Shirtwaist Tales

A Macon, Georgia, textile mill, 1909
photo: Courtesy William Loren Katz
A Macon, Georgia, textile mill, 1909


The Cruel Years: American Voices at the Dawn of the 20th Century
Edited by William Loren Katz and Laurie R. Lehman
The Apex Press, 242 pp., $22.95 paper

Katz and Lehman have not only assembled a powerful teaching tool for the study of the turn of the last century, but they have also reminded us just how easy it is to erase stories of the oppressed and exploited. Already the media is transforming the 1990s, what ought to be called our "cruel years"—a decade marked by the elimination of welfare, sharpening divisions between rich and poor, erosion of civil rights, questioning of affirmative action and immigrants' rights, escalating police violence, proliferation of sweatshops and outright slavery throughout the world—into the Cool Years. It may be remembered as the age in which what was "hot" was tight, low-cut jeans, not the grossly underpaid worker who sweated to make them.

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