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City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860 Paperback – September 1, 1987

ISBN-13: 978-0252014819 ISBN-10: 0252014812

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press (September 1, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0252014812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0252014819
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #461,150 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

How women emerged as a distinctive class in the burgeoning society of New York City in the postCivil War era is explored from an original viewpoint in this interesting study. Female class relations, "ladies" and working women, were symbiotic. The laborers had their sexual and social demeanor regulated by their middle-class sisters, who had the leisure to act as "self-appointed exemplars of virtue." The women of the working class come to life in Stansell's identification of their lot. Adrift from family ties, they entered the labor force, many resorting to prostitution and crime, which provoked the philanthropy of genteel bourgeois women, social reformers and the rise of the settlement house movement. The neighborhoods of the poor, the tenements and bawdy houses of 19th century New York are portrayed as important elements in women's history. Stansell teaches at Princeton University.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Pre-Civil War New York City was in many ways unique; at the same time, it was a microcosm of the nation. The study of its social historyfamily life and street life, factory work and housekeeping, innocent pleasures and viceprovides an opportunity to examine questions of broad significance: trade union attitudes towards women, the issue of the family wage, the discrepancy between middle-class ideals and daily life in poor households. Stansell's perceptive analysis of these and other topics is skillfully worked into a rich and colorful portrait of working-class New York, with unforgettable sketches of its life. Without losing sight of the hardships of poverty she insists that working-class women possessed a degree of independence. Her study reveals a vigorous female culture that thrived in neighborhoods and in work groups. An important book that provides a fresh look at relations between sexes and classes. Mary Drake McFeely, Univ. of Georgia Lib., Athens
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 43 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
Chritine Stansell has captured and vividly illuminated the lives of working women of the Industrial Revolution in NYC. I have studied this book for two classes and am sorry that I had not come across it sooner. If you are interested in the youth culture and the ways that a culture of single women emerged, this is a great book. If you are interested in the ways that working women handled themselves against the burden of the middle class genteel precepts, read this book. If you want a factual yet compelling picture of a history of women that is free from bias, check this out! City of Women details the lives of these women in a way that empowers and reveals truths that have long been hidden from America's full historical picture.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Alex Thanos on December 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
During the early part of the nineteenth century, women began to experience their first taste of autonomy. Although women were finding a role in the American workplace and society there were not many options for them. As part of the struggle to escape poverty in New York City, prostitution became an increasingly viable choice for girls with out other alternatives. Historian Christine Stansell states, "It was both an economic and a social option, a means of self-support and a way to bargain with men in a situation where a living wage was hard to come by, and holding one's own in heterosexual relations was difficult." This book deals with women in the factories as well as the working girls. Easy to read and very informative.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ivan Boothe on March 14, 2008
Format: Paperback
(Edit: I meant to rate this book four stars, but was unable to change my rating after the fact...fie on you, Amazon!)

An important exploration of working-class women's positions in the urban landscape of the nineteenth century, in particular as it related to revolutionary and post-revolutionary ideals of republicanism. Stansell seeks to correct earlier histories, which cast female workers as "either feminine versions of working-class men or working-class versions of middle-class women," as victims who occasionally and inexplicably revolted, but were mostly passive.

Initially, the American ideology of republicanism was built upon independence; those that were dependent -- including women -- could thus not be complete citizens. Yet popular republicanism did create an imagery of motherhood, incorporating virtuous mothers educating their sons in republican values. Ultimately this imagery did not destabilize the patriarchy, but even at its prime it competed directly with working-class female imagery. While upper-class women were moral guardians, working women -- "refusing" to conform to bourgeois female notions of virtue -- were defeminized, and contributed directly to the creation of the "tenement classes," a source of both moral and physical contagion.

Laboring women had little distinction between the public and private spheres, unlike either laboring men or bourgeois women. "Their domestic lives spread out to the hallways of their tenements, to adjoining apartments and to the streets below. Household work involved them constantly with the milieu outside their own four walls ... It was in the urban neighborhoods, not the home, that the identity of working-class wives and mothers was rooted.
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21 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Browher on April 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
Written during a time of rapid expansion in the study of women's history, "City of Women" maintains a focus on women that is both rewarding and problematic. While her portryal gives voice to a group of women who before had none, it also creates a dichotomy that labels virtually every man mentioned in her book as pernicious and/or sinister, and her women as the constant victims of their hegemony and terror. As a result, we are left with an incomplete portrait of New York working-class society. Proto-feminists are rewarded while those women who cause no problems are largely ignored. It is here that Stansell particularly differs from Lauren Thatcher Ulrich, who championed the cause of the ordinary Puritan woman in "Good Wives." Stansell's conflict theory leads the reader with no comprehension of ordinary interaction between the sexes; only rape, murder, and other heinous crimes. In the end, neither her women or her men are redeemed.

Nonetheless "City of Women" is a must-read for gender historians, and should be read carefully, with its flaws taken into account and understood partly as product of the politics of its time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David Johnson on April 27, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a superb study of antebellum women in New York, and the impact of industrialisation on women in general. Stansell really does a fine job considering the different physical and moral realms of women and the complex mix of forces and social conflicts they faced during the mid-Victorian era. It's probably not for the casual reader, as it really is an academic text, but it is a pretty accessible and readable academic text, so armchair historians can probably enjoy it as well as students in a history class.
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