Book Review: Jeanne Boydston’s Home and Work
Jeanne Boydston’s book Home and Work: Housework, Wages, and the Ideology of Labor in the Early Republic (Amazon) discusses the lives of New England women from the colonial period to post-modernization. Attitudes toward women’s labor in the home saw several distinct shifts within this period, which it is Boydston’s primary objective to reveal.
Within the introduction, Boydston claims her work “is a history of women’s unpaid domestic labor as a central force in the emergence of an industrialized society in the northeastern United States.” Throughout much of the period, the attitude toward women’s labor revolved around the Marxian principle that unpaid labor has no value. This became the more prominent ideology especially after industrialization, when the work became easier to perform.
Boydston divides her book thematically into seven sections. The first part “An Economic Society” establishes that during the colonial period housework, because it occurred within the home, “was not a part of the material ordering of social life” and therefore not a part of the economy. Chapter Two observes the shift in the attitude to women’s labor, which Boydston attributes toe the environment created by the War of 1812. She also suggests that not only was there a gender division of labor but also a changing definition of labor. Chapter Three shows the increase in the number of women performing outwork during industrialization, though this did not embody the majority of women, who continued to bear “the primary…responsibility for the day-to-day emotional and material arrangements of the family.” The fourth chapter, “All the In-doors Work,” observes the every-day tasks of women in the home and shows that these were not greatly altered by the growth of cash markets or manufacturing. Chapter Five argues that through industrialization “both the content and the structure of women’s daily work was steadily transformed.” During this period the structure of housework began to closely resemble that of paid labor. Also, the vast majority of women continued to work within the home. 
“The Political Economy of Housework,” the sixth chapter, is easily the most interesting and discusses “whether the labor that women were performing within and for their families was in some way integral to the process of industrialization itself.” Women became, more than ever, the primary doers of household labor as men were at their jobs for longer hours. Boydston asserts that the primary difficulty in assessing the economic value of household labor is very fact that it was unpaid. This alone seemed “to set it outside the realm of the economy.” During this antebellum period, many came to view housework not as labor but a leisure activity reserved for married women and one that produced no economic value. The seventh chapter, called “The Pastoralization of Housework,” shows the “romanticization of Womanhood” during the antebellum period. The chapter shows the continued devaluation of women and their roles not as laborers but as something less, what Boydston terms as “forces of nature.”
Although the book is very insightful and well put-together, several criticisms can be asserted. Boydston focuses almost entirely on middle-class women. The lower and upper classes are mentioned but are neglected throughout much of the book. This may be due to the lack of the availability of diaries and journals of lower class women, but it is definitely a missing ingredient. Neither does Home and Work pay much attention to minorities; these groups, of which there are many in the New England area, receive only two brief mentions in the entirety of the book.
Another criticism is that Boydston’s work looks only at industrialization and housework within the Northeast. One must wonder if other regions of the country were studied if this would affect Boydston’s premise. Were the attitudes of men affected by industrialization, which did not occur as quickly or drastically in other regions, or were these attitudes prevalent throughout the country?
Overall however, Jeanne Boydston’s Home and Work is a very good comprehensive overview of housework and the attitudes toward it in the years from the colonial era to the antebellum period. It is certainly a significant contribution to the field of women’s labor history.
 Jeanne Boydston, Home and Work, xi, 28, 74, 101.
 Boydston, 121, 131, 151.