HistoryWired About the Program Help Comments Smithsonian Institution
Sewing and Education in Puerto Rico

In most parts of the United States in the 1920s, sewing was part of the education of all young girls, whether in classes at school or at home. Needlework of all kinds--knitting, crocheting, and embroidery--and the use of sewing machines were seen as a material way for a young girl to help support her family. Many working women found jobs in textile mills and garment factories to support themselves and add to their family incomes, both on the island and in "the States." Poorer women took in piecework at home, and were often involved in the labor-intensive production of handmade garments that only the wealthy could afford.

Needlework was not only a utilitarian pursuit. Sewing allowed young girls to express themselves artistically, and to learn concentration, attention to detail, and discipline. These qualities had many applications in life beyond the specifics of a damask tablecloth or a well-made dress.


Women in Puerto Rico (1880-1930)

Women and men were traditionally believed to occupy "separate spheres." Women ran the "private worlds" of family life, personal morality, and religious observation. Traditional household roles for women included wife, mother, and teacher of the young, nurse and healer, cook, and custodian of family propriety. Men ran the "public worlds" of government, banking, war, and politics.

From 1880 to 1930, the lives of Puerto Rican women of all classes changed as their roles and opportunities expanded at a quicker pace. Virtually all women expected to become wives and mothers. Upper-class women also became managers of household economies, were the mainstay of voluntary church organizations, and were ornaments to their husbands' wealth and careers. Professional women with little money became teachers, milliners, dressmakers, and nurses. Working-class women with relatively "good jobs" worked as housekeepers, bookkeepers, nursemaids, and cooks. In cities, there were only a few factories in which poorer women worked. In the tobacco industry, women were employed as rollers of handmade cigars. In rural areas, poorer women worked the fields of cash crops such as coffee and sugarcane. During this period, greater opportunities for education emerged.



Start HistoryWired | About the Program | Help | Comments

Smithsonian Institution | Terms of Use | Privacy