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(A copyrighted publication of West Virginia Archives and History)

Volume 49 Women's Work in the West Virginia Economy

By Mary Beth Pudup

Volume 49 (1990), pp. 7-20

"West Virginia women don't work" is the historical pattern suggested by female labor force participation statistics in the state from the earliest post-statehood census to the present day. In 1870, only 5.3 percent of the state's women were "gainfully employed" in the labor force compared with the national average of 13.1 percent. By 1980, West Virginia's female participation rate had risen to 36.5 percent but still lagged far behind the 51.6 percent national average.1

Labor force participation rates measure what economists refer to as the economically active population. It is important to emphasize that "economically active" is not synonymous with "working." To be considered economically active, a person's work must have an unambiguous relationship to the market, whether it is in the form of commercial production and exchange of goods and services or a wage payment. If a person is paid a regular wage for her work by a firm, or is self-employed but makes goods or provides services for sale in a licensed business, she is counted in the labor force as economically active.

Much work and many workers fall outside the strict boundaries of this measurement and as a result are not counted among the economically active. One obvious exclusion is the production of goods for workers' immediate consumption, such as subsistence farming. Also missing are workers with a less than obvious relationship to the market, examples of which are home-based craft producers and those involved in seasonal harvest. Aside from omitting large categories of work, labor force participation rates fail to measure the contribution of paid or unpaid work to economic growth, development, and well-being.

By examining the participation of women in West Virginia's economy, this article suggests women in the state have been doubly "hidden from history." Until recently, most literature on economic development cast a blind eye toward women's work. Gender blindness resulted from prevailing definitions of "development" as a qualitative and quantitative increase in market- related activities, like commercial farming and especially industrial manufacturing. In an undeveloped economy, such as one dominated by subsistence production and barter; most production and exchange takes place outside the market. Concomitantly, an economy is advancing towards development when the share of production and exchange mediated by market mechanisms increases, as when production and exchange involves the commodity, credit, and labor markets.

This conception of development ignores most kinds of work not immediately directed toward the market. Because the typical form of women's work, in West Virginia as elsewhere, has been unpaid household labor, women's participation in economic development has been hidden from the historical record. Modern economic concepts assume the domestic domain is a retreat from work and the market. Thereby, work within the household, and those performing it, consistently are excluded from estimates of the labor force and gross national product. Women have toiled as agricultural laborers on family farms, but have not been counted as farmers. Women have raised children but this work was considered their natural duty as mothers rather than as socially necessary and useful labor. Women have prepared and preserved food but, because these activities usually occurred for family consumption and not for sale on the market, they have not counted as productive labors contributing to economic development.

The second sense in which women's work in West Virginia has been hidden also stems from economic development theory's dominant orientation toward market production and exchange. Underlying the wide spectrum of theory is the assumption that household subsistence and barter are preliminary steps or transitory phases in the process of economic development.2 Newly settled populations typically established subsistence economies, but these were quickly superseded by commercial production and eventually capitalist forms of industry. As a result, theory casts a blind eye toward household production within capitalist economies no matter whose work is involved, women or men. Yet in large areas of West Virginia the economy was sustained precisely by such economic activities.

Most accounts of West Virginia's economic history are theoretically oriented toward commercial and capitalist market development.3 In these accounts, household production was the state's pioneer economy whose importance was forever eclipsed by the development of industries like coal, steel, chemicals, and glass. Therefore, capitalist industry and commercial farming constitute the only "real" West Virginia economy. These industries have been undeniably important in the state's economic history. But problems arise in assuming commercial and capitalist development thoroughly displaced household and other self-organized economic practices or that these activities survive merely as folk culture relics.

An emerging feminist economics is moving beyond critique of concepts that have prevented historical understanding of women's contribution to economic development. Among its central tasks is redefining the concept of "economically active" to include the typically hidden, often unpaid, yet highly productive labor of women throughout history.4

It is crucial to incorporate West Virginia's working women into the larger feminist economics project. Path-breaking studies in women's economic history had a mission of recovering women's work from historical obscurity.5 While such studies were necessary correctives, their accumulated, if unintended, effect was to separate historical inquiry about women's work from wider avenues of economic historical inquiry. It is well-documented that women performed important economic roles both in and outside the formal labor force. In short, women have an economic history. Yet for all its scholarly abundance and analytical power, women's economic history has not undertaken further explanation of how economic development is understood. What is at stake is not merely adding women as a missing chapter to West Virginia's economic history, but taking the next step of exploring how West Virginia's economic history is transformed by fully incorporating women's work. As historian Marjorie Griffin Cohen recently stated, "Including women in our analysis of society ... involves more than simply finding out how women 'fit in,' for a more inclusive approach to history and political economy may radically change our perception of what happened."6

The focus here is on women's work within the context of three eras of West Virginia's economic history. The first historical era, extending to the 1870s, corresponds to the pre-statehood and early statehood economy governed by agriculture. The second era extends roughly to the 1910s and encompasses the industrial transition. The final era extends to 1950, a year which in hindsight perhaps represents West Virginia's zenith as an industrial economy. Making the process of economic development the framework for historical analysis, rather than standard categories of women's work, integrates West Virginia women directly into the state's economic history from its inception and illuminates how changes within the domain of women's work have been part and parcel of that larger process. Of course, attempts to characterize West Virginia's economic history in general terms is fraught with hazards. Contained within the state's irregular boundaries are numerous subregions with diverse economic bases. If different regions within West Virginia experienced divergent paths of economic development, it follows that women did not share a unified experience. Portraying women in West Virginia's economic history takes on the added challenge of capturing internal differentiation while discerning elements of a common historical experience.7

The area that eventually became West Virginia was settled for agricultural purposes by westwardly migrating families. Farming remained the center of the economy up to and immediately following the Civil War. The first census figures for the state, gathered in 1870, indicate that over 90 percent of the population resided in rural areas. Almost two-thirds of employed persons were working in agriculture. This latter figure actually understates the economic significance of agriculture because much industry, employing almost 14 percent of the population, was related to the farm economy.8

Women made direct contributions to the rural farm economy. With some notable exceptions, farming in West Virginia was organized as a household enterprise with most labor contributed by family members according to their age and sex. The prevailing sexual division of labor confined tasks like field clearing, building construction, and hunting to men. Women's work involved tasks like food preparation and preservation and making family clothing. Evidence suggests that men and women both "farmed" in the sense that cultivation tasks, like weeding, planting, and harvesting, as well as tending animals, were performed by men and women.

This very general description belies significant differences among rural women. The actual extent and nature of women's work in the preindustrial economy very much depended upon where women lived and to what class they belonged.

During the antebellum era, the ownership of domestic slaves drew perhaps the sharpest social boundary among black and white women, and between white women. The 1860 census documented the presence of slaves in virtually all western Virginia counties.9 Slavery was most prevalent in the Eastern Panhandle and Greenbrier Valley. These eight eastern counties accounted for 60 percent of the slaves in the state.10

Slaves performed most of the labor in the households to which they belonged. Essentially, women slaves shouldered a double burden including work for their masters' and mistresses' households as well as work for their own families. The labor of slave women, in turn, liberated slave-owning women from household work and child care.

The more common experience of rural women during the preindustrial era was to be part of a yeoman or tenant household which made its living from the land. When asked by census takers about their occupation, most rural women reported they were keeping house. The specific range of tasks varied on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, but centered on feeding and clothing family members, housecleaning, and other maintenance tasks.11 During the nineteenth and into the twentieth century in some areas, keeping house also included producing the means by which houses were kept. Feeding the family encompassed cooking meals, but first the food had to be grown and preserved. So, too, cleaning house required making the tools and soap.

Contemporary descriptions often wax eloquent about the striking degree of self-sufficiency achieved by West Virginia households. Women's work was essential to this achievement. Philip Doddridge in his notes on West Virginia wrote, "Our clothing was all of domestic manufacture. . . . Almost every house contained a loom, and almost every woman was a weaver."12

Although largely oriented toward home consumption, the products of rural women's labor found their way into the market.13 In both areas of commercial and noncommercial farming, household surplus was routinely culled by women for trade with local merchants. Country store ledgers record bartered goods, providing evidence of women's contributions in the form of butter; eggs, feathers, and occasionally items like knitted socks, woven cloth, and dried fruit. Women also participated in gathering forest resources like ginseng and chestnuts for sale to merchants, which appear in store ledgers. Such items earned credit for households and enabled them to obtain goods they could not produce themselves like coffee, sugar, and fancy cloth.14

While the vast majority of West Virginia women worked in their homes during the preindustrial era, a small number worked for wages. These "gainfully employed" were heavily concentrated in three occupations. The largest category, domestic service, accounted for fully 78 percent of the state's employed women. Trailing far behind were seamstresses (5.6 percent) and teachers (4.3 percent). The prevalence of these three occupations reflects how women's paid employment opportunities were direct extensions of unpaid work performed at home. In 1870, household maids, dressmakers, and teachers ranked as the three largest occupations among gainfully employed women in the United States. Although West Virginia women were not engaged in paid work to the same degree as the national average, they worked the same jobs as most women of their day, by applying domestic skills outside the home.15

The decades spanning the turn of the twentieth century witnessed enormous economic and social transformation in the United States as the pace of industrialization quickened, population shifted into urban areas, and immigrants arrived in unprecedented numbers. West Virginia shared in these national transformations. In 1880, well over one-half (61 percent) of the state's total labor force was engaged in agriculture, while manufacturing trailed far behind (12.7 percent) and mining was yet in its infancy (2 percent). Forty years later, however manufacturing and mining each claimed nearly one-quarter of the labor force, roughly equal to the share employed in agriculture.16

Among the myriad facts and figures describing West Virginia's industrial transition, several characteristics are especially relevant for understanding the nature and extent of women's participation. Not only did capitalist industrialization occur late in West Virginia, but it developed in industries that were already well-established in other areas. These production sectors were weighted toward so-called heavy industries involving resource extraction and primary processing. Industrialization was not wedded to urbanization in West Virginia. Finally, industrialization was geographically and socially incomplete.

Compared to neighboring states with similar industrial structures and long after most regional economies of the eastern United States had experienced industrialization, West Virginia's economy remained organized around commercial and noncommercial agriculture, home manufacturing, and localized exchange up to the 1880s and even much later in certain counties.17 A lack of investments in both industry and transportation during the pre-statehood era contributed to West Virginia's late industrialization. At the same rime, industrial development suffered from an absence of private investment from within western Virginia and a lack of local markets for industrially produced goods.18

The Northern Panhandle counties were decided exceptions to the rule because urban commercial and industrial activities established an early and firm foothold prior to West Virginia's statehood. As early as 1870, Ohio County, with Wheeling as the county seat, contained over one-third of the state's employment (34.2 percent) and capital invested (36.2 percent) in manufacturing. The Northern Panhandle was also the early center of modern industry with its large iron and steel works.19 Significantly, Ohio County also accounted for a large share of the state's employment of women; a majority of female manufacturing jobs were located in glass and men's shirt industries.20

The historical timing of industrialization had profound implications for other key aspects of West Virginia's economic development that shaped women's participation in the process. Industrialization took place in already existing production sectors that were well-established in other states before their inception in West Virginia. Before coal mining assumed prominence in West Virginia, for example, the industry was fully developed in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, and Illinois. Because many of the industrial firms investing in West Virginia were founded elsewhere, professional and managerial positions tended to remain at the company's headquarters outside the state. Jobs involving technological innovation, the research and development occupations of today, were primarily concentrated in the original core industrial areas. Industrial investment in West Virginia chiefly meant commitment to production level jobs.21

Key sectors of the state's industrial economy depended on the extraction and processing of natural resources. West Virginia's "industry mix" directly affected women's participation in economic development. During the first wave of industrial development in the late nineteenth century, growth took place in two kinds of industries: extractive industries, including coal mining, logging, and oil and gas drilling, and first-stage processing industries, such as sawmills, iron furnaces, and coke ovens. During the early twentieth century, industrial development centered on modern industries like glass, steel, pottery, and railroad repair. The modern chemical industry assumed prominence in the Kanawha Valley during and after World War I.

Heavy resource industries, like coal mining, logging, and steel, require strenuous and occasionally dangerous labor historically considered "men's work."22 A state economy dominated by these sectors failed to create many opportunities for women's industrial employment. By contrast, states dominated by textile and apparel manufacture provided greater opportunities for the female work force because this labor was deemed more compatible with women's strength and skills.23

Much of West Virginia's economic transformation at the turn-of-the-century was linked to the bituminous coal industry in the Fairmont and southern coalfields. Between 1900 and 1920, when the state's population swelled by five hundred thousand, an increase of 92 percent, ten principal coal counties accounted for nearly two-thirds of the increase. Eighty percent of new residents settled in the coal region during this era.24 Much of the increase was attributable to the influx of foreign-born white and southern black immigration.

In West Virginia, new opportunities in both paid and unpaid work for women accompanied this wider set of economic changes. With a few notable exceptions, these opportunities were clustered in occupations considered "women's work" by prevailing cultural standards.25

Before mentioning some of the expanded opportunities, it is important to note that throughout the dramatic transformation of the state economy, domestic service remained the largest category of paid women's work. Table 2 details the largest categories of paid work for women between 1870 and 1950. The numbers of women employed as household maids continued to grow in absolute terms even as women entered other occupations. Indeed, it was not until 1950 that domestic service ceased to be the largest category of women's employment tallied by the census.

Although largely excluded from employment in the state's heavy manufacturing sectors, women found employment in West Virginia's "light" industries. Before the advent of the factory system, when much clothing production remained a craft, dressmakers, milliners, and seamstresses were the principal manufacturing occupations of women working for wages. As late as 1900, these three occupations accounted for 3,108 jobs, or 61 percent of women's employment in manufacturing and mechanical pursuits. Women's employment in factory production remained small by comparison in 1900, but already had established its pattern of concentrating in the state's fabricating industries. In 1900, textile mills provided the largest source of factory work, followed by cigar, pottery, and glass factories.26 During ensuing decades women's factory employment expanded and eventually eclipsed craft-type employment in dressmaking.

The field of health care also represented expanded opportunities for women's paid work. Industrial development created a new demand for hospital care as employers required an able- bodied work force. Such demands were met through the founding of private hospitals and by state government. In 1899, the state legislature passed an act providing for the construction and maintenance of three hospitals in different coalfield regions to care for "persons injured while engaged in employments dangerous to health, life, and limb." Known as miner's hospitals, they were open to all state residents, but special preferences like free treatment were extended to coal miners and railroad workers. These and other privately financed initiatives built to care for industrial workers multiplied the rani's of trained nurses in the state. To satisfy the demand for skilled workers, hospitals also provided nursing training for young unmarried women. In a system akin to an apprenticeship, women became registered nurses by working with doctors and trained nurses in local hospitals for a two-year course of study before taking the state board examination. The women were paid a small monthly stipend to cover the costs of their uniforms and books, but the nursing education was considered the principal form of compensation for the twelve-hour shifts worked by student nurses.27

The expansion of public education at the turn-of-the-century swelled the ranks of teachers and helped transform teaching from a male to female occupation. By 1920, teaching became the second largest category of women's paid employment in the state, a position unchanged to this day. The number of teachers increased in tandem with population growth. Construction of towns and cities associated with industrial development always included a school among their plans. Between 1870 and 1920, the number of women working as school teachers rose from 355 to 7,726.28 In the latter year women outnumbered men in teaching more than two-to-one.

Some of the new opportunities for women's paid employment are difficult to recover from the historical record because of their highly ephemeral and, in some instances, extra-legal nature. For example, during the logging heyday when single male laborers moved about the state in temporary encampments, local women were often employed as camp cooks. In both the temporary logging camps and relatively more permanent company towns of the coal industry, women also earned a living from prostitution, an occupation explicitly banned from census enumeration. Oral histories also allude to the role of women bootleggers. Personal recollections of coal miners' wives reveal that they sometimes slipped into the mines to help their husbands produce more tonnage during a shift. Farm women, although ostensibly outside the industrialization process, found new opportunities in selling produce and other country goods.29

In spite of a limited number of teachers and nurses, most women's work in West Virginia's new industrial communities took place within the home. Women's domestic labor was a source of economic stability among the newly emergent working class as it was elsewhere in the United States. The boom and bust nature of many state industries gave additional economic relevance to women's domestic labor.

The importance of women's unpaid work in the coalfields was evident in the company town investment strategy pursued by coal operators. Operators quickly learned that in a rural state like West Virginia providing housing for workers was a necessary complement to opening a mine. Operators eschewed options like housing miners in boardinghouses and paying another work force to provide services like cooking and laundry. Instead, operators both large and small chose to build company towns encouraging family settlement where wives would provide personal services to the work force. This strategy implicitly recognized the economic value of women's domestic labor. More explicit recognition was made by the United States Coal Commission, which reported that:

Women are naturally an important fact in an industry like coal mining which of necessity is carried on in many instances in isolated localities. The presence of the family is essential to keeping the mine workers in these regions, and the help of wives in maintaining normal homes means greater efficiency on the part of the mine workers themselves.30

Aside from the supposedly sobering effect upon their husbands, women provided the family with a range of essential goods and services both in the coalfields and in other industrializing areas of the state. These included gardening, food preservation, baking, textile and clothing production. Many working-class wives also contributed cash income to the family by taking in boarders and laundry. When men entered the wage labor force, women maintained small-scale home productions which were bulwarks against periodic downturns in industrial employment.31

Perhaps the most dramatic development in women's work during industrialization was the increased number of women claiming farming as their chief occupation. This pattern emerges first in the 1890 census when 12.5 percent (2,718) reported themselves as farm operators. This represented more than a tenfold increase over the previous census, making farming the second largest category of women's work. The number of women farmers continued to increase, reaching 4,831 by 1910.32

In other words, West Virginia women for the first rime acknowledged their participation in rural production. Despite their obvious participation during prior years, women usually stated they were keeping house while their husbands claimed to be the farmer. Women increasingly identified themselves as farmers, resulting from a new sexual division of labor taking place among rural households. As men were drawn into industry and out of full-time farm work, women became day-to-day farmers. Studies of industrializing regions during both historical and contemporary eras have established this household strategy as a common occurance. Families sought to remain on the land by combining industrial work with farming.33 In certain times and places, men continued farming while women entered factory work, whereas in West Virginia, industrial work lured men from the farm, leaving women in charge of rural production.34

Although dramatic events and changes occured after the 1920s, West Virginia's economy experienced its greatest growth at the turn-of-the-century, essentially establishing the state's industrial structure.35 By 1950, clear historical patterns in the paid and unpaid work of women became apparent.

The state's economic structure imposed lasting constraints upon women's paid employment. Most West Virginia industries extracted and refined natural resources for export. Much of the investment capital came relatively late and from beyond the state's borders. These features limited women's employment opportunities in mining and manufacturing production as well as professional services and trade. The state's economic structure circumscribed the availability of certain kinds of paid employment and the constraints were reenforced by prevailing cultural assumptions about what is and is not proper work for women. Economy and culture combined to segregate women into a rather narrow range of occupations that tended to be extensions of women's "natural" roles.36

The growing employment of women in trade and services during the middle decades of the twentieth century verified these trends. As restaurants and retail establishments became permanent fixtures in the state's economic landscape, women became clerks and waitresses but rarely proprietors or accountants.37 In 1950, for example, 94 percent of all women employed in trade were waitresses. In the service sector, teaching remained virtually the only avenue of professional employment and the best paying job open to women. In 1950, 92 percent of all women employed in professional services were teachers, with almost all the remaining in nursing. The segregation of women in trade as waitresses and professional women as teachers were related to cultural norms associating these occupations with work for women.

Clear historical patterns of racial segregation are also exhibited in women's work. Data from later census years provide a detailed picture of racial differences within the female labor force. Black women comprised a relatively small share of employed women in 1950 (7 percent), but sought paid employment at a slightly higher rate than white women (70 percent versus 60 percent). Work opportunities for nonwhite women were even more restricted than for white women. Black women were overwhelmingly concentrated in two occupations: household domestic service and other personal service. Over half of all employed black women were maids, one of the lowest paying jobs available. While the median income of all employed women was $1,395, household maids earned approximately $580 annually.38 Black women were largely restricted from more visible and higher paid jobs. Only 2.6 percent of black women were clerical workers compared with 24 percent of white women. Similarly, black women held only 1 percent of retail sales positions as compared to 14 percent of white women.39

Without question, women have borne responsibility for unpaid domestic work. The specific details of this work have varied according to the social and geographical location of the family. But whether a woman drew water for her family's laundry from a common pump in a coal company town, from a well located behind the family farmhouse, or from an indoor tap in the basement of the family's urban dwelling, the simple fact remained that washing the family's clothes was women's work. Women who avoided household laundry, no doubt along with other domestic tasks, have been middle- and upper-class women whose household means allowed these duties to be hired out. Women's domestic labor, while not precisely the same in the country and the city, had many similarities. Perhaps the greatest variation was food preservation and preparation, because home-based production remained central to rural families while urban households came to depend upon markets and processed foods.

The spatial structure of West Virginia's economy shaped women's paid and unpaid work. During the transition from agriculture to industry the state's population remained overwhelmingly rural. Even as late as 1950, 72 percent of West Virginia's population continued to reside in rural areas. Greater opportunities for paid employment existed in urban areas and in 1950 urban women accounted for 60 percent of West Virginia's female labor force. Urban employment was more diversified, with manufacturing industries such as glass, textiles, and pottery employing significant numbers of women. Urban areas were also sites of the fast growing clerical work sector.40 From virtually zero in 1900, this archetypical modern female occupation, including stenographers, bookkeepers, and telephone operators, increased to the point of being the largest source of paid work for women. Of approximately thirty thousand women clerical workers, 72 percent were employed in urban areas and with 67 percent in West Virginia's largest cities of Charleston, Wheeling, and Huntington. Although women clerical workers were not paid as much as their male counterparts, clerical income was substantially higher than the median for all employed women.41

The rural population's persistant majority masks the fact that during the early nineteenth century, rural ceased to be synonymous with farming. Indeed, by the 1930s, most of the state's rural population was classified as "rural non farm." This meant rural households were earning most of their income from nonfarming occupations or that changing federal standards deemed their homesteads too small to be counted as a working farm.

Although farming ceased to be the principal occupation of an overwhelmingly rural people, rural production continued, especially in areas not fully incorporated into the capitalist industrial economy. Large areas of the state were not permanently industrialized, particularly those lacking commercially viable mineral deposits. Even the logging boom at the turn-of-the-century, which touched virtually every corner of West Virginia, failed to establish a permanent modem timber industry based on principles of sustained yield forest management. Over time, local economies in logged over rural areas that did not develop other industries became once again centered on household subsistence activities. Rural livelihoods made from the land were often augmented by intermittent wage labor and sometimes temporary migration for employment elsewhere.

This socially and geographically incomplete pattern of industrialization helped women in household subsistence activities retain their economic importance throughout rural West Virginia long into the twentieth century. Chronically low rates of labor force participation manifested the persisting significance of West Virginia's rural household economy. During the decades of industrialization at the turn-of-the-century, the proportion of West Virginia's population active in the labor market, including women and men, ranged from 5 to 7.3 percent lower than the national average. Throughout the twentieth century, men's and women's labor force participation has continued to rank at the bottom among all states, a direct reflection of the relative lack of opportunities for industrial and other kinds of formal wage employment in many areas of the state.42

The contemporary geographical pattern of labor force participation in West Virginia supports this argument. Many urban or industrial counties, including those in rural coal mining areas, have labor force participation rates that equal or excede the national average. Counties below the national average are concentrated in the central, overwhelmingly rural part of the state where there are few manufacturing and mineral industries.43

In these rural counties, labor force participation rates reveal that less than half the population "works." Yet even a brief association with people and place discloses the fallacy contained in this official measure of economic activity. Rural production in the so-called informal economy is not accounted for in economic analyses of contemporary West Virginia. Data are gathered on numbers of workers and hours worked, capital invested in building and equipment, and values of goods produced and traded only when they involve businesses licensed by the state. A more inclusive set of measures could capture the extent and number of rural livelihoods involved in home-based production, localized exchange of goods and services, and intermittent wage labor. This more inclusive set of measures could also assign value to the unpaid labor that has been a tradition of women in the West Virginia economy.44 Recovering the lasting centrality of all home based-work in the state would make women's unpaid work a necessary complement, rather than a mere adjunct, to the work of men.

While it is vital to recognize women as partners in West Virginia's economic history, it is just as important not to overlook the inequality in partnership. Most productive assets like land, capital, and technology have been owned by men. Concomitantly, most decisions about productive investment were and continue to be made by men, whether individually or in groups typically lacking a female presence, like corporate and bank boards and governmental bodies. In the parlance of economics, women have been decision takers and not decision makers. How West Virginia women might have developed the state economy differently, as equal partners, remains a topic for future speculation.


Mary Beth Pudup is Assistant Professor of Community Studies, Merrill College, University of California, Santa Cruz. She earned the Ph.D. degree in geography from the University of California at Berkeley.


1. Figures on female labor force participation in West Virginia and the United States are derived from U.S. Bureau of the Census, Ninth Census of the United States, 1870, vol. I, Population (Washington: GPO, 1972), table xxvi, 94, and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1980 Census of Population, vol. 1, Detailed Population Characteristics, Part 50, West Virginia (Washington: GPO, 1983), table213, 94. Up till and including the 1930 Census, the labor force was defined as gainfully employed persons 10 years old and over. The age threshold was raised to 14 years in 1940 and again to 16 years in the 1970 census. A useful overview of conceptual definitions is Stanley Moses, "Labor Supply Concepts: The Political Economy of Conceptual Change," Annals of the American Association of Political and Social Science, 418(March 1975): 26-44.

2. That household production is a transitory economic form underlies such divergent theoretical positions as Marxian development theory and neoclassical theory in the tradition of Adam Smith. A discussion of this surprising theoretical convergence is contained in Alejandro Portes and Saskia Sassen-Koob, "Making it Underground: Comparative Material on the Informal Sector in Western Market Economies," American Journal of Sociology, 93 (1987): 30-61.

3. This is especially true in Otis K. Rice, West Virginia: A History(Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1985), perhaps the most widely cited state history. Subsistence and other self- organized rural economic activities are considered in the cultural category of Appalachian "mountaineer rural life" whose peculiarities drew attention from local color writers and church missionaries. See ibid., 179-80.

4. An excellent feminist critique is Lourdes Beneria, "Conceptualizing the Labor Force: The Underestimation of Women's Economic Activities.'' Journal of Development Studies, 17(1981): 10-28. These measurement issues are explored in the U.S. context by Christine E. Bose, "Devaluing Women's Work: The Undercount of Women's Employment in 1900 and 1980," in Hidden Aspects of Women's Work, edited by Christine Bose et al. (New York: Praeger, 1987), 95-115. A recent path-breaking book is Marilyn Waring, If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economics (New York: Harper &. Row, 1988). The crux of the new feminist economics is the issue of comparative worth, which requires a wholesale revaluation of women's work according to actual job content criteria. An excellent discussion of these issues is Alice Kessler-Harris, "The Just Price, the Free Market, and the Value of Women," Feminist Studies, 14(1988): 235-50.

5. The literature is vast, but keystones are Louise A. Tilly and Joan W. Scott, Women, Work, and Family (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1978); Julie Matthaei, An Economic History of Women in America (New York: Schocken Books, 1982); Alice Kessler-Harris, Out to Work (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1982).

6. Marjorie Griffin Cohen, Women's Work, Markets, and Economic Development in Nineteenth-Century Ontario (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1988), 3.

7. For example, the Northern Panhandle, the Kanawha Valley, and the upper Monongahela Valley are all urban manufacturing regions, but each has a very different industrial structure. Important differences exist as well among the state's rural regions, even between agricultural regions. The fertile Eastern Panhandle counties have long enjoyed a flourishing commercial agriculture while subsistence farming has dominated the more mountainous counties of central West Virginia.

8. Census Bureau, Ninth Census, 1870, table XXX, 763.

9. Data on slave ownership by county during 1860 can be found in U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census of Population Manuscript Schedules, Slaves, 1860, National Archives, Washington, DC.

10. These counties included Jefferson, Berkeley, Morgan, Hampshire, Hardy and Pendleton in the Eastern Panhandle, and Greenbrier and Monroe in the Greenbrier Valley. In 1860, these eight counties were home to 10,870 of the total 18,371 slaves in then western Virginia.

11. Zera Bartlett Radabaugh Lough,"On Flag Run: Looking Back on a Taylor County Family," Goldenseal, 12(Fall 1986): 16-24 contains many descriptions of women's rural production.

12. Philip Doddridge, quoted in J. R. Dodge, West Virginia: Its Farms and Forests, Mines and Oil Wells (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott and Co., 1865), 33.

13. Detailed descriptions of women's contributions within a "self sufficient" rural economy are found in Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, "Housewife and Gadder: Themes of Self-sufficiency and Community in Eighteenth Century New England," in "To Toil the Livelong Day": America's Women at Work, 1780-1980, ed. by Carol Groneman and Mary Beth Norton (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1987), 21-34.

14. Evidence of women's contributions to the family economy can be found in store ledgers and and other mercantile records listing the goods that entered into trade. See West Virginia General Store Ledger, Collection 142, National Museum of American History Archives Center, Smithsonian Institution; West Virginia and Regional History Collection, West Virginia University Library, Morgantown, WV; A.P. Borders Bills of Lading Book, 1859-1860, Original Historical Records, Boyd County Public Library, Ashland, KY.

15. Census Bureau, Ninth Census, 1870, vol. I, table XXX, 763.

16. It is important here to distinguish between relative and absolute changes in the composition of the labor force. Agriculture actually continued to employ a large number of people in the state in absolute terms even as its relative share declined. For example, in 1930, the agricultural labor force was only 1,000 persons smaller than it had been in 1880, even though the relative share decreased during the same period from 61 percent to 21 percent.

17. Rice, West Virginia, 82-89 and Richard Simon, "The Development of Underdevelopment: The Coal Industry and Its Effect on the West Virginia Economy, 1880-1930" (Ph.D. Diss., Univ. of Pittsburgh, 1978),286-90. A historical analysis of the subsistence economy is contained in Paul Salstrom, "West Virginia's Path to Welfare Dependency, 1840-1940" (Ph.D. Diss., Brandeis Univ., 1988).

18. A good discussion of obstacles to industrial development during the pre-statehood era is Otis Rice, "Coal Mining in the Kanawha Valley to 1861: A View of Industrialization in the Old South," Journal of Southern History, 31(1965): 393-416.

19. Simon, "Development of Underdevelopment," 288.

20. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Ninth Census of the United States, 1870, Volume 3, The Statistics of the Wealth and Industry of the United States (Washington: GPO, 1872), table IX (A.), 580-81.

21. An excellent discussion of West Virginia's occupation structure and its developmental implications is contained in Simon, "Development of Underdevelopment," 381 -89. The implications for women are detailed in Richard Simon and Betty Justice, "The Economy of West Virginia and the Oppression/Liberation of Women," in Appalachia/America: Proceedings of the 1980 Appalachian Studies Conference (Boone, NC: Appalachian Consortium Press, 1981), 44- 56. The state's industrial structure and relative lack of development/diversification is the starting point for most studies of women in the contemporary state economy. For example, see West Virginia Department of Employment Security, "West Virginia Women in the Labor Force: A Labor Market Information Report" (Charleston, 1980); and Nancy Matthews, editor, "West Virginia Women; In Perspective 1970-1985" (Charleston: West Virginia Women's Commission, 1985).

22. Angela V. John's study of British women coal miners during the nineteenth century illustrates how definitions of men's versus women's work could be used to exclude women from certain kinds of industrial labor. See By the Sweat of "Their Brow: Women Workers at Victorian Coal Mines (London: Croom Helm, 1980).

23. Thomas Dublin, Women At Work The Transformation of Work and Community in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1826-1860 (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1979).

24. Simon, "Development of Underdevelopment," 294.

25. A thorough overview of national changes in women's paid work during turn-of-the-century industrialization is Joseph A. Hill, Women in Gainful Occupations 1870 to 1920, Census Monographs IX, (Washington: GPO, 1929).

26. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900, vol. 2, Population (Washington: GPO, 1902), table 93, 541-49.

27.William E. Cox, "McKendree No. 2: The Story of West Virginia's Miners Hospitals," Goldenseal, 7 (Fall 1981):37-40. "Mabel Gwinn, New River Nurse," interviewed by Paul Nyden, ibid., 30-36, is a companion article containing an oral history of a nurse who trained and worked in one of the miner's hospitals.

28. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920, vol. 4, Population (Washington: GPO, 1923).

29. I am grateful to Janet Greene for sharing these insights from her oral history research with working-class women in West Virginia.

30. U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau, Home Enwronment and Employment Opportunities of Women in Coal Mine Workers' Families, Bulletin No. 45, (Washington: GPO, 1925).

31. The combination of industrial labor and home-based production in West Virginia during the early twentieth century is discussed in Alta Durst Miller (with Kitty B. Frazier), "Initial Chapters," Goldenseal, 10(Winter 1985): 24-29.

32. The increase in the number of women farmers in West Virginia was calculated from: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Eleventh Census of the United States, 1890, Population, Part 2 (Washington: GPO, 1897), table 79, 337-41; Census Bureau, Twelfth Census, 1900, vol. 2, Population, table 93, 541-49; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Thirteenth Census of the United Slates, 1910, vol. 4, Population (Washington: GPO, 1914), table II, 138-51.

33. An early comprehensive statement of this pattern in the U.S. context is Richard L Bushman, "Family Security in the Transition from Farm to City, 1750- 1850," Journal of Family History, 6 (1981): 238-56.

34. Household labor allocation changes during an era of economic transformation in a nearby region are described in Jacquelyn Dowd Hall et al., Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1987). Some comparative situations are discussed in: Elizabeth Anne Kuznesof, "Household Composition and Headship as Related to Changes in Mode of Production: Sao Paulo 1765 Co 1836," Comparative Studies in Society and History, 22(1980): 78-108; Hans Medick, "The Proto-Industrial Family Economy: The Structural Function of Household and Family During the Transition from Peasant to Industrial Capitalism," Social History, 1(1976): 291-315, and Carmen Diana Deere, "Changing Relations of Production and Peruvian Peasant Women's Work," Latin American Perspectives, 4 (1977): 48-69.

35. A portrait of the economy at midcentury is contained in James H. Thompson, The Manufacturing Industries of West Virginia, in West Virginia University Business and Economic Studies, vol. 2, no. 1 (Morgantown: West Virginia Bureau of Business Research, 1952).

36. One of the pathbreaking analyses of the sexual division of labor is Heidi Hartmann, "Capitalism, Patriarchy, and Job Segregation by Sex," Signs, 2 (1976): 137-69. An excellent analysis of labor market segmentation is Alice Kessler-Harris, "Stratifying by Sex: Understanding the History of Working Women," in Labor Market Segmentation, ed. by Richard C. Edwards et al. (Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath, 1975), 217-42.

37. Of course, there were women who did own and operate their own businesses. See Wilma Doan, "A Chance to Make a Dollar: Grace Lowther, Tyler County Grocer and Innkeeper," Goldenseal, 7 (Fall 1981): 41-45.

38. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census of Population: 1950, vol. II, part 48, West Virginia (Washington: GPO, 1952), table 78, 182-90.

39. These figures and other comparisons of white and black female employment are contained in Edwin W. Hanczaryk, The Labor Force in West Virginia: A Study of its Growth and Characteristics, in West Virginia University Business and Economic Studies, vol. 3, no. 4 (Morgantown: West Virginia University Bureau of Business Research, 1954), 41. This study is also useful for general discussion of the kind of the labor force that developed along with West Virginia's economy.

40. West Virginia conforms to national patterns in the growth of women's clerical employment. See Elyce J. Rotella, From Home to Office: U. S. Women at Work, 1870-1930 (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1981).

41. Census Bureau, Census of Population: 1950, vol. II, part 48, West Virginia, table 73, 152-57 and table 28, 37. Rural areas and small towns did have a limited number of clerical and service jobs for women whose content did not differ greatly from those in urban areas. A description of women telephone operators in both urban and small town settings is Jeri Matheny, "Women at Work: Veteran Telephone Operators Look Back," Goldenseal, 14 (Winter 1988): 40-41.

42. Simon, "Development of Underdevelopment," 379.

43. A recent study that attempted, unsuccessfully, to explain West Virginia's chronically low rate of labor force participation is Stuart Dorsey, "An Analysis of Labor Force Participation in West Virginia." Center for Economic Research, West Virginia University, 1987.

44. Goldenseal regularly features traditional forms of home-based work. While these are properly praised for exhibiting cultural continuity between past and present, home-based work also deserves an economic reappraisal. See the following Goldenseal articles as well as others cited above: Yvonne Snyder Farley, "Plain Cooking: Barbara Meadows of Raleigh County," 7 (Fall 1981): 46-50; M.A. Whiteman, "Albert Estep Remembers St. Joseph Rural Life," 9 (Spring 1983): 18-20; Bessie Barnard, "Grammy's Recollections: Growing Up in Ritchie County," 9 (Summer 1983): 53-64; Andy Yale, "The Old-Timey-Way: Lillian Mann of Talcott," 14 (Spring 1988): 36-39. One of the most pointed statements about the economic independence won by contemporary home-based production is Norman Julian, "Hard Work and Independence; The Showwalters of Eagle's Nest Ranch," 11 (Spring 1985): 34-37.

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