Okay, so... I know I've taken a little bit of a hiatus from blogging, a month to be exact, but the "moving back to Memphis, new job, and trying to settle" madness is behind me I promise I will be more diligent. Besides blogging, other things that I need to tend to are studying for the GRE (yuck....) and getting on top of editing my paper that will be submitted with my grad school apps in the fall. I thought bringing the topic of this paper into today's blog post would be a nice way to kick start everything :]
In today's society working women are more than common place. In fact if a woman isn't working it's usually because she married wealthy, is retired, or is under 15. Before the late 1800s, however, a woman's "sphere" was restricted to domestic settings. As the Industrial Revolution took off in America during the late 19th century, work opportunities for women outside of the home also rose. Factories and shops needed cheap labor and there were plenty of single, immigrant women in the urban communities across the east that needed to support themselves.
Most commonly these women are known for the hardships they experienced such as dire working conditions, meager pay, long work hours, and the danger they encountered in the factories, like the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911.* Historians like Kathy Peiss and Nan Enstad, however, have presented a different side of the story for these young women.
These young, single women made up a demographic that this country had never encountered before. The garment factories in which they worked were producing ready-to-wear fashions that they could afford to purchase in the department shops popping up in shopping districts across the metropolis's of America. Dance halls in which men and women intermingled were breaking down the Victorian concept of separate spheres for the sexes. In part, these women laid the foundation for the social revolutions of the 1920s and the middle class flapper girls.
The image of young working women in the early 1900s may look very different from my comrades and I running around bringing you your food and drinks in our Blue Monkey shirts, shorts, and tennis shoes, but essentially the ideals of making a living and taking steps toward bettering ourselves are there for the young working woman of 1911 as well as 2011.
*146 women perished in this industrial disaster due to locked doors and no fire exits in the factory.
Images from Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York by Kathy Peiss and Ladies of Labor, Girls of Adventure: Working Women, Popular Culture, and Labor Politics at the Turn of the Twentieth Century by Nan Enstad.