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Neither a compilation of the women's own testimony like Baxandall's America's Working Women (1976) nor an analytic inquiry like countless other adult surveys, this is a comprehensive but unincisive history of women's work and women's status in America. Harris shows colonial women active in all sorts of independent enterprises though higher education, the ministry, and government offices were closed tight; out of the factory system came the organization of low-paid female mill hands; on the frontier women enjoyed a certain equality in hardship, and they won their first legal battles in the Western states. From there Harris traces general reform movements and the impact of wars and depressions, ending with a thumbnail characterization of today's society where two-earner families are the norm and working women's greatest need is for child care. The emphasis throughout is on equal pay for equal work and Harris starts with the sane assumption that women work for the same reason men do: money. Otherwise the absence of focus or critical intelligence can become boring or worse: round-up reports on women in professions and the arts become mere listings of practitioners as diverse as Emily Dickinson and Ida Tarbell, and the citation of colonial Elizabeth Digges as owning 108 black slaves, ""the largest number in the possession of one person in seventeenth century Virginia,"" certain', calls for some accompanying comment. In sum, a better-than-average job of information gathering, a routine one of processing.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Harper & Row