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

By Kathy Peiss | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

When the working day is done, oh! girls just want to have fun. 1

The reformers' response to working girls' style represents one facet of a larger cultural transformation occurring between 1880 and 1920. Competing conceptions of gender informed much of the cultural ferment of these years, as numerous voices questioned the inviolability of women's traditional sphere. Public attention turned to the "New Woman," who relished personal autonomy and activity in the public arena and challenged the boundaries of domesticity and female self-sacrifice. This emergent sensibility among middle-class women extended from political life to leisure time. Women's massive mobilization for suffrage and temperance, as well as their visibility in radical politics, signified a new scale of participation in public life. Fervid debates over the "new morality" brought the scrutiny of women's sphere into the realm of private life. Greenwich Village feminists, for example, zealously advocated women's sexual satisfaction, personal freedom, and equality in marriage. 2 The bursting of old barriers infectiously appealed to other middle-class women who were less politicized. Dancing sensual dances, attending cabarets and nightclubs, living as "bachelor girls" in apartment houses, these women expressed a new-found sense of freedom and possibility.

At the same time, middle-class men's roles also underwent challenge and redefinition. The Victorian ethic that bound success to hard work and thrift grew more distant from many men's daily experiences. The development of large, impersonal corporations in an increasingly bureaucratic society undermined traditional notions of masculine individuality and conquest. So did the restlessness of

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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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