The Gendered Worlds of Latin American Women Workers

From Household and Factory to the Union Hall and Ballot Box

The Gendered Worlds of Latin American Women Workers

Comparative and International Working-Class History

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Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 19 b&w photographs, 5 figures, 5 tables Published: December 1997

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies

The Gendered Worlds of Latin American Women Workers examines the lives of Latin American women who entered factory labor in increasing numbers in the early part of the twentieth century. Emphasizing the integration of traditional labor history topics with historical accounts of gender, female subjectivity, and community, this volume focuses on the experience of working women at mid-century, especially those laboring in the urban industrial sector. In its exploration of working women’s agency and consciousness, this collection offers rich detail regarding women’s lives as daughters, housewives, mothers, factory workers, trade union leaders, and political activists.
Widely seen as a hostile sexualized space, the modern factory was considered a threat, not only to the virtue of working women, but also to the survival of the family, and thus, the future of the nation. Yet working-class women continued to labor outside the home and remained highly visible in the expanding world of modern industry. In nine essays dealing with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Guatemala, the contributors make extensive use of oral histories to describe the contradictory experiences of women whose work defied gender prescriptions but was deemed necessary by working-class families in a world of need and scarcity. The volume includes discussion of previously neglected topics such as single motherhood, women’s struggle against domestic violence, and the role of women as both desiring and desired subjects.

Contributors. Ann Farnsworth-Alvear, Mary Lynn Pedersen Cluff, John D. French, Daniel James, Thomas Miller Klubock, Deborah Levenson-Estrada, Mirta Zaida Lobato, Heidi Tinsman, Theresa R. Veccia, Barbara Weinstein


The Gendered Worlds of Latin American Women Workers is an illuminating collection, the diversity of which reflects the multiple gendered spaces inhabited by women factory workers and the multiple identities negotiated by them in their daily lives. It represents an important step towards the development of a fully gendered labour history which recognizes that the issues of class and gender are ‘inside one another,’ neither one more important or prior to the other.” — Niki Johnson, Journal of Latin American Studies

“[A] substantial and important contribution both to Latin American women’s studies and labour history. . . . [A]ll the contributions employ oral history creatively and reflectively to produce rich and nuanced narratives of women’s lived experiences in a variety of work environments.” — Fiona Macaulay , Labour History Review

“[T]hese essays are a major step toward producing fully gendered accounts of working women and men, that is, of the whole working class itself. . . . Traditional research methodologies and sources . . . are effectively complemented by wide-ranging use of oral history and testimonies that rescue the hidden voices of those doubly silenced by class and gender.” — , Choice

“All the essays are engaging, insightful and well-argued additions to Latin American labour history. . . . A must for anyone interested in labour relations specifically, or in good social history generally.” — British Bulletin of Publications

“Each of the essays in The Gendered Worlds of Latin American Women Workers stands alone as an insightful analysis of factory and family life during the initial stages of Latin American industrialization. Their value is multiplied considerably when the editors distill the essays’ common elements to make meaningful empirical generalizations across time and place.” — Susan Tiano , Latin American Research Review

“James and French have compiled a book of valuable articles that fill important gaps in Latin American labor history, and make for fascinating reading as well.” — Teresa Meade , Journal of Social History

“The articles in this collection strive to go beyond commonplace studies of ‘women workers and women’s work’ in a far-reaching attempt ‘to explore the articulation of gender and class in the lives of working-class subjects, both male and female.’ ” — , World Views

“These articles are representative of exciting, innovative, and suggestive new work.” — , Hispanic American Historical Review

“This book represents a major contribution, even a milestone of sorts, for the new Latin American labor history that the editors have promoted and practiced, and it is certain to be widely read. . . . The book’s power resides in its ability to weave into a coherent whole the diverse experiences of women from a part of the world characterized by great social, political, racial, and ethnic diversity and to persuade us of the inextricable dynamic of gender and class. . . . Few volumes so powerfully convey the complexities of working-class life and so convincingly expose the poverty of deterministic theories of working identity.” — James P. Brennan, American Historical Review

“This fine collection of . . . fresh and innovative efforts of new scholars . . . should be required reading for anybody with an interest in the history of labor and gender relations in Latin America. . . . [T]he essays in this collection are well crafted, provocative, and fun to read. This book will stimulate interest and debate among both specialists and students.” — Judy Bieber , Luso-Brazilian Review

“This is a superbly constructed volume that sheds light on many different practical and theoretical aspects of women workers in Latin America in the 20th century. The essays complement each other to a degree unusual in such collections, and their quality is uniformly excellent. The research is innovative, and the authors are particularly sensitive to the nuances of ideologies and consciousness as well as the qualitative and quantitative details of factory and working-class experiences. . . . Individually and collectively, these essays make a significant contribution to our knowledge of Latin American labor history, and our understanding of the many levels at which gender and class operate in the lives of Latin American men and women.” — Aviva Chomsky , Labor Reviews

"[I]ntriguing and provocative. . . . [M]akes a major contribution to the emerging field of Latin American labor history. . . . [A] valuable Latin American history anthology. . . . [T]hrough its skillful combination of traditional historical sources with oral history and testimony, The Gendered Words of Latin American Women Workers gives voice and agency to a formerly invisible but essential segment of the Latin American working class." — Kimberly F. Jones-de Oliveira, Journal of Third World Studies

"Now, at last, a collection that goes beyond simplistic notions of Marianism to show how factory work shaped Latin American women’s attitudes and how the women themselves negotiated for their dignity. Oral histories combined with more traditional sources give a fresh look at how gender operated in the workplace and in the home. No mere gap filler, this book represents a whole new line of inquiry." — Temma Kaplan, State University of New York, Stony Brook

"This work portrays the richly textured world of twentieth-century working women. They recall their memories of labor in male-dominated factories where they challenged pervading paternalistic attitudes. Their moving and intimate narratives are aptly contextualized by a group of historians deeply committed to creating a gendered view of a field previously dominated by men’s views and memories. A splendid collection." — Asunción Lavrin, Arizona State University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

John D. French is Associate Professor of History at Duke University.

Daniel James is Bernardo Mendel Professor of Latin American History at Indiana University.

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1996-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2000-5
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