Women and the City: Gender, Space, and Power in Boston, 1870-1940

Women and the City: Gender, Space, and Power in Boston, 1870-1940

Women and the City: Gender, Space, and Power in Boston, 1870-1940

Women and the City: Gender, Space, and Power in Boston, 1870-1940

Synopsis

In the 70 years between the Civil War and World War II, the women of Boston changed the city dramatically. From anti-spitting campaigns and demands for police mothers to patrol local parks, to calls for a decent wage and living quarters, women rich and poor, white and black, immigrant and native-born struggled to make a place for themselves in the city. Now, in Women and the City historian Sarah Deutsch tells this story for the first time, revealing how they changed not only the manners but also the physical layout of the modern city. Deutsch shows how the women of Boston turned the city from a place with no respectable public space for women, to a city where women sat on the City Council and met their beaux on the street corners. The book follows the efforts of working-class, middle-class, and elite matrons, working girls and "new women" as they struggled to shape the city in their own interests. And in fact they succeeded in breathtaking fashion, rearranging and redefining the moral geography of the city, and in so doing broadening the scope of their own opportunities. But Deutsch reveals that not all women shared equally in this new access to public space, and even those who did walk the streets with relative impunity and protested their wrongs in public, did so only through strategic and limited alliances with other women and with men. A penetrating new work by a brilliant young historian, Women and the City is the first book to analyze women's role in shaping the modern city. It casts new light not only on urban history, but also on women's domestic lives, women's organizations, labor organizing, and city politics, and on the crucial connections between gender, space, and power.

Excerpt

On August 21, 1893, a visitor from the Denison House settlement reported that Mrs. Scanlon's husband was to be buried the next day. Mrs. Scanlon had three children, all of them small. She had received help from Berkeley Temple and was now cared for by Rev. Mr. Dickinson and his people. Five days later, on Saturday, the visitor returned to 65 Chapman Street and found Mrs. Scanlon braiding her daughter's hair, hoping to find a small tenement near a day nursery and work enough to keep her three children with her.

I used Mrs. Scanlon's story in the previous chapter to point out the spatial awareness of working-class women and the intimate and vital impact of the city's geography on their daily lives. I also used it to demonstrate women's active engagement with urban space: Mrs. Scanlon, seemingly in dire straits, moved to take control of the geography of her life. Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse for Mrs. Scanlon, and her story illustrates not only the enterprising strategies of women of the working poor and the density of their local networks, but the limits of their ability to redesign or reappropriate urban space in their own interests.

By September 6, Mrs. Scanlon had given up on her original scheme. Now she sought a room for herself and planned to put two of her . . .

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