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Mary Minds Her Business

February 15, 2016

Someday I’m going to run out of books from the late 19th and early 20th century about women doing jobs, and then I will be a little heartbroken. Thankfully, we’re not there yet. Let me tell you about George Weston’s labor fantasy, Mary Minds Her Business.

Mary Spencer is the last of a long line of Spencers–mostly Josiah Spencers–who built a large factory complex and brought prosperity to the town surrounding it. Mary is obviously as well fitted to running the business  as any of the Josiahs, but because she’s a girl, no one expects her to step in. Still, she’s interested in the business, and wary of her shifty uncle, and she has an ambition to make the world a better place.

World War I gives her the opportunity she’s been waiting for. She’s read up on what female workers are doing in Europe, and she starts bringing women into her factory when the men start filtering out to the army. She sets up amenities for them, too–break rooms and nurseries–and has the satisfaction of seeing the factory run just as smoothly with a largely female staff as it did with a male one. It’s a clear success, but then the war ends and the men return, and she can’t not give them back their jobs. And some of them aren’t happy with even a few women working alongside them. That’s when things get really interesting.

There’s the usual labor intrigue, conveniently blamed on foreign Bolsheviks. There’s family drama. There’s romance. But mostly there’s Mary’s vision and stubborness, and her conscience pushing her forward. I’m less sure about the quality of this book than I was a couple of days ago, but while I was reading it I loved it.

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4 comments

  1. I liked it very much.

    (Spoiler)

    But like a lot of semi socialist stories, she keeps saying everyone needs a job but her first solution is to cut their hours in half so they can have more free time. There’s a movie from the early 30’s where the workers reorganize the laundry for shorter days.

    The other thing I find amusing is how no one foresaw the way advertising would change our world. They’re all expecting a 4 hour work day and no one foresees that people would want a lot more money to buy a lot more stuff.


    • Yeah, it’s sort of a labor fantasy, isn’t it? You accept in the context of the story things that just wouldn’t make that much sense, then or now.

      I really liked how she did make use of advertising, though.


      • Well, I loved the fact that when they threatened to ask for a boycott, she cut prices and improved the product. That was certainly sensible. But yes, a little bit of a labor fantasy.

        Did it feel to you like it was written by a woman? Because the tone seemed a little more feminine than masculine to me in places.


        • I did wonder if the author was a woman, but I poked around and found this. But yeah, I thought the romance–especially Mary’s ambivalence about it–felt very feminine.



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