By Susan Strasser
This book is fabulous for the American woman who walks feminism but cringes at the talk of feminism.
Never Done follows the trajectory of American manufacturing from women being producers in the home to women working outside of the home and becoming consumers.
Ok. So. For example. If we follow the manufacturing of candle sticks. It started as a woman producing candles after the autumn butchering then sells off the extra sticks, (she is an income generating producer) which overtime transitions into candles being produced in male owned business that hired women to manufacture them.
This scenario replicates with the textiles market when spinning and weaving were done “in the home” to “working from home” to “working in a factory setting”.
If you thought line work, or manufacturing was a male dominated job, the hidden history is that women were the first producers in the textile mills, before Ford, before Colt. This is at a time when people weren’t working outside the home. Men were silversmiths, blacksmiths, printers, or lawyers, running their operations from their homes (with assistance from their wives).
This is something I picked up on, in this day and age, when I worked at Yonkers before they closed. Females working in the sales departments, including menswear. An all female assistant management team. …Up until Store Manager which was a position held by a male. Why? How did he get there? With such a nice selection of females working their way up, where did he come from? In a market dominated by females selling to those with female buying power adding feminine touches to the home, why was he even there?
Anyway. Back to the book Never Done. The book is the culmination of Susan Strasser’s trip down the rabbit hole of women’s magazines and the advertising history that went with them. She studied women writers such as Cathrine Beecher and Christine Frederick and followed the work of home economists such as Florence Nesbitt.
Yes, the book was a slog to get through but there are some WoW factors that make it worth it. And, sometimes I got lost. I didn’t know if the socialist views were of Susan Strasser’s, or of her subjects, or both, but there are some real gems that we have the privilege of hindsight to judge. In an attempt for women to gain the relevance of men, theories were published for women to outsource all cooking and cleaning and childrearing outside the home to free up women to go get the paycheck…just like the men.
Hopefully to head off your WTF moment, I might point out that these theories they were slinging around actually came true with todays activities of eating out at restaurants, sending clothes and linens off to the cleaners, hiring a maid service, sending children to daycare centers and boarding schools. I would also say that this doesn’t necessarily free women up as all this work usually lands on the lap of women, and like my Yonkers experience, it’s women working to produce dollars for men or a corporation. Unlike back in the day, when women brought this work into their homes to better manage their day childrearing and earning the money for themselves and their home.
Not to say that it was the best, because there was still no time.
This book is constantly filled with WoW moments.
Ok. So. Apperantly… In 1889, there was an overabundance of the population living in boarding houses and hotels. On one hand this is women working from home and keeping that money in their home. But on the other hand was a disservice to the next generation of women… which prompted this quote from Maria Parloa (a teacher at the Boston Cooking School (yes, look at the date again…a woman working in 1889.)) In the best selling book Common Sense in the Household she asked, “Is housekeeping a failure?” Then went on to say, “Boarding houses simply were not homes. So many untrained women, afraid to manage households, that it would seem that a far larger number of people are boarding than keeping house, but a great expense: children suffered, vain women prized luxury and gossip above their families, and unwholesome food and surroundings stifled everyone.”
WoW! Doesn’t that sound like the plight of the working woman screaming for balance between work and home and play. Wondering why there is still housework when we were told that if we went to work it would all disappear? Then add in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram gossip? (at least pre-Covid anyway.)
(and get this.)
“People who eat by contract and in herds, (like we do in restaurants) and whose very bed-chambers are not secure from prying eyes and intrusive feet, (like social media instead of boarding houses) soon began to dress, look, talk, and think for the vulgar many, rather than the beloved few.”
OMG I could just kick myself! That shit just landed here today. This book is proof that we are having the same old argument and I recommend reading it so that we could hopefully come up with something groundbreaking to move women and humanity beyond the “it’s not fair that men get all the work, fun, money, extra time.”
Also, just coming off my last book about the Founding Fathers, this book still supports my belief that we need to move away from being obliged to Republican or Democrat and start being obliged to Virtue. Yada, yada, yada before I change the subject….
Throughout reading this book I often wondered what would have happened if men had made all the money why wouldn’t women get paid the minimum wage portion of their checks. If we had continued to choose to stay home but changed the word allowance to paycheck or compensation, would we still have been offended in staying home? You may have to read the book in order to track these thoughts but then it is all should’ve, could’ve, would’ve. In today’s post COVID world, I think people have seen the value of staying home. Right before COVID we were seeing an increase of stay at home Dad’s. With it all, I think the fear of exiting the work place and rejoining it are falling by the wayside. If one parent could stay home for five years and then trade for the next five years; that’s ten years of child-rearing and getting the last child into school and then getting both parents into the workforce before they graduate. Would the stay home parent feel the need for compensation if they knew it was temporary? When confronted with “Where do you work?” Would the stay at home parent get embarrassed defending why they don’t work?
I hope it is a quicker read but next, I’m going to read her other book Waste and Want; A Social History of Trash. Then she has another one coming out about Herbs and Home Remedies.