We are celebrating American Business Women’s Day! In the spirit of this holiday, we will be highlighting an item from the Labor History Collections’ exhibit, “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America.”
Starting in the 1930s and 1940s, women entered the workforce en masse due to war time economic demands. Once the war was over and the men returned home, many women wanted to stay in the workforce because it gave them a newfound independence. With more women working, the labor movement had to make sure that their rights as workers were protected, as well as the already established rights centered on male workers.
The photos above are examples of the various jobs that women were employed in during the time war efforts. Still Images, Photographic Prints.
This brochure was created in the 1930s by the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBCJA). It showcases several beliefs of the labor movement towards women during this time.
This brochure is part of the “Breaking the Gender Barrier: A Woman’s Place is in Her Union” display in our exhibit! Come check it out and learn about other women worker issues the labor movement has been a part of. United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Records.
The first section labelled “If You Are Going to Be Married”, states that even if a woman is planning on leaving the workforce once she is married, she should still join a union to have the benefits of an eight-hour day and better working conditions. It also mentions that:
“You will want your husband’s pay and position protected. It won’t be if he and other men have to compete with non-union, low-paid women workers.”
The labor movement was worried that a competition between genders would arise because companies would hire women over men since they were paid less and would save the company money. The accepted view was that women would leave their jobs once they got married. Therefore, while they are working they cannot be competition for working men because husbands would end up not being able to support their wives once they start a family.
After World War II, women were still employed in factories and other fields. Just like these women factory workers packing boxes of grapes in Sanger, California, 1965. Still Images, Photographic Prints.
The second section “If You Are Married”, shows that the labor movement was aware that there were married women working to support themselves and their families. They also recognize that women workers are treated unfairly due to their gender:
“Union women have a representative to defend them against a fore-woman’s unjust charges, and to negotiate terms and conditions for all in the shop.”
It is interesting to see how much you can learn about past ideals from one brochure and relate them to today’s standards. Do you think that these ideas of women in the workforce have changed? Is the labor movement’s fight for women workers’ rights driven by the same reasons or different?
RSVP by September 27th here to attend the grand opening of the exhibit on October 6th!
Erin Berry is a Graduate Assistant for the Labor History Collection at University of Maryland Special Collections and University Archives. She is pursuing a Masters of Library and Information Science with a concentration in Archives and Digital Curation.