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

By Kathy Peiss | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
LEISURE AND LABOR

After ten or twelve hours a day bending over a sewing machine, standing at a sales counter, or waiting on tables, what energy could a turn-of-the-century working woman muster to attend a dance hall or amusement park? Quite a lot, according to the testimony of employers, journalists, and the wage-earners themselves. "Blue Monday" plagued employers. The head of a dressmaking shop, for example, observed that her employees "all took Sunday for a gala day and not as a day of rest. They worked so hard having a good time all day, and late into the evening, that they were 'worn to a frazzle' when Monday morning came." On week nights, working women hurriedly changed from work clothes to evening finery. Said one saleswoman, "You see some of those who have complained about standing spend most of the evening in dancing." The training supervisor at Macy's agreed, noting in exasperation, "We see that all the time in New York--many of the employees having recreation at night that unfits them for work the next day."1

Young, unmarried working-class women, foreign-born or daughters of immigrant parents, dominated the female labor force in the period from 1880 to 1920. In 1900, four-fifths of the 343,000 wage- earning women in New York were single, and almost one-third were aged sixteen to twenty. Whether supporting themselves or, more usually, contributing to the family economy, most girls expected to work at some time in their teens. Nearly 60 percent of all women in New York aged sixteen to twenty worked in the early 1900's. For

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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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