Female Labour Power

Review: Nickless on Greenlees

Janet Greenlees, Female Labour Power: Women Workers' Influence on Business Practices in the British and American Cotton Industries, 1780-1860. Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007. xx + 244 pp. ?55/$100 (cloth), ISBN: 978-0-7546-4050-9.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Pamela J. Nickless, Department of Economics, University of North Carolina-Asheville.

Janet Greenlees' goal in this very fine study is to provide a more complicated and nuanced view of the role of women workers in industry. In particular she seeks to highlight "women's agency as operatives and workers in the process of industrialization and developing perceptions of women's work." Her comparative approach emphasizes the unifying theme of that gender mattered but so did firm location and size. In particular, technological choice was influenced by local variations in transport, natural resources, and cultural as well as economic considerations. The influence of women workers on conditions of work and their experiences as workers varied by locality as well as by country. Although Greenlees does not put it quite this way, it seems to this reader that the variation within country was greater than the variation among "best practice" firms in Britainand the United States.

Chapters 2 through 5 are an analysis of the development of the cotton industry and how women's roles developed over time. Chapters 6 and 7 look at women's responses to industrialization and their role in the negotiation of the gendered nature of work. Greenlees uses a variety of sources and types of analysis -- indeed one of the strengths of this book is the variety of secondary sources used in her summary of the work on women and industrialization. So often the work economic historians or social historians is missing or inaccurately represented in the work of the other, but Greenlees has done a wonderful job integrating the analysis of economists and historians in her historiography and throughout the study.