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Daughters, Dollars, and Domesticity: Family Wages and Female Autonomy in American Textiles, Evidence From the Federal Survey of 1908

Authors
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California Institute of Technology
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Disciplines
  • Economics
  • History
  • Political Science

Abstract

00000008 (5) DIVISION OF THE HUMANITIES AND SOCIAL SCIENCES CAliFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOlOGY PASADENA, CALIFORNIA 91125 Daughters, Dollars, and Domesticity: Family Wages and Female Autonomy in American Textiles, Evidence from the Federal Survey of 1908 Douglas Flamming HUMANITIES WORKING PAPER 153 September 1992 Daughters, Dollars, and Domesticity: Family Wages and Female Autonomy in American Textiles, Evidence from the Federal Survey of 1908 The old notion that industrialization jackhammered the traditional family into atomistic pieces--that industrial capitalism was incompatible with preindustrial household relationships-- has now virtually been abandoned by historians. Numerous studies have demonstrated that the family, as an institution, proved remarkably resilient and flexible in dealing with the economic changes that transformed America in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Indeed, not only did the traditional family survive smokestack America, it also served as a fundamental component of labor mobilization. The family proved central to the processes of labor migration and work force participation, even as it facilitated the persistence of older cultural norms in the industrial setting.1 Yet it is difficult to believe that industrialization did not infuse working-class households with new and unsettling tensions, particularly between parents and their wage-earning daughters. As more "working girls" entered America's factories and became essential contributors to the family wage economy, many working-class households faced the matter of a daughter's wages. Would the daughter get to keep the wages she earned or would she give them to her parents? Who decided? Did a young woman's contribution to the family coffer earn her a greater degree of personal autonomy? If parents were dependent on their daughters' wages, could those daughters bargain for greater control over their own affairs? For working-class households in the early t

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