Women in Industry Heading



The Depression and World War II (1930-1945)

FDR working on the New Deal
FDR working on the New Deal

The New Deal programs that President Roosevelt initiated when he took office in 1933 greatly changed women’s experience in the work force and in labor unions. The major elements of the New Deal were the National Recovery Administration (NRA) with its industrial codes, the Wagner Act, which placed the federal government behind labor unions and collective bargaining, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which created government jobs for unemployed men and women, and the Social Security Program, which initiated retirement pensions, disability insurance, and payments for single mothers with dependent children.(67)  Also, the Fair Labor Standards Act set minimum wage and maximum hours standards for industrial workers.

In many ways, the New Deal greatly aided women workers during the Depression.  The NRA codes caused women’s wages to increase above pre-Depression levels.  By the mid-1930s, they were, on average, equal to 63% of men’s average wages—at least 3% higher than ever before.(68)  Also through the NRA codes, some women achieved a 40-hour week.  Some unemployed women found work through the WPA, sewing or doing office work.(69)  Widows, women with disabled husbands, and single mothers began to receive monthly Social Security payments.  Also, like in the Progressive Era, many professional opportunities for women arose because of the New Deal.  Two prominent progressives, Molly Dewson and Ellen Sullivan Woodward, were members of the Social Security Board and helped develop programs for the WPA.  Frances Perkins, the first female Secretary of Labor, was crucial to the development of New Deal Programs.  Mary McLeod Bethune, who had been a leader in the African American women’s progressive movement, was the highest-ranking black person in the Roosevelt administration, serving as director of Negro Affairs in the National Youth Administration.(70)

Social Security Poster for Children Social Security Poster for Widow
National Recovery Administration sign in Restaurant Window 1934

Ellen S. Woodward
Ellen S. Woodward

Mary Dewson
Molly Dewson

New Mexico Women weaving carpets for the WPA 1939
New Mexico women weaving carpets for the WPA, 1939
Frances Perkins
Frances Perkins
Mary Mcleod Bethune
Mary McLeod Bethune

Page 15

Image 1 from MSN Encarta, Images 2 & 3 from FDR Presidential Library & Museum , Image 4 from the National Parks Service , Image 5 from the Social Security Online, Image 6 from Social Security Online, Image 7 from Washington state's Government homepage, Image 8 from the Library of Congress , Image 9 from the Library of Congress


(c) Copyright National Women's History Museum 2007