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For fifteen years, Thomas Dublin's first book - Women at Work: The Transformation of Work and Community in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1826-1860 - has stood as a model of scholarship in American social and labor history. Dublin has now expanded his geographical and chronological scope, combined his meticulous and compendious research with rigorous statistical analysis, and produced a comprehensive study of working women throughout nineteenth-century New England. This work should reaffirm Dublin's standing as one of the premier practitioners of quantitative social history in the United States.
Dublin's ambitious and far-reaching investigation into the lives of literally thousands of workingwomen seeks to answer "a series of questions that remain unanswered despite the increasing interest in women's wage labor in recent years: Who worked for wages? From what backgrounds did working-women come? How did women's paid employment fit within the larger pattern of the female life cycle? How did patterns of female employment change during the nineteenth century? And how did changes in women's wage work affect women's positions and power relations within their families?" (pp. 14-15). Dublin begins his quest for understanding women's integration into industrial capitalism by exploring the infusion of market forces into rural households through the outwork system. He then traces the growing number of full-time female wage laborers in the textile mills of antebellum Lowell, the shoe factories of mid-century Lynn, the garrets and homes of Boston in the second half of the nineteenth century, and the one-room schoolhouses of New Hampshire.
Dublin's foray into the surprisingly complex world of outwork and market exchange in small New Hampshire towns reveals the ironic ways in which wage work done at home both reinforced the traditional patriarchal farm family economy, and prepared the way for full-time wage workers - operating independently or pooling resources within family wage economies - to displace those earlier agricultural arrangements. Outwork was especially appealing to rural families of the middling sort at the stage in their collective lifecycle when their daughters were old enough to work but too young to marry. Farm families could shift a modest amount of their daughters' human capital toward weaving or hat braiding, without getting so dependent on outside sources of income that they would fall under the complete control of merchants and middlemen. Income from outwork could supplement rural families' agricultural earnings, and allow them to remain on their smaller landholdings in the face of competition from more productive midwestern farmers; but outwork was …