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Women's Bureau, Police Dept., ca1920.

She Works Hard for the Money

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just the worlds WOMEN WORKING
Women’s Graphics Collective, copyright claimant; Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, sponsor/advertiser

The Women’s Bureau was organized in 1920 as an agency within the Department of Labor to represent the needs of working women.  As part of its mission, it published many books and pamphlets about women’s issues and the working conditions of women.  Since March is Women’s History Month, I thought this would be a good opportunity to share a really interesting publication from the Women’s Bureau called the Bulletin.

Generally speaking, the topics covered in the Bulletin were about occupations and wages for women in the workforce.  For example, in 1922 there were articles about women workers in particular states like Rhode Island and Georgia, while bulletin number 20 analyzed African American women workers.  Bulletin number 27, “The Occupational Progress of Women,”  looked at the years 1910 and 1920 and focused on women working in the manufacturing/mechanical industries, transportation, public service, trade, and professional service.

Bulletin number 23, “The Family Status of Breadwinning Women,” used 1920 Census data to show there were over 8 million women (for their purposes women were10 years of age and older) who were breadwinners. [1]  While much of the writing is a bit dry and generalized, they took the time to focus on one particular place – Passaic, New Jersey.

General ledgers machine, Passaic National Bank, Passaic, New Jersey. Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., photographer, 1941.

According to the 1920 Census, Passaic had a 41% foreign born population, 60% of which were breadwinning women. [2] Of the total breadwinning women:

  • Half of the breadwinning women were single.
  • 71% of the single working women were under the age of 25. [3]
  • Almost two thirds of the single breadwinning women were living at home with one or both parents. [4]
  • 56% of married women worked outside of the home. [5]
  • Half of the women working in manufacturing (most often mills) worked in the “producing departments” while others worked in office and clerical departments.

One attribute that shows up in many of the charts is inclusion of details about the most common nationalities beyond the native born Americans, black or white.  Seeing the numbers broken down among Austrian, Czechoslovakian, Dutch, German, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Russian, etc., reinforces the idea of America being the destination for many people from around the world.  Finally, there is a discussion that would seem familiar to modern audiences about the “responsibilities of breadwinning mothers.”

[1]  U.S. Bureau of Labor, “Women’s Bureau. The Family Status of Breadwinning Women”.  Bulletin 23 (Washington: GPO, 1922), p. 1.
[2] p. 10
[3] p. 13-14
[4] p. 16
[5] p. 27

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