The laws originally adopted by the American government before women pushed for the organization of the labor movement created harsh divides between the genders and what was expected of each. As men, you were to be involved in our democracy and decision making for the country and you were to be the breadwinner and/or sole provider for your family in whichever occupation you so chose. But as women, you were to keep the homestead running, bear and raise the babies, and if absolutely necessary you were to work pitiful jobs in which you were paid scraps, kept in poor conditions, and at the end of the day, had to forfeit all money made to your husband.
Looking deeper into these roles, women worked small, mindless, skill less jobs, such as sewing or clipping loose threads off of garments, and were paid bottom dollar for 10+ hours of work. As Pauline Newman communicated, “My pay was $1.50 a week no matter how many hours I worked,” (Newman 378). In addition to the embedded disrespect a working woman was faced with, they were also essentially kept imprisoned with locked fire escapes, banned singing and talking, a lack of safety regulations, etc., only adding insult to injury in the unfair treatment and pay of these working-class women.
While looking at working-class men, however, quite a different story can be told. Men in this time were very frequently educated and had the opportunity to choose from a plethora of high-paying, respectable jobs, where they would be treated like humans instead of robots. After all, this was their role, their “sphere” in society, to provide for their family and be involved in social decisions.
It was not until women began fighting for their rights, for higher pay, and for better working conditions, that men who also worked at lower-end jobs, such as garment production companies, saw improvements in their working conditions. Men who had been attempting to create unions within these types of jobs only found success after women, such as Clara Lemlich, began to organize them (Orleck 367). The alliances which were subsequently formed between working class women and men and women of working or middle class helped to propel the movement forward and achieve actual results in labor conditions and pay (Orleck 374).
Though the success garnered from the labor unions wasn’t comprehensive and did not eradicate all injustices in the working fields, it set the stage to improve upon gains already being made in regard to minimum wages, maximum hours, and safety regulations for all working-class people. These courageous, young women who fought for the rights of many like them, helped to establish a level playing field and set the precedent that working women were humans just like everyone else and had unalienable rights as citizens of the United States.
Newman, Pauline. “Documents.” Women’s America Refocusing the Past, edited by Linda K. Kerber, Jane Sherron De Hart, Cornelia Hughes Dayton, and Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, 8th Edition, Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 378.
Orleck, Annelise. “From the Russian Pale to Labor Organizing in New York City.” Women’s America Refocusing the Past, edited by Linda K. Kerber, Jane Sherron De Hart, Cornelia Hughes Dayton, and Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, 8th Edition, Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 367, 374.