Cheap Amusements

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Peiss, Kathy. (1986) . Cheap Amusements. New York: Temple University.
In Cheap Amusements, Kathy Peiss studies the customs, values, public styles, and ritualized interactions expressed in leisure time of the working-class women living in New York. The social experiences of these young women gives different clues to the ways in which these women constructed and gave meaning to their lives between the years of 1880-1920. The laboring poor’s leisure activity was brief, casual, and non-commercial. Amusement was and had to be cheap. It mostly consisted of walks, visiting friends, and reading the penny press. The people of the Lower East Side entertained with sights of interest and penny pleasures such as organ grinders and buskers, acrobats performed tricks and vendors and soda dispensers competed for customers. Evidence suggests that families often enjoyed everyday leisure but in reality working class social life was divided by gender. Married women’s leisure tended to be separate from the public domain and was not very different from work, but was linked with domestic duties and family relations. It was during this period that to survive families had to send their sons and daughters into the labor force to supplement the earnings of the father, while the mother cooked, cleaned, cared for the children and manufactured goods in the home. The typical wage-earning woman of 1900 was young and single. The young single working women experienced time and labor similar to men’s rather than married women’s. They needed to, as Peiss puts, “carve a sphere of pleasure”, out of daily life in the harsh conditions of the shop floor and the tenement. These young women found pleasure in dance halls, amusement parks, and movie theaters. The young women were not content with recreation at home so they went for “organized entertainment”. Dressing up nice, strolling the streets and staying late at amusement parks...
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