History of a Female Intensive Profession


Hope Olson, a professor at the University of Alberta, has a neat web page summarizing the History of a Female Profession. It contains internal links to numerous (of her own) summaries of important works in the area of women in librarianship. She introduces the issue as follows:

Three themes mark the history of librarianship as a female-intensive profession:

  • the transfer of feminine gifts from private to public women\'s sphere - service, children, etc.

  • clerical abilities, routine, detail

  • lower salaries, lower positions

Dewey\'s recruiting speech to \"college-bred women\" in 1886 established a pattern that might be considered either exploitative or enabling. It was characterized by flattery, missionary zeal and excuses to attract the graduates of women\'s colleges who were attaining degrees at a rising rate and looking for fulfilling and socially acceptable careers.

  • Flattery -- women going into librarianship were a \"picked class selected from the best\"
    -- their undergraduate degrees give them knowledge and ability
  • Missionary zeal -- librarians give people the best to read and are even more influential than teachers or clergy
  • Excuses for lower salaries -- the fulfilment

Justin Winsor\'s infamous quote (London, 1877) carries much the same message and tone:
\"In the Boston Public Library two-thirds of the librarians are women. In American libraries we set a high value on women\'s work. They soften our atmosphere, they lighten our labour, they are equal to our work, and for the money they cost--if we must guage such labour by such rules--they are infinitely better than equivalent salaries will produce of the other sex.\"
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