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A Woman's Wage

A Woman's Wage: Historical Meanings and Social Consequences

Alice Kessler-Harris
Series: Blazer Lectures
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    A Woman's Wage
    Book Description:

    In this pathbreaking book, Alice Kessler-Harris explores the meanings of women's wages in the United States in the twentieth century, focusing on three sets of issues that capture the transformation of women's roles: the battle over minimum wage for women, which exposes the relationship between family ideology and workplace demands; the argument over equal pay for equal work, which challenges gendered patterns of self-esteem and social organization; and the current debate over comparable worth, which seeks to incorporate traditionally female values into new work and family trajectories. Together these issues trace the many ways in which gendered meaning has been produced, transmitted, and challenged.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5853-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Michael A. Baer

    The challenge to undertake a fundamental examination and reappraisal of our institutions, culture, and values prompted the establishment of the Blazer Lecture Series. This series, supported since 1949 by the Paul G. and Georgia M. Blazer Fund, has provided students and faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Kentucky the opportunity to host a number of distinguished speakers. The generosity of the Blazer family in establishing and renewing this endowment has long benefited the intellectual atmosphere of the college and the surrounding university community by allowing members of that community to participate in the thoughts...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    A “woman’s wage” is a phrase with particular resonance in the modern period. As women struggle to achieve equality in the labor market, the wages that measure their progress creep frustratingly slowly toward the goal of parity with those of men. At the same time, traditional labor market ideology suggests that wage differentials reflect the choices of individuals. It is not that women choose to be paid less, the argument goes, but that they choose lives that yield less certain rewards in the workplace.

    Contemporary feminist scholarship illuminates these arguments by challenging the structures on which they rest. Skeptical of...

  6. 1. The Wage Conceived: Value and Need as Measures of a Woman’s Worth
    (pp. 6-32)

    In 1915 New York State’s Factory Investigating Commission asked some seventy-five prominent individuals—economists, social reformers, businessmen, and publicists among them—what factors determined the rate of wages. The answers varied. Some suggested that workers’ organizations were most important; others believed the size of a business’s profits could enhance or restrain the wages of employees. Another key factor was the standard of living anticipated by workers. But the majority of those interviewed believed the efficiency of the worker and the supply of labor constituted by far the two most powerful determinants of wages.² These traditional explanations for wage rates would...

  7. 2. Law and a Living: The Gendered Content of “Free Labor” in the Progressive Period
    (pp. 33-56)

    Supreme Court decisions are frequently unpopular. Yet few have faced the storm of national derision that confronted the April 1923 opinion handed down inAdkins v. Children’s Hospital.By a vote of 5 to 3 (Brandeis abstaining), the Court negated the constitutionality of a Washington, D.C., law that provided minimum wages for women and minors. With its act the Court also placed in jeopardy the minimum wage legislation of thirteen other states.²

    Newspaper editorials, public meetings, and placards denounced the decision. Mary Anderson, head of the Women’s Bureau, called it “nothing short of a calamity.”³ Samuel Gompers declared it to...

  8. 3. Providers: An Exploration of Gender Ideology in the 1930s
    (pp. 57-80)

    On May 10, 1933, Earl Leiby of Akron, Ohio, wrote to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, president of the United States:

    You are probably aware of the fact that homes are being wrecked daily due to the fact that married women are permitted to work in factories and offices in this land of ours. You and we all know that the place for a wife and mother is at home, her palace. The excuse is often brought up that the husband cannot find employment. It is the writers’ belief that if the women were expelled from places of business, . . ....

  9. 4. The Double Meaning of Equal Pay
    (pp. 81-112)

    As the Equal Pay Bill came up for its final votes in the spring of 1963, the two sides squared off once again. The bill, which would prohibit differential wages for women doing “equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions,” seemed destined to pass. Opponents, sensing defeat, sought to limit its scope and make it less intrusive. Advocates, fearing the opposition of business, compromised on key language and accepted an administrative apparatus that significantly narrowed the groups covered.² But the heart had gone out of...

  10. 5. The Just Price, the Free Market, and the Value of Women
    (pp. 113-129)

    For feminist historians the 1980s could be described in the words with which Charles Dickens introducedA Tale of Two Cities:they were the best of times and the worst of times. On the one hand, the creative outpouring of historical scholarship on women became a source of energy and of continuing pressure for change. In the absence of a mass political movement, the enormous extension of historical knowledge (of which women’s history remains the center), if it does nothing else, should ensure that women’s orientations are permanently imprinted in the vocabulary of the past. But there is another hand:...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 130-160)
  12. Index
    (pp. 161-170)