Cornell University

May 21 2014

Family Survival

DeVault article named best on U.S. topic by Labor History journal

Professor Ileen DeVault’s “Family Wages: The roles of wives and mothers in U.S. working-class survival strategies, 1880-1930” had been named 2013’s best in class by Labor History, the journal that published it.

The common image of a turn-of-the-century female wage earner in the U.S. is that of a young, single woman, the daughter of her family. However, DeVault wrote, wives and mothers also made important economic contributions to their family economies.

Although these working-class wives and mothers may not be seen as primary earners, DeVault said they brought cash into their family units “through formal workforce participation; through home work of various sorts; and through selling subsistence, providing in-home services to nonfamily members in exchange for cash.” 

Previous studies on the subject primarily focused on particular ethnicities or minority groups, but DeVault tells a national story of married women's cash-producing work, which earned her work its honor.

“Working-class wives and mothers filled in the economic gaps existing in the interactions of their families with the capitalist marketplace through a range of different methods,” writes DeVault, co-chair of the Worker Institute at Cornell’s Equity at Work initiative.

“While early 20th-century unions called for the establishment of a ‘living wage’ for male workers, the world in which those workers lived required both family wages and family strategies to bring in other forms of cash for their survival.”

The article can be viewed at http://bit.ly/1mOitOg.