American Women Leaving the Home and Going to Work

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One of the most significant sociological changes in the nation's history began in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the ramifications are still being felt today. This change consisted of the large numbers of women who entered the work force. This dramatic change in American society was accompanied by a great deal of controversy and prejudice directed towards women. It was predicted that female employment would bring about the downfall of society and the change of the American family.

While a large portion of the public was appalled by the thought of independent young working women, they were also fascinated. Therefore, the attitudes of the public toward these women can be seen in the literature that was produced at that time. The works of Edith Wharton and Theodore Dreiser immediately come to mind as dramatizations of the life of women of this period.

Slowly, attitudes began to change. The employment opportunities for women enlarged and women began to slowly gain their rights as full citizens, finally receiving the right to vote in 1920. The attitudes of the women in the work force also changed as time progressed. At first, they struggled for even the opportunity to work. As the century progressed, they became more active in union activities and, as newspapers from the period demonstrate, they fought to achieve better working conditions and better wages.

By 1900, many poor and working-class young women, mostly of Northern white extraction, were leaving the confines and moral structures of their families and elders and venturing forth to the large industrial cities such as New York (Lunbeck 781). There they became enthusiastic participants of the new pleasures that were offered to consumers in the brand-new century. Essentially, these young women added a stage to the female life cycle that had not previously existed ñadolescence (Lunbeck 781).

In the 1890s, female factory workers were seen as a serious economic and social threat. Because women generally worked at the bottom of the pay scale, the theory was that they depressed the overall pay scale for all workers (Kessler-Harris 98). Many solutions were suggested at this time that all revolved around the idea of these women getting marriedóthe idea being that a married woman would not work for wages. Although this idea seems ludicrous from a modern perspective, it should be noted that t...

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