Women in the Workplace & on Farms

Girls of the paper mills, Appleton, Wis

Many single women held jobs.

Down on the Farm

Women had to work on their own farms both in the house and outside.

Her First Lesson in Embroidery

Married women earned wages doing day work, which would consist of "piece wages" among other labors, such as laundry. 

A Happy Family

Black families in the United States had to work twice as hard for anything they earned. Women spent more time with the famly because of the lack of resources available to her.

The Gilded Age was a new time for women who chose to work. From 1890 to 1900 75% of white females in the workforce were single and less than 10% were married. Once it was about 1920 over 25% of the white female labor force were married. The single woman would dominate the United States labor force in the Gilded Age in manufacturing places of work but would soon give way to married women taking over in clerical work.[1] The pay women received for these jobs only averaged about two-thirds of what men received for doing the same work.[2] The most educated teachers in the West were paid $307 annually, but the male janitors were paid $390.25.[3] This was so that men would not have to worry about their own economic position as the breadwinner of their own family.[4] Let’s look at women of three different lifestyles within this time period, the single woman, the family woman, and both farm and minority women. 

The single woman had their choice of two different kinds of positions, manual factory work and service jobs. The unique things about these jobs is the fact that they were not meant to be long-term and were not teaching her skills that she would use after she was to be married. This is based solely on the fact that women of this period were not supposed to continue their employment after finding a suitor and getting married. A large portion of young women neither worked or attended school while unmarried, 35% lived in their parents’ home and helped to take care of the home. However, another large chunk of these women, 38%, did not live with their parents, rather in the homes of their employer or in the home of someone else.[5] Earnings for women did in fact rise the more experience they had, and women in store work could see a higher wage if they had a greater education.[6] The women working in the paper mills had to sort through clean pieces and dirty rags from the streets which would lead to many dying of tuberculosis and respiratory problems.

Women in small farming communities also saw a change societally as the Gilded Age rolled in. Women on farms, especially those out west disregarded traditional gender roles. These women were typically seen as equals by their spouses because they did just as much work to maintain their farms as their male counterparts. These women worked domestically in their own homes, but also helped by working on the farms and doing manual labor.[7] However, these women did maintain separate spheres with their husbands. One example of this is with gardens, which were typically seen as a woman’s work and sphere while the fields were meant to be the men’s job.[8] The Grange movement grew from farmers alliances all over the country. The unique facet of the Grange was that they allowed women to join in their ranks with equal voting rights. This led women in the Grange to support woman’s suffrage and allowed them to become very involved in the movement by writing for papers, lobbying, and speaking.[9]

The married women in urban cities are a unique group in that many had to work to survive. Urban families felt the effects of alcoholism, unemployment, health issues, and restricted access to contraception more than other families of the time period.[10] Many of these married women earned money doing day work.[11] In Detroit, the working class families lived in close distance to owners of small businesses which made it easier for day workers to gain clients for their services.[12] 25% of women sixteen and up worked in gainful occupations, however these statistics are most likely incorrect because many did not count women in day work, like laundresses.[13] In Detroit, many immigrants flocked to the city for the promise of a decent wage, when this went awry it was the women who had to step up and take care of the family through their day work. By 1880 46.6% of women who earned wages were servants and laundresses.[14] Domestic workers were paid least of all, women in the factories were paid nearly $2.00 more a week than domestic workers.[15]

Women started coming out of the homes to work as teachers, nurses, store clerks, waitresses, and even in offices. This was not without certain conditions, for example nurses were made to stand whenever a male physician entered a room. Early censuses of this time period even labelled teachers and nurses as domestic workers.[16] This time period was worse for African American women especially. Some of the first workers to enter the city of Detroit in this period were young, single black women. By 1880 there were 123 black women servants in white homes in the city.[17] Black mothers went into day work in order to spend more time in the home with the family since they were not given the same resources that white mothers were. This is also true because living in white homes as servants reminded many of the former slave women of the horrors that they escaped from in the south.[18] Industrial jobs for women were typically given to single, white women under the age of 25.[19] Black women have always had to find ways to swim against the tide that is trying to push them under, and the Gilded Age was no different. 

 


[1] Goldin, Claudia. “The Work and Wages of Single Women, 1870-1920.” The Journal of Economic History 40, no. 1 (1980), 81. https://www-jstor-org.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/stable/2120426?pq-origsite=summon&seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents.

[2] Kenny, Donna S. “Women at Work: Views and Visions from the Pioneer Valley, 1870-1945.” Historical Journal of Massachusetts 13, No. 1 (1985), 30. https://search-proquest-com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/docview/1306194952?pq-origsite=summon.

[3] Kenny, Donna S. “Women at Work: Views and Visions from the Pioneer Valley, 1870-1945.” Historical Journal of Massachusetts 13, No. 1 (1985), 32. https://search-proquest-com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/docview/1306194952?pq-origsite=summon.

[4] Goldin, Claudia. “The Work and Wages of Single Women, 1870-1920.” The Journal of Economic History 40, no. 1 (1980), 82. https://www-jstor-org.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/stable/2120426?pq-origsite=summon&seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents.

[5] Goldin, Claudia. “The Work and Wages of Single Women, 1870-1920.” The Journal of Economic History 40, no. 1 (1980), 83. https://www-jstor-org.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/stable/2120426?pq-origsite=summon&seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents.

[6] Goldin, Claudia. “The Work and Wages of Single Women, 1870-1920.” The Journal of Economic History 40, no. 1 (1980), 87. https://www-jstor-org.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/stable/2120426?pq-origsite=summon&seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents.

[7] Montrie, Chad. “’Men Alone Cannot Settle a Country’: Domesticating Nature in the Kansas-Nebraska Grasslands.” Great Plains Quarterly 25, no. 4 (2005), 50. www.jstor.org/stable/23533680.

[8] Montrie, Chad. “’Men Alone Cannot Settle a Country’: Domesticating Nature in the Kansas-Nebraska Grasslands.” Great Plains Quarterly 25, no. 4 (2005), 51. www.jstor.org/stable/23533680.

[9] Hartman, Dorothy W. “Lives of Women.” Conner Prairie. www.connerprarie.org/educate/indiana-history/lives-of-women/

[10] Ciani, Kyle E. “Hidden Laborers: Female Day Workers in Detroit, 1870-1920.” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 4, no. 1 (2005), 24. www.jstor.org/stable/25144383.

[11] Ciani, Kyle E. “Hidden Laborers: Female Day Workers in Detroit, 1870-1920.” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 4, no. 1 (2005), 26. www.jstor.org/stable/25144383.

[12] Ciani, Kyle E. “Hidden Laborers: Female Day Workers in Detroit, 1870-1920.” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 4, no. 1 (2005), 32. www.jstor.org/stable/25144383.

[13] Ciani, Kyle E. “Hidden Laborers: Female Day Workers in Detroit, 1870-1920.” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 4, no. 1 (2005), 28. www.jstor.org/stable/25144383.

[14] Ciani, Kyle E. “Hidden Laborers: Female Day Workers in Detroit, 1870-1920.” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 4, no. 1 (2005), 30. www.jstor.org/stable/25144383.

[15] Ciani, Kyle E. “Hidden Laborers: Female Day Workers in Detroit, 1870-1920.” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 4, no. 1 (2005), 33. www.jstor.org/stable/25144383.

[16] Kenny, Donna S. “Women at Work: Views and Visions from the Pioneer Valley, 1870-1945.” Historical Journal of Massachusetts 13, No. 1 (1985), 33. https://search-proquest-com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/docview/1306194952?pq-origsite=summon.

[17] Ciani, Kyle E. “Hidden Laborers: Female Day Workers in Detroit, 1870-1920.” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 4, no. 1 (2005), 31. www.jstor.org/stable/25144383.

[18] Ciani, Kyle E. “Hidden Laborers: Female Day Workers in Detroit, 1870-1920.” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 4, no. 1 (2005), 32. www.jstor.org/stable/25144383.

[19] Ciani, Kyle E. “Hidden Laborers: Female Day Workers in Detroit, 1870-1920.” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 4, no. 1 (2005), 33. www.jstor.org/stable/25144383.

 

 

Women in the Workplace & on Farms