Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Working women part 2 History of Women in the Workforce

Proverbs 3-10-31 "10 How hard it is to find a capable wife! She is worth far more than jewels! 11 Her husband puts his confidence in her, and he will never be poor. 12 As long as she lives, she does him good and never harm. 13 She keeps herself busy making wool and linen cloth. 14 She brings home food from out-of-the-way places, as merchant ships do. 15 She gets up before daylight to prepare food for her family and to tell her servant women what to do. 16 She looks at land and buys it, and with money she has earned she plants a vineyard. 17 She is a hard worker, strong and industrious. 18 She knows the value of everything she makes, and works late into the night. 19 She spins her own thread and weaves her own cloth. 20 She is generous to the poor and needy. 21 She doesn't worry when it snows, because her family has warm clothing. 22 She makes bedspreads and wears clothes of fine purple linen. 23 Her husband is well known, one of the leading citizens. 24 She makes clothes and belts, and sells them to merchants. 25 She is strong and respected and not afraid of the future. 26 She speaks with a gentle wisdom. 27 She is always busy and looks after her family's needs. 28 Her children show their appreciation, and her husband praises her. 29 He says, "Many women are good wives, but you are the best of them all." 30 Charm is deceptive and beauty disappears, but a woman who honors the Lord should be praised. 31 Give her credit for all she does. She deserves the respect of everyone."

My earlier post was about whether it is acceptable for Christian women to have careers outside the home.  In this post, I want to discuss the history of women in the workforce as early as the biblical times.  Despite the myth that during the beginning, women’s only role was as a housewife who only took care of the domestic affairs and childrearing and that it was rare for any woman married and single to work outside the home, the opposite as proving to be true.  Many women throughout history were involved in the labor force as well as managing their own homes bringing up the children.  In fact, there is a mention of plenty of known women in the bible who involved in the work force. 

First, there was Deborah, who was a wife of man named Lappidoth.  She was a prophetess and the only female judge who held court under a palm tree between Ramah in Benjamin and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim.  She also agreed to accompany the military commander Barak to lead his army into the battle against King Jabin of the Canaanites’ army led by Sisera since the king had been oppressing the Israelites for many years.  There was Priscilla, a Roman woman who along with her husband Aquila were tentmakers as well as early missionaries who traveled with the Apostle Paul on some of his travels.  Lydia, a Greek woman from Thyatira who was a seller and dealer of purple dye a very expensive product used to for purple clothing.  It is unknown whether Lydia was married or a widow but was businesswoman in her own right. 

There was also Dorcas/Tabitha, a disciple from Joppa who made clothing for the poor.  Mary Magdalene, a most famous disciple of Jesus, may have been in the business of exporting salted dried fish from her town in Magdala.  Ruth, the Moabite, gleaned in the fields where she met her future husband Boez.  The prophetess Anna worked in the temple.  There was also Sheerah, the great- granddaughter of Joseph(son of Jacob) who was builder and founder of the towns Upper and Lower Beth-Horon and Uzzen-Sheerah.  Although, it is unlikely she did the physical labor herself, she more likely had an organized team of builders working under her.  Shallum’s daughters helped their father and others rebuild the sheep gate in Jerusalem.  Finally, there was the Proverbs 31 woman, who was a mult-tasker as a wife, mother, homemaker, and businesswoman.  She made linen garments and sold them, supplied sashes for the merchants, started a vineyard business, and was also a charity worker who gave to the needy.  She didn’t do all the domestic chores as she had hired servant girls to help. 

The fact remains, she was a busy woman who was able to manage a home, a business, a domestic staff, bring up children and give to charity.  These women weren’t alone, as they were plenty of women during the ancient times in the workforce.  During first century Ancient Israel, a number of women ran businesses, some were widows who took over their late husband’s business.  Plenty were craftsman who sold their goods to the merchants, traders, merchants, involving in farming business, servants, etc. In first century Ancient Rome, plenty of women also ran their own businesses, although some of them with their husbands.  Others contributed to the labor force as equals with men.  They sold perfume, food, ran laundries, waitresses in taverns, hairstylists, dressmakers, midwives, shopkeepers, domestic servants, butchers, money lenders, mill workers etc. The majority worked in the textile manufacturing business that included the trade in purple, an expensive cloth that was dyed.  A few in worked in fields that was rare for women, such as doctors and lawyers.  One woman was lamp-maker.  In Pompeii, two named women ran their own businesses.  A woman named Eumachia ran a brickyard and another Asellina ran a tavern.  Women even worked in construction including shipbuilding business. 

In Classical Greece, poor women had some occupations aslo as merchants selling food and merchandise at the market stalls, working as wet-nurses, spinners and helping their husbands run the farms.  Throughout centuries women continued to contribute to the labor force and during the beginning of  the industrial revolution around the 18th century, large numbers of women worked especially in factories and mines.  By  the 19th century, in western society, women from poor backgrounds continued to have jobs outside the home, mainly in traditional female jobs such as seamstresses, laundresses, milliners, dressmakers, domestic servants, midwives and factory workers.  Some were tradeswomen and others ran businesses with their husbands or took over the business as widows.  A few ran businesses in their own right.  Even among the more educated women, mainly worked as nurses, teachers, governesses, writers, poets, missionary workers and charity workers.  There were even an exceptional numbers of women working in non-traditional fields for women including doctors, lawyers, journalists, inventors, engineers etc.  By the mid-19th century, the roles of working women started to decline more and more, as the ideal for the man to be the sole breadwinner relieving the wife to staying at home and taking care of the home and children had long since been the norm.  

The first and second world wars, would temporary increase women in the workforce, freeing the men to fight in the battles.  By the 1950s, women from middle-class and working-class families were mainly housewives, and working outside the home was hardly in option as the women’s role was to look after the home even when children grew up.  The women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s changed all that, as women were encouraged to go back to school and get a job outside the home and it was possible to juggle both career and family.  Of course, just as many women in the past decades didn’t have the opportunity to work outside the home, there was plenty who didn’t have the opportunity to stay home and take care of the home, mostly depending on race, social status and nationality.  Black and immigrant women always worked outside the homes over the centuries.  Black women especially worked in the fields along the men on plantations during slavery times.  Even after slavery, they continued to work, in fact around the 1950s, the majority of black women worked outside the home mainly in jobs as cotton pickers, cleaning ladies and the most common job were as maids for middle-class and upper-class white families where they did most of the domestic tasks and looked after the children while managing their own households as well.  Sometimes these women were forced to be the main breadwinner in the home due to lack of employment opportunities for their husbands or many were single mothers being the head of their own households. 

In modern times, women working outside of the home, having their own careers, while balancing their family lives has been the norm.  Still, many in the more conservative Christian groups hold to the ideal of a godly wife to be a traditional housewife of the by gone era.  However, long before the “Leave It To Beaver” model of the nuclear family unit, the traditional wife of the ancient biblical times was a woman likely earned a salary or even ran a business to support her family along with managing the domestic tasks and child-rearing.  The only main difference is that women back in those times only worked as a necessity and survival. 

Today more women have more options to work not just for financial reasons alone and still raise a family.  I will discuss furthur about these options and in the next post.

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