Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The History Of Women In The Workforce

apparently coincides with the history of family breakdown. I'd like to draw your attention to the post by Jesse from Secular Patriarchy where he discusses these things.

Here is an excerpt:

From the source “100 Years of Marriage and Divorce Statistics United States, 1867-1967”, page 27 of 68, it gives the number of marriages in 1867 as 357,000 and the number of divorces as 10,000 for a divorce rate of 2.8%. According to Census data in 1870 13.1% of all females over age 10 worked, this proportion rising to 14.7% in 1880 and 17.0% in 1890. Again based on Census data in 1890 2.2% of married white native women with native parents worked, this proportion rising to 3.0% in 1900. This shows very clearly that divorce was already in the process of rising in 1870 and that women working was already in the process of rising in 1870; rising divorce and rising women working being fundamental parts of family breakdown.


  1. Thanks Sanne for highlighting my latest post. I am rather proud of it in terms of putting the big picture together, how family breakdown developed slowly over time, and identifying “where we are now” in the development of things.

    I believe in the traditional past that a married woman working was just as scandalous and just as taboo as getting divorced or as having a child out of wedlock; the statistics showing that all of these bad outcomes were about equally common meaning they were equally as prohibited and equally as discouraged.

    A married woman working means the woman is doing masculine things while being married, while being under the guardianship and protection of a designated man whose job it is clearly to support her. The woman has a higher value doing feminine things than doing masculine things and obviously it is the husband’s job to take on the masculine responsibility of financial support, not the wife’s. In the past people understood this and valued it very highly. It takes major dedication and commitment to keep married women out of the workforce as completely as it was done before 1900; the priority placed on keeping married women out of the workforce showing the social importance and social value of married women being dedicated to feminine pursuits, not the masculine role of the husband that the woman was not suited for.

    People need to understand that women working in general and married women in particular working is completely contrary to the traditionalist family ethic; that there is no patriarchy without the financial support of women.

  2. Jesse, you are welcome!

    I believe married women working was seen as scandalous all the way up to the 1960s. An interesting thing is that even many unmarried women were outside the paid employment. From period books like Miss Silver stories you can see they were supported by their male relatives, even so far as second cousins sometimes. Theirs was a radically different society.

  3. It is also interesting how many modern housewifes/SAHMs try to highlight the fact that they DO work, really hard, they just work at home. Now I am not arguing mothers nowadays don't have a lot to do, but that is actually not the traditional idea.

    Everybody who could, hired domestic help to the mother/wife. The higher the social class, the less women actual did anything(exept charity work, and of course their social role was important, in order to promote husband's career and children marriages). They were merely the supervisors of the household. Shows like Downton Abbey show this clearly, situation started to change at 1920's.

    I have to mention again Hadley and Ernest Hemingway: they were really poor at early 1920's and yet they had hired domestic help. Hadley surely did not do her own laundry -or take care of her own child most of the time...

    Now I am not trying to promote lazyness here: just trying to say that women were really seen as the weaker vessel and people did think that women cannot, and should not, work, at least not that much, if there was some way to prevent it. Of course victorians took it too far, to the point were this thinking actually started to damage women's health. But in my opinion women are not built to work like men, propably because of the lack of testosterone.

  4. I think housework can actually be therapeutic, if you don't overdo it. It's not just all the stuff you have to do at home, it's the whole modern way of life which is quite stressful: even if you don't work, you are constantly on the move nowadays...

  5. Working women is something I've been thinking about lately. First, I really do agree with the cause and effect (married women working - divorce rate)

    There are two things I can wrap my mind around... First must be a cultural thing. In the Little House on the Prairie books Papa takes care of the cow(s). Traditionally, in agrarian Finland, cows have always been in woman's domain all the way to the industrial scale dairy farms that are here to stay (thanks to EU). But well kept cows and high class dairy products were the pride of the wife. This is what I grew up with, so it always seems to me that Papa was doing something he wasn't supposed to do, like wearing an apron :-)

    Then there's another problem in my mind: I can't understand how one mother made her daughter become the sole provider when she was widowed. I think she should have looked for the possibility to marry again (there was another daughter in her teens) or start working herself. I mean, I think every woman_is_capable of working_if_needed, no need to be helpless or abusive.

    And, aren't the hired help women too? :-)
    I know, they were usually unmarried :-)

  6. Miriam, from what I read, in the 19th century USA any work outside home was considered a man's job, unless it was working in a small vegetable patch close to your house. In another book in the series, she mentions that only foreign women went into the fields with men during hay-making, while American women were "above" doing men's jobs.

    I also read that among the Germanic tribes, free women never went into the fields, either, only the wives of serfs did. A man was judged by the community on how well he could support his wife. After the serfdom was abolished, there was probably some mixing and mingling and as the result, some women did help in the fields, while others didn't.

    I'm not sure about the widowed lady, which book was it?

    Hired women worked inside the house and it was considered OK, because they were home, not outside of it. Also, they were mostly unmarried. Also, whatever the society standard, there is always some cheating going on. The standard now is a career woman and yet we are all housewives here:)

    There was a Dutch Catholic politician in the 1930s who did a lot to restrict female (married) labour, but even he made exceptions for domestics, because they "fulfilled an important society function."

  7. The widowed lady was in real life, a distant relative in the 50's.

  8. Miriam, not sure about Finland but here it was the rule that mothers simply didn't work. For an unmarried woman it was OK, though.

  9. My grandparents were farmers and I remember grandma taking care of the cows. But my grandpa always tried to help with all the really heavy stuff, like shoveling maneure and feeding the cows. I would say in Finland taking care of the cattle was concidered domestic work. I actually think a man milking a cow would have been a disgrace. And women also helped on the fields on hay time and harvest. Finland has always been so underpopulated (?) that there simply was not enough labour force otherwise.

    I recall Helen Andelin saying something about the "Sweet Promise", that husband must know that his wife IS capable of working if she must.

    I think I have read that upper class women, who didn't have to work were healthier and lived longer than lover class women forced to work? Of course they propably had better nutrition and often less kids, so they did not die in childbed that likely.

  10. I think the difference is probably cultural? I actually based my reply on what De Tocqueville said:

    "In no country has such constant care been taken as in America to trace two clearly distinct lines of action for the two sexes and to make them keep pace one with the other, but in two pathways that are always different. American women never manage the outward concerns of the family or conduct a business or take a part in political life; nor are they, on the other hand, ever compelled to perform the rough labor of the fields or to make any of those laborious efforts which demand the exertion of physical strength. No families are so poor as to form an exception to this rule. If, on the one hand, an American woman cannot escape from the quiet circle of domestic employments, she is never forced, on the other, to go beyond it."

    Yes, I do think you are right about upper class women, just compare Mrs Darwin with Charlotte Bronte. And she had like 9 kids, too, the last at nearly 49 years of age, while Charlotte couldn't carry even one to term while being 10 ( or more) years younger.

  11. I have just thought about it, in Europe peasant women (who would often be the descendants of medieval serfs) did go into the fields to help, while "ladies" didn't (and of course, in medieval times the wife of a free landowner was a lady). In the USA every married woman, no matter how poor, was considered a lady, probably because of democracy? And ladies do no heavy or strenuous work...

  12. Interesting points. But in Finland we never had serfs: on viking era, people did have slaves but that ended when we became christians. But I suppose you are right about ladies: if your family was rich enough and your home was more like a country estate, these ladies of course did not work on fields. But crofter's wife's did.

    On the other hand, hay time and harvest were like a fiesta, even though the work was hard. Sauna was heated every day (usually once a week), which tells how important that time was. And the division of labour was still present: Men cut the hay or crops and women raked or tied the straws together to sheafs.

  13. Interesting. I remember reading Emil stories by A. Lindgren, his father was a farmer, but he had help and the mother never did anything outside home. They didn't come across as particularly wealthy, btw, just average.

  14. In Finland Emil's family would have been concidered rather wealthy, for ordinary farmers. Finland has been much poorer than Sweden until modern times. This is very visible when one drives through Swedish countryside: everything is so pretty and well groomed and you can tell it has been like that for several hundreds of years. Finnish countryside is more like Russian... Not quite that sad, but closer to that.

  15. Do you know by chance why there was such a difference?

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