Family Wages: The Roles of Wives and Mothers in U.S. Working-Class Survival Strategies, 1880-1930
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DeVault, Ileen A.
The common image of a female wage earner in the U.S. in the decades around the turn of the 20th century is that of a young, single woman: the daughter of her family. However, the wives and mothers of these families also made important economic contributions to their families' economies. This paper argues that we need to rethink our evaluation of the economic roles played by ever-married women in working-class families. Using a range of government reports as well as IPUMS, I document three ways in which working-class wives and mothers strove to bring cash into their family units: through formal workforce participation; through home work of various sorts; and through selling subsistence, providing in-home services to nonfamily members in exchange for cash. Unlike earlier works which focused on single locations or ethnic or racial groups or female occupations, I tell a national story of ever-married women’s cash-producing work. Working-class wives and mothers filled in the economic gaps existing in the interactions of their families with the capitalist marketplace through a range of different methods. While early 20th-century unions called for the establishment of a “living wage” for male workers, the world in which those workers lived required both family wages and family strategies to bring in other forms of cash for their survival.
wives; mothers; gender; working class; wages
Required Publisher Statement: © Taylor & Francis. Final version published as: DeVault, I. A. (2013). Family wages: The roles of wives and mothers in U.S. working-class survival strategies, 1880-1930. Labor History, 54(1), 1-20. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.