Reproductive labor is the labor or work of creating and maintaining the next generation of workers. This is the work of birth, breastfeeding or bottle feeding, washing dirty butts and wiping runny noses, nursing those who unable to care for themselves, keeping living areas habitable by washing and getting rid of refuse- and figuring out how to get water or where to put trash if not living with modern conveniences, cooking- including the sourcing, storing, and knowledge of food production to not make people ill. All of the things that humans rely on but that either through biology or through gendered norms, are the domain of women. Today we’re discussing the history of how reproductive labor was gendered as women’s work, the continuity of the undervaluation of reproductive labor within capitalism, and how this undervaluing contributes to the implications of gendered labor. Put more bluntly, capitalism is dependent on undervalued reproductive and gendered labor, and we’re gonna explore that history a bit in this episode.

Transcript For: The Invisible Engine: Capitalism’s Reliance on Reproductive Labor and a Gendered Wage

Written and researched by Elizabeth Garner Masarik, PhD

Produced by Averill Earls, PhD

Elizabeth: Reproductive labor is the labor or work of creating and maintaining the next generation of workers. This is the work of birth, breastfeeding or bottle feeding, washing dirty butts and wiping runny noses, nursing those who unable to care for themselves, keeping living areas habitable by washing and getting rid of refuse- and figuring out how to get water or where to put trash if not living with modern conveniences, cooking- including the sourcing, storing, and knowledge of food production to not make people ill. All of the things that humans rely on but that either through biology or through gendered norms, are the domain of women. And yes, trans men and nonbinary folks can give birth. But today we’re discussing the history of how reproductive labor was gendered as women’s work, the continuity of the undervaluation of reproductive labor within capitalism, and how this undervaluing contributes to the implications of gendered labor. Put more bluntly, capitalism is dependent on undervalued reproductive and gendered labor, and we’re gonna explore that history a bit in this episode.

I’m Elizabeth

And I’m Averill

And we are your historians for this episode of Dig.

Patreon: Can you believe it’s been six years since we announced the launch of Dig?! We wouldn’t have come this far or kept at it if it wasn’t for you all, our listeners. We’re thankful for all of our listeners, new and returning, overseas and domestic, student in college or student of life. We’re especially thankful for the Patrons of this show, who’ve funded our presentations at conferences, the new equipment we’re recording on right now, and our endless book needs for research. A big thanks to our fabulous Auger and Excavator level patrons: Hanna, Karl, Colin, Denise, Jessica, Edward, Lauren, Karen, Iris, Susan, Maria, and Lisa! We can’t thank you enough. Listener, if you’re not yet a patron of this show, it’s easy: just go to patreon.com/digpodcast to learn more

This episode, like all of our episodes, relies on the scholarship of other historians. The reading list is considerable on this one and notes and a larger bibliography can be found on our website at digpodcast.org. We’ve peppered in names throughout this episode that we’ve relied on extensively.

Elizabeth: Here we are, people: at Continuity, the surprise 6th C of History! Last year we did five series, one on each of the original “5” Cs of History that historians Thomas Andrews and Flannery Burke outlined for the the American Historical Association’s magazine, Perspectives, in 2007. Well, after thinking historically through these lenses all year long, we felt like something was missing – and we decided to write about it. In the March 2024 issue of Perspectives on History, we proposed that to cultivate historical thinking and grapple with the messiness of history, we need to consider Continuity as a C on its own. Context, change over time, causality, complexity, and contingency form the foundation of the 5 c’s of historical thinking. We’re adding continuity, because we can’t talk about change over time without considering the ways that social, economic, political, and cultural forces have often persisted, especially in the lives of the marginalized and the ordinary. Continuity is a central tenet in chronicling the unchange in the status of women, even while celebrating accomplishments. Emphasizing the historical concept of continuity helps contribute to the development of historical empathy, enabling us to understand and contextualize the past on a personal level.

Averill: Our purpose today is to try to understand the interconnections between capitalism and gender, and how capitalism relies on the undervaluation of gendered labor to keep the massive, global engine churning. We’ll explore the value of female labor, both reproductive and waged, and the undervaluation of that labor. Capitalism was built on the use of reproductive labor from women and/or enslaved people, and that system–exploitation of gendered and raced labor–has continued  from the 17th century to the present.

Elizabeth: The gendered and racial distribution of reproductive labor significantly influences our current labor and monetary systems. Within households, women predominantly undertake reproductive labor, with women of color shouldering a disproportionate share of the care work essential for sustaining economies and society at large. Overall, this labor is essential to keep the machine of “capitalism” running.

I know, I know, capitalism as a “thing” is multifaceted and can be analyzed and theorized until the cows come home. But for argument’s sake – and to keep this podcast under the 10 hour mark- we’re going to generalize a bit here and define capitalism as a worldwide system based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. That’s a vague, textbook-y definition and misses a lot of nuance, but for folks revisiting or being exposed  to these ideas for the first time, this is a good overview.  

Averill: The dependence on women’s reproductive efforts and the historical undervaluation of this labor, both culturally and monetarily, are rooted in foundational concepts such as value, gender, and “work” that have undergone specific historical transformations, yet retain a measure of continuity throughout.

Elizabeth: Women, as economic participants, are often overlooked as significant contributors to major historical movements. They primarily operate within familial networks, and their societal roles are typically defined by their connections with men. Their economic presence is marginalized, relegated to secondary or support roles alongside impoverished men. Although their labor and bodies are subject to commodification (as we will discuss later), they have not yet significantly altered the overarching economic framework.

A Day in the Life of a Wartime Housewife- Everyday Life in London, England, 1941, Imperial War Museum

Averill: Scrutinizing the laws, institutions, and mechanisms of capitalism through the perspectives of gender, race, and class exposes how concepts of value and gender evolved into the taken-for-granted forms we know today. The concept of reproductive labor originates from the ideas of Friedrich Engels. He distinguished between the production of goods in the economy and the reproduction of labor power essential for sustaining that productive economy. Over time the concept has expanded and scrutinized a previously overlooked category of work: women’s unpaid labor within the home. This reproductive labor is crucial for the continuous reproduction and upkeep of the productive labor force and society, whether performed in the home or in the marketplace (daycares, nursing facilities, laundry services, etc.) In recent years scholars have engaged in a “new” history of capitalism that analyzes the intersections of business history, labor history, and political economy that denies the notion that capitalism is an unavoidable or intrinsic framework for organizing markets.[1]

Elizabeth: And of course those using gender as a lens of analysis, to co-opt Joan Scott’s term[1] , further complicates this narrative.[2] Women’s labor and bodies have always participated in — or been forced to participate in — capitalism. Enslaved women were treated as commodities for labor, sexual purposes, and as mothers of future individuals treated as commodities. Slavery was alway more than a system of labor. It fueled economies while commodifying bodies into “chattel.” These enslaved bodies could be moved, used as collateral, and passed down as wealth through legal ownership (i.e. private property, one of the tenets of American “freedom”).

Averill: Historian Jennifer Morgan demonstrates how enslaved women’s reproductive labor played a crucial role in generating wealth for American slaveholders. Even though a majority of scholarship that focuses on slavery has emphasized on African men who were captured, it’s important to note that most of the people brought to the Americas as captives were African women and children. Morgan shows how assumptions of gender and kin networks formed the identity of enslaved women in the Americas, which was shaped by their common roles as agricultural workers and mothers. Enslaved women were required to work on plantations to support the plantation economy while also fulfilling their duties as mothers. This dual role shaped their identities, with their worth often determined by their ability to have and raise children who could benefit their owners financially. Additionally, enslaved women formed close bonds within their communities, offering each other emotional support, childcare, and assistance. These networks helped them cope with the challenges of slavery and fostered a sense of unity and belonging.[3]

Elizabeth: Furthering this new analysis of capitalism, Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman’s collection of articles in Slavery’s Capitalism completely dismantles any notion that slavery, particularly in the U.S. South, was a pre-capitalist or pre-market system. They argue that “Only in the past several years has scholarship on finance, accounting, management, and technology allowed us to understand American economic development as “slavery’s capitalism.” And only now is there enough momentum to leverage some basic facts—that slave-grown cotton was the most valuable export made in America, that the capital stored in slaves exceeded the combined value of all the nation’s railroads and factories, that foreign investment underwrote the expansion of plantation lands in Louisiana and Mississippi, that the highest concentration of steam power in the United States was to be found along the Mississippi rather than on the Merrimack—into a fundamental rethinking of American history itself.”[4] Similarly historian Caitlin Rosenthal traces the innovations of modern management to the slave plantation, where regimentation and violence allowed for experiments in accounting that predated the factory and the railroad. Rosenthal is among several scholars who have urged the centrality of slavery in the histories of management and accounting. Thus making enslaved bodies, and the reproductive capacities of enslaved women, integral to the complexity of the emerging capitalist system.[2] 

Averill: Of course all that wealth was possible because of the reproductive labor of enslaved women. Historian Adrienne D. Davis describes slavery as a “sexual political economy,” clearly revealing the links between markets, labor organization, and sexual exploitation.[5] Terming slavery as a “Sexual political economy” emphasizes its gender hierarchies and systems of subordination. Additionally, it highlights how slavery provides early examples of the social construction and flexibility of gender, challenging the idea of a strict division between public and private relationships. Said more plainly, sex was considered something “private,” yet the commodification of enslaved women’s bodies and the commodification of that offspring meant that sex became “public.” This further erased the womanhood of enslaved women, gendering them as sexless even as their “sex” was commodified.[6]

“Slaves Waiting for Sale,” Eyre Crowe, Richmond, Virginia, 1853

Elizabeth: Studying the lives of free women and the changes happening in how we think about worth, gender, and “work” during the 18th and 19th centuries shows us how these ideas turned into what we now accept as normal in today’s society. Jeanne Boydston’s classic Home and Work shows how reproductive labor became devalued in American economies. Boydston shows that a capitalist economic order had to first teach that wages were the measure of a man’s worth.

Averill: Right, an important point to be aware of is that in the eighteenth century white Europeans, including colonists in the Americas,  assumed that a person who worked for someone was not someone that was free to make political or economic decisions. That’s why voting in America originally had property qualifications. They assumed that if one did not own the production of labor, they were tainted and unworthy of a decision such as the vote. In effect, they were feminized. This is also why women were not granted the vote, because they didn’t own land outright but instead, through the English common law practice of coverture, their lands became their husband’s, they didn’t have the qualifications of a “free” individual. There were exceptions to this–widows who inherited property, single propertied women who never married, women who exploited loopholes in the law to transfer their property to female relatives before marrying–but in effect the hoops these women had to jump through to be able to own property (let alone participate in local government) just prove the rule. 

Elizabeth: So this meant that the wages earned in a market economy had to be masculinized to have real value. Thus, there had to be a counterbalance that made the understanding “real” –that those who did not draw wages were dependent and not essential to the “real economy.”

And in a “market economy,” women’s reproductive labor wasn’t waged like men’s participation in early industrialization. Reproductive labor–especially care work in households–wasn’t really “worth” anything. Of course there was some domestic work that was compensated, but for the jobs that were femininized–maids and cooks, for example–they were compensated less than the similar or same jobs that were masculinized–butlers and chefs.  And significantly, free women’s labor within their own household was “romanticized” and uncompensated entirely. Free, middle class white women became “Republican mothers” and “cultivated companions” which, Boydston suggests, was a “nostalgic reinterpretation…of the increased dependence on their productive labor.”[7] Basically, women’s household duties became labors of love, labors to the new nation and given freely and without need of monetary compensation. It was free and forgotten labor that was essential to the perpetuation of the New Republic.

Averill: Historian Elizabeth Blackmar gives us just one example of how this worked. She examined the records of two people designated as trustees for an underage family member in New York in the 1820s. One record regarded a woman named Margaret Jones who was charged with supporting her nieces. She presented detailed accounts illustrating how she utilized her deceased brother-in-law’s money to support and educate her nieces. She also invested funds in order to provide each young woman with a substantial marriage portion. All of this work she did to manage the estate she did without receiving any payment for her time and ability to grow her niece’s estate. The court viewed her work as just an outgrowth of the carework Margaret Jones was expected to do as a female relation.

Elizabeth: In contrast, a man named Frederic De Peyster was also put in charge of managing his nieces and nephews’ estates. However, instead of investing in the childrens’ schooling and marriage nest eggs, De Peyster used his deceased brother’s money to purchase rental properties and personally profited from rents and commissions. Yet the court found that he had acted above board and it was his prerogative to do as he saw fit with the funds.

Averill: The court’s response to these two situations made it evident that being a trustee in the nineteenth century required growing an estate (in this case nieces/nephews inheritance)  through investment, aligning with the “logic of capitalist enterprise.” However, gender-related notions influenced the conduct of those entrusted with risking the funds of their charges for preservation. Margaret Jones performed familial duties without compensation, while Frederic De Peyster viewed his actions as business, deserving fair compensation. The court agreed. Blackmar used this as an example to show how lawyers (a male profession) began to increasingly take on the role of “trustee” in the early nineteenth century. This transition from trusteeship seen as carework,  to trusteeship perceived as “business,” was directly connected to gender and the gendered notions about reproductive labor.[8]

Elizabeth: Thus, socio-political changes in the late 18th century rendered the idea of a “working woman” as something illogical, something that didn’t exist, when of course working women absolutely existed. Women’s work was made more invisible, and in the new Republic, women working in the public sphere was defined outside of the bounds of respectable womanhood, both negative outcomes.

Averill: Boydston puts it best, stating: “femaleness had been defined successfully as absence from the workplace. Of course women remained in the labor force, but always on the terms of outsiders having to make anew the case for their seriousness, their respectability, and their economic contribution.” This process of rendering “working woman” an oxymoron was well underway in the nineteenth century, when young females began entering the textile mills in Lowell Massachusetts, marking their entrance into the mills as something critics and policy makers deemed “exceptional.” [9] Of course it wasn’t exceptional. Women had been working for years, as I will show in my forthcoming episode in this series.

Elizabeth: The industrialization of the textile industry was already well underway in Britain before Francis Cabot Lowell formed the Boston Manufacturing Company in Massachusetts 1813. In 1821 Lowell and other business associates created the town of Lowell around Pawtucket Falls on the Merrimack River and set out to expand their operation and incorporate all elements of turning raw cotton into cotton cloth in one factory (as opposed to what was known as the Rhode Island system where only carding and spinning happened in a factory while the weaving was outsourced to independent weavers).

Averill: (And as a side note, there’s also a story about how those independent weavers– who by the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century were all men– had been performed mostly by women earlier in the eighteenth century. So again an example of household production moving  to a “specialized”(and thus waged) male profession, even though both genders were doing the same work. See Ulrich’s chapter in her book The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth for more about that transition.)

Elizabeth: Also, the rise of this cotton textile industry in the northeastern United States fueled African-American slave labor on the cotton plantations in the South.

Averill: By 1840, the Lowell mills were employing almost 8,000 workers, with the majority being free white women between the ages of 10 and 35. There were some male employees but they were hired to oversee the large female labor force.

Elizabeth: The Lowell system of organizing labor was unique in that it combined large scale machinery with a moralizing and gendered element. In an attempt to avoid the industrial hellscape that characterized factories in Britain, American entrepreneurs attempted to “improve” its largely female workforce by providing housing and a form of education.

Averill: These “girls” were protected in a boarding school-type environment, complete with protective matrons to act as pseudo mothers and oversee their charges’ virtue, while providing them a way to earn money before they (it was assumed and expected) married and left the workforce.

Elizabeth: Because their waged work had been transformed into an anomaly by this point in time, it was unquestioned that their wages would be only half that of what male laborers would earn. They also had to pay for their room and board. But this was still a lot of money for many women and allowed some of them for the first time in their lives, to exert a modicum of economic independence. The typical work week consisted of about 70-75 working hours (remember- this is before any type of labor legislation).

Averill: The largely female labor force was attractive to investors and managers because they could be paid significantly less–as I’ll talk about in my episode, we have evidence from as early 1350 that men and managers expected (because it was the custom of the land) to be able to pay women less for doing the same jobs as men–and, theoretically, women could be controlled in a way that a male labor force could not. However, as early as 1834 in response to a 15% wage cut (from their already low wages) the female textile workers began organizing. They organized a “turn-out” or strike, where they withdrew their savings en masse from local banks, causing a bank run.

Elizabeth: The women’s organizing was of course painted as a type of betrayal of their femininity. If they were aggressive or demonstrated agency, the women were ridiculed as unladylike, as outside of the realm of “true” femininity or “true womanhood.” Nevertheless, the environment the women worked in and lived in fostered a strong communal bond that lent itself to unionizing.

Averill: In 1845, twelve workers formed the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association, which quickly grew to over 500 members in six months. Operated entirely by women workers, the Association autonomously elected officers, conducted meetings, and spearheaded the mobilization of female laborers across the city while establishing satellite branches in neighboring mill towns. Their initiatives encompassed the coordination of fairs, celebrations, and social events as well as advocating the legislature to adopt a ten-hour workday.[10]

Elizabeth: Historian Evelyn Nakato Glen does one of the best jobs (in my opinion) in showing how reproductive labor works within capitalism. The complex system of organizing care is deeply rooted in different types of societal pressure. She demonstrates how women – particularly poor, racial minorities, and immigrant women- have been forced to take on the duty of carework. This pressure shows up in various ways, from subtle hints to clear commands, but they all work together to restrict and direct women’s choices. Consequently, the result is a perpetuation of “cheap” care labor—whether unpaid within family structures or underpaid in formal employment settings.[11]

Averill: This setup reflects societal power dynamics, perpetuates economic gaps, and reinforces gender norms. By limiting women’s choices, it ensures a constant source of cheap or unpaid caregiving, keeping things as they are. Recognizing and examining these controlling methods is crucial for breaking down entrenched inequalities and creating a fairer society where caregiving is valued and compensated properly.

Elizabeth: One way we can view this happening is through the expansion of private charity into the welfare state, which is largely built on the back of women’s free or underpaid labor, either willingly given or coerced by the needs of a capitalist system.[12] Historians Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein show one example of this phenomenon in their study of home health workers.

Averill: As part of the New Deal, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) placed unemployed women in a program that taught them to clean and care for households and children in household receiving relief where the mother was incapacitated. Home health care was touted as work for unskilled poor women.

Elizabeth: Later, becoming employed as a home health worker was positioned as part of welfare reform, as a way to move women off public assistance and into economic self-sufficiency. At the same time, providing a home health worker to the elderly or an adult with a disability was positioned as a way to allow these individuals to live more independently, outside of hospitals institutions. In this way, policy supporting home health work could achieve “dual rehabilitation.”

Averill: However, the majority of women who were put into this type of welfare to work program were minorities, which entrenched prevailing ideas that women, particularly women of color, should serve in these “helping” roles for meager pay.

Elizabeth: Funding for carework for elderly and disabled clients was supported piecemeal through the Social Security program, and expanded through Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s and 1970s. However,  states were liable for substantial portions of this funding, which made revenue streams unreliable particularly during times of recession and budget cuts, and were particularly vulnerable to the rise of conservatism in the 1980s and 90s.

Averill: Privatization through third-party vendors who hired home health workers as independent contractors further mystified the work of home health aides as they were barred from worker benefits and were neither employees of the state, although states issued the funds, employees of the contractors, because they were independent contractors, nor employees of the person they cared for – yet they worked for all three in varying ways.[13] This made organizing among the workers even more difficult.

Elizabeth: Stepping back a bit and looking at the global economy we can see that the current, interconnected global economy relies disproportionately on the labor of underpaid workers. The majority of this work is performed globally by women. A quick look at the garment or “fast fashion” industry is an easy way to see what we’re talking about.

Averill: Perhaps many students of U.S. history are familiar with the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911 which killed 146 workers, all young women, and spurred a modest movement to enact safety measures in the New York City garment district. Of more recent memory, the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza, an eight-story building housing numerous garment factories and a shopping center in Bangladesh, resulted in the tragic death of over 1,100 workers. Again, most of those workers were young women. Despite increased social awareness following the incident, sweatshops and hazardous working conditions persist as ongoing issues.  Sweatshops in Bangladesh or Vietnam (among others) have large numbers of unsafe garment factories, which are tied to multinational corporations that move their operations overseas to lower costs and increase profits.

Elizabeth: As in the women working in the Lowell cotton mills, this female labor force was viewed as replaceable, “unskilled,” and cheap. This has continued to the present. For example, during the 1970s and 1980s, developing countries adopted export-oriented growth strategies facilitated by multinational corporations seeking to transfer manufacturing operations to regions with lower wages. Governments in the North helped by encouraging investments in exporting without investing in other countries. These multinational companies started using a global sourcing model, where they bought imports through contracts with independent suppliers in Asia and Latin America. In country after country – when these factories opened – the workforce that they hired was predominantly, sometimes overwhelmingly, female.

Averill: The massive hiring of women in these developing countries produces mixed and sometimes conflicting results. The wages these jobs provide can be both freeing and very unfair at the same time. Even though women’s work is seen as something that can be easily replaced and not that important, it’s also seen as crucial for taking care of families and keeping economies afloat.

Elizabeth: Even though the governments in developing countries wanted to boost export-focused manufacturing, they didn’t necessarily plan for these “world market factories” to hire women. But they did, and overwhelmingly do.

Averill: Why is this? Well, creating an inexpensive workforce of women relies on how gender roles and practices work in the local job market. Furthermore, those types of jobs then become associated as “unskilled” or “low waged” because of their association with gender. The value given to women’s work in production is closely connected to how gender roles are seen in both practical and spoken ways.

Elizabeth: As time passed, a successful blending of a certain kind of job (seen as “low-skilled,” paid less, and sometimes risky) with a certain type of worker (a young woman with not much formal education or work experience before) created a job market where the idea of work being seen as feminine didn’t depend on whether the worker was male or female.[14]

Averill: Said another way, jobs that are associated with women’s work historically fetch a lower wage (think teachers, nurses, service workers, garment workers). These jobs have become so gendered that even if a woman is not doing the job, the job itself is devalued because of its gendered association. 

Elizabeth: As sociologist Jennifer Blair emphasizes in her essay “On Difference and Capital,” “what the cumulative weight of research suggests is that how gender matters in a particular location on the global assembly line is variable and contingent; that gender matters is not.”[15]

Averill: So in these last few examples, we’re talking about waged work, and I will return to women’s waged labor in my episode, taking an even longer look–stretching back to the 14th century–at women worker’s continuous devaluation in white European (and American) economic systems. The gendering of waged labor and particular professions is an outgrowth of the gendered reproductive labor and carework upon which America’s capitalism was built, and on which it still runs. From enslaved women’s literal reproduction, and enslavers commodification of enslaved children; to the legally gendered valuation of Margaret Jones’ and Frederic de Peyster’s respective care for their nieces; to the unpaid or underpaid carework expected of women–especially women of color– under the New Deal welfare programs. Reproductive labor was always and continues to be rendered invisible in our capitalist economy and society.

Elizabeth: Domestic labor is still largely disregarded by economics and politics as well as mainstream feminism, which has judged women’s empowerment based on their presence and influence in the workplace. This of course is achieved by paying less advantaged women to handle household and childcare. Women are still engrossed in chores, though. The phrase “the second shift,” which was first used in 1989 by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, is now widely used to refer to the fact that women are still disproportionately responsible for taking care of their families and raising children, even when they work full-time jobs and pay for assistance. Furthermore, the majority of those who are employed to perform domestic labor or caregiving (such as cleaning houses or tending to elderly relatives) receive inadequate pay.

Averill: Our current system prioritizes self-interest over compassion. Under patriarchal capitalism, individuals are incentivized to pursue personal gain, often at the expense of those dedicated to caregiving. Competition reigns supreme, overshadowing the importance of collaboration, and the emphasis on individual rights often outweighs collective responsibilities. Moreover, family and community ties are often relegated to the sidelines, perceived more as recreational pursuits reserved for designated holidays.

Elizabeth: So there’s a bleak look at continuity for ya. Now go out and smash the patriarchy.

Averill: As always, we invite you to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at dig_history, or join our Facebook group – Dig History Pod Squad. If you have a comment or question or want to share some kind words with us, you can always email us at hello@digpodcast.org – we love listener mail! If you’re an educator, we’ve got a compendium of episodes you can use in the classroom – and free teaching resources, including full lesson plans! – on our website, digpodcast.org. We realize that recent changes to curriculum in states like Florida and Texas will complicate being able to use our podcast episodes in the classroom, so please reach out if there’s something we can do to be helpful to you and your classroom. You’ll also find full bibliographies, the scripts for all of our episodes, resources, and a link to our swag store at digpodcast.org.

Further Reading

Friedrich Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1884.

Ellen Hartigan-O’Connor, “Gender’s Value in the History of Capitalism,” Journal of the Early Republic, December 2016):613-636.

Jennifer Blair, “Gendered Labour Regimes in Global Production,” in Labour Regimes and Global Production, ed. Elena Baglioni, et al. (Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK: Agenda Publishing, 2022).

Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman. Slavery’s Capitalism : A New History of American Economic Development. University of Pennsylvania Press. 2016.

Adrienne D. Davis, “‘Don’t Let Nobody Bother Yo’ Principle’: The Sexual Economy of American Slavery,” in Sister Circle: Black Women and Work, Sharon Harley et al. eds.,(New Brunswick, N.J.:Rutgers University Press, 2002):15-38.

Dublin, Thomas (2019). “Women, Work, and Protest in the Early Lowell Mills: ‘The Oppressing Hand of Avarice Would Enslave Us'” in The Working Class and its Culture. pp. 127–144.

Jennifer Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).

Caitlin Rosenthal. Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management. (Harvard University Press, 2018).

Amy Louise Erickson, “Coverture and Capitalism,” History Workshop Journal, No. 59 (Spring, 2005), pp. 1-16

Elizabeth Blackmar, “Inheriting Property and Debt: From Family Security to Corporate Accumulation,” in Capitalism Takes Command, ed. Zakim and Kornblith, 103–105.

Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein, Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012)

Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Forced to Care: Coercion and Caregiving in America (Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press, 2012).

Jennifer Bair, “On Difference and Capital: Gender and the Globalization of Production,” Signs, Vol. 36, No. 1, Feminists Theorize International Political Economy Special Issue Editors Shirin M. Rai and Kate Bedford (Autumn 2010), pp. 203-226.

Lauel thatcher Ulrich, The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth


[1] Friedrich Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1884.

[2] Joan Scott, Gender and the Politics of History

[3] Jennifer Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).

[4] Sven Beckert, and Seth Rockman, eds., Slavery’s Capitalism : A New History of American Economic Development (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 2.

[5] Adrienne D. Davis, “‘Don‘t Let Nobody Bother Yo’ Principle’: The Sexual Economy of American Slavery,” in Black Sexual Economies: Race and Sex in a Culture of Capital, 2020.

[6] See also: Amy Dru Stanley, “Slave Breeding and Free Love: An Antebellum Argument over Slavery, Capitalism, and Personhood,” in Zakim and Kornblith, Capitalism Takes Command , 119– 44; Ned and Constance Sublette, The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding

[7] Jeanne Boydston, “The Woman Who Wasn’t There: Women’s Market Labor and the Transition to Capitalism in the United States,” Journal of the Early Republic, Vol. 16, No. 2, (Summer, 1996):183-206.

[8] Elizabeth Blackmar, “Inheriting Property and Debt: From Family Security to Corporate Accumulation,” in Capitalism Takes Command, ed. Zakim and Kornblith, 103–105.

[9] Boydston, “The Woman Who Wasn’t There.”

[10] Thomas Dublin, “Women, Work, and Protest in the Early Lowell Mills: ‘The Oppressing Hand of Avarice Would Enslave Us'” in The Working Class and its Culture, (2019), 127–144.

[11] Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Forced to Care: Coercion and Caregiving in America (Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press, 2012).

[12] For a discussion of care work and the exploitation of women’s voluntary labor see Nancy Folbre, “Who Cares?” The Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, accessed 2/28/24, http://www.rosalux-nyc.org/a-feminist-critique-of-the-care-economy/..

[13] Boris and Klien, Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State 69.

[14] Pearson, R. 1998. “Nimble fingers revisited: reflections on women and Third World industrialisation in the late twentieth century”. In Feminist Visions of Development , C. Jackson & R. Pearson (eds), 171– 88, 175. London: Routledge.

[15] Jennifer Bair, “On Difference and Capital: Gender and the Globalization of Production,” Signs, Vol. 36, No. 1, Feminists Theorize International Political Economy Special Issue Editors Shirin M. Rai and Kate Bedford (Autumn 2010), pp. 203-226



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