Cover image for Black working wives : pioneers of the American family revolution
Black working wives : pioneers of the American family revolution
Landry, Bart.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xiv, 260 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
The rise and fall of the traditional family -- Black families: a challenge to the traditional family paradigm -- Black women and a new definition of womanhood -- The new family paradigm takes root and spreads -- Dual-career couples: prototypes of the modern family -- The economic contribution of wives -- Husbands and housework: a stalled revolution?
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HQ536 .L335 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Long before the 1970s and the feminist revolution that shattered traditional notions of the family, black women in America had already accomplished their own revolution. Bart Landry's groundbreaking study adds immeasurably to our accepted concepts of "traditional" and "new" families: Landry argues that black middle-class women in two-parent families were practicing an egalitarian lifestyle that was envisioned by few of their white counterparts until many decades later.

The primary transformation of the American family, Landry says, took place when nineteenth-century industrialization brought about the separation of home and workplace. Only then did the family we call traditional, in which the husband goes out to work while the wife stays at home, become the centerpiece of white middle-class ideology. Black women, excluded from this model of respectability, embraced a threefold commitment to family, community, and career. They embodied the notion that employment outside the home was the route to more equality in the home, and that work was worth pursuing for reasons other than economic survival.

With a careful and convincing mix of biography, historical records, and demographic data, Landry shows how these black pioneers of the dual-career marriage created a paradigm for other women seeking to escape the cult of domesticity and thus foreshadowed the second great family transformation. If the two-parent nuclear family is to persist beyond the twentieth century, it may be because of what we can learn from these earlier women about an ideology of womanhood that combines the private and public spheres.

Author Notes

Bart Landry is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland and author of The New Black Middle Class (California, 1987).

Reviews 1

Choice Review

The "American family revolution" is the end of the traditional American middle-class family, where the husband earns an income and enjoys a profession, and the wife/mother stays at home. Landry asserts that starting in the late 19th century, black women challenged the white middle-class "cult of domesticity." By redefining the ideology of womanhood, black women pioneered the model of the modern dual career family, which eventually spread to include white middle-class families. Landry traces the history of both black and white families in the US from slavery through the 20th century, from working class to middle class, paying particular attention to changes in family structure and ideology brought about by 19th-century industrialization and urbanization. Because American racism denied black families access to the "cult of domesticity," black women embraced a threefold commitment to family, community, and career, paving the way for a more egalitarian family relationship between men and women. The author skillfully weaves together life stories and historical and demographic data to present his compelling and groundbreaking thesis. He concludes with a sober prognosis for the future of the contemporary dual earner family in the environment of powerful corporate interests and values and public policies regarding day care and maternity leave. All levels. E. Hu-DeHart; University of Colorado at Boulder