Monday, January 8, 2018

Booknotes: This Grand Experiment

New Arrival:
This Grand Experiment: When Women Entered the Federal Workforce in Civil War–Era Washington, D.C. by Jessica Ziparo (UNC Press, 2017).

Ah, the first arrival of the new year (though it was a 2017 release).

"In the volatility of the Civil War, the federal government opened its payrolls to women. Although the press and government officials considered the federal employment of women to be an innocuous wartime aberration, women immediately saw the new development for what it was: a rare chance to obtain well-paid, intellectually challenging work in a country and time that typically excluded females from such channels of labor. Thousands of female applicants from across the country flooded Washington with applications."

Jessica Ziparo's This Grand Experiment "traces the struggles and triumphs of early female federal employees, who were caught between traditional, cultural notions of female dependence and an evolving movement of female autonomy in a new economic reality. In doing so, Ziparo demonstrates how these women challenged societal gender norms, carved out a place for independent women in the streets of Washington, and sometimes clashed with the female suffrage movement."

Additional chapters look at the application process, what life was like as a female federal clerk in wartime, their reputations, their fight to keep their jobs once the Civil War concluded, and their arguments for equal pay. "Examining the advent of female federal employment, Ziparo finds a lost opportunity for wage equality in the federal government and shows how despite discrimination, prejudice, and harassment, women persisted, succeeding in making their presence in the federal workforce permanent."

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