Home and Work

By Jeanne Boydston,

Book cover of Home and Work: Housework, Wages, and the Ideology of Labor in the Early Republic

Book description

Over the course of a two hundred year period, women's domestic labor gradually lost its footing as a recognized aspect of economic life in America. The image of the colonial "goodwife," valued for her contribution to household prosperity, had been replaced by the image of a "dependent" and a "non-producer."…

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Why read it?

2 authors picked Home and Work as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

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 myand 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…

In this small, powerful book, Boydston shows how early capitalists paid their laborers less than subsistence wages, while unrecompensed wives struggled to fill the gap and feed their families. Poor, urban women foraged for food and clothing, took in boarders, and stretched what food they did have to keep their husbands and children fed and clothed. Wages, narrowly defined, did not extend to women’s efforts, but it was their efforts that made it possible to maintain and reproduce this early working class.   Manufacturers benefited from the surplus between what they paid workers and the real cost, that women produced, of…

From Martha's list on open doors to Early America.

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