As the twentieth century draws to an end, the changing role of women appears as one of the dominant features of the era. In Now Hiring, historian Julia Blackwelder traces the century-long evolution of the American occupational structure and the ensuing rise in demand for female workers through the closing episodes of the Industrial Revolution and the advent of postindustrialism. Decade by decade, she adroitly traces the main lines of the development of the female work force and its interactions with education, family life, and social convention while developing a nuanced analysis of the differential patterns for various ethnic, racial, age, and socioeconomic groups.
Through vignettes of individual women, given context by statistical data that place them within larger patterns of work and family life, Blackwelder presents her arguments “with flesh on them.” She offers a pioneering consideration of non-paid employment as part of the picture of women and work and incorporates an intriguing case study of the evolution of the Girl Scout organization. Her consideration of the interaction of race, class, gender, and economic forces in the evolving roles of working women--particularly since she weaves these issues into every discussion, rather than isolating them as afterthoughts--also makes an intellectual contribution to the field of women’s studies. In her conclusion, Blackwelder summarizes the effects of a century of change in women’s employment and delineates the social and economic challenges that will confront women and families of the twenty-first century.
Blackwelder portrays the larger economy as the premier driving force for patterns of female work. She demonstrates that the reconfiguration of the women’s labor market followed the shift of the leading sector, from agriculture in the nineteenth century to manufacturing and eventually to service industries. In addition, she shows how changes in the labor market redirected female education and transformed family structures in the United States and how these changes in turn contributed to the further restructuring of job opportunities and salary structures.
Blackwelder analyzes how gender conventions have affected the employment of women: what industries would hire them, what positions they were considered for, what pay was considered appropriate. Considering how the shift in the national economy and the growing female permeation of the labor force changed the dynamics and economics of family life, she shows that although wage-earning wives gained more authority within marriage, they also assumed heavier responsibilities for the financial support of their families. As rising rates of separation and divorce further burdened mothers (who generally had child custody), women’s economic advances paradoxically worsened their overall financial well-being.
This survey of U.S. women and work introduces students and general readers alike to these important topics, and the distinctiveness of Blackwelder’s approach, blending quantitative data and oral history materials, as well as the cogency of her underlying arguments, give the book importance to scholars of labor and economic history and women’s studies.
What Readers Are Saying:
“Blackwelder documents the working women of the various eras well.” --Colonial Latin American Historical Review
“For scholars now to the field, Blackwelder’s book serves as a useful introductory text to 20th-century women’s labor history . . . Both first-time and veteran teachers of women’s history, labor history, and American history survey courses will find it a handy source of qualitative and quantitative information to employ in course lectures.” --Labor History
“A graceful, often provocative, presentation, buttressed by statistical data.” --Western Historical Quarterly
“Blackwelder . . . succeeds in conveying a clear vision of the feminization process and its differential and unequal impact upon the private and public lives of working women from the late nineteenth to the end of the twentieth centuries.” --Business History Review
“The work should be of great interest to anyone studying the history of women or labor in the Commonwealth.” --Historical Journal of Massachusetts
“Blackwelder’s book serves as a useful introductory text to 20th-century women’s labor history.” --Labor History
“She presents it in highly readable and thorough fashion. . . . For scholars new to the field, Blackwelder’s book serves as a useful introductory text to 20th-century women’s labor history. . . . Both first-time and veteran teachers of women’s history, labor history, and American history survey courses will find it a handy source of qualitative and quantitative information to employ in course lectures.” --Labor History Vol. 40, no. 1
“This survey by Julia Kirk Blackwelder provides an accessible account for students and general readers and at the same time contributes a new perspective to the literature. . . . Blackwelder’s book is a welcome addition to the growing body of literature on the history of women and work.” --American Historical Review
“Now Hiring is a thorough chronicle of women’s participation in the workforce throughout the 20th century.” --Network News
“This is an important study that arrives at an opportune moment.” --Journal of Southern History