|About the Book|
In this book, Jeanne Boydston challenged traditional, largely Marxist, assumptions about the value of women’s contribution to the labor market in the development of capitalism in the United States. This book has become a classic of sorts, although for me it isn’t so groundbreaking as to qualify for five stars. She provides a great deal of evidence for the economic significance of women’s work, as well as demonstrating the changing definition of women’s role in the household over time. She finds, for example, that the middle-class Victorian “housewife” was a model which restricted women’s activities far more than earlier image of a woman as a partner in running a working farm. She provides many examples from diaries and other records of women running the “economy” of the household and managing money from a time when it was generally understood that they did not “own” the property of their husbands. A solid introduction outlines her key questions, methodologies, and the historiography of her subject to that time, and detailed footnotes demonstrate the source material and highlight specifics of her argument.Boydston’s work may seem somewhat dated today, for those familiar with the area. For example, she spends a good deal of time grappling with the concept of the “separate spheres” of men and women and the usefulness (or not) of that model for feminist history. Today, the “spheres” argument is largely discounted as having reproduced the ideology, but not the reality, of the time period it described. Nevertheless, this remains a good introductory text for those interested in women’s history, and offers a useful insight into the early days of gender in history for those with greater background in current discourse.