Introduction

A Woman's Place: Women and Work main sign

Where is a woman’s place?

The idea of the “working woman” for some may conjure up images of 1980s power suits and shoulder pads. The stereotype of women suddenly entering the workforce in the wake of second-wave feminism is one that has remained with us for several decades. But is this idea accurate? The truth is, women have always worked. Whether in agriculture, factories, offices, or cottage industries, there has never been a time in history when women did not work. Even within the home, domestic tasks such as cooking, sewing, cleaning, and childrearing are essential but often overlooked labors that women have traditionally shouldered. 

Questions about what work women should be doing have long been debated in our society. Concerns about women’s morality, ability, and proper place still bubble up in cultural conversations to this day. Even beyond gender, race and class also impact women’s opportunities and inform public perceptions of working women. Women of color have long held the burden of both racial and gender discrimination, and often been historically shunted into the jobs that were considered too difficult or distasteful for white women. 

But this exhibit is not merely about the struggles women have faced in society. It is also a celebration of the women themselves. The women who labored, created, endeavored, protested, or even just survived. The women who kept their families fed and clothed; who took jobs in factories, schools, offices, farms, and homes; who volunteered and supported one another;  and who, in the face of racial, class, and gender oppression, kept moving forward. 

Where is a woman’s place? It’s everywhere.


While curating this exhibit, we worked to amplify diverse voices and experiences, and document many kinds of working women, including enslaved women. It is important to acknowledge that some of the documents in the exhibit include words, images, and ideas that are outdated or offensive. The University of Minnesota Libraries presents these original documents unaltered as part of the historical record of past beliefs and/or assumptions.

Viewers who have concerns or questions may contact the curators at swharef@umn.edu


Created 2019-2020 | The original exhibit was on display in Elmer L. Andersen Library November 11, 2019 - March 6, 2020 | Curators: Linnea Anderson, Kate Dietrick, and Caitlin Marineau | Exhibit Designer: Darren Terpstra | Physical Exhibit Fabrication and Installation: Gunnar Berg | Digital Exhibit Designer: Ashley Walker | We are grateful to the team of volunteers, interns, digital services, and staff whose hard work and support make sharing these resources possible.


Banner Collage
Introduction