Are male and female participation in the workforce destined to be mutually exclusive? The Waltham Mills of the mid-1820s and 1830s in addition to the thriving post-War 1950s are especially interesting in the context of the evolution of workplace participation in earned work, along with the social changes in gender roles, for example, that accompanied these shifts.
While men have, throughout American history, sustained a substantial degree of authority over the workplace and, more generally, the conception and definition of “work” itself, women, on the whole, have found themselves somewhat pigeonholed in the home. As in the 1830s, when the large textile mills of Waltham, Massachusetts, in the midst of an industrial revolution, battled a shortage of workers by employing more women than ever before, the booming economic growth of the post-War 1950s also brought women out to work in droves. However, in addition to simply flooding women into the workforce to account for the deficit of male workers following the War, the groundbreaking 1950s presented women as a sustainable source of labor. The greater gender diversity in the workforce would redefine the so-called entrenched gender role structure that for centuries had existed in society and, thus, the workplace. It was obvious that the nature of work was changed forever. But what exactly led to this massive radical shift in sentiment against the status quo? After all, we know societal change doesn’t come easily. What were the origins of this movement which sought to redefine a society so inexorably accustomed to a workplace composed of exclusively men, and a household composed of a woman and her children? Women’s blooming and unprecedented participation in relatively large numbers i...
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...ine between male workers and female workers was suddenly erased – by 1960, the median annual earnings of full-time women workers had fallen to 60% of the rate for male workers – a figure that reflected their increasing occupational segregation . Nevertheless, women had by now become a permanent and integral part of the workforce, and this imperative, beginning in the 1960s, ushered in a revolutionary movement within society and work that put equal rights for men and women at the forefront of debate, affecting the politics and social fabric of the US for a generation and beyond.
Kessler-Harris, Alice. Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1982.
Cowie, Jefferson R.. Capital Moves. New York: The New Press, 2001.
The American Historical Review, Vol. 91, No. 5. (Dec., 1986), pp. 1053-1075
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