Literature

The Changing Role of Women in Terms of Pieces of Literature

With the advent of the machine and the production line in the 1800s, more and more Americans were moving to the cities to seek work, bringing the women in from the fields on the farms to the kitchens and family rooms of the middle class. This emerging middle class gave birth to what has since been referred to as the Cult of the True Woman, coined first by Barbara Welter in the mid-1960s (1966), a set of ideas and beliefs regarding the proper structure of the quintessential American family. By the time the Victorian era reached America, the ideal middle-class life was firmly established as consisting of a father going off to work and a mother who stayed at home and reared the children. The onset of industrialization at the beginning of the nineteenth century highlighted differences among women just as it exacerbated those between men and women workers (Kessler-Harris, 1991). Widows, single women and others flocked to the mill towns of New England, New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey attracted by the relatively high wages that could be earned in the factories, but even this began to change as the factory owners began working to reduce costs, lowering wages and demanding more work. In 1870, 60 per cent of all female workers were engaged in some aspect of domestic service and another 25 per cent earned their livings in factories and workshops. Except for janitorial work, factory jobs were off-limits to black women. As late as 1900, when the proportion of white women in domestic service had dropped below 50 per cent, most women of color supported themselves and their families with various forms of domestic service. Others participated in the agricultural work that continued to sustain the majority of black families (Kessler-Harris, 1991). At the same time, the more prosperous married women were prevented from holding any kind of job, instead of expected to uphold the traditional feminine values of piety, purity, submissiveness and domesticity.

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