WAGE-EARNING WOMEN: Industrial Work and Family Life in the United States, 1900-1930 by Leslie Woodcock Tentler

WAGE-EARNING WOMEN: Industrial Work and Family Life in the United States, 1900-1930

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Between 1900 and 1930 when millions of American women entered the work force in factory, sales, and service jobs, alarmists feared family life was doomed. Professor Tentler (History, Univ. of Michigan, Dearborn) studies those new wage earners to find out how working changed family living. She concludes that for the most part it didn't. Paid less than a living wage, women workers remained dependent on father or husband and bound to the family home. Assigned petty, sex-segregated tasks and strictly disciplined, women workers learned subservience. At best provisional members of the work-room, women workers dreamed of escape to domesticity. Wage-earning daughters of the working class turned their paychecks over to their families; so, although they gained greater social freedom, their lives as economic dependents didn't substantially change. Women workers on their own were lonely and poor, while married women who worked at both job and home could only long for their own unemployment. Only as wife and mother in the working-class household, Tentler argues, did a woman seem to enjoy any sense of authority. Working conditions simply reinforced familiar patterns of socialization for women and made women's wage-earning a conservative social force, not a disruptive one. Tentler's thesis, reversing conventional wisdom, is supported with rather pedestrian precision; but it goes a long way toward explaining why such a big change in women's lives made, after all, so little difference.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press