In America, most single women had been working long before the 1920s. By 1900, a third of all government jobs were occupied by women, and three-quarters of the country's typists and stenographers were women. 142,000 female sales clerks had been hired by 1900. and of course women had been working in factories since the early 1800s. Women had made inroads into professions like medicine, in 1910 there were more women working in medicine than there would be again until the 1980s. Married women did not generally work unless they were very poor and had no choice. in 1900, only 3?f white married women worked.
In the 1920s, there was something of a backlash against the 'new Women' of the pre-WW1 era. Young women in the 1920s wanted to enjoy themselves, and the preoccupations of the New Women - education, careers, social reform, were replaced by a wish to have fun. Young women shortened their skirts and cut their hair. They danced, drank, smoked, drove automobiles and flew aeroplances. Along with skimpy clothing, sunbathing became popular. the Flapper had replaced the New Woman.
In 'America's women' Gail collins writes:
'After a century of enforced innocence, women in the 1920s were expected to know all about sex. sigmund Freud had lectured in America in 1909, and by World War I almost everybody had read magazine articles about his theories. By 1920, 200 books about Freudianism had been published in America, andif the average student's understanding of the subject was shallow, she picked up enough to be convinced that sex was the centre of everything for women as well as men.
By the 1920s, most American women had completely broken form the pioneer past and the burdens of Victorian domesticity. Martha Farnsworth, a middle-class Topeka housewife, got indoor plumbing in 1903, took her first automobile ride in 1907, and got a telephone in 1908. By 1920, she had electric lights in her house, an electric iron, a vacuum cleaner, and a record player and ws yearning to take an air-plane ride.
For the first time, most middle-class Americans had not only running water in their homes, but the full system of sinks and drains and toilets and sewers. By 1927 nearly two-thirds of American homes had electricity, and women were using it to power vacuum cleaners, ranges, refrigerators, toasters, and irons. The washing machine was still a work in progress, but many women sent their clothes to laundries, where business was at an all-time peak. American woman's most celebrated job was that of consumer-in-chief. "Today's woman gets what she wants" enthused an advertisement in the Chicago Tribune "The vote. Slim sheaths of silk to replace voluminous petticoats. glassware in sapphire blue or glowing amber. The right to a career. Soap to match her bathroom's colour scheme."
In 1929, at the ned of one of the most incredible runs of prosperity in history, 59 percent of American families still could not make enough money for even a minimal standard of living. A survey of black women workers found that only 13.6 percent worked an eight-hour day or less, while 40 percent worked 10 or more hours. African American women of middle age or younger in the north had approximately the same literacy rate as white women their age and were just as likely to send their children to school. But the payoff was much lower for black students. Even this with high school degrees were shut out of clerical and sales jobs in white neighbourhoods. employers refused to hire black women, even though they were better educated and worked for less than the pool of available whites. Inevitably, most black women wound up in domestic service. African Americans werer about a fourth of the domestics in 1900 and half by 1930. Employment agencies went throught he South offering jobs and transportation to women who were willing to come north and work as servants.
Although there continued to be an elite group of black families who had made their fortunes in an earlier, less structured economy, the opportunities of breaking through to the middle class for ambitious newcomers was minimal. Even the black comsetics business was being taken over by white men, some of whom created fictional black women to serve as the company symbol. When Madame c.J. Walker died, her company was run by men, and although they were African American, they began to market the skin lighteners she had always rfefused to endorse. One much-publicised but very narrow avenue to real all-American success for black women was the world of entertainment, and the one area of entertainment in particular was music. In 1920, Mamie smith's 'Crazy Blues' was selling 8,000 precord a week, setting off a craze for black female singers that extended through the decade. Bessie smith saved Columbia Records, in its infancy by selling 6 million records in six years.
The question of whether women should work had been settled as decisively as the one about them driving, and people seemed pleased with the notion that the spunks American girl, compact in one hand and automobile in the other, was ready for anything. "Within the space of a single day, one can ride in a taxi driven by a woman, directed by traffic signals designed by a woman, to the office of a woman engineer, there to look out of the windw and observe a woman steeplejack at her trade" enthused the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences in 1929. But the lady steeplejack was more an example of the twenties' love affair with stunts and oddities than the beginning of a trend. The proportion of women in the workforce was actually lower in 1930 than it had been in 1910, and women professionals were concentrated almost entirely in four areas - teaching, nursing, social work, and librarires. Dr Lilian Walsh, a longtime practitioner, conclued sadly that women doctors had become as fashionable as "a horse and buggy". Any woman ready to announce that she was trading in her law books for a cookbook could find a ready market for her memoirs in the women's magazines.
for most women, work was a brief interlude between school and marriage. They made much less than men; in 1927 the average weeks wage for a man was $29.35 and for a woman it was $17.34. Women were also likely to be overqualified for the work they could get. One writer in the Atlantic, surveying the business world, concluded that the boss's secretary was more likely to be a college graduate than he was. Although there were plenty of poor women and single mothers who depended on their paychecks, society generally liked to think of the working girl as a young thing saving money to fill her hope chest. "I pay our women well so they can dress attractively and get married" said Henry ford.
The idea that women might not get married had gone out of style. Now that Americans had been convinced that women needed sex, the idea that they might march into middle age without husbands began to look either pathetic or sinsister. vassar started offering courses in "Motherhood" and "Husband and Wife".
Only about 10 percent of women kept their jobs after marriage, and most were working-class women who could not afford to quit. Even within the elite women's colleges, attemtps to combine family and careers were mostly confined to those who opted for work and childless marriages. but a great many more women werer dissatisfied with their choices. they embarked on a discussion about "having it all" that would continue for the rest of the century. "There must be a way out and it is the problem of our generation to find the way" said the Smith College weekly.
The Great Depression lasted from the fall of the stock market in october 1929 to America's entry into World War II in December 1941. The country had faced other huge economic crises, but this was the first to arrive since America had developed a large urban middle class, families who were dependent on wage income and who believed that the necessities of life included not only food and shelter, but electricity, indoor plumbing, and an automobile.
The average family income dropped 40 percent between 1929 and 1933, and while men took second jobs or searched for better-paying employment in an oversaturated market, mostt of their wives stayed at home and struggled with what Eleanor roosevelt called "endless little economies and constant anxieties." At the bottom of the middle class, women worried about losing their homes and falling back into the class of renters - in Indianapolis, more than half of the families with mortgages had defaulted on them by 1934. Those higher on the economic ladder simply had to figure out how to keep up appearances without the help of servants. (An ad for bleach showed a pair of elegant hands in a tub of dirty laundry and asked: "Doing it yourself these days?)
Looking back on the Depression decades later, some people got nostalgic about the way hard times produced family solidarity. But most women remembered a vague unease or a larger sense of crisis. the marriage rate dropped. The nation declared a truce in its war against spinsterhood, and magazines once again ran articles about women who found happiness in life without a husband.
In 1932, Fortune, in a burts of pbulic-spiritedness, urged housewives to hire servants instead of buying appliances. The price of 1 million refrigerators sold the prior years, the magazine said, would have employed thousands of maids. Housewives still prefered the refrigerators, and working women prefered jobs in the refrigerator-making factories to domestic service. a far more popular plan for increasing employment opportunities was to make all married women stay home. "I think the single girl is entitled to make a living more so than the ma
Answered By: Louise C - 3/30/2008