Abstract

This article explores how women defined work in relation to illness and childbearing circa 1800 through an analysis of the rules of English female friendly societies. These mutual aid organizations, established and run by women for women, provided financial benefits to sick members. Their rules defined illness in functional terms as the inability to work. They also reveal how women ascribed value to both paid labor and unpaid domestic duties (childcare and housework) at a time when political economists devalued housework and more generally marginalized women's work. Rather than distinguishing between wage and unpaid labor, societies placed both on a continuum of daily life and toil. The variations among rules—particularly striking in their treatment of housework, pregnancy, childbirth, and the involvement of philanthropists—underscore the complications women faced and solutions they created to safeguard their earnings as well as the economic viability of their societies.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 60-85
Launched on MUSE
2012-03-21
Open Access
No
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