- Advocating the Man: Masculinity, Organized Labor, and the Household in New York, 1800–1840, and: Jolly Fellows: Male Milieus in Nineteenth-Century America
Joshua R. Greenberg and Richard Stott have written valuable contributions to the historiography of masculinity. Greenberg’s snapshot of early [End Page 638] nineteenth-century New York City shows that working men’s family responsibilities influenced their labor-organizing activities. On the other hand, Stott’s longer focus on the entire nineteenth century and wider lens that encompasses the whole United States, investigates why most men in the middle of the nineteenth century stopped drinking and gambling in taverns and groceries, fighting with one another, and playing pranks on animals and social outsiders. Taken together, Stott and Greenberg illustrate the sheer variety of white manhood in nineteenth-century America.
Using a vast and eclectic array of primary-source material, Greenberg investigates skilled artisans’ collective labor organization in early nineteenth-century New York City. Instead of focusing on “artisan republicanism,” Greenberg shifts historians’ attention toward the dynamic interplay between skilled artisans’ household activities and their out-of-home actions. Specifically, he “demonstrates how working men’s lived domestic experiences notably shaped organized labor activities in early nineteenth-century New York and informed particular household-based responses to emerging systems of market capitalism.” According to Greenberg, “skilled artisans’ conceptions of gendered domestic and civic roles were indivisible.”1
Greenberg illustrates that when artisans entered the public realm, they entered as men, and more specifically, as fathers and husbands. They identified and confronted numerous threats to the economic well-being of their families, such as banks, monopolies, auctions, and paper currency, as well as threats upon their breadwinning responsibilities from unscrupulous master craftsmen and the labor of apprentices, halfway journeymen, prisoners, women, immigrants, and African Americans. Greenberg’s nuanced analysis illuminates that “working men’s perception of threats to their household-based masculine identity grounds organized reactions to the new industrial economy” (para 11).
By focusing on working men as fathers and husbands, Greenberg shows that in early nineteenth-century New York City working men did not think of their work and organizing activities as separate from the [End Page 639] home. “If the boundary between private and public does become more elusive when men are studied as gendered subjects,” Nancy Cott wrote twenty years ago, “that may focus needed attention on it.”2 This is exactly what Greenberg does. He shows convincingly that working men did not live an ideology of separate spheres. Family responsibilities influenced their settlement patterns, labor-organizing activities, and the voluntary organizations they joined.
Greenberg’s focus on working fathers and husbands leaves little room for the actions of wives and children. The historiography of families in the early republic suggests that migration patterns and economic forces challenged the power of patriarchs. How did working men react to threats from within their own families that challenged their breadwinning status or patriarchal power? How did increased work and leisure opportunities for children influence working men’s labor organizing activities? Greenberg notes that most working men viewed their relationships with their wives as being built upon love as well as necessity because of precarious economic realities. One wonders how wives may have influenced working men’s collective organizing activities and how they viewed their husbands’ actions.
Greenberg’s book raises equally important issues for historians about the relationship between print and digital publishing. There are three editions of his book: one published in print and two published digitally (American Council of Learned Societies [ACLS] Humanities e-book and Gutenberg-e). The print edition includes a handful of primary documents in its appendix but none of the images that Greenberg analyzes throughout the text. Both digital editions include beautiful high-resolution reproductions of the images that he analyzes and links to full-text transcriptions of the primary sources that form the...