Page images

Public interest in women's work.Before the armistice was signed, the service planned an educational campaign, chiefly through a traveling exhibit and lantern slides, which had the twofold purpose of recruiting the women needed to release men for military service, and at the same time showing the standards of employment necessary to make their work effective. It was hoped in this way to draw together various agencies, including women's clubs and other organizations which had planned recruiting campaigns. The signing of the armistice changed the immediate purpose of the exhibit, and it was finally developed with a change in emphasis to meet the altered conditions of the postwar period.

Lack of statistics concerning women in the war industries. So many questions have been addressed to the Woman in Industry Service regarding the numbers of women in the war industries and the detailed statistics concerning them that it becomes necessary to point out that the appropriation of $40,000 granted to the service would not have sufficed for so large a statistical inquiry. The service was not intended to be a statistical agency. Its activities in this matter were necessarily limited to making recommendations to the Bureau of Labor Statistics as to the type of information which seemed important to have collected at regular intervals. Through the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the War Industries Board a schedule of facts about labor conditions, including the employment of women, was prepared for use by the community labor boards organized by the United States Employment Service. Like so many other plans, the signing of the armistice found it uncompleted, and as a result we are without any comprehensive statistics of the part taken by women in industry during the war.


After the armistice the Woman in Industry Service submitted a memorandum dealing with problems likely to arise for women in industry during the period of readjustment. Obviously the immediate task was the same on behalf of either men or women workers to accomplish the change from war to peace with the least possible unemployment and with the reinstatement of the largest possible number in occupations for which they were best adapted. The memorandum assumed that the fundamental aspects of the program as affecting both men and women were being worked out by the Department, especially a policy with reference to cancellation of contracts and demobilization of the Army which would take into consideration the effect on labor conditions. For women, however, this was not the whole problem, for the armistice marked a decided change in public opinion. The withdrawal of women from their work was advocated as a means of providing employment for returning soldiers. However, women, like men, were working to earn a living and their continued employment was vital for them and for those dependent

upon them.

The Woman in Industry Service urged that the permanent status of working women be recognized; that the Federal Government recommend definite standards for their employment in private industry, and that these standards be adopted in Government-owned plants; that a program of public education be pushed forward to secure the adoption of these standards as designed to promote the welfare of wage-earning women; and that as the power of the Federal Government to control working conditions through provisions in contracts would now be lessened with the curtailment of contracts, the Federal agencies should endeavor to stimulate those instrumentalities through which conditions would be determined, namely, State labor legislation, voluntary action of employers, action by working women themselves, and the continuing influence of public opinion.

Labor legislation. For active cooperation between State and Federal departments of labor, the experience during the war afforded a precedent, and the Woman in Industry Service welcomed every opportunity to work with State departments or to assist local groups in their efforts to strengthen the labor laws in their State. In Indiana a survey was made at the request of the governor and the industrial board, the results of which were published in January. This was followed by a State-wide campaign organized by local committees, in which members of the staff of the service assisted. In connection with this campaign a conference of neighboring States was held which brought together in Indianapolis representatives of interested groups in Ohio, Kentucky, and Illinois.

Assistance was also given by the service in efforts to strengthen labor laws in Minnesota, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island, and Kansas, and the service was represented at the convention of the Association of Governmental Labor Officials in Madison, Wis., where the representative of the service presided at the session on women in industry.

Wages after the war. It was the prevailing opinion that wages during the war had been so high that all workers were receiving enough to support themselves. This impression was based on statements of high wages paid in the munitions plants. It seemed important to verify this impression, and for this reason the Department responded to the request of private organizations in Philadelphia to investigate the wages paid to women in the candy trade there. Investigations before the war had indicated that a large number of the workers in the candy trade were receiving less than a living wage.

The investigation covered factories employing two-thirds of the workers in the candy industry in Philadelphia. It was found that wage rates had increased considerably since before the war, but the rapid increase in cost of living had resulted in largely nullifying the effect of these increased rates, so that a considerable proportion of the workers were receiving less than the amount considered necessary to meet the cost of living. A significant fact brought out in the investigation was that continuity of employment is even more important than a fair rate of wages. Frequent loss of time, whether due to lack of work or to personal causes, decreases production and curtails earning power.

The service cooperated with the Minimum Wage Commission of the District of Columbia, especially in its work of determining minimum rates for employees in mercantile establishments in the District, and in connection with Government-owned plants considerable attention was given to the subject of wages. The staff of the service was not sufficient to permit more extensive statistical studies along this line.

The Federal Government as an employer of women.-Although as has been pointed out, the power of the Federal Government to control conditions through its contracts decreased rapidly when war production no longer was necessary, it remained true that in its own plants, and through its departments employing women, the Government could set standards which would have an important influence on private industry.

At the request of the Secretary of the Navy, the Woman in Industry Service undertook to serve as an adviser to the Navy Department in matters affecting women employed in navy yards. Inspections were made and reports and recommendations submitted covering such subjects as readjustment of wage rates, better working conditions, organization of lunch rooms, and improved methods of employment management. Because the curtailment of work in the navy yards necessitated laying off numbers of workers, special attention was given to recommendations designed to prevent hardship by giving due notice before dismissal.

The service was also asked to cooperate with the Ordnance Department in matters relating to the employment of women in Government arsenals, and inspections similar to those made in the navy yards were in progress at the close of the period covered by this report.

The service also gave attention to questions affecting Government employees in Washington, especially in cooperation asked for by the Commission on Reclassification.

Negro women in industry.-By November the service found it opportune to consider the economic problems of Negro women. Accordingly an industrial agent was appointed and was sent out to survey several centers where typical conditions were known to prevail.

Within several months, the agent has investigated conditions among more than 16,000 Negro women employed in 156 plants located in the Middle West and in border-line States of the South in highly diversified industries. These industries may be grouped under five broad headings, viz, factory, hotel, department store, stockyard, and Government work. General standards for this class of workers were found to be somewhat lower than the average, and their industrial opportunities were found to be decidedly more restricted than those of other women. Remedial suggestions have been formulated and submitted to several agencies interested in the improvement of existing conditions—progressive employers, cooperating welfare organizations, and Government investigators.

Largely because of the abnormal situation obtaining under the war emergency, both conclusions and recommendations are necessarily tentative; but a survey involving reconstruction conditions is in progress.

Displacement of women workers.-A change in public opinion following the signing of the armistice has been indicated. A most significant illustration of difficulties faced by women workers was the situation in connection with the employment of women as conductors on the Cleveland street cars. The men objected to the employment of women and after the signing of the armistice asked for their dismissal. It is unnecessary to review the details of the involved case, which came before the War Labor Board. Although the board finally recommended that the women be retained, they were not reemployed.

The Woman in Industry Service had no official relation to this case, but because of its significance the director and assistant director, as individuals, filed a statement with the War Labor Board pointing out the desirability of freedom of choice of occupation for women in industry. In a somewhat similar case on the street railways of Detroit facts showing the home responsibilities of women workers were compiled by the service and filed by the attorney for the women at the hearing before the War Labor Board.

The dismissal of women from the street railways in Brooklyn was assumed to be due to the enactment of a law by the New York State Legislature prohibiting night work. The Woman in Industry Service offered its assistance to the Industrial Commission of New York State, and while the commission through its bureau of women in industry was making an investiganion of the facts in Brooklyn, the service sent representatives to Chicago, Kansas City, Detroit, Boston, and Baltimore to get the facts about hours and working conditions for women employed on the street railways in those cities.

Allied to the whole subject of curtailment of opportunities for women workers was a brief survey of the status of women in the metal trades in Michigan. This inquiry showed that considerable numbers of women had been laid off from Michigan plants, and that in some instances opportunities gained during the war were not likely to be permanent.

Home work in Bridgeport.-At the request of local groups an investigation of home work in the corset trade in Bridgeport was undertaken. It was found that a considerable amount of work was given out in the manufacture of garters, which is an industry allied to that of corset making, and that the work was carried on often in crowded, insanitary surroundings, and sometimes during the illness of members of the family suffering from infectious or contagious diseases; that a lower wage rate apparently was given than would be paid for similar work in a factory; that because of the absence of supervision production was likely to be unsatisfactory and earnings very low; and that child labor was utilized to the detriment of the welfare of children. Recommendations were made to the employers that the practice of giving out home work should be discontinued as soon asossible, and that in order to make this change with the least possible hardship for the workers, detailed plans be worked out at a conference representing employers, workers, and social organizations in the community.

Public interest.–Early in November the Department invited employers to submit photographs illustrating working conditions for women, and as a result of their generous response a collection of several hundred photographs are on file. These photographs and other material have been made the basis of a series of panels illustrating the standards recommended for the employment of women. Stereopticon slides have also been prepared. The material has been widely circulated among Statė departments, schools, colleges, labor organizations, and other groups interested in improving conditions.

The results of investigations made by the service have been printed in pamphlet form and, in addition, representatives of the service have taken part in conferences and assisted local groups in arousing public interest in the conditions of women's employment.

Permanent status for Women's Bureau.—Women in industry in 1910 constituted more than 21 per cent of the total number of persons gainfully employed in the United States. It is not only their importance in numbers but the special problems of their employment affecting industry on the one hand and family life and child welfare on the other which necessitates special provision by the Federal Government for a clearing house of policies and facts relating to their position in industry. The wisdom of Congress in designing such an agency as primarily policy making rather than itself executive seems to have been demonstrated in the actual experience of the Woman in Industry Service in securing cooperation and stimulating the activities of other agencies.

« PreviousContinue »