University of Notre Dame
FinniganLD032023D.pdf (83.88 MB)

The Necessary and the Ornamental: Women's Empowered Labor in Pullman, Chicago, 1880-1894

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posted on 2023-03-30, 00:00 authored by Lauren Finnigan

Women have been historically decentered within industrial labor communities. This work uses archaeology and historical research to reveal some women’s response to paternalism in the “model” company town of Pullman, Chicago, during its period of historic significance,1880-1894. Pullman had well-constructed homes and an aesthetically-appealing community that came with paternalist forms of company oversight that alienated some residents.

Archaeology performed in Pullman by Jane Baxter indicated that some residents may have used their backyards less intensively during the period of company control than residents after, and she attributed this to alienation experienced due to surveillance and company oversight.

Alienation requires a robust analysis of the complexities and nuances that accompany the phenomenon, however, and Baxter’s work was limited. Therefore, this work had two primary goals: to test the archaeological work performed by Jane Baxter, and to locate examples of women’s labor within the town that contradict characterizations of alienation. Archaeology was performed in 2020 at two sites in Pullman with students from DePaul University. Results from this work were consistent with previous archaeology; few diagnostic artifacts were recovered from levels of historic significance, supporting the hypothesis that some of the worker-residents of the model town of Pullman may have been alienated from their backyards.

Few documents exist about women in Pullman during this period, however we can combine what we have with what we know about women’s behavior to consider the ways women performed significant, fulfilling labor that was frequently empowering. I use the words of Mary Wollstonecraft, who referred to women’s labor as “the necessary and the ornamental” (Wollstonecraft [1792] 1974, 51), to frame women’s labor in Pullman. “Necessary” refers to gendered domestic labor for activities of daily life, while “the ornamental” refers to the unique requirement of women to maintain pleasant aesthetics for our bodies and homes. Each of these can be performed in fulfilling, non-alienated manners.

This work brings historic visibility to women in Pullman. Further, company towns continue among universities, military bases, and tech campuses and his work helps us understand how women seek and find empowerment within these communities.


Date Modified


Defense Date


CIP Code

  • 45.0201

Research Director(s)

Mark R. Schurr


  • Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Level

  • Doctoral Dissertation

Alternate Identifier


OCLC Number


Program Name

  • Anthropology

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