Why did I love this book?
On one level, this is a book about housework in the pre-Civil War northern United States. Much more profoundly, it shatters ideas about unpaid labor in early industrial capitalism. It completely changed my—and many readers’—ideas of what constitutes “work,” what it means to contribute to a household economy, and how ideas about wages (and, especially, work done by men outside the home) obscured early capitalists’ dependence on women’s unwaged work. After reading this, you’ll never refer to “women who worked” and “women who didn’t” again. It should be essential reading not only for women’s historians, but for anyone interested in ideologies of labor, capitalism, and the history of work.
[Full disclosure: I met Jeanne Boydston on my second day of graduate school and we collaborated closely on our dissertations (later books). She was my best friend and best teacher until her much-too-early death in 2008.]