Race on the Line: Gender, Labor, and Technology in the Bell System, 1880-1980 / Edition 1

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Overview

Race on the Line is the first book to address the convergence of race, gender, and technology in the telephone industry. Venus Green—a former Bell System employee and current labor historian—presents a hundred year history of telephone operators and their work processes, from the invention of the telephone in 1876 to the period immediately before the break-up of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company in 1984. Green shows how, as technology changed from a manual process to a computerized one, sexual and racial stereotypes enabled management to manipulate both the workers and the workplace.
More than a simple story of the impact of technology, Race on the Line combines oral history, personal experience, and archival research to weave a complicated history of how skill is constructed and how its meanings change within a rapidly expanding industry. Green discusses how women faced an environment where male union leaders displayed economic as well as gender biases and where racism served as a persistent system of division. Separated into chronological sections, the study moves from the early years when the Bell company gave both male and female workers opportunities to advance; to the era of the “white lady” image of the company, when African American women were excluded from the industry and feminist working-class consciousness among white women was consequently inhibited; to the computer era, a time when black women had waged a successful struggle to integrate the telephone operating system but faced technological displacement and unrewarding work.
An important study of working-class American women during the twentieth century, this book will appeal to a wide audience, particularly students and scholars with interest in women’s history, labor history, African American history, the history of technology, and business history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Race on the Line is an extraordinary achievement. It sets a new standard for understandingf the impact of race, gender, and technological change on the labor process in American society.”—Joe W. Trotter, author of The African American Experience

“A compelling, well-argued, and richly-documented study of the interplay between technology and the racial and sexual division of labor in one of the most important industries in the global economy. Green provides a powerful commentary as well on the contemporary uses of racism and affirmative action as vehicles for minimizing resistance to job displacements created by automation and computerization. A superb book!”—Nancy Hewitt, Rutgers University

“Green has produced a study that enables us to understand concretely what differences race, class, and gender make in people’s work lives. Her special understanding of the technology and of the constraints and possibilities of work at the telephone company gives her arguments extra force. Finally, she does a magnificent job of showing the complexity of the considerations that motivates all parties involved, giving full attention to both multiple and shifting motivations.”—Susan Porter Benson, University of Connecticut

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822325734
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 5/31/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 392
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Venus Green is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the City College of New York. From 1974–1990, she was employed by New York Telephone Company as a switching equipment technician.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
Pt. 1 The Beginnings of Telephony
1 "Hello Central": The Beginning of a New Industry 11
2 "Hello Girls": The Making of the Voice with a Smile 53
3 The "Ladies" Rebel: Unions and Resistance 89
Pt. 2 The Dial Era, 1920-1960
4 "Goodbye Central": Automating Telephone Service 115
5 The Bell System Family: The Formation of Employee Associations 137
6 The Dial Era 159
Pt. 3 The Computer Era
7 Racial Integration and the Demise of the "White Lady" Image 195
8 Black Operators in the Computer Age 227
Epilogue 258
Notes 265
Selected Bibliography 339
Index 351
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