Western History & Genealogy Blog

Wo/Men at Work: Exploring Hard Work's Reward

Women at Work. Salt Lake City: Red Butte Press, 2012. Cover
Women at Work. Salt Lake City: Red Butte Press, 2012. Cover
Blunt, Judy. "Cooking From Scratch." Women at Work. Salt Lake City: Red Butte Press, 2012. Cover
Powell, Ralph. "Everything's Dangerous." Women at Work. Salt Lake City: Red Butte Press, 2012. Cover

This artfully designed, hand-bound book tells two stories of work during an era when what a person did or made was still considered more important than what he or she bought. In the 1930’s, The Federal Writer’s Project conceived of Men at Work as an effort to shift the focus of the Depression’s art from caricature of the working class to “The act of work itself,” and to assert the value of work as something that could provide skill and integrity. With the onset of World War II, the book was never published. Now the Book Arts Program at the University of Utah has released Wo/Men at Work, with Ralph Powell’s story of a rodeo cowboy’s exciting but hard knock life, together with Judy Blunt’s story of her hard but fulfilling life growing up on a Montana ranch. Both stories illustrate skills, toughness, and stomach for physically demanding labor that are in shorter supply this day and age. At the same time, neither Powell nor Blunt romanticizes their work, with Blunt allowing that her daughters live very different lives than her. Today, men and women overlap in most fields of employment. But not too long ago in the West, men and women held very different jobs and responsibilities, with men performing most of the heavy and dangerous manual labor outside, and women the hard and necessary indoor task of feeding large families and ranch or farm hands, an all day task. Yet both Powell and Blunt take great pride in their work because they have jobs where they feel appreciated and needed. They are strong in themselves and their roles, despite the small amount of monetary reward. To see Wo/Men At Work or other book arts books from the Douglas Collection of Fine Printing, come into our department on the Fifth Floor of the Central Library.