Memories of Migration: Gender, Ethnicity and Work in the Lives of Jewish and Italian Women in New York, 1870-1924, by Kathie Friedman-Kasaba

By Lamphere, Louise | Shofar, October 31, 1999 | Go to article overview

Memories of Migration: Gender, Ethnicity and Work in the Lives of Jewish and Italian Women in New York, 1870-1924, by Kathie Friedman-Kasaba


Lamphere, Louise, Shofar


Memories of Migration: Gender, Ethnicity and Work in the Lives of Jewish and Italian Women in New York, 1870-1924, by kathie Friedman-Kasaba

Kathie Friedman-Kasaba re-considers the migration of Jewish and Italian women to New York city, criticizing previous frameworks which have emphasized a pushpull/assimilationist model or a historical-structural approach. Instead she urges us to examine the interconnection between global processes which fostered migration in the late ninteenth and early twentith centuries and the construction of gender, race, and class formations. Like other recent analysts she sees women as actors within their households, neighborhoods, and ethnic communities. She seeks to understand variability in women's experiences and strategies, the contrasts both between single women and mothers and between Jewish and Italian immigrants.

In her chapters on the origins of Jewish and Italian female migration, I learned a great deal about the changing political economy in Europe and its impact on migration. For example, young Jewish women were much more involved in wage labor (for example, in garment factories or as homeworkers) and Italian women much more occupied with farm labor (to make up for absent husbands who had already migrated) than many other studies suggest. Friedman-Kasaba highlights the role of the state in these chapters, which is a welcome approach since we often have relied on economic explanations without taking into account the way in which governmental policy has actively shaped immigration. For instance, the Italian state encouraged temporary migration of men, while in Russia the government, through restricting the occupations Sews could take up, first brought women into the paid labor force and then encouraged them to migrate.

In her chapters on the United States, Friedman-Kasaba particularly focuses on issues of racialization, and this is the section of the book (Chapters 4 and 5) that makes the greatest contribution to the literature on women and migration. Friedman-Kasaba examines the importance of racial nativism (the application of racial categories to immigrant populations from Southern and Eastern European backgrounds) in shaping middle-class reformers' views of both married and single Italian and Jewish women. Female reformers tended to see married immigrant women as childlike, often taking a "maternalist" position in terms of "uplifting" and assimilating them. Through settlement houses and organizations like the North American Civic League for Immigrants, middle-class female reformers set out to reform the domestic work routines and child care practices of Jewish and Italian mothers. Reformers disapproved of cash-earning strategies which would make women less dependent on their husbands and sought instead to get women to budget more, to change the food they cooked, and to learn how to make clothes for their children. In the case of single women, reformers were more concerned with "the white slave trade" (and other aspects of prostitution) as well as the purity and moral standing of young women. Through various organization (including those founded by German-Jewish women to aid Russian immigrants), women reformers advocated vocational training, including some programs that were out of touch with the realities of the industrial labor market. …

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