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

Hardback
Race on the Line is the first book to address the convergence of race, gender, and technology in the telephone industry. Venus Green-a former Bell System employee and current labor historian-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 white lady 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 women's history, labor history, African American history, the history of technology, and business history.