancy had abandoned her career. "She didn't feel she could manage both career and home," said Reagan, "and she chose the one she felt was the most important." The workingclass husbands interviewed by Lillian Rubin for her book Worlds of Pain would have applauded the choice. "I think our biggest problem is her working," said one. "She started working and she started getting too independent." And another: "I don't want her to work, and I don't want her to go to school. What for? She doesn't have to. She's got plenty to keep her busy right here."

Almost all American women have been wives at some point in their lives. As such, they have had a particular place in American culture, holding together the fabric of American life. Some of the longest and most vicious battles in our past have been fought over issues that touched on the home and family: equal rights for women, access to birth control information, legal abortion. Suffrage for women was once considered an accomplishment that would divide husband from wife; the vote belonged to the family, not to individuals. A woman's ability to work for wages was, and perhaps still is, such an issue. What would be the effect of her own wages on woman's independence -- on her desire to marry? -- asked traditionalists. How would wage work alter her ability to fit comfortably into the home if she married? How would it alter her sense of herself, her willingness to play carefully designated roles? Would it result, as Karl Marx warned in the midst of the British industrial revolution, "in a new form of family and new relations between the sexes? . . ."

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