Reviews for Double lives :A history of working motherhood in modern Britain (Book)

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How the roles of mothers in the workplace have transformed from the mid-19th century to the present. In this lengthy, meticulously researched book, McCarthy examines the cultural, social, and economic roles played by British mothers both inside and outside the workforce, beginning in 1840. “For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,” writes the author, “women’s worlds were shaped by a labour market founded on sexual difference, a welfare state which institutionalized the dependency of wives, and a wider culture which prized devoted mothering and housewifery as the apotheosis of femininity.” Her statement reflects the heart of this painstaking unveiling of each aspect of a mother’s life during the given time frame. Although the women she profiles left few written records, McCarthy makes a valiant effort to show their feelings and desires alongside the somewhat dry treatment of the relevant history. Originally, mothers were not welcome in the workplace; they were expected to maintain the home and raise the children. However, some were forced to work due to economic hardships or widowhood. During both world wars, when many men were sent to the battlefield, women were needed to work. They took over a variety of roles previously filled by men, excelled in them, and enjoyed a newfound sense of independence and financial freedom. This made it difficult for many to return to their household duties when the wars ended, circumstances that eventually led to greater acceptance of women joining the workforce for “personal autonomy, professional achievement, mental stimulation, friendship and sociability, or to set a good example to sons and daughters,” which roughly represents the situation today. Readers may skim some of the plodding historical reports, but the book is a worthy addition to the literature on the social history of modern Britain. An exacting, thorough tome for students of British history and women’s and labor studies. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.