To give a woman the vote, according to a U.S. senator in 1866, would be to put her "in an adversary position to man and convert all the now harmonious elements of society into a state of war, and make every home a bell on earth" (Rosenberg 1992; emphasis added). Here is an attitude that providessome insight into the difficulty of women's struggle for equality. And nowhere has this struggle been more visible than in the workplace, as generations of women have historically fought to create harmony between their jobs both inside and outside the home. Although the level of participation by women in the work force has fluctuated during the 1900s, their contributions and progress cannot bediscounted.
The economic contributions of women have increased substantially over the past century as the influx of women into the workplace has swelled. The recently released Department of Labor report, Workforce 2000, noted that by the end of the century women will constitute nearly half of the work force. This is more than twice the rate of participation recorded in the early 1900s, when just over21 percent of the work force was women (Edwards et al. 1991).
Several factors have contributed to this more than double the number of working women over the past century. Such technological innovations as washing machines and dishwashers have freed them from the time-consuming tasks necessary to managing the home environment. The fertility rate has steadily declined and has recently leveled off.Medical advances have shortened the amount of time spent caring for sick children. The rise in single-parent families and the increasing need for dual-income households to maintain reasonable living standards have made incomegenerating work less a choice than a necessity for most women.
Although for many of us our most vivid memories of progress begin with the social and sexual revolution of the1960s, working women are clearly not a novelty of the past 30 years. Little progress was realized, however, until this struggle affected middle- and upper-class women seeking advancement into the professional ranks--a trend that has risen since the 1920s. Until the 1960s, however, the contributions of these work force participants were typically transitory. Women worked while they were young andunmarried. Two world wars provided employment opportunities for them. With marriage and peace, however, women exchanged their jobs in the marketplace for those in the home.
To begin to understand the evolution of the role of American women, we must appreciate the difficulty of cultural change, as found in the barriers to progress. At the same time, we must recognize and capitalize on thosefactors that have enabled progress.
A Chronology of Progress
Rosenberg (1992) recently chronicled the history of working women in America during the twentieth century. Until very recently, women were largely considered a reserve work force used to fill positions that were either undesirable, because of low pay or status, or needed in times of crisis, such as that experienced during times of war. Dr.Alice Hamilton, a physician in the early 1900s and one of a handful of pioneers in the women's movement, commented on this mentality, noting that "[tlhe American man gives over to the woman all the things he is profoundly disinterested in, and keeps business and politics to himself."
Whereas approximately 40 percent of unmarried women over the age of 14 worked for wages in 1900, the overallparticipation of women as a percentage of the work force was 21.2 percent. The typical woman's experience involved working while she was a young woman living under her parents' roof--but only until she got married, whereupon she assumed responsibility for the care and maintenance of the home.
Women who sought a life independent of men had few options. Typically they were relegated to communities of...