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Race, Class, & Gender in Early America

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Essay title: Race, Class, & Gender in Early America

Throughout history, much of society, more or less, accepts the structure of our industrialized labor force. One hardly takes a moment to stop and think of how it all started. The industrialization of a nation had to begin somewhere. After reading Leith Mullings article "Uneven Development: Class, Race, and Gender in the United States Before 1900", many issues that I previously hadn't considered were brought to light. The development of our nation and the structure that our workforce would take on comes right from the 19th century.

The influx of immigrants to the new country brought to the fields and plantations an array of settlers, homemakers, and workers. Early European indentured servants sometimes worked in the fields along with indentured servants from Africa. Soon after it, would be mostly African American slaves providing the planters with labor. This cheap labor offered the opportunity for industrialization to take place. Due to the fact that cheap labor was so abundant our economy was able to set foothold. Yet the price the slaves paid in the long run and the outcome for the structural beginnings of a workforce began from shaky ground.

During the late 19th century and early in to the 20th century the development of our economy was effected by race, class, and gender. Generally I wouldn't have looked at all three of these distinctions as crucial elements as to how our workforce is structured today. The position of the slave workers, predominantly the women slaves has caused me to revise my earlier thoughts. Our pattern in following the model of the European industrialization seems to have been a smart move. The indentured servants and then slave families of all classes have made such an important impact on the way that our workforce came to be what it is today.

As the numbers of plantations and farms grew, so did the numbers of slaves coming to and being born in America. The creation of slave families also played an important part of society. Household relationships and class differentiation determined roles to be taken on as the men worked in the fields and women raised families and took care of domesticities. The upper class white men and women were prearranged to have easier days and lighter duties than those of the middle and lower classes. The white upper class women were prone to daily duties of light housework, reading, and giving orders to their servants. It seems as though they didn't have much say in any other matters other than giving orders as to how the house should appear, the meals to be cooked and the children raised. The servants and maids to the woman of the house were the actual ones to carry out these jobs.

The middle class white women were servants themselves, or wives of shopkeepers, and hired farmhands. Their duties seemed to bee a bit heavier, doing more of the housework themselves and sometimes even working outside of the home. These class shifts made way for the distinction and separation of the household and the workplace. Women were accepted in the workplace only if their need and class put them in a position to do so.

Now, the most significant group of women at this time to make it into the workforce is the African American women. Of course, these women had no choice in the matter. The slaves in this country were exploited as laborers as soon as they arrived. The African American women suffered not only the oppression of slavery but of sexism as well. Most slaves were treated badly, yet all of them were made to work long hours on plantations, in the houses, and in the cotton fields. The slave-owners treated them as property and acted accordingly as their masters. The women were made to work doing the same jobs as the men. They picked cotton in the fields, split rails, and plowed fields. These conditions made it difficult to marry and raise families although some slave-owners encouraged growth of families. They did so for purposes of their own. The more children

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