Cheap Amusement Book Review

1668 Words Oct 12th, 2012 7 Pages
Dereck Rickman
Scott Keys
In the book, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York, Piess takes the reader on the journey of trials and tribulations in working-class women’s lives in the turn of the century. Going in depth of the unfair familial roles and societal female disparities, all the way to what women liked to wear and do for leisure, Piess allows the reader to step into a time machine and gives them a first-class look into what a woman’s daily life was like in late 1800’s and early 1900’s. By using ‘expert’ sources and ‘investigators’, Piess succeeds in her goal by honing in on a specific time and topic which allowed the reader to feel as if they were reading an in-depth
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Peiss explains a process that was customary at dance halls and is even seen at modern day clubs, “At the beginning of a dance, women would dance together, with the men watching them from the sidelines; then ‘the boys step out, two at a time, separate the girls, and dance off in couples’” (Peiss 1986). The aforementioned process was known as “breaking” in which the women involved had no say in who she wished to dance with. If a man were to “treat” a woman, it was only polite that the woman dish out something in return. Be it flirtatious notions or sexual gestures, women were expected and most of the time willful partner in the prostitution-like proposition of the male and female interaction.
“’Many women do their washing in this yard,’ noted a middle-class tenement inspector” (Peiss 1986). Piess uses inspectors and random sources throughout her book as guides to prove or solidify her point. What I was very curious about was who these people were in which she was quoting. I do appreciate the fact that she uses outside sources, but who are these outside sources and how reliable can they be? When it comes to her more specific sites, such as, “’Some never boarded a street car for an evening’s ride without planning days ahead how they could spare the nickel from their lunch or clothes money’ noted reformer Esther Packard, describing women who lived on six dollars a week” (Peiss 1986), Peiss never goes into depth who the source is or a deeper

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