Frontier Domesticity and the Municipal Separation of Spheres
An instrument of wealth accumulation and racial exclusion in housing markets, the intersections between land-use zoning and labor dynamics are often overlooked. This paper recovers the frontier origins of American land-use zoning to examine its relation to labor market transformation, empire, and gender ideology. Through licensing, commodity regulations, and land-use, cities played a central role in the 19th-century “separation of spheres,” delineating between domains for domestic versus market life. This separation instituted gendered and racialized distinctions between market/non-market, formal/informal, licit/illicit economic activity. Employing historical methods, this paper explains the puzzling first case of citywide land-use zoning in the United States in Los Angeles. Drawing white settlers as a haven for health and economic independence, Los Angeles settlers articulated a frontier domesticity that conditioned reactions against perceived industrial, labor, and racial threats, spurring municipal regulatory experimentation ahead of eastern industrial centers. Examining the institutional separation of spheres allows us to appreciate the contemporary blurring of home and market, as cities consider mixed-use zoning, cottage food laws, and independent contracting rules.
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