S01E38 Women in the Workforce

Ep 38: Women in the Workforce

Ever heard people say that “women entered the workforce during World War II?” Meredith, Emily, & Frank address why that belief is incomplete and inaccurate — and how that myth was manufactured by media and propaganda in the 1900s. They review the history of women’s work from hunter-gatherer societies through the 1960s, including:

  • How World War II REALLY changed women’s role in the American workforce
  • How that stereotype whitewashes the history of black female slaves, indentured servant, and immigrants in America
  • Women on the frontier (including how Emily & Meredith’s great-grandma, Lillian Eschler, homesteaded her own land)
  • How the Victorian “Angel of the Home” stereotype existed side-by-side with child labor and female factory workers
  • Why hunter-gatherers and early agrarians didn’t segregate work by gender as much as we thought
  • How medieval women used convents to preserve their wealth and stabilize inheritances
  • Why Catherine de Medici and Eleanor of Aquitaine were skilled brand managers


Links & Additional Resources:

“It’s Your War, Too!” American Women in World War II via The Best Film Archives. This is a real, honest-to-goodness War Department movie from !944.

The Ledger of Ann DeWitt Bevier (1762-1834), Early American Estate Manager and Mother by Sally M. Schultz & Joan Hollister from the Accounting Historian’s Journal. This is an amazing piece of research that we’ll dig into with more depth in a later episode. From the introduction:

“Ann DeWitt Bevier was widowed on April 18, 1802, and with her husband’s death, she assumed responsibility for man-aging the family’s agricultural interests, supervising a staff of both slave and free labor, and raising their eight children. On April 19, 1802, Ann Bevier began keeping detailed accounting records, in her careful and comely script, to track her business and personal affairs. The ledger that she maintained until 1813 represents a rich primary source that provides perspective on how a rural agriculturalist and household head in New York’s mid-Hudson River valley interacted with the social and cultural environment in the young American nation. Like a diary, such an accounting record tracks aspects of an individual’s life, focusing on the ongoing activities of daily living and their economic impact. The detail that Bevier included in her ledger helps create a unique perspective on her life as she managed a farm, family household, brick kiln, rental property, and investments in financial instruments, and so expands the gendered history of economic life.”


The History Chick’s episode on Lillian Moller Gilbreth.  She’s one of Meredith and Frank’s long-time heroes (efficiency geeks, unite!). Beckett and Susan knock this one out of the park, as usual.

Women & Equality via Exploring US History. This article explores women’s work equality in pre-market economies.

The Angel of the House, poem by Coventry Patmore 1854:

Man must be pleased; but him to please
Is woman’s pleasure; down the gulf
Of his condoled necessities
She casts her best, she flings her breast […]

She loves with love that cannot tire;
And when, ah woe, she loves alone,
Through passionate duty love springs higher,
As grass grows taller round a stone.


The female virtues of the cult of domesticity (source):

“…true women” were to hold and practice the four cardinal virtues:
1. Piety – Religion was valued because—unlike intellectual pursuits—it did not take a woman away from her “proper sphere,” the home, and because it controlled women’s longings.
2. Purity – Virginity, a woman’s greatest treasure, must not be lost until her marriage night, and married women had to remain committed only to their husbands.
3. Submission – True women were required to be as submissive and obedient “as little children” because men were regarded as women’s superiors “by God’s appointment”.
4. Domesticity – A woman’s proper place was in the home and her role as a wife was to create a refuge for her husband and children. Cooking, needlework, making beds, and tending flowers were considered naturally feminine activities, whereas reading anything other than religious biographies was discouraged.

“Possessed of Fine Properties” Power, Authority, and the Funding of Convents in Ireland from 1790-1900 by Maria Luddy. Excerpts via Google Books. We’ll definitely be covering this more in an upcoming episode.


Ancient Nile’s Women’s Occupations List:

Grinding Girl
Supervisor of the Cloth
Supervisor of the Wig Workshop
Supervisor of the Dancers of the King
Supervisor of the Royal Harem
(Note – Some of these jobs were also done by men)

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