Why is it that "a man works from sun to sun but a woman's work is never done?" It hasn't always been this way, and Ruth Cowan's meticulously researched and engagingly readable book shows the transformation. More Work for Mother
describes the change not as a capitalist or patriarchal conspiracy, but rather as a series of small steps away from the traditional farming family, with its gender-specific but equally time-consuming tasks, toward completely "separate spheres" for the sexes and households as units of consumption rather than production. Inventions such as washing machines, cotton cloth, and even white flour acted as catalysts by giving the less well-off a chance at the comforts the prosperous already possessed, but in general it was men and children whose chores were relieved by these innovations. Needing money to buy the things they could not produce, men left farming to become wage-earners, while children went to school, leaving Mother at home alone with "labor-saving" devices, no help, and raised expectations for yeast bread and clean clothes. Unfortunately, women's roles did not change as dramatically as the inventions, and our current housework rules and habits have their basis in issues of personal control more appropriate to times long gone. Even today, despite a grand array of high-tech gizmos, women still spend as much time on home maintenance as they did eighty years ago. We can't go back to our agricultural past, even if we'd like to, but historian Ruth Cowan shows us new ways to envision and direct our future. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14
. -- From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Jane Keefer
About the Author
Ruth Schwartz Cowan is associate professor of history at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.