Portraits of Working Women: Lola Ridge’s “The Ghetto” and the Visual Record
Frances Benjamin Johnston, ghetto, John Sloan, Lewis Hine, Lola Ridge, social documentary photography, women’s labor movement
This essay focuses on Lola Ridge’s long poem “The Ghetto” in relation to the gendered imagery and visual construction of the modern laborer emerging across early twentieth-century print media. Perpetuating gendered notions of the modern worker as predominately masculine, late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century visual representations of the laborer typically feature manly, virile figures, often in resistance to capitalism and inevitably eliding the industrial woman laborer. Ridge’s “The Ghetto” alternatively locates modern labor in the female industrial worker. The essay considers the poem’s splicing of collective and individual portraits of immigrant working women, developing a visual rhetoric that asserts women’s agency amidst modernity’s changing forms of work, insisting upon their visibility as workers, activists, and feminists. Consideration of several visual print genres includes women’s labor publications; social and industrial documentary photography; and periodical illustrations from The Masses. In visually representing women workers, these sources of visual media contextualize Ridge’s approach in “The Ghetto” and social attitudes toward gender and labor persisting in the century’s early years.
Kinnahan, L. (2022). Portraits of Working Women: Lola Ridge’s “The Ghetto” and the Visual Record. Humanities (Switzerland), 11 (5). https://doi.org/10.3390/h11050117