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Race on the Line: Gender, Labor, and Technology in the Bell System, 1880-1980


Race on the Line: Gender, Labor, and Technology in the Bell System, 1880-1980 Cover


Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Race on the Line is the first book to address the convergence of race, gender, and technology in the telephone industry. Venus Greenandmdash;a former Bell System employee and current labor historianandmdash;presents a hundred year history of telephone operators and their work processes, from the invention of the telephone in 1876 to the period immediately before the break-up of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company in 1984. Green shows how, as technology changed from a manual process to a computerized one, sexual and racial stereotypes enabled management to manipulate both the workers and the workplace.

More than a simple story of the impact of technology, Race on the Line combines oral history, personal experience, and archival research to weave a complicated history of how skill is constructed and how its meanings change within a rapidly expanding industry. Green discusses how women faced an environment where male union leaders displayed economic as well as gender biases and where racism served as a persistent system of division. Separated into chronological sections, the study moves from the early years when the Bell company gave both male and female workers opportunities to advance; to the era of the andldquo;white ladyandrdquo; image of the company, when African American women were excluded from the industry and feminist working-class consciousness among white women was consequently inhibited; to the computer era, a time when black women had waged a successful struggle to integrate the telephone operating system but faced technological displacement and unrewarding work.

An important study of working-class American women during the twentieth century, this book will appeal to a wide audience, particularly students and scholars with interest in womenandrsquo;s history, labor history, African American history, the history of technology, and business history.


A labor history of women workers in the early years of the telephone industry.

About the Author

Race on the Line is an extraordinary achievement. It sets a new standard for understandingf the impact of race, gender, and technological change on the labor process in American society.”—Joe W. Trotter, author of The African American Experience
“A compelling, well-argued, and richly-documented study of the interplay between technology and the racial and sexual division of labor in one of the most important industries in the global economy. Green provides a powerful commentary as well on the contemporary uses of racism and affirmative action as vehicles for minimizing resistance to job displacements created by automation and computerization. A superb book!”—Nancy Hewitt, Rutgers University
“Green has produced a study that enables us to understand concretely what differences race, class, and gender make in people’s work lives. Her special understanding of the technology and of the constraints and possibilities of work at the telephone company gives her arguments extra force. Finally, she does a magnificent job of showing the complexity of the considerations that motivates all parties involved, giving full attention to both multiple and shifting motivations.”—Susan Porter Benson, University of Connecticut

Product Details

Green, Venus
Duke University Press
Durham N.C.
Women & Business
Labor & Industrial Relations
Social aspects
Corporate History
Telephone operators.
African-American women
Corporate & Business History
Corporate & Business History - General
Labor & Industrial Relations - General
African American women - Employment - History
AT & T - Employees - History
General Business & Economics
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
37 bandw photographs
9 x 6 in

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Related Subjects

Business » Human Resource Management
Business » Management
History and Social Science » Sociology » General

Race on the Line: Gender, Labor, and Technology in the Bell System, 1880-1980 New Trade Paper
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Product details 392 pages Duke University Press - English 9780822325734 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by ,
A labor history of women workers in the early years of the telephone industry.
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