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"BUTTERAND EGG MONEY" INDEED! Lynne Al. Adrian Carol Groneman & Mary Beth Norton, eds. 'To ToiltheLivelong Day:"Anu-rica's Women at ~'ark, 1780-1980. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987. 305 pp. Joan M. Jensen. Loosening the Bonds:Mid-AtlanticFarm Women 1750-1850.New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986. iv + 271 pp. Illus. Historians of women have long acknowledged that women's unpaid work within the home too often has been ignored. These two volumes indicate that women's work as producers for the commercial market has also been vastly underrated. Together they call for a re-evaluation of women's role as workers, and result in today's working mother seeming the historical norm, rather than an exception. What appears more and more historically exceptional is the view of women primarily as consumers and managers of items of consumption, whose only production is reproduction. Both books address this central concern, though in very different ways. Of the two I prefer Jensen's. In part, this is because she develops a systematic and detailed account of the lives of an important and previously unexamined group--American rural women in the century of industrialization from 1750 to 1850. Through her examination of the women of Philadelphia's hinterland in Pennsylvania and Delaware, Jensen hopes to place "the rural majority in its proper place, at the center of the history of American women" (xiv). She traces the actions of these women not in two spheres, but in three--the household (including kin-based networks), the commercial sphere of the developing agricultural market economy, and the public sphere of religion, education and reform. In examining these women, she uncovers some startling evidence of the importance of women as producers rather than as consumers. She finds that, in 1840, butter was the fifth most valuable agricultural product in the mid-Atlantic states, with sales amounting to $15 million, and that its agricultural importance had been growing since before the American Revolution. The phrase "butter and egg money" should never again mean a trivial amount. It is obvious to the reader of this book that the role of womt!n as producers was crucial to the development of an industrial, consumer economy in the nineteenth century, both on the macroeconomic level of 108 Lynne M. Adrian national trade with the West Indies, and on the microeconomic level of the family, where the sale of butter often provided "enough to buy most of the commodities the family needed for the household" (83), thus ensuring "that rural women remained producers as well as becoming consumers of the new industrial age." That, Jensen writes, "was an important distinction" (91)--a crucial distinction indeed, since these rural women, rather than mill girls or other models of "true womanhood," were the majority of American women during the period. Jensen's assessment of the economics of the butter trade in the development of American commerce can serve as a prime example of how an understanding of women's history changes our understanding of all the contours of American history. This "re-vision" of nineteenth-century American women as producers is particularly important because of the implications which Jensen develops, though the transition to arguments concerning ideology is more difficult for her to make. She differentiates between the development of what Kathryn Kish Sklar outlines as the "cult of domesticity," and the development of what Jensen herself calls "rural economy," an ideology which places emphasis on women as producers rather than as consumers. Her example of this countertrend is Hannah Barnard's Dialogues on Domestic and Rural Economy, published in 1820. In story form, Barnard chronicles a farm family brought to ruin by women's becoming solely consumers and not producers, and then rescued by "Lady Homespun," a neighbor who teaches the daughter the necessary rural skills instead of employing her for fine sewing. To Jensen, Barnard's book represents "the moment of transfer of technology, of oral to written tradition, the secrets of housewifery made public ... because the alternative written material is not appropriate for rural women" (125). If Jensen is correct in arguing that this literature of rural economy was constructed as a model competing with the ideology of domesticity which had...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 107-110
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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