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