Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York / Edition 1

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Overview


What did young, independent women do for fun and how did they pay their way into New York City's turn-of-the-century pleasure places? Cheap Amusements is a fascinating discussion of young working women whose meager wages often fell short of bare subsistence and rarely allowed for entertainment expenses.

Kathy Peiss follows working women into saloons, dance halls, Coney Island amusement parks, social clubs, and nickelodeons to explore the culture of these young women between 1880 and 1920 as expressed in leisure activities. By examining the rituals and styles they adopted and placing that culture in the larger context of urban working-class life, she offers us a complex picture of the dynamics shaping a working woman's experience and consciousness at the turn-of-the-century. Not only does her analysis lead us to new insights into working-class culture, changing social relations between single men and women, and urban courtship, but it also gives us a fuller understanding of the cultural transformations that gave rise to the commercialization of leisure.

The early twentieth century witnessed the emergence of "heterosocial companionship" as a dominant ideology of gender, affirming mixed-sex patterns of social interaction, in contrast to the nineteenth century's segregated spheres. Cheap Amusements argues that a crucial part of the "reorientation of American culture" originated from below, specifically in the subculture of working women to be found in urban dance halls and amusement resorts.

This book "...will appeal to those who study women and gender, leisure, class relation, labor and cities... ."--Susan Porter Benson

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Cheap Amusements take[s] us beyond the flat stereotypes of 19th-century poor and laboring women.... Peiss' extensive research provides us with a wealth of details about amusements parks, early silent-movie plots, and dance styles in the working-class dance palaces of the city. She traces the development of Coney Island from a male-recreation bastion of gambling houses, saloons, and brothels to a mixed-sex resort of concert halls, dance pavilions, and variety shows where women occupied the audience as well as the stage.... Peiss places prostitution within the context of a range of exchanges between women and men...[which] gave women access to more of the world than their wages alone could bring them, but they also enforced their dependency and rendered them vulnerable to coercion and exploitation."
—Lisa Duggan, Ms. Magazine

"Peiss has made a major contribution to feminist scholarship...in helping to restore working-class women to history."
—International Journal of the History of Sport

"In her beautifully written, meticulously documented, and precisely argued study, [the author] describes in detail how young working women spent their free time and money."
—David Nasaw, dissent

"The author is at her best in her 'case studies' of the evolving patterns of activity, socialization, and culture in those dance halls, amusement parks, and motion picture theaters."
—Susan Esterbrook Kennedy, The Journal of American History

Susan Esterbrook Kennedy
Peiss amply demonstrates that young working women at the turn of the century did not come easily to the notion of leisure nor to the sense that they might exercise some autonomy over their own leisure time and pursuits. . . . They encountered considerable parental and social resistance when they explored relatively new types of commercialized recreation—dance halls, amusement parks, movie theaters. The debate over respectability in relation to those new activities forms a particularly interesting part of the story.

The author is at her best in her 'case studies' of the evolving patterns of activity, socialization, and culture in those dance halls, amusement parks, and motion picture theaters.
—(The Journal of American History )

Lisa Duggan
Cheap Amusements take[s] us beyond the flat stereotypes of 19th-century poor and laboring women. . . . Peiss' extensive research provides us with a wealth of details about amusements parks, early silent-movie plots, and dance styles in the working-class dance palaces of the city. She traces the development of Coney Island from a male-recreation bastion of gambling houses, saloons, and brothels to a mixed-sex resort of concert halls, dance pavilions, and variety shows where women occupied the audience as well as the stage. . . . Peiss places prostitution within the context of a range of exchanges between women and men . . . [which] gave women access to more of the world than their wages alone could bring them, but they also enforced their dependency and rendered them vulnerable to coercion and exploitation.
—(Ms. Magazine )
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780877225003
  • Publisher: Temple University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/1987
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 244
  • Sales rank: 597,634
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author


Kathy Peiss is Associate Professor of History and Women’s Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
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Table of Contents


Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. The Homosocial World of Working-Class Amusements
2. Leisure and Labor
3. Putting on Style
4. Dance Madness
5. The Coney Island Excursion
6. Cheap Theater and the Nickel Dumps
7. Reforming Working Women's Recreation
Conclusion
Notes
Index

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2004

    Girls at play

    In her scholarly book, GILDED CITY, M.H. Dunlop chronicled the execesses and outrages of upper class New Yorkers (especially the women of the uppermost uppers) at the turn of the 20th century. While hiding behind the facade that the lavish parties and balls, they threw and the exorbitant clothes they had tailored for themselves were giving jobs to the lower classes, their effect was to shamelessly display their wealth and, ultimately, enrage a lower class that was finding the economy and job market less and less bearable. Peiss' style is scholarly yet without the distancing effect that that form of writing usually exhibits in less skilled hands. Her knowledge and passion for the subject are easily identifiable in this wonderful book. Kathy Peiss' CHEAP AMUSEMENTS, for me, is the flipside of the situation. The working women of New York, especially immigrant women, needed some way to spend what little leisure time they had with the little discretionary spending they had. Rather than simply identifying the spots like some old guidebook, Peiss explores each type of simple pleasure ground available to the girls, and how and why they became so popular. On a second level, the book examines the social and sometimes political consequences of this class of working women--bachelorettes--and their spending habits.

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