One of the major economic trends of the past 125 years is the increasing participation of women in the workforce. This is true in California as well as the rest of the industrialized world. Not surprisingly, then, many novels and short stories focus on the efforts of women to earn a living outside the home. Even California’s Famous Fifty, despite its tilt toward male characters involved in crime and agriculture, contains an example. That’s Mildred Pierce, checking in at No. 49. But there are also less famous books on the subject. Taken together, they present a broader picture of women’s experiences in the workforce. Here are five books (I’ve excluded Hollywood stories from the list) well worth reading:
1. A Yellow Journalist by Miriam Michelson. Amusing episodes in the career of a San Francisco reporter determined to do almost anything to get her story.
2. Diverging Roads by Rose Wilder Lane. A straightforward feminist coming-of-age story in which the protagonist learns she can succeed without a man.
3. The Devil’s Hand by Edith Summers Kelley. A none too cheerful tale of two women’s struggle to run an alfalfa ranch near El Centro.
4. Cannery Anne by Morris Hull. A vivid but non-ideological look at a young woman’s experiences in a fruit cannery.
5. No Vacancy by Mary Jane Rolfs. An account of a no-nonsense motel owner, forty and divorced, and the multivarious problems that she faces.
All the books are available through interlibrary loan. The first two, like many books published before 1923, can be printed on demand. Internet booksellers have many inexpensive copies of The Devil’s Hand, but the last two books on the list are so scarce that they are barely for sale at all.