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Alice Kessler-Harris is the R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of American History Emerita at Columbia University and a professor at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender. Her many books include In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America and vis mere A Woman's Wage: Historical Meanings and Social Consequences. vis mindre

Includes the name: Alice Kessler Harris

Værker af Alice Kessler-Harris

Associated Works

Bread Givers (1925) — Foreword & Introduction, nogle udgaver1,245 eksemplarer, 28 anmeldelser
Women's America: Refocusing the Past (1982) — Bidragyder, nogle udgaver335 eksemplarer
Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women's History [1st edition] (1990) — Bidragyder — 294 eksemplarer, 2 anmeldelser
The Unpossessed (1934) — Introduktion, nogle udgaver231 eksemplarer, 4 anmeldelser
Sisterhood Is Forever: The Women's Anthology for a New Millenium (2003) — Bidragyder — 199 eksemplarer
The New American History (1990) — Bidragyder — 155 eksemplarer, 1 anmeldelse
What Is History Now? (2002) — Bidragyder — 104 eksemplarer
Labor Leaders in America (1987) — Bidragyder — 27 eksemplarer
The Story of America: Beginnings to 1914 (2006) — Bidragyder, nogle udgaver6 eksemplarer
Moses Finley and politics (2013) — Bidragyder — 3 eksemplarer

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This is one of the books that got me wondering if perhaps I should be in women's studies and not science.
roniweb | May 30, 2019 |
Why has provocative author Lillian Hellman, who was admired during her lifetime for being blunt and outspoken, now become the archetype for lying hypocrisy? That’s one of the questions historian Alice Kessler-Harris pursues in A Difficult Woman, a detailed and fascinating examination of Hellman’s life with the aim of gaining a better understanding of the quirks and conundrums of the artistic, political and intellectual spheres of America in the twentieth century. Rather than a strictly chronological account, A Difficult Woman is organized by topics that range from Hellman’s unconventional love life with Dashiell Hammett, the various stages of Hellman’s writing career which are all united by the desire to shed light on moral issues, the ongoing allegations that Hellman was a communist including her celebrated appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and Mary McCarthy’s infamous accusation that every word Hellman wrote is untrue, even including “and” and “the.”

Hellman was and is considered “difficult” because her public persona was determined, uncompromising, controlling and relentless, but when people met her they were often surprised by her lady-like softness. Her large heart drew friends to her, but her irascibility, especially after her first stroke in 1974, pushed them away. Though publically linked with many liberal political causes in her life, Hellman was not someone to blindly follow a party line. She often found herself in a no man’s land between powerful competing ideologies and worldviews such that even today, more than a quarter century after her death, the mention of her name can unleash a surprising amount of caustic vitriol. Hellman was one of a group of people in the 1930s who thought communism could bring about a more perfect egalitarian democracy. When she finally changed her mind about that, she still believed the extremes of American anti-communism were a greater threat to personal liberty and freedom of speech than communism itself, a viewpoint that offended even liberals like Mary McCarthy and that led to charges from both the left and right that Hellman was a Stalinist. A Difficult Woman is a well-researched and persuasive portrait of a catalytic twentieth century personality.
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Jaylia3 | Feb 20, 2012 |
This is a socially and politically engaged book, by one committed to the rights of women and to the historiographical utility of the study of gender as a category of analysis. In her preface, Kessler-Harris reminds us that she is writing at the beginning of the "Reagan Revolution," a time which must have seemed dark indeed for those who sought equal pay for equal work, opportunities for women in the workplace and governmental support for programs that made women's paid work either more rewarding or less stressful. She strikes an optimistic note, arguing essentially that the "genie is out of the bottle," that women's transition to paid work is a fait accompli in the latter part of the century. A new woman has emerged, and she will not be denied. Noting that women have always worked, she points out that forces within industrialization in the 19th Century created both the need for women's paid labor and an ideology that made this labor a "temporary" and "less valuable" function than work in the home. The "ideology of separate spheres" was in tension and conflict with the reality of women's wage work. Coming out of the 19th Century burdened with the internal contradictions posed by the reality of women's paid work and the ideology of women's special place, the 20th Century saw the increasing durability of women's wage labor. In the post-world war two period, changing ideas about personal fulfillment combined with the consumer culture to make women's wage labor a permanent feature of the post-industrial American economy. Yet, this doesn't prevent the yearning for a period in the past, a longing to return to the "good old days," when women didn't have to work for wages. It is the reality of this idealized past that Kessler-Harris brings to us in this book. As we often learn, the old days were hardly as good as the popular mind would have it. Above all, the transition from pre-modern to modern woman is mediated by reactions to and participation in the industrialization of America.

Starting with "Forming the Female Wage Labor Force: Colonial America to the Civil War," Kessler-Harris reminds us that work in colonial America centered around households. The yeoman household featured clearly delineated male and female roles, but the boundaries between these worlds were permeable -- men helped with women's work and visa versa. Yet, we are reminded in "Limits of Independence in the Colonial Economy." Despite the dignity assigned to the work done by women in the household, women's paths to craft skill via apprenticeship were blocked. Coverture ensured that women remained dependent upon male heads of household. Yet were a woman's husband to die, she could be left without the means to make a going affair of the property left behind. Widows who did not remarry quickly could find themselves destitute. Some of the first solutions tried included houses of industry where widows and children could labor at manufactures. In this early stage of history, another common practice was to give work to women (such as weaving) under the putting out system. When given a choice, Kessler-Harris argues, women would uniformly choose putting out to a house of industry.

The early national period was one in which the leaders of the new nation were facing conflicting needs, on the one hand they sought to improve the balance of trade to pay war debts and on the other they didn't want to sink to the low level of Britain's dark satanic mills. During the Revolution, women had been encouraged to produce "homespun" as a patriotic duty. Simple American clothes were a badge of honor for patriot men and women, contrasting with the luxury and finery of the enemy. After American independence was secured, the compromise reached stressed a balanced economy, in which the role of women would be (at least in part) to provide some of the labor in small paternalistic factory settings. Slater's Mills and the model they spread through the Blackstone Valley and beyond relied on the labor of women and children. Least the nation worry about the moral affects on women working in the mills, Slater continued the tradition of putting out thereby disturbing local mores as little as possible. Soon the Boston Associates were building a mill in Lowell that promised a more complete factory model still attended by the moral guidance that would prevent women from being degraded by the experience working for wages. Kessler-Harris reminds us that, as Thomas Dublin has shown, this experience also worked as a liberating experience for many of the farm girls from small town New Hampshire. The crush of time and work discipline pressed in on workers, but the rhetorical escape valve for much of the early years of industrialization was that this female wage labor represented a temporary stage in life. With wage earning women leaving the factory after short stays, going on to marry and raise children, it was possible to maintain the agrarian myth. At the same time, temporary work meant low status.

By Mid-Century "Industrial Wage Earners and the Domestic Ideology" would become two sides of the same coin. Though the putting out system persisted well beyond the American Civil War, the growth of manufactories in the early 19th C took placed increasing competition and mounting pressure for ever greater profits at the center of American economic and cultural life. Immigration from Western Europe, especially Ireland, accelerated in the 1840s exerting a downward pressure on wages accelerated apace. Native born women saw themselves as threatened by the Irish, displaying an understandable (if by our modern sensibilities repugnant) Nativism. The deskilling of labor also put men increasingly in competition with women for lower paid work. Men's reaction in this set of circumstances was to resist women's wage labor as competition by mid century. With tensions mounting the role of women in raising virtuous children, in maintaining as household as refuge from an increasingly competitive world of work, came to seem more accepted in the culture of laissez nous faire. Wage work for women became associated with immigrants and the poor. By the time of the Civil War, only the most desperate women sought wage labor.

In addressing "The Idea of Home and Mother at Work: The Civil War to World War I," Kessler-Harris echoes the words of one working woman, asking "Why Is It Can a Woman Not Be Virtuous If She Does Mingle With the Toilers?" After the Civil War men fought to maintain control of their workplaces. But women increasingly sought more than just better working conditions as well. Seeking to restore the dignity of wage labor for women, women launderers, seamstresses, umbrella makers (among many others) joined together in female unions that offered support to their members and conducted strikes to prevent wage cuts and increases in production quotas. Increasingly the lines of class divided women who needed to work from those ladies of the middle class who sought to reform the lives of working women by bringing them back to their primary roles as mothers. As Christine Stansell has pointed out, the female reform movements were inflected with the language of middle class moralism which recoiled from the working class ways of immigrant subcultures. Organizations like the New York Working Woman's Protective Union usurped the roles of indigenous female protest and reinforced cultural assumptions about women's home-bound and subordinate role. As the century drew to a close the emphasis turned to protective legislation that would ensure women's roles as future mothers.

In "Women's Choices in an Expanding Labor Market," Kessler-Harris reminds us of the explosive growth in the American economy after the Civil War and the diversity of women's lives that resulted from it. After Civil War, it was increasingly difficult to generalize about the conditions of "working women," as the wage earning population included an ever-widening diversity of workers - North, South and West. Though working women's lives defy facile generalizations, it can be said that the dual burden of home and wage work was not substantially eased by household technologies. As Ruth Cowan has shown, these more often than not meant "more work for mother." For the wives of workmen, such as those profiled by Susan Kleinberg in Pittsburgh, the daily burden of mere family survival made the luxury of increasing burdens of cake baking seem unreal. Women who sought wage labor outside the home in the later part of the 19th C were often influenced by their ethnicity in choice of work. Jews worked in ladies dress shops and shirt waist factories run by fellow Jews. Italians sought out work in the men's garment industry. Poles and Slavs worked in textiles in the North and South. In the West, they worked in meat packing. Domestic work was largely the preserve of the Irish, and no "Yankee girl" would be caught doing that kind of work. Added to these ethnic loyalties, social hierarchies of work also emerged. Girls preferred work in department stores, where they dressed well and enjoyed higher status than the factory girls, who were better paid and ate better but enjoyed less social status. Sliding down the scale we come next to waitresses (whose dealing directly with the public was unseemly) then black women who did the dirty work of laundresses and agricultural laborers. As women themselves made choices that lead to their accumulating in certain job roles, the "naturalness" of a category of "women's work" was reinforced.

"Technology, Efficiency, and Resistance" opens with a consideration of the attempts by employers to gain greater productivity from workers through technological improvements and concomitant reforms in management practice. She argues that Taylorism, scientific management in general, found that women (naturally more subservient) were more amenable to the discipline of industrial work. For a time, there seemed to be a liberating potential in scientific management, opening up the way to upward mobility through greater efficiency. Margery Davies study of typewriter use in office work is also to the point. Women were relegated to the work of typists because they were seen as better suited for this kind of rote work. The role of typist was stripped of the upward mobility was soon closed as male office managers assumed the leadership roles, while women were offered the more "appropriate" role of the private secretary, who acted as "office wife". In other ways, the strains of industrialized work soon took their toll on women's (as well as men's) health. The example of female telephone workers suffering from "telephone shock" is telling here. While efforts at protective legislation by progressives would seek to remedy these abuses, female organizing to protect themselves against exploitation was discouraged by the male leadership of the emergent AF of L, which sought a union of craft-based organizations that excluded the unskilled occupations of which women constituted a major part. Women's efforts at self-organization were only very grudgingly recognized by Samuel Gompers, who feared that women's success would lower men's wages. Employers offered the paternalism dispensed by new human resources organizations to distract them from organizing themselves. The emergent settlement movement represented an internally conflicted effort by "progressives" to both strengthen ties to the home through education at domestic tasks and to strengthen their ability to enter the workforce by providing kindergartens and places for unions. The settlement movement gave birth to the Women's Trade Union League (WUTL). The early 20th C also saw the emergence of female vocational education, which was both a liberating and a confining trend. It was liberating in that it allowed women (at times somewhat covertly) to gain skills for which they could get better pay. It was confining in that it made clear distinctions over what girls could be trained to do. This story, however, takes us into the 20th C. The story of "Protective Labor Legislation," as well, takes us into the 20th C, and as such will have to wait ...

Other Readings:

Dorothy Sue Cobble and Alice Kessler-Harris "The New Labor History in American History Textbooks" JAH 79:4 (Mar. 1993), 1534-45.
Leon Fink, "American Labor History," in Foner, ed., The New American History (1990), 233 250.
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mdobe | Jul 24, 2011 |



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