Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York

By Kathy Peiss | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Just now her search is translated very lightly and gaily into the demand for "a good time" and a keen interest in the other sex. 1

I was a lively girl, a devil, I was healthy, young and all that, and they used to say I was very pretty also, and I was all over, you know, I wasn't sleeping like other girls. 2

This book is a study of young working women's culture in turn-of- the-century New York City--the customs, values, public styles, and ritualized interactions--expressed in leisure time. Wandering through the dance halls, streets, nickelodeons, and amusement parks of the metropolis, I explore the trivia of social experience for clues to the ways working women constructed and gave meaning to their lives in the period from 1880 to 1920. Until recently, the historical record silenced those who left few written accounts and committed no "great" deeds. The flowering of feminist scholarship has at last begun to restore working-class women to history, establishing the significance of their activities in the household, workplace, and political arena. But leisure?--a minor pursuit, if not an outright contradiction; as one Polish immigrant remarked , "Who had leisure time?"3

Nonetheless, many working women carved out of daily life a sphere of pleasure that belied the harsh realities of the shop floor and tenement. Their activities, moreover, offer a window into social

-3-

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Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page ii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 3
  • Chapter One - the Homosocial World of Working-Class Amusements 11
  • Chapter Two - Leisure and Labor 34
  • Chapter Three - Putting on Style 56
  • Chapter Four - Dance Madness 88
  • Chapter Five - the Coney Island Excursion 115
  • Chapter Seven - Reforming Working Women's Recreation 163
  • Conclusion 185
  • Notes 189
  • Index 237
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