“Getting Work: Philadelphia, 1840-1950”


Walter Licht
336 pages, $19.95 paper

Walter Licht’s pioneering study of how people found jobs in the past has just been issued in paperback.
Licht, professor of history and associate dean for graduate studies in the School of Arts and Sciences, grounds his book on primary-source research of documents spanning a period of more than 100 years, including historical surveys of thousands of Philadelphia-area workers conducted in the decades from the 1920s to the 1950s, to find out just how people looked for jobs in the past and how the process changed over time for various groups.

Licht also explores whether employment outcomes were influenced by general economic circumstances, by discriminatory practices in the labor market, or by personal initiative and competence. He looks at when and how workers secured their first jobs, schools and work, apprenticeship programs, unions, the role of firms in structuring work opportunities, the state as employer and as shaper of employment conditions, and the problem of losing work.

Licht also reveals the disparate labor market experiences of men and women and the effects of race, ethnicity, age and social standing on employment.

Licht’s book was called “exemplary” and “a major contribution” in a Journal of American History review. The Journal of Economic History concurred, writing, “This is the way labor history should be practiced: not a fable about good and evil, but an engagingly written, thorough examination of the mundane, yet important, day-to-day working of the labor market.”

Licht is also the author of “Working for the Railroad: The Organization of Work in the Nineteenth Century” (recipient of the Philip Taft Labor History Prize), “Industrializing America: The Nineteenth Century,” and coauthor of “Work Sights: Industrial Philadelphia, 1890-1950.”

— University of Pennsylvania Press

Originally published on February 17, 2000