The Liberator (Mar/Apr issue 2000)
Recovering the American
Past with Brian C. Robertson
by Frank Zepezauer, resident philosopher
Have you ever
heard of the National Congress of Mothers? Until recently I didnt know about them
myself and Ive spent a lot of time studying womens organizations. It so
happens that the NCM was actually the biggest womens lobby in American history.
Founded during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, it had 190,000 members by 1920 and
over one million by 1930. The National Organization for Women, even in its heyday,
could never claim such numbers.
I learned about
the National Congress of Mothers in a short but highly informative book, Theres
No Place Like Work by Brian C. Robertson. It has a provocative sub-title: How
Business, Government, and Our Obsession with Work Have Driven Parents From Home. 
The title pretty well tells you what the book is about, an account of how the workplace
has replaced the home as the center of our lives.
I found it
particularly instructive because Robertsons account challenges recently formed
misperceptions about our gender political history since the founding of the nation. It is
in that sense an effort to recover the American past.
Robertson makes it
clear who formed the misperceptions of our past 200 years. He writes that "in
order to propagate the notion (central to their ideology of womens liberation) that
before the dawn of modern feminism mothers stayed at home to raise their children only
because they had no alternative feminist writers have been forced into a tortuous
and self-contradictory interpretation of the pre-1960s womens movement, its goals
and its guiding principles."
the housewife role?
What are these
misperceptions? The first is that the womens movement of the 19th Century was like
its 20th Century counterpart, an effort to liberate women from the bondage of housewifery.
The facts show
exactly the opposite. Womens organizations throughout that century fought to
liberate women not from the kitchen but from the workplace.
The nineteenth was
also the first century of capitalism, and as early as its first decade it was pulling
women and children into the workforce because businesses needed workers and wanted to
depress wages. To combat this system a movement was organized, led largely by women. It
was these activists, family-centered Christian women, who fashioned the "separate
spheres" concept which feminists would later claim was the work of the
The term itself
was coined by a woman, Catherine Beecher, who, Robertson says, "saw the mission of
the homemaker and mother in explicitly Christian terms." He quotes her as saying,
"The distinctive feature of the family is self-sacrificing labor of the stronger and
wiser members to raise the weaker and more ignorant to equal advantages. The father
undergoes toil and self-denial to provide a home, and then the mother becomes a
self-sacrificing laborer to train its inmates."
Tocqueville took note of how the separate spheres concept was working in the America of
the 1830. "American women engaged themselves exclusively in "the quiet circle of
domestic employments...in no country has such constant care been taken as in America to
trace two clearly distinct lines of action for the two sexes and to make them keep pace
one with the other, but in two pathways that are always different." In other words,
Americans responding to the guidance of the early womans movement worked out a
separate but equal gender role system.
Who created unequal wage
reveal the fallacies of the second feminist misperception. It is that "the
Patriarchy" connived to subject women to separate but unequal wage rates. The facts,
as Robertson discloses them, again show otherwise. The womens movement of the 19th
Century struggled to establish not a male but a family wage. It did not
favor men; it favored breadwinners. This policy derived from their primary concern that
mothers should be able to devote full time to raising children and managing a home. To do
that they had to be provided for, and it was the husband and father who had to do the
providing, which meant that he had to earn a wage sufficient to support not only himself
but his entire family.
The long enduring
effort to institutionalize the family wage eventually succeeded. Robertson writes that
"it has been estimated that by 1960 a family wage was paid by 65 percent of all
employers in the United States and by 80 percent of the major industrial companies."
He adds, "Although feminist historians today call the family-wage ideal a
myth" designed to keep married women oppressed, few myths have come closer to
becoming reality." He later states that "the family-wage economy that
prevailed from 1945 to 1970 was the product of an ideal pursued deliberately, primarily by
womens organizations, through the political process...."
misperception is that the beginnings of the modern feminist movement was a brave and
lonely effort by a few women fighting against great odds. They were a vanguard which
gradually gathered enough strength by 1970 to launch the high-powered womans
movement we live with today. Its a movement whose leaders consider equality as equal
distribution of men and women throughout the workforce, at every level in every
enterprise...50/50 across the board. It is therefore the sworn enemy of the homemaker role
that so many women struggled to establish during the previous 150 years.
about the small lonely vanguard is wrong in several ways. Its wrong first of all in
its depiction of the opposition these new feminists faced. It was supposed to be the
established order, the Patriarchy. In fact, a great part of the opposition to the new
feminism were leaders of the old feminism. They were the family-friendly women who in the
mid-twentieth century came to be known as "social feminists." There were social
feminists like Frances Perkins, the first female Secretary of Labor, who fought to
maintain the family wage system and who helped establish mother support systems, such as
Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) based on the traditional family structure. The effort to
ensure that mothers would be adequately supported extended to mothers who had lost their
providers. But governmental support for such women was limited to once-married women who
lost their husbands through death or disablement. Unwed mothers were not eligible. Social
feminists wanted it that way, not Patriarchs.
Also consider the
fact that the major opposition to the new feminists first major campaign, the effort
to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, did not come primarily from men but from women. A
coalition of women led by Phyllis Schlafly, who were very much like the activists in the
old National Congress of Mothers, led the successful fight to kill the ERA. If it had been
left to men to oppose it, it would be a part of the constitution today.
The new and
radical feminists [more accurately called
redfems WHS] that emerged in the 1960s, the ones who pushed the "ratify ERA
campaign," were in the beginning not all that lonely, nor were they all that
impoverished. Even before the Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedans trashing of
the housewife, appeared in 1963 there was increasing hostility to the traditional family
in the academy and the government There was, for example, a 1957 conference on "Work
in the Lives of Married Women" which was already outlining the great social
transformation that would occur in the next decade.
One of its
speakers, Katherine Brownell Oettinger, stated that "we cannot realistically expect
to reverse" the trend of mothers working in ever larger numbers...On the basis of our
present information we do not believe it is necessarily damaging to a child to be
separated from his mother for substantial periods during the day, if adequate substitute
care is provided. [No known study] "has established a causal relation between
maternal employment and either juvenile delinquency or the maladjustment of
The reversal of
the traditional family order, the work of countless family women and men during the
previous century, quickly accelerated. By 1963, President Kennedy had established a
Womens Commission which was stacked with career oriented women and in the same year
Congress passed an Equal Pay Act, which dealt a blow to the family wage concept.
In 1964, in an
attempt to kill a civil rights bill, a Southern congressmen inserted the word
"sex" among the groups who would be protected from discrimination. His ploy
failed because there were already enough feminist Congresswomen to recognize the
opportunity the proposed addition opened up. The word "sex" was retained in
Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, another severe blow to the breadwinner/housewife
The feminists who
helped engineer these revolutionary changes had help from another source, the business
elites. It appears that capitalism has not been all that family friendly. It took enormous
effort in the 19th Century to protect women and children from the forces pulling them into
the workforce and it would require the same effort in the 20th Century. But by the middle
of that century, the business forces were stronger and, by supplying aid and comfort to
anti-family radicals, they managed to bring women back into the workforce.
To bring this off,
the same market efficiency arguments were put to work. For example, the Economist
magazine published a "Survey of Women and Work" which Robertson said,
"summarized the advantages to employers of an expanded labor pool in which the great
majority of married women work. One is that as the formerly non-monetary functions of the
household are commercialized, new markets are created." And there are other
advantages: "In America, with its booming economy and tight labor market, women are
proving a godsend to many employers. They usually cost less to employ than men, are more
prepared to be flexible and less inclined to kick up a fuss if working conditions are
poor....Employers like them because they allow more flexibility and command lower pay, and
because part-timers can be pushed harder while they are at work."
Thus, as Robertson
put it, the old system was destroyed "By conscious effort on the part of a feminist
and business elite [as well as] neglect on the part of a comfortable society that had
ceased to see any need to shield home and family from destructive market and state
If one defines "the
Patriarchy" as the male power elite, then it is clear that it was not the Patriarchy
who put the housewife in the home nor was it the Patriarchy that resisted efforts to take
her out of the home and put her back in the workplace. The Patriarchy wanted her there all
the time acting not as radical feminisms worst enemy but as radical feminisms
best friend. [If the term "radical feminism" (a.k.a.
Marxist- or socialist-feminism) is somewhat new to you, you need to expand
your knowledge. After all, radical feminism, the currently controlling
faction of feminism, governs just about everything that is happening in your
Carey Roberts column
Carey Roberts is an analyst and commentator on
His best-known work is an exposé on Marxism and the roots of radical feminism.
Carey Roberts' best-known work, his exposé on Marxism and the roots of radical feminism, is not necessarily easy to find, but
this link will help with that. (Some of the URLs for the article
series appear to keep changing. For that reason the identified link
leads to an Internet search for the series. The first or second link in
the return list will most likely lead you to the series.)]
Who killed fatherhood?
story therefore corrects a pile of misperceptions laid on our doorstep by the feminist
movement. It also tends to confirm a theory I have about the fate of fatherhood in the
late twentieth century. I believe that the separate spheres system helped to undermine the
father role. It had always consisted of three basic responsibilities: to provide, to
protect, and to parent. When men separated from their household to earn money for their
families, they however tended to concentrate more on providing and less on protecting and
This tendency was reinforced by
the exaltation of motherhood which was part of the 19th Century womans movement.
Womens separate sphere became womens domain and increasingly most of the
essential parenting in the family was handled by women. The focus throughout was,
therefore, mother-centered. The basic social policy question was "How can we support
the work of mothers." The family wage system was devised as the best way to resolve
that problem. Contrary to what feminists have claimed for the past thirty years, it was
devised not to serve the interests of men but to serve the interests of women.
nevertheless remained integral members of the family because they were needed as
providers. Their contribution as parents was however increasingly downplayed and the
average family came to resemble a military platoon with a second lieutenant officially in
command but with a master sergeant really running the outfit.
In the 20th Century, with the
drive to send women into the workplace, the titular head of the family was no longer
needed. There was then another answer to the question, "How can we support the work
of mothers?" It was by making mothers financially independent and by assisting
mothers with tax-supported
daycare and by assisting mothers, married or not, with
government outlays. Of all the blows to fatherhood, perhaps the single most significant
was the decision, made somewhere in the Johnson Administration bureaucracy, to open AFDC
to unwed mothers.
From that point
on, the final answer to the question was "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a
bicycle." Fathers had become disposable.
Recovering All the Past
with Amaury de Riencourt
By Frank Zepezauer, Resident Philosopher of The
The protectors of women time and again
praise to 'Wessi' (Westie) women the wonderfully complete world of the 'Ossi' (Eastie)
women, ever since the end of the GDR, whose all-encompassing children-crèche system
secured full-time earning potential and thereby the personal freedom of mothers.
What a full-day program for the children of fully-employed
looks like has been thoroughly experienced by the mothers of the former GDR. Marlene,
herself a crèche-child and subsequently an educator for child-educatoresses from Potsdam,
told it to me. [Full Story]
Germany devours its children
Families today: Exploited and burned out