Women in Industry Heading

 

   


Progressive Era (1880-1930)

Women factory inspectors, 1913 (Florence Kelley is third from left) 
Women factory inspectors, 1913
(Florence Kelley is third from left)

Middle and upper class women’s work in progressive organizations opened doors for them in the professional arena.  For example, Florence Kelley, the executive secretary of the National Consumer’s League, a worker’s advocacy group based in Chicago, lobbied for the establishment of an Illinois Labor Board.  When the state created the board, Kelley was the Chief Factory Inspector and hired five female deputies.  Many women also worked as social workers and visiting nurses in working class neighborhood, new professions that emerged for women during the Progressive era.  As their philanthropic work turned into paid employment, middle and upper class progressives created new professional opportunities for women. (53) At the turn of the century, many medical schools, law schools, and journalism schools began to accept women, and women entered these all-male professions for the first time.
Teaching and librarianship also remained popular professions for women. (54) The only profession in which women organized during the Progressive era was teaching.  Although they enjoyed professional status, teachers were very low-paid.  In the early 20th century, female teachers in Chicago organized a union, and their collective efforts for better wages were very successful.  Teachers, like the police force and the city government, were predominantly from Irish backgrounds.  With law enforcement and political leadership behind them, the Chicago Teacher’s Union had great clout within their profession. (55)
A teacher and her pupils in North Dakota, c. early 1900's
A teacher and her pupils in North Dakota, c. early 1900's
Telephone operators at the Roseburg Telephone and Telegraph Co. in Oregon, c. 1910
Telephone operators at the Roseburg Telephone
and Telegraph Co. in Oregon, c. 1910
Just as new professional opportunities emerged for women in the Progressive era, huge numbers of women began to find work in white collar jobs.  As industry grew and expanded, there was a high need for office and clerical workers. While men filled the more prestigious secretarial positions, almost all stenographers, typists, copyists, saleswomen, and telephone operators were young women. (56)  Clerical work was better paid than factory work, but it was just as strenuous; women clerks worked long hours, spent most of their time standing, and did not have any rest breaks.  In 1902, the WTUL helped telephone operators in Boston organize into a union.  They bargained successfully for better wages, vacation pay, and educational benefits—“bread and roses.”  They, like the teachers’ union in Chicago, achieved their goals in part because of their Irish backgrounds.
 

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Image 1 from the Library of Congress, Image 2 from the Library of Congress, Image 3 from Oregon's official Website

 

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