Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-cf9d5c678-r9vz2 Total loading time: 0.223 Render date: 2021-07-30T05:15:07.328Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Women's work in late-nineteenth-century Los Angeles: class, gender and the culture of new womanhood

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 January 2009


Image of the first page of this article. For PDF version, please use the ‘Save PDF’ preceeding this image.
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1990

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 See, for instance, Tilly, L. and Scott, J., Women, work and family (New York, 1978)Google Scholar; Bose, C., ‘Household resources and U.S. women's work: factors affecting gainful employment at the turn of the century’, American Sociological Review (1984), 474–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Goldin, C., ‘Family strategies and the family economy in the late nineteenth century: the role of secondary workers’, Hershberg, T. ed., Philadelphia: work, space, family and group experience in the nineteenth century (New York, 1981)Google Scholar; Lamphere, L., From working daughters to working mothers (Ithaca, N.Y., 1987).Google Scholar For an econometric formulation, see Becker, G. S., A treatise on the family (Cambridge, Mass., 1981).Google Scholar For critiques of this model, see Hartmann, H., ‘The family as the locus of gender, class and political struggle: the example of household’, Signs 6 (1981), 366–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Sawhill, I. V., ‘Economic perspectives on the family’ in Amsden, A. H. ed., The economics of women and work (New York, 1980).Google Scholar

2 Among other things, social reproduction includes how food, clothing and shelter are made available for immediate consumption, the ways in which the care and socialization of dependants - children, the elderly, the infirm - are provided and the social organization of sexuality. (For a fuller elaboration, see Laslett, B., ‘Production, reproduction and social change: the family in historical perspective’, in Short, James F. ed., The state of sociology: problems and prospects (Beverly Hills, Calif., 1981)Google Scholar; Brenner, J. and Laslett, B., ‘Social reproduction and the family’, in Himmelstrand, U. ed., The social reproduction of organization and culture (London, 1986)Google Scholar; Laslett, B. and Brenner, J., ‘Gender and social reproduction: historical perspectives’, Annual Review of Sociology 15 (1989), 381404.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

3 See, for instance, Demos, J., Past, present and personal: the family and the life course in American history (New York, 1986)Google Scholar; Ryan, M., Cradle of the middle class (New York, 1981).Google Scholar

4 See Bloch, R. E., ‘American feminine ideals in transition: the rise of the moral mother, 1785–1815’, Feminist Studies 4 (1978), 100–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Cott, N., The bonds of womanhood: ‘women's sphere’ in New England 1780–1835 (New Haven, 1977)Google Scholar; Welter, B., ‘The cult of true womanhood: 1820–1860’ in Gordon, M. ed., The American family in social-historical perspective (2nd edn., New York, 1978).Google Scholar These changes have also been documented for Europe; see Hausin, K., ‘Family and role division: the polarisation of sexual stereotypes in the nineteenth-century - an aspect of the dissociation of work and family life’, in Evans, R. J. and Lee, W. R. eds., The German family (New York, 1981)Google Scholar; Quataert, J. H., ‘Teamwork in Saxon homeweaving families in the nineteenth century: a preliminary investigation into the issues of gender work roles’, in Joeres, R. E. B. and Maynes, M. J. eds., German women in the 18th and 19th centuries (Bloomington, Indiana, 1985)Google Scholar, and The shaping of women's work in manufacturing: guilds, households and the state in central Europe, 1648–1870’, American Historical Review 90 (1986), 1122–48.Google Scholar

5 Jones, J., Labor of love, labor of sorrow: black women, work and the family from slavery to the present (New York, 1985)Google Scholar; Fox-Genovese, E., Within the plantation household: black and white women of the Old South (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1988).Google Scholar

6 See Bose, ‘Household resources’; Early, F. H., ‘The French-Canadian family economy and standard-of-living in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1870’, Journal of Family History 7 (1982), 180–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Goldin, ‘Family Strategies’; Lamphere, From working daughters; Mason, K. O., Vinovskis, M. A. and Hareven, T. K., ‘Women's work in the life course in Essex County, Massachusetts, 1880’, in Hareven, T. K. ed., Transitions: the family and the life course in historical perspective (New York, 1981).Google Scholar

7 Mason, K., Weinstein, M. and Laslett, B., ‘The decline of fertility in Los Angeles, California, 1880–1900’, Population Studies 41 (1987), 483–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

8 Mason et al., ‘Women's work and the life course’.

9 Dumke, G. S., The bloom of the Eighties in Southern California (San Marino, California, 1944)Google Scholar; Fogelson, R., The fragmented metropolis: Los Angeles, 1850–1930 (Cambridge, Mass., 1967).Google Scholar

10 Guinn, J. M., ‘Some early California industries that failed’, Annual Publication of the Historical Society of Southern California, VII (1906)Google Scholar; Brode, A. J., ‘History of the university section, Los Angeles’, Annual Publications of the Historical Society of Southern California 12 (1922), 722–109.Google Scholar

11 Mason, Weinstein and Laslett, ‘The decline of fertility’.

12 Fox, R. W. and Lears, T. J. eds., The culture of consumption: critical essays in American history, 1880–1980 (New York, 1983)Google Scholar; May, E. T., Great expectations: marriage and divorce in post-Victorian America (Chicago, 1980)Google Scholar; Zelizer, V. A., ‘The social meaning of money: special monies’, American Journal of Sociology 95 (1989), 342–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

13 Collier, J. E., ‘Early club life in Los Angeles’, Publication of the Historical Society of Southern California, IV (189718981899), 216–22Google Scholar; Hersey, H. E., ‘The amusement of girls’, The Independent 29 (1901), 20322036Google Scholar; Jaher, F. C., The urban establishment: upper strata in Boston, New York, Charleston, Chicago and Los Angeles (Chicago, 1982)Google Scholar; Starr, K., Inventing the dream: California through the progressive era (New York, 1985).Google Scholar

14 Splitter, H. W., ‘Education in Los Angeles, 1850–1900’, Southern California Quarterly 33 (1951), 101–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Splitter, H. W., ‘Education in Los Angeles, 1850–1900, Part II’, Southern California Quarterly 33 (1951), 226–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Splitter, H. W., ‘Education in Los Angeles, 1850–1900, Part III’, Southern California Quarterly 33 (1951), 313–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

15 Brown, V. B., ‘Golden girls: female socialization in Los Angeles, 1880–1910’ (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of California, San Diego, 1985)Google Scholar; Mason, Weinstein & Laslett, ‘The decline of fertility’.

16 The 1880 sample was drawn from within the city limits only. The 1900 sample also includes households from the surrounding townships of Burbank, Cahuenga, Pasadena and South Pasadena, suburbs of Los Angeles, in 1900. Preliminary analysis showed no significant differences between the 1900 city and suburban samples; hence, they are combined in the analysis presented in this paper.

17 Bose, C. E. ‘Devaluing women's work: the undercount of women's employment in 1900 and 1980’, in Bose, C., Feldberg, R. and Sokoloff, N. with the Women and Work Research Group eds., Hidden aspects of women's work (New York, 1987).Google Scholar

18 Although it is sometimes possible successfully to link census household records, this has usually been done for male household heads across successive censuses. Linking single young women to their households-of-origin is difficult given that the only information pertinent for linking is name and parents' places of birth. No such record linkages were attempted when the data sets used here were constructed.

19 A majority of the measures used in this study closely parallel those used in Mason, Vinovskis and Hareven, ‘Women's work and the life course’. For a comparison of the relationships between women's attributes and their gainful employment in Essex County, Mass., and Los Angeles in 1880, see K. Mason and B. Laslett, ‘Women's work in the American West: Los Angeles, 1880–1900 and its contrast with Essex County, Massachusetts, in 1880’, Population Studies Center Research Report, no. 83–41. Population Studies Center, University of Michigan, 1983. The results shows remarkable similarity across locales despite significant differences in the demand for female labour. Mason and Laslett, ‘Women's work in the American West’, also reports preliminary results of the analysis presented here. I am very grateful to Karen Mason for her leadership in designing the analysis contained in both papers.

20 The non-married category includes single, widowed and divorced women. The overwhelming proportion of these women were never married: 92 per cent in 1880 and 89 per cent in 1900.

21 If both parents were born in the same foreign country or region, or if one was U.S.-born and the other foreign-born, then the woman was classified as being from that country or region, unless she herself came from a different foreign country or region. Cases in which the parents and/or daughter came from different non-U.S. countries or regions were included in the ‘Other’ category of the ethnicity variable. First- and second-generation members of each ethnic category were distinguished initially but had no bearing on women's gainful employment in either 1880 or 1900. The ‘generation’ variable was therefore excluded from the analysis, with the exception of third-generation Californians, who were predominantly Spanish-surname.

22 Pleck, E. H., ‘A mother's wages: income earning among married Italian and black women, 1896–1911’, in Gordon, M. ed., The American family in social-historical perspective (2nd edn., New York, 1978)Google Scholar; Goldin, C., ‘Female labor force participation: the origin of black and white differences, 1870–1880’, Journal of Economic History 37 (1977), 87108CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Goldin, ‘Family strategies and the family economy’.

23 This is measured by the ratio of the number of related employed adult (15 + ) males in the household to a weighted sum of the total number of related individuals in the household, with children of different ages weighted less heavily than adults on the grounds that they consumed less than did adults. The weights used were 0.55 for ages 0–4, 0.65 for ages 5–9, 0.75 for ages 10–14, and 1.00 for 15 and older. See Mason, , Vinovskis, and Hareven, , ‘Women's work and the life course’, 194–5Google Scholar, for the empirical base from which these weights were generated. For criticisms of measures like this, see Haines, M., ‘Poverty, economic stress and the family in a late nineteenth-century American city: whites in Philadelphia, 1880’, in Hershberg ed., Philadelphia, 240–76.Google Scholar

24 Women aged 13 and over were chosen in order to be able to use five-year age groups not centred around years ending in zero and five. This is desirable because of the evidence of moderate age-heaping in the 1880 Los Angeles sample (about 8 per cent too many cases reported ages ending in zero or five). Age heaping in the 1900 sample is more modest (about 5 per cent of the cases evidenced digital preferences for zero and five). See Mason, K. O. and Cope, L. G., ‘Sources of age and date-of-birth misreporting in the 1900 U.S. census’, Demography 24 (1987), 563–73.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

25 In 1880, 61.1 per cent of the women heading their own households were widowed, 20.7 per cent were married, 13.8 per cent were single and 3 per cent were divorced. In 1900, the figures are: 66.4, 16.4, 11.4 and 4.6 per cent, respectively. For a variety of historical reasons, including the attraction of ‘health seekers’ to it, nineteenth-century Los Angeles contained an unusually large number of widows. See Locke, M. L., ‘Like a machine or an animal: working women of the late nineteenth-century urban Far West, in San Francisco, Portland, and Los Angeles’ (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, San Diego, 1982).Google Scholar

26 Demos, , Past, present and personal, 103.Google Scholar

27 Brown, ‘Golden girls’; Strober, M. and Lanford, A. G., ‘The feminization of public school teaching: cross-sectional analysis, 1850–1880’, Signs 11 (1986), 212–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

28 Oilman, C. P., Women and economics (New York, 1966 [1898])Google Scholar; Harper, I. H., ‘Women ought to work’, The Independent 53 (1901), 1123–7Google Scholar; Schaffer, R., ‘The problem of consciousness in the woman suffrage movement: a California perspective’, Pacific Historical Review 45 (1976), 469–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

29 For a general discussion of the transition to adulthood among females in the nineteenth century, see Demos, , Past, present and personal, 103–4.Google Scholar

30 Antagonism between mothers and daughters, The Independent 53 (1901), 2310–11Google Scholar; Harland, M., ‘The passing of the home daughter’, The Independent 71 (1911), 8891.Google Scholar

31 For example, if we assume that all 67 of the Los Angeles women living as servants in 1880 were the never-married daughters of other Los Angeles families (an assumption that is not entirely unreasonable given the relative absence of in-migration by single young women in 1880 Los Angeles), then the employment rate of single daughters would be 32 per cent rather than the 18 per cent shown in Table 1. This would then be the largest percentage among women related to the household head. While such a change would affect the rank ordering of which women would be most likely to be working for wages outside the home-single daughters would be more likely than household heads to have done so in 1880 as well as 1900 - this change would not affect the finding of theoretical importance, i.e. between wives and single daughters.

32 See Ruggles, S., Prolonged connections: the rise of the extended family in nineteenth-century England and America (Madison, Wise., 1987)Google Scholar, on the importance of kin for late-nineteenth-century family patterns.

33 Given the cross-sectional nature of the data and the enormous growth of Los Angeles' population between 1880 and 1900, I can examine synthetic cohorts only. The age patterns of employment observed may not have existed for any actual cohorts in the late nineteenth century.

34 Pitt, L., The decline of the Californios: a social history of the Spanish-speaking Conformons, 1846–1890 (Berkeley, California, 1966), 246–65Google Scholar; Heizer, R. F. and Almquist, A. F., The other Californians: prejudice and discrimination under Spain, Mexico, and the United States to 1920 (Berkeley, California, 1971), 138–53Google Scholar; Castillo, R. G. del, The Los Angeles Barrio, 1850–1890: a social history (Berkeley, California, 1979), 3061.Google Scholar

35 The even higher employment rate among women with other or unknown ethnicity is probably an artefact of measurement. In the Los Angeles sample, most women in this category had unknown, rather than other, ethnicities. Because the birthplaces of women residing as servants and boarders were probably less often reported to the census taker than were those of related individuals, the fact that women were employed and were thus living apart from their families may have resulted in their falling into this ethnic category rather than vice versa.

36 Goldin, ‘Female labor force participation’; Goldin, ‘Family strategies and the family economy’; Pleck, ‘A mother's wages’.

37 McWilliams, C., Southern California country (New York, 1946), 324.Google Scholar

38 McWilliams, , Southern California country, 325.Google Scholar

39 Such as Hayden, D., ‘Biddy Mason's Los Angeles, 1856–1891’, California History LXVIII (1989), 8699.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

40 In 1880, 61.1 per cent of women heading their own households were widowed, 20.7 per cent were married, 13.8 per cent were single and 3 per cent were divorced. In 1900, the figures were 66.4, 16.4, 11.4 and 4.6 per cent, respectively.

41 An examination, not shown, of the age distribution of single daughters separately for higher- and lower-status families shows an especially small percentage of late-adolescent single daughters (17–20 years old) living in lower-status homes. To the extent that late adolescence was the prime years for women to work as domestics, the absence of single daughters from lower-status homes may reflect their being employed as servants in the homes of others.

42 Indeed, , Jaher, , The urban establishment, 612–54Google Scholar, suggests that it was during this period that an urban elite expanded and became firmly established in Los Angeles.

43 Archival data collected for the larger study of household structure and family strategies of which this analysis is one part provides such evidence, although space limits prevents irs presentation here.

44 See, for instance, Cott, N.. The grounding of modern feminism (New Haven, Conn., 1987)Google Scholar; Evans, Sara M., ‘Born for liberty’: a history of American women (1989)Google Scholar; B. Laslett and J.Brenner, ‘Gender and social reproduction’; Rosenberg, C. Smith, Disorderly conduct: visions of gender in Victorian America (New York, 1985).Google Scholar

45 See Brown, ‘Golden girls’, on the socialization of the ‘new woman’ in Los Angeles between 1880 and 1910.

46 Interpreting the presence of servants in this way suggests that servants should not be seen only as a substitute for women's domestic labour but rather as an indicator of family status.

47 Laslett, B., ‘The family as a public and private institution: an historical perspective’, Journal of Marriage and the Family 35 (1973), 480–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Modell, J. and Hareven, T. K., ‘Urbanization and the malleable household: an examination of boarding and lodging in American families’, Journal of Marriage and the Family 35 (1973), 467–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

48 Jensen, J. M. and Miller, D. A., ‘The gentle tamers revisited: new approaches to the history of women in the American West’, Pacific Historical Review 48 (1980), 174213.Google Scholar

49 Mason, Weinstein and Laslett, ‘The decline of fertility’.

50 Brown, ‘Golden girls’.

51 For reviews of the relevant literatures, see Brenner and Laslett, ‘Social reproduction and the family’; Laslett and Brenner, ‘Gender and social reproduction’.

52 See, for instance, Abrams, P., Historical sociology (Ithaca, New York, 1982)Google Scholar; Alexander, J. C., ‘The new theoretical movement’, in Smelser, N. J. ed., Handbook of sociology (Newbury Park, Ca., 1988).Google Scholar

Cited by

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Women's work in late-nineteenth-century Los Angeles: class, gender and the culture of new womanhood
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Women's work in late-nineteenth-century Los Angeles: class, gender and the culture of new womanhood
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Women's work in late-nineteenth-century Los Angeles: class, gender and the culture of new womanhood
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *