As Nancy F. Cott notes, though winning the right to vote helped the women’s cause, it wasn’t enough. “By the 1910s the nineteenth century woman’s movement had gained entry to, although no transformation of, many avenues of social, economic and political power from which women had felt excluded.” However, the access was only for some women, who were tokens but not representative of the whole population. Their concept of feminism included equal citizenship but also economic independence and rights in sexuality.

Gradually, women began moving into new and different types of work, aided by two factors: industrialization and World War I. Women began working as teachers, nurses, librarians or social workers due to supply and demand: there were too many of these positions available for only men to fill. By 1910, thirty-six percent of the workers in electrical manufacturing plants were women, a percentage which remained relatively steady through the Depression. Because of the war, women also were able to move into positions previously help by men, such as middle management.

But these gains weren’t universally positive. As Ruth Milkman observes, “Once a job is labeled ‘male’ or ‘female,’ the demand for labor to fill it is sex-specific, barring disruptions of labor supply or a restructuring of the labor process. Once sex-typing takes root in an industry or occupation, it is extremely difficult to dislodge.” In other words, jobs in some industries became a female ghetto.


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