Long before the 1970s and the feminist revolution that shattered traditional notions of the family, black women in America had already accomplished their own revolution. Bart Landry's groundbreaking study adds immeasurably to our accepted concepts of "traditional" and "new" families: Landry argues that black middle-class women in two-parent families were practicing an egalitarian lifestyle that was envisioned by few of their white counterparts until many decades later.
The primary transformation of the American family, Landry says, took place when nineteenth-century industrialization brought about the separation of home and workplace. Only then did the family we call traditional, in which the husband goes out to work while the wife stays at home, become the centerpiece of white middle-class ideology. Black women, excluded from this model of respectability, embraced a threefold commitment to family, community, and career. They embodied the notion that employment outside the home was the route to more equality in the home, and that work was worth pursuing for reasons other than economic survival.
With a careful and convincing mix of biography, historical records, and demographic data, Landry shows how these black pioneers of the dual-career marriage created a paradigm for other women seeking to escape the cult of domesticity and thus foreshadowed the second great family transformation. If the two-parent nuclear family is to persist beyond the twentieth century, it may be because of what we can learn from these earlier women about an ideology of womanhood that combines the private and public spheres.
Bart Landry is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland and author of The New Black Middle Class (California, 1987).
"Bart Landry's Black Working Wives is a very comprehensive account of the family revolution in America. I learned a great deal reading this thoughtful book. Landry’s discussion of the dual career marriages of black women decades before the feminist revolution, and the lessons they provide not only for understanding dynamic changes in American families but also for anticipating the future of the modern two-career family, is insightful and persuasive."—William Julius Wilson, author of The Bridge over the Racial Divide
"Bart Landry's Black Working Wives is a perceptive analysis that connects the historical circumstances of Black women to the transformation of modern American family structures. This is an important contribution which should engage general readers, students, and public policy leaders and deepen our understanding of the origins and value of the dual career family."—Darlene Clark Hine, author of Speak Truth to Power
"Landry blends history, demography, and contemporary social analysis to illuminate the form and function of African-American families over time. He does a particularly good job of describing how, decades ago, middle-class black families prefigured the relatively egalitarian, two-wage earner households that are so common today. An incisive and rewarding book."—Jacqueline Jones, author of American Work
"This is first-rate, engaging, provocative, solid scholarship. I enthusiastically recommend it!"—Walter R. Allen, University of California, Los Angeles
"Landry has made a significant contribution to an existing body of literature on the family and race--and, more important, he has advanced a position that is not present in that literature."—Troy Duster, University of California, Berkeley, and New York University
"A very important book that contributes vitally to the small but growing literature on African American women and their agency in making lives for themselves and their families and in shaping American society."—Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, Colby College
Honorable Mention for the 2002 William J. Goode Book Award, Family Section of the American Sociological Association