Women Paving the Way

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.


22 thoughts on “Women Paving the Way

  1. Great blog post really enjoyed reading it. When you say that women after working so hard in those conditions have to forfeit all there money to there husband makes me cringe. That is not right at all i know that society back then that’s what you did every wife but thank god for labor unions and women pushing for those rights that they have now. I believe that everyone should be treated equal and have the opportunity to create there own destiny and back then women couldn’t and now they can and a big thanks go to the labor unions for that. Did a Great Job.

    1. I also think that it is terrible that women had to forfeit all their wages they worked so hard for. It is something that seems so cruel. With the fight of many individuals, women have worked their way to equal opportunity in society and it is truly a wonderful thing to see.

    2. It is just really troubling to remember that even if women were put in the position where they needed to be employed, they still didn’t necessarily have control over the money they earned unless they were single women not living with their parents. Having to work that hard and put in that much effort for no benefit to yourself would really bother me.

      1. I absolutely agree, having to forfeit your independence would bother me as well. I feel so sorry for the women who were in those positions but also so grateful for those who dedicated their lives to ensuring better conditions and opportunities for future generations. Regaining control seems to be a major part of feminism that still exists, especially in terms of a woman’s right to her body.

      2. It seems like their goal was to make it impossible for women to live on their own without a husband or male relative. These woman were paid the same amount for a week of work that many men made in a day! There is almost no possible way they could have supported themselves on their own. This is exactly what the men of this time wanted though, was for women to be dependent on them.

    3. I agree with you, it’s so to imagine a life like women before us had. I couldn’t imagine working hard and making my own money just to have to hand it over to my husband. I feel that women are and have been evolving. Some women are the breadwinners in their household which is great.

  2. I like how you have really pointed out many things wrong within the women work force back then. It is sickening the types of holds that were put on women to prevent them from playing on a level field. The treatments they received in the work place were very inhumane and disgusting.

    1. It’s really perplexing to me as to how these types of opinions of women as inferior or helpless that got implemented into law in a lot of countries even came about. I know it probably stems back to religious works, it still confuses me as to how half the population of the world let it happen because it is so much harder to destroy these sexist opinions now that they’ve been alive for centuries. But it is more comforting I guess to be able to compare how women are treated now, at least in America, to how they were treated, say, half a century ago and the progress that has been made towards equality.

    2. Very true! And it’s sad to think that, even within these movements for equality within employment and labor laws for women, not all were necessarily included. The NCL, for example, did not have any black members, what with it focusing on problems in northern manufacturing jobs (not southern agricultural jobs). It’s great to see women uniting in the pursuit of positive change, but it’s mind boggling how long and how many baby steps that journey can take.

  3. Very good read! I think it’s so easy to forget how far we have come as women. I couldn’t imagine going through the things that these went through, working day in and day out for very little money and absolutely no respect. I think that even today in some professions women still get looked down on by men as them being superior. But the level of achievement that some women have accomplished thus far is nothing short of amazing.

    1. I also thought that women went through a lot and for them going through all these struggles and without those triumphs we wouldn’t be where we are today. I barely think we get paid enough in today’s time for less than half of the work these women did.

    2. I agree with the aspect in women still being looked down upon by men in certain professions. I personally have worked in construction for a short amount of time, but within that time, I still got weird looks from men. But I agree that we have come a long way and have accomplished a lot within women’s rights and opportunities.

  4. I really enjoyed this post, I am glad that you included the fact that women had to forfeit their earnings to their husbands and that they would get paid next to nothing no matter how many hours they worked in a week. I also liked that you included the extremely poor safety regulations, like locking the fire escapes, I believe this was done to make sure that no one snuck out and took a break throughout the day. This was poor thinking and fatal on several occasions, one example is the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, it had such a high death toll because the fire exits were locked by their employers and many women were trapped.

  5. I found it interesting when you stated in your blog that 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. The fact that the jobs were labeled as “mindless” is quite the insult to women. I bet that if men were put in that position to sew clothing they would not have a clue what they were doing, and would need women to do that job for them. To think of how unfairly women were treated for their work is just sad, and I bet they never got thanked for it.

    1. I can’t believe how little these poor women were paid. Just because they were “uneducated” does not make the work any less important. I am sure you are correct that most men of this time would not have been able to complete many of these jobs. My own husband barely knows how to sew on a shirt button and he lived on his own for years before we were married. It is simply not his skill set. The conditions women were made to work in, and for such little pay and zero benefit is sickening.

  6. The part in your blog where you highlighted on how woman worked ten plus hours but only got $1.50 in pay really blew my mind. Especially since these were jobs that needed to be done and they were getting paid way less than anyone else. I am sure in this time period $1.50 was a lot of money but, I wonder if since they got used to not being properly paid they thought this was okay? Great insights!

  7. This was so hard to read because of what women had to go through. I left my job because I didn’t like the pay, but now I realize that I had it so easy. I can’t imagine working for $1.50 a week and then having to give it all up. Its so sad to read about all the poor conditions that they had to go through, but its a good thing major disasters didn’t occur because in those conditions there would have been no hope. I liked the quotes in your blog.

    1. I agree, it is unimaginable what these women had to go through. I understand why you left your job, even in today’s world women are highly discriminated in the workplace, especially in hourly wage position. I have had many hourly wage jobs where I witnessed women being discriminated. Although women and men are hired into these jobs with the same pay, I have seen men get raises that other women with the same position, who obviously work just as hard, not receive. It’s sickening really. From what I’ve seen, behind closed doors, many bosses treat women with less respect then men. The laws are more fair today, but they are not practiced how they should be. The struggle for women’s equality is still a major problem today, hopefully we can get where we need to be someday.

  8. Hello Allison, great post! I believe that women even today are still fighting for equal labor rights. My English professor, shared with me that women are less likely to negotiate their salaries and are also less likely to be granted raises when asked. To me this sounds pretty unfair being that some women are actually the head of their household and sometimes the only income to take care of their children.

  9. Since women were among the pioneers of labor unions in the US, I can’t help but theorize that this nation’s negative attitude toward socialism stems from sexism. Personally, after reading the excerpts from the textbook and from your post, it seems that capitalism has proven itself sexist and classist from the beginning of its conception. Maybe it’s a bit of a radical statement, but the fact that women were one of the first to demand better, more humane working conditions, then later their movement undermined by right-wingers who fomented the red scare, I can’t help but think that capitalism was made by and for men to preserve their power over women. When socialists became more vocal and active in the States, this was the first time the underrepresented (women, people of color, immigrants, the lower class) spoke out against the status quo, which included affluent businessmen barely paying their laborers so their lack of reasonable wages contributed to the businessmen’s wealth. Thus, the red scare. Socialism is painted an ugly, malicious color by politicians who are funded mainly by businessmen in an attempt to conserve their capitalistic grasp on society and to deepen their pockets with unbelievable wealth. I’m not sure how my comment turned into a rant against capitalism, but here it is anyway!

    1. I agree with you 100% that the nation’s attitude towards socialism derives from sexism. It makes so much sense when you really think about it. I’m personally someone who fights against capitalism, as it holds roots in racism, classism, and sexism. I don’t think it’s a radical statement at all. I honestly think your statement is a statement of truth. People like to say things like “radical” to try and invalidate political movements but honestly, it is just the truth. If anything, I’d say your statement is more accurately described as a leftist statement, a statement that leans to the left-side of the political spectrum. It takes the negative connotation away from the conversation and focuses on the positive.

      Back to your statement, again, I completely agree with you. Men, especially white men, hold a level of privilege. Capitalism sure was made by them and for them to preserve their power for as long as they possibly could. They loved power. When socialists became more vocal, white capitalist men became scared for the future.

      I personally think socialism could be a better turn for us than capitalism has proved to be, but maybe something could finally change. I really hope so. I definitely enjoyed reading your take on this topic, so no worries! Sometimes “ranting” can bring about like-minded people.

  10. Amazing post, first and foremost. I completely agree that the original laws created harsh divides between the binary genders, enforcing gender roles. Overall, the concept of gender roles can be toxic, as can binarism (the effects of colonialism and enforcement of the white gender binary on cultures that did not previously have it) but I explained this in a response to another blog post so I won’t delve into it too much here. But you are right in terms of what the binary gender roles are and have been.

    I really like your points about how men worked at lower-end jobs so that women could see improvements in their working conditions, however that was a direct result of women fighting for their rights. Regardless, it’s an interesting correlation, in my opinion.

    I agree that the success from the labor unions absolutely set the stage for improvements. From here the United States can only move up.

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