Did they have jobs that paid them enough? No, they had to be unemployed, at least financially.
The job-for-flapper myth is a lot of fun. But it is a myth because it’s based on an ancient, discredited notion: There was more work in Victorian times than there is now.
The modern-day flapper myth, the theory that every teenager must have a job in order to survive, began in the 1980s, with a book published in The Washington Post.
By the 1980s, most flappers in the United States had been “out of work” for decades. Women who had been in the profession for decades were struggling to find work. Wages for older women had shrunk by almost 30 percent during the 1980s, and the share of female lawyers had fallen.
Many of these women had come to the United States to pursue a dream. They came to try their hand at a career they considered worthy of their hard work. They came to make a difference. This summer, my son, who is 17 years old, is in the ninth grade in a middle school near our neighborhood, and I am working to get him through high school.
What did they dream of working in the early 20th century? A job that paid enough to enable them to pay their rent, keep the lights on, pay for food and clothes, and afford their own cars.
This was not so easy, though, because the new era had brought unprecedented demands for women’s labor, from more women in the house to women in factories. The women’s movement had mobilized women’s voices to fight for a guaranteed minimum wage and paid maternity leave and health care coverage; its efforts made many other policies possible.
Women’s jobs were hard to find in the 19th century. Women’s roles in farming, child care, service industry, as factory hands — these positions made men more prosperous than their domestic work or household chores. These jobs were more stable and paid well (more than $300 for women in 1900 and about $450 in 1935).
So why were women so hard to find?
One reason was that as wages started going up in the Victorian era, the economy grew and many factory and farm jobs could not pay a living wage. The labor supply of women’s labor was drying up because of the mechanization of manufacturing; the number of housewives and working parents rose. Many young women entered the male-dominated factory and farm fields at a young
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