Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Department of History
Amy L. Wood
Between 1880 and 1930, the emergence of a consumer culture and the increase in wage-earning women challenged traditional values. Anxiety over these changes was perhaps strongest within the middle-class who developed a reform culture to respond to a society that they felt was in chaos. As monuments of consumption, department stores sat at the nexus of the working-class culture of saleswomen and the middle-class culture of customers and management. A national leader in both the creation of the modern department store and the Progressive reform movement, Chicago provides a unique location to study this intersection. Middle-class reformers and female clerks alike were concerned with low pay and poor working conditions, but middle-class reformers also acted out of concern for the clerks' moral behavior and well-being, while saleswomen were largely frustrated by limited economic opportunities and a lack of autonomy. It was ultimately the combined efforts of store clerks, reformers, and wider social changes that led to gradual, but significant improvement in working conditions for saleswomen by the end of the 1920s.
Wiggers, Laura, "Saleswomen and the Middle-Class: Gender and Class Conflict within the Chicago Department Store, 1880-1930" (2014). Theses and Dissertations. 269.