Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States

By Alice Kessler-Harris | Go to book overview

9
Some Benefits of Labor Segregation in a Decade of Depression

An anonymous author writing in Harper's Monthly Magazine in the spring of 1933 described what the depression had done to her. She had, she wrote, worked in the early years of her marriage; her husband's income, with hers, reached a very comfortable $7,000 a year. There were savings, stocks. Then came the crash, unemployment for her mate, and psychological readjustment. She continued in her job, and for more than two years the pair subsisted on her income alone. The husband assumed household tasks, cooking, mending, and shopping. The marriage, blessed with a sense of humor, survived. 1

This was only one of many such tales -- of instances in which the depression challenged life styles developed in a period of seemingly unlimited material affluence. The crash came after a decade of debate in which new forms of companionship were tested, new sexual relationships developed. And then the world buckled. The volume of industrial production dropped the first year by 17 percent and the next by another 17 percent. By the end of 1932 it had declined by nearly half, and the gross national product by nearly one-third. Four and a half million people were listed as unemployed in 1930, eight million in 1931; by 1933 nearly thirteen million people a quarter of the work force -- who would gladly have earned an honest living could not find, work. 2 Things got a bit better after that, but with the exception of 1937, when the rate of unemployment dropped a bit, one of every five potential workers remained unemployed until World War II revived production.

The depression turned what had been the previous decade's joyous

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