Date of Award
Union College Only
Bachelor of Arts
women, paid, financial, home, economic
Throughout the twentieth century, women in the United States have endured a constant struggle for what historian Alice Kessler-Harris calls full economic citizenship, which refers to the ability to obtain full economic independence and equal opportunities for the potential gain of increased power and influence within society. Historically, and even currently, women’s economic dependence on men, especially husbands and fathers, has prevented women from achieving full economic citizenship. One of the major steps women can take to attain this goal is participation in the paid workforce, which can potentially end women’s reliance on men for financial security. Although many women did engage in paid employment throughout the century, they were frequently stigmatized even though the choice to work was often out of financial necessity. However, each decade did experience a shift in the type of women working in paid employment, as well as in how these women were represented in the media. This study compares and contrasts the messages conveyed through issues of Ladies' Home Journals of the 1930s and 1970s regarding women's paid and unpaid work to examine the potential of women to gain greater economic citizenship during decades of financial difficulty in the United States. Ladies’ Home Journal was selected for analysis because throughout the century it strived to represent and to attract mainstream (white, middle-class) female readers, and especially in the earlier decades it was one of most widely read women’s magazines. Therefore, Ladies’ Home Journal represents a popular publication that held a wide reader base. Another feature of the magazine is its inclusion of distinct genres that lend themselves to analysis: non-fiction articles, advertisements, and works of fiction. Several similarities and differences in representing women’s paid and unpaid work existed in the three genres in magazine issues in the 1930s and 1970s. Both decades tended to publish some non-fiction articles that addressed all women as America’s consumers and placed the responsibility on them to spend money in the hope that this would help relieve the country of its financial problems. However, it was not explicitly stated whether women should be earning this money themselves, or whether they should be getting this money from their husbands. Some advertisements during these decades also addressed the troubled economy and tried to attract the female consumers by promoting long-lasting products for little money, as well as suggesting that women purchase certain products solely for the purpose of making a man happy. Fictional stories of these two decades addressed married women gaining financial independence; however, achieving led to conflicts within the family because the woman was no longer dependent on a man for financial support. Stories like these acted as a warning to women of what could happen to their families if they decided to get a job in the paid workforce or attempted to gain financial independence in any other way. Although Ladies Home Journal attempted to strike a balance in providing readers with information about housewives and wage-earning women, there was definitely more emphasis placed on the virtuous housewife in the 1930s, while the 1970s tended to focus on working women. In the 1970s, non-fiction articles not only promoted traditional values by providing details to women about the negative aspects of paid employment, but also provided working women with useful information about how to deal with workplace discrimination. Advertisements from the 1930s tended to portray housewives purchasing products for the benefit of their husbands and children, while in the 1970s, the advertisements were more ambiguous in referencing the type of woman, whether housewife or business woman, who would use a particular product. Finally, although fiction stories were often used as a means to communicate information to the reader about the cultural shifts that had occurred throughout the twentieth century, working women and the idea that women were becoming more independent was much more apparent in the 1970s stories. Many historical and political factors contributed to the reason why the roles of women, especially women in paid employment, were altered between the 1930s and the 1970s, such as: the call for women to work during World War II; the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in 1963; and the development of the women’s rights and women’s liberation movements in the 1960s and early 1970s. However, Ladies’ Home Journal, while making some modifications to reflect these changes, still tried to maintain a balanced representation of both women who worked within the home and women who worked outside of the home in the paid workforce. The magazine did not advocate that American women should be able to be financially independent and thus achieve women’s full economic citizenship in the twentieth century.
Crawford, Lisa A., "Meeting financial and familial responsibilities : an analysis of messages in Ladies' Home Journal about women's economic citizenship in the 1930s and 1970s" (2010). Honors Theses. 1118.