Degree Year

1991

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

History

Advisor(s)

Carol Lasser

Keywords

Lawrence Textile Strike (1912), Labor, Women

Abstract

The Progressive era saw a series of social reforms and mass movements for better living and working conditions. Middle-class women emerged as the "housekeepers" of the public arena. Women like Jane Addams started these trends and acted as benevolent organizers for the immigrant people, who were entering the United States only to find crowded conditions and hostile cities. Strikes over dangerous work environments became pressing concerns. A history of related actions began to develop with the Triangle Fire disaster in New York City, the Lawrence strike in Massachusetts, and then the strikes in the mid-teens in Passaic and Patterson, New Jersey. Historians have begun to make connections between these actions, and some view the incidents with a degree of linear progression.

While much of the reconstruction of these strikes was commenced in the early 1970s, the research done on working-class women within the context of these events did not come into its own until the 1980s. The women's movement in this country reemerged in the 1960s and 1970s with a very middle-class focus. Thus, the history that was first reclaimed centered around the middle-class women of the past. Also, invisibility due to gender and class created dual obstacles in the job of reconstructing the lives of working women. Recent historians of women's labor have come forward with ground breaking work on women within the labor movements and immigrant women's history. My thesis attempts to focus on the intersections of immigration and work, and how the two combine to allow for the politicization of women at a certain time and place in history.

In seeking out political angles of women's culture at any moment in the past, one must confront the danger of projecting the onsciousness and awareness of women's culture today on the women who lived under extremely different conditions and assumptions. In searching for a history, female historians of women's history must guard against creating the empowered past that they want to find. At the same time, it is crucial to recognize the process through which we have arrived at our current attitudes. This issue is sometimes resolved by altering word choice when discussing what might be now termed as "political." Scholarly debates arise as to the proper amount of politicization we can now claim for women who themselves would not have viewed it as such.

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