Date of Award

2011

Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Advisor

Nathan Godfried

Second Committee Member

Elizabeth McKillen

Third Committee Member

Richard Judd

Abstract

As early as 1971, the term Socialist Feminism was used to describe the belief that the institutions of capitalism and patriarchy both operate to oppress women. Women in the workplace have traditionally been relegated to gendered positions (secretaries, cleaners, et al.) while full-time housewives labor to keep their homes and families in order yet are not considered members of the workforce. Though the term was not coined until the early 1970s, the life of Elizabeth Hawes provides an example of socialist feminism in practice long before the traditionally accepted start of the "second wave" in 1960. Elizabeth Hawes (a fashion designer, writer, and labor organizer) studied fashion in Paris and was quickly disillusioned by the industry's preference for only the wealthiest client. Determined to democratize fashion, Hawes opened her own design house in New York in 1928, but was unable to reconcile the extremely high production costs with consumer affordability. A brief foray into mass production designs also proved unsuccessful as department stores emphasized quantity over quality. Though she was never successful in her attempts to make quality fashion available to the majority of women, Hawes' experiences led her to consider how women managed work, family, marriage, and appearance. This dissertation argues that women worker's participation in unionism and labor organizing was complicated by the reality of commitments to family, marriage, and the home as well as the gendered division of labor in the workplace. The term "double shift" does not adequately encompass the myriad of responsibilities placed on women in the Depression and war periods. Socialist feminist theory provides a solid foundation for not only historical analysis of working women but was also a significant aspect of Hawes' understanding of gender at home, in the workplace, and through clothing. Hawes was among the first to write about clothing as psychological/social signifiers, relating appearance to issues of race, class, ethnicity, and especially gender. Her considerations of fashion and labor politics serve to illustrate social constructions of class and gender in the U.S. as well as examine conceptions of feminist activity between 1920 and 1960.

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