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Communication, Rhetoric and Digital Media News

fall 700-level cross listed course


Eng 585/Eng 798 (Sec 005) Dr. Marsha Gordon

Tuesdays, 4:30-8:10pm

Laboring Ladies:  How Pre-1960s Hollywood Imagined Working Women


American women have been hard at work in the movies since the medium’s earliest years, from undercover spies and nurses in the teens, to department store clerks and secretaries in the 1920s, journalists and showgirls in the 1930s, restaurant entrepreneurs and factory workers in the 1940s, and advertising executives and fashion designers in the 1950s.  Whether in comedies, dramas, romances, or crime films, laboring ladies on the silver screen have a lot to teach us about the history of women’s participation in the workplace and in the home as it was imagined by an industry that was deeply engaged how women navigated the world.  


This class will focus on a selective history of women at work in movies before the 1960s.  Although we will use films as the spine of the course, we will also read primary materials, especially contemporary women’s fiction, reviews and commentary in women’s magazines, and writing by experts ranging from psychologists to suffragists. We will consider some films whose source material derived from women’s writing, as well as films by female directors.  Secondary sources will help guide us through the historical contexts in which these films were produced as we encounter recurrent themes such as women’s inability to balance careers with marriage or the skills needed to fend off powerful male sexual predators.


Students will be expected to write a series of short reflection and archival research papers, participate regularly in class discussions, and produce a final project that is suited to their disciplinary and scholarly interests. This final project can range from a traditional academic research paper, to a work of fiction, to a video essay, to a multi-media installation, to a web-based project (the nature of the project will be decided between each student and the professor). At the final exam each student will present their final projects to the class in the form of an abbreviated reading/performance, conference-style paper, or screening, depending upon the nature of the final project.

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