“Significantly, a part of this increase in laborers was due to the entry of females into the labor pool.” (de Leon and Stewart)

1860s-1900: Mexican women increasingly drawn into labor pool, especially single women & minors / TNG p. 44

Perhaps the most important effect of declining occupational standing among Mexican Americans in the nineteenth century is related to the already mentioned fact that increasing numbers of Tejanos were drawn into the labor force as economic change progressed. Significantly, a part of this increase in laborers was due to the entry of females into the labor pool. Indeed, analysis of the composition of Mexican American workers shows that approximately 8.8 percent were females in 1850, and that this proportion climbed to 12.1 percent by 1900. Between 1850 and 1900, the total Tejano laboring population increased thirty-fold, while the female segment multiplied forty-three times. Though women never made up more than a minority of the laboring population, they were its fastest growing segment.

One aspect of Mexican American life directly affected by [45] the increased presence of women in the labor force was the family. In 1850, according to computer estimates, some 5.2 percent of Tejano households were at least partly supported by working women, and this percentage grew to 19.6 percent by 1900. The household status of working women changed. Between 1850 and 1900, the percentage of working women who were heads or children of households increased from 34.8 percent to 63.6 percent. At the same time, the number of working women who were spouses in the household declined from 52.2 percent to 11.9 percent.

Statistics such as these, of course, do not speak to attitudes and perceptions about women in the work place, or to subtle changes in family patterns centered around their involvement in work. Mario T. García, along with other historians, has held that Mexican women in their cultural upbringing were not encouraged to seek gainful employment.[10] Thus, it is certain that economic conditions leading to an escalation of female activity in wage labor markets pressed against the value orientations of the Tejano community and brought women to forsake their cultural beliefs in order to support the domestic budget. The fact that it was female household heads and children, rather than Mexican American spouses, who were drawn into the labor force most rapidly lends further credence to the thesis that it was impoverishment instead of preference that stimulated the change of work patterns.

Arnoldo de León and Kenneth L. Stewart, Tejanos and the Numbers Game: A Socio-Historical Interpretation from the Federal Censuses, 1850-1900 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989), 44-45.

  1. [10]Mario T. García, Desert Immigrants: The Mexicans of El Paso, 1880-1920 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981), p. 200.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *