Tracing the movement of black and white women between 1880 and 1940 from tobacco fields in the North Carolina Piedmont into Durham's textile, tobacco, and hosiery factories
Race, Gender, and Class in a New South Community
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Dolores E. Janiewski
In the last decades of the nineteenth century, Durham, North Carolina was a growing town typical of the industrial New South. Depending on cheap cotton, cheap tobacco, and cheap labor to supply its infant industries, Durham accelerated the impoverishment of the neighboring agricultural society and the migration of rural farm workers into urban industry. This study traces the movement of black and white women between 1880 and 1940 from tobacco fields in the North Carolina Piedmont into Durham's textile, tobacco, and hosiery factories.
Using a large number of oral histories, Janiewski tells the story of the New South as it was experienced by the women who contributed to the region's wealth while remaining poor themselves. Exploring gender, race, and class as manifested through women's work and position in the rural South, she studies the reconstruction of these relationships in the industry workplaces of Durham. Despite changes women experienced in the migratory and industrializing process, a complex hierarchy based upon race, class, and gender continued to shape the way these women thought and lived.
Intense union activity by black and white women led to the first contract with a large Durham textile mill in 1941. But even while workers were celebrating victory, the unity in the workplace was very fragile, as employers maintained racial and gender divisions in working conditions and in pay. These divisions eventually had a devastating impact upon union organizing of Durham industries. Because the unions failed to address the issues of gender and racial inequality, they never fully mobilized the energies of the women workers or fully satisfied their needs.
"Sisterhood Denied is a specific, detailed and powerful study of women workers in the tobacco and textile industries in Durham, North Carolina.... It is a persuasive text, meticulously documented. Janiewski's lucid and fiery writing style enhances the impact of a study which is fascinating in itself."
"Through the use of both oral history and more traditional sources, Janiewski skillfully describes the hardships endured by women, both on the farm and in the factory.... This book enhances our understanding of the role of women in the industrial work force of the New South."
"Janiewski successfully combines the larger picture of the South's industrialization with its consequences for individual women."
"As a contribution to Southern labor history, Sisterhood Denied is excellent. As a solid addition to women's history, it is especially remarkable."
"Janiewski, who focuses on the experience of black and white working-class women after the abolition of slavery, offers a sensitive assessment of the interplay of gender, class, and race in women's lives and a clear picture of the specific legacy of slavery as a social system.... Janiewski's work demonstrates how southern women...have been drawn into the capitalist mainstream."
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Dolores E. Janiewski is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Idaho.
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