Abstract: House/Work: Business-like Networks among Domestic Servants in New York, 1880-1940

Vanessa May


This paper will look at the strategies working-class immigrant domestics in turn-of-the-century New York used to define themselves as workers and to build a sense of working-class community while living and working in middle-class neighborhoods. These efforts took place within gendered, class, and ethnic contexts that were similar to those drawn on by other working-class women, even though domestics were excluded from traditional unions. I argue that these working-class women sought to define the middle-class home as a workplace and a place of business even as their middle-class employers strictly regarded the home as private space. The bonds of community that immigrant domestics forged among one another and with the wider working-class ethnic community were vital to their efforts to determine their own working conditions.