Working Women, Literary Ladies

The Industrial Revolution and Female Aspiration

by

Working Women, Literary Ladies explores the simultaneous entry of working-class women in the United States into wage-earning factory labor and into opportunities for mental and literary development. It is the first book to examine the fascinating exchange between the work and literary spheres for laboring women in the rapidly industrializing America of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As women entered the public sphere as workers, their opportunities for intellectual growth expanded, even as those same opportunities were often tightly circumscribed by the factory owners who were providing them. These developments, both institutional and personal, opened up a range of new possibilities for working-class women that profoundly affected women of all classes and the larger social fabric. Cook examines the extraordinary and diverse literary productions of these working women, ranging from their first New England magazine of belles lettres, The Lowell Offering, to Emma Goldman's periodical, Mother Earth; from Lucy Larcom's epic poem of female factory life, An Idyl of Work, to Theresa Malkiel's fictional account of sweatshop workers in New York, The Diary of a Shirtwaist Striker. This vital new book traces the hopes and tensions generated by the expectations of working-class women as they created a wholly new way of being alive in the world.
  • Oxford University Press; January 2008
  • ISBN 9780199716616
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF format
  • Title: Working Women, Literary Ladies
  • Author: Sylvia J. Cook
  • Imprint: Oxford University Press

In The Press

"Cook's investigation of the literariness of women workers in industrializing America produces a revelatory cultural narrative. Her examination of the tension between 'the life of the mind' and the 'life of the body' as this is played out over time and populations allows her to distill and highlight the complex interaction of gender and class. Opening up an array of associations, literal and imaginative, political and literary, Cook contributes significantly to the burgeoning work on the history of class in the U.S."--Amy Schrager Lang, Professor of Humanities and English, Syracuse University
"Cook's investigation of the literariness of women workers in industrializing America produces a revelatory cultural narrative. Her examination of the tension between 'the life of the mind' and the 'life of the body' as this is played out over time and populations allows her to distill and highlight the complex interaction of gender and class. Opening up an array of associations, literal and imaginative, political and literary, Cook contributes significantly to the burgeoning work on the history of class in the U.S."--Amy Schrager Lang, Professor of Humanities and English, Syracuse University
"Contribut[es] to the field a valuable new understanding of the prominence of women workers, as both authors and literary subjects, in advancing literary innovation." --Legacy

About The Author

Sylvia Jenkins Cook was born and grew up in Belfast, N. Ireland. She was educated at Queen's University and at the University of Michigan is currently Professor of english at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She has published previously on the literature of working-class and poor people and on the literature of the American South.