Manual In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America

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Now he insisted that the bill's sponsors had added the exclusionary clause because they "did not want to give rise to the inference that this measure was intended to maintain at Government expense employment for people who ought to be in school or who ought to be at home helping to raise families, to make sure that we were not undertaking by a Government program to break up the family. They had added the language, he explained, to fend off charges that they wanted "to guarantee at the expense of the Government the employment of persons who need not be employed at all and who ought to be left free to do as they see fit.


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To them the exclusion of housewives resonated with common sense, validating popular sensibilities about the appropriate distribution of responsibilities for men and women. And including them would have been, as Murray put it, "impossible. No, including housewives would undermine the good life for everyone. Similar tension between women's demands for economic inclusion and broad claims to democratic participation had shaped the course of other national histories. France had twice witnessed social movements on behalf of women's rights to work: once during the French Revolution, when Olympe de Gouges lost her head for claiming women's full economic and political participation; and again in , when women demanded that their briefly acknowledged rights to jobs receive recognition by a grant of the right to vote.

Before the turn of the century, an international women's movement fought for the integration of women into the labor market while socialists resisted. The United States in the s witnessed a continuing struggle between "equal rights feminists" who claimed an absolute right to work and more moderate social feminists who agreed to restrict economic rights to preserve traditional families. But whatever the arguments about rights to work in feminist circles, common experience and popular understanding affirmed male prerogatives.

This chapter traces the gendered nature of rights to work as they emerged in late nineteenth-century ideas around masculinity and the family. It describes how these putative rights came to mark the independent status that provided entry to fuller economic citizenship and signaled access to the political process. And it suggests how, in consequence, rights to work became carefully gendered, a corollary of widespread beliefs in the ideology of family and in the necessary privileges of the male breadwinner in whose justice women and men concurred.

I argue that by the early twentieth century few people believed that women had rights to work in the same sense as men and that, as a result, women's constitutional liberties were severely circumscribed. Women, in the eyes of many, deserved state protection for fair and equitable treatment at work equal wages, suitable working conditions, reasonable hours precisely because they possessed few rights to work. In the first half of the twentieth century, persistent beliefs about the gendered right to earn helped to structure the labor market in ways that restricted women's job choices, fostered the adoption of new corporate welfare strategies that benefited male-headed families, and ultimately shaped the direction of social policy in the s.

In Pursuit of Equity Women Men and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th Century America

Though these belief systems sometimes wavered with regard to single women and among African-American women, for example and were often challenged, their practical effect was to restrict women's access to economic citizenship. This applied to white and black women, privileged and not so. And whatever a woman's particular circumstances, she would find herself constrained by ideas that she was powerless to control and that profoundly influenced the legislative agenda.

The Mere Fact of Sex No sphere of life was more jealously guarded by the late nineteenth-century working man than his relationship to wage work. His ambition threatened by the loss of entrepreneurial opportunities as capital consolidated, his skill devalued by the relentless ascendancy of new machinery, a working man measured his worth by the dignity of his job.

Outside the workplace, a skilled craftsman could hold his head high in the political arena; inside it, he retained his manhood as long as he could evoke discipline and solidarity among his fellow craftsmen. To defend their rights to work, men organized collectively around notions of solidarity and brotherhood, advocating a notion of free labor that was both racial and patriarchal.

It embodied a conception of male prerogatives rooted in an ordered and comfortable family life that relied on female labor at home. Its moral authority rested on its power to distance itself from symbolic and actual slavery by setting dignified terms of labor. It utilized these constructs to develop a conception of equal rights for white male workers that was to guarantee effective self-representation and provide the basis for the perpetuation of a democratic republic.

The idea of free labor thus embodied both the elusive privileges of whiteness and the notion of separate spheres for men and women. It derived economic power from its restrictions on labor imagined as neither white nor male. This included not only African Americans enslaved as well as free but recent immigrants from places like Ireland, and later Italy and most of southern and eastern Europe. The idea also explicitly excluded women, even wives and daughters, from wage work. Neither in nineteenth-century liberal theory nor in practice did slaves of either sex or women of any race hold property in their own labor.

The labor of slaves, male and female, belonged to their owners. Free women of every race were conceived as wives and mothers; their labor belonged to husbands and families. Both engaged in subsistence as well as wage labor without acquiring what more privileged men understood as "rights to work. Indeed, central to the male conception of republicanism was an ordered family life that incorporated male dominion over wives and children. In men's eyes, the wage labor of free women, where necessary, ought to be dignified and to provide self-support, but it was not expected to lead to independence and self-sufficiency.

Rather, just as men's free labor was predicated on their capacity to support families, so women's was assumed to sustain the family labor of men.

Sol Stetin Award for Labor History | Hillman Foundation

Both racial exclusion and male gendered privilege participated in maintaining white solidarity, and both sustained the proto-right to work. Since the measure of manhood lay in self-sufficiency and independence, white men closely guarded their employment prerogatives.


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  4. For if women's wage work competed with that of white men or threatened to undermine men's wages, it simultaneously challenged men's access to citizenship. White women, who expected to participate in the polity through their menfolk, increasingly shared the expectation that any wage work women did would be a response to economic necessity and in subsidiary positions. Subsequent sections broaden this framework to examine U.

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    While each essay represents an important intervention in American historiography in itself, the collection taken as a whole reveals Kessler-Harris as someone who has always pushed the field of American history to greater levels of inclusion and analysis, and who continues to do so today. Protecting women : labor legislation in Europe, the United States, and Australia, Book 10 editions published in in English and held by WorldCat member libraries worldwide. Perspectives on American labor history : the problems of synthesis by J. Carroll Moody Book 8 editions published between and in English and held by WorldCat member libraries worldwide.

    Women have always worked : a concise history by Alice Kessler-Harris 11 editions published between and in English and Undetermined and held by WorldCat member libraries worldwide A classic since its original publication, Women Have Always Worked brings much-needed insight into the ways work has shaped female lives and sensibilities. Beginning in the colonial era, Alice Kessler-Harris looks at the public and private work spheres of diverse groups of women--housewives and trade unionists, immigrants and African Americans, professionals and menial laborers, and women from across the class spectrum.

    She delves into issues ranging from the gendered nature of the success ethic to the social activism and the meaning of citizenship for female wage workers. This second edition features significant updates. A new chapter by Kessler-Harris follows women into the early twenty-first century as they confront barriers of race, sex, and class to earn positions in the new information society. The open cage : an Anzia Yezierska collection by Anzia Yezierska Book 9 editions published between and in English and Undetermined and held by WorldCat member libraries worldwide.

    Faith of a woman writer Book 7 editions published between and in English and held by WorldCat member libraries worldwide. Past imperfect: alternative essays in American history by Blanche Wiesen Cook Book 9 editions published in in English and held by WorldCat member libraries worldwide.

    In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th Century America

    Millennium evenings at the White House. The title of this lecture is, 'Women as Citizens. Social history by Alice Kessler-Harris Book 9 editions published between and in English and held by WorldCat member libraries worldwide. The unpossessed by Tess Slesinger Book 2 editions published in in English and held by 89 WorldCat member libraries worldwide "Details the ins and outs and ups and downs of left-wing New York intellectual life and features a cast of litterateurs, layabouts, lotharios, academic activists, and fur-clad patrons of protest and the arts.

    Women as citizens : vital voices through the century Visual 1 edition published in in English and held by 56 WorldCat member libraries worldwide Alice Kessler-Harris, Nancy Cott, and Ruth Simmons speak on the history of American women in civic life in the 20th century. Includes remarks by President Clinton, and comments and questions from the audience and from the Internet. The lower class as a factor in reform: New York, the Jews, and the 's by Alice Kessler-Harris 7 editions published between and in English and held by 55 WorldCat member libraries worldwide.

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