Peasant Maids, City Women
From the European Countryside to Urban America
Edited by Christiane Harzig
From the 1850s to the 1920s, women were 30 to 40 percent of all immigrants to the United States and their migration experiences were shaped by similar social, economic, demographic, and cultural forces. In Peasant Maids, City Women, a truly intercultural project, a team of historians follows several groups of women from rural Europe to the bustling streets of Chicago. Focusing on Germans, Irish, Swedes, and Poles—the four largest foreign-born ethnic groups in the city around 1900—the authors analyze the origins of the immigrants and chart how their lives changed, and explore how immigrant women shaped the urbanization process, creating vibrant public spheres for ethnic expression.
In concise social histories of four European rural cultures, the authors emphasize the crucial effects of gender. They explore the contrast between each regional culture of origin and the urban experience of ethnic communities in Chicago. The concept of assimilation, they suggest, involves two different dynamics. In the initial phase, adaptation, the new environment demands major changes of incoming immigrants to meet basic needs. The second dynamic, acculturation, involves changes for immigrants and also for the new culture with which they interact.