She Tackles the Job
By Edward Hungerford
[Everybody's Magazine, October 1917]
The Managing Editor of a New York newspaper walked into the office of the Editor of the Woman's Page, waving a cluster of photographs in hi chubby fingers.
"They are from the Blink and Blink Photo Service," said he, "and great stuff. Women in men's jobs. Look at them. Here they're at the machines, and there they're loading pig-iron with a derrick. Bully stuff. I've taken every blessed one of them. I kind of thought you'd like them," he chuckled in his enthusiasm.
The Editor of the Woman's Page did not chuckle. Neither did she enthuse. She looked at the photographs, one by one, then returned them to him, with but a single comment: "Rot!"
"Eh?" said the boss.
"Run them, if you want; only not in my page, please not."
The Woman Editor looked at him over the top of her tortoise shells—with compassion. "Poor man," she said, finally. "They're posed. They're faked. Look at their heels. You don't catch real working girls wearing high-heeled pumps at a derrick."
The Managing Editor took back the pictures and said nothing—even though he had once or twice observed the heels on working girls' shoes, and they were anything but flat. And even if those particular pictures were staged, there were hundreds of others that might have been snapped which would have been reality itself. For Petticoats has in fact taken Brother's job all over the land. And it is not always the war-created or munitions job. She began much longer ago than that.
Along in the dark ages which immediately preceded the Philadelphia Centennial, two energetic young women came out of the depths of Ohio and up into New York. Their baggage was small, but it contained one big thing—a really vital idea. "We shall show the biggest town in all America what two women can do," said Victoria, who was the great beauty of the two really remarkable sisters. "Where shall we begin?" asked Tennessee, the other. "As bankers and brokers," replied Victoria. "People will never believe that women can enter such a business."
Bankers and brokers, forsooth! It was a day when, even nursing was barely open to women as a profession. There were men clerks behind the counters of all the stores, at the ledgers and the letter-files of all the offices as well. We had copied England very faithfully in such ideas. Women were barred from work—save housework and as operatives in mills. From labor which required any initiative or creative ability they were to be shut off forever. And Tennessee and Victoria Claflin, having the audacity to open a brokerage office, to say nothing of making that selfsame office highly profitable! It was ridiculous. It was impossible.
It was a day of intolerance—back there in the dark days of the Civil War. Women in offices? Out of the question! The pulpit scored the very idea, the press took many flings at it. It was all but downright immoral, this idea of men and women working in offices together. At the worst there would be constant scandal; at the best there could never be efficiency. Oh, no, it would never, never do. And then, just as the clergymen and the editors had ruled out the idea of the Claflin sisters, a hard-headed Secretary of War down at Washington found himself hard pressed by claims and pensions coming in after the long years of war, and quickly appointed many hundreds of women as clerks in his offices. They went to their tasks naturally and easily. Efficiency rules; and scandal was never even breathed.
It was not long after that that the typewriter was invented, and the old-fashioned office "clerk"—the thin-haired, cadaverous gentleman who clung to a rusty frock coat and a black string tie—either could not or would not have anything to do with the new device. He clung, rather obstinately, to his fine handwriting and his copy-press. But the young woman of the seventies could, and did, adapt herself to the new writing invention. And it was only a comparatively short time—a few years at the most—before she supplanted men in almost every department of office endeavor.
Before the War
At the beginning of the present war there were five or six trades or professions in which women were numerous; most of them in fact were practically monopolized by Petticoats. They were still, of course, houseworkers and mill operatives. Their profession of nursing had become a highly technical as well as a very well-paid one. They controlled the office situation. And they formed four-fifths of the great army of clerks in stores. In the great department stores they were used as clerks almost universally, save in some of the older and more conservative shops which long have withstood the pressure to supplant the men behind their dress-goods counters by women clerks. At the beginning of the war these were the women's trades—and I am taking no account at this point of the remarkable strides which certain members of that dominant sex had made in the various professions—law, music, drama, literature, medicine—even engineering and architecture.
Upon the women's trades there was increasing pressure. More and more young women seemed to prefer a career to marriage—to immediate marriage at any rate. They chose between these five great trades according to their education, their strength or their taste.
"My notion of leisure," said a distinguished woman of my acquaintance a little while ago, "is one's ability to choose for himself the line of endeavor which he most desires to follow."
This was a sort of leisure which few alert and ambitious young women could command previous to the embarkation of the United States as an active ally in the great war. The trades, as you have already seen, were few. And the very fact that there was increasing pressure upon them from applicants made working conditions bad and wages low.
Suddenly a change in all of this. The United States was at war. It was known on the April night that we declared war that we would have to form an army of at least a million men, and that these would have to be drafted-out of the great industrial army, overworked and showing fatigue under the continued strain of preparing munitions for the fighting nations overseas. And from somewhere would have to come recruits to fill the gaps formed in the industrial army when a million of its human units were taken and sent forward to make the nation's fighting line. The industrial army could not recruit at the front; to fill the gaps it must go back for units. And if, by going back, it could not find enough male units to replace the men who had taken up arms it must supplant them by female units. Women must rise to the emergency. Women have risen to the emergency. Petticoats has come forward; and Petticoats has taken the job.
"As I see the problem," says this woman I have just quoted, "the human power of the nation is divided into three great parallel lines. The first and foremost is the fighting line, and for the first time in all my years I have wished myself a man—a man of enlistment age—in order that I might become of that line.
"The second line is your industrial line, and the third line—from which are filled the gaps in the caused by enlistments for the first'—is the leisure line; and there it is that woman predominates. And it is because she predominates that she must be drafted for the industrial army of the nation."
And it is because she must be so drafted that several organizations have come into being already. Some of them are official and so connected with the Federal Government at Washington. One of the most interesting of the various sub-organizations of the very interesting Council of National Defense, is its Committee on Women's Defense Work, which has within its power and scope the centralizing for highest efficiency of the woman-power of the nation. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw is chairman of this committee, which is composed of ten of the most-prominent women workers of America. It was summoned into existence on the twenty-eighth day of last April by the Secretary of War, acting as chairman of the Council of National Defense. Not one woman of the ten, when she received the summons to Washington, had an inkling of what was to be required of her. Yet by the second day of May, all save two were present at the capital. One of these two was the member from California and the other was detained by a death in her immediate family. Yet both were present before the committee had been sitting five days. And the entire ten have been most faithful in their attendance—even through the grilling days of one of Washington's genuinely tropic summers.
The gist of the committee's endeavors up to the present time is best expressed in the words of one of its members—Miss Ida Tarbell, the writer. According to Miss Tarbell, the committee's first word to the women of the land—the word of the National Government which speaks through it—is: "Do that which lies nearest at hand. Find out just where and how much is needed and where it ought to be done. Then go on doing it, until there is greater need for something else you can do."
It is in plain and practical statements such as this that the Committee on Women's Defense Work of the Council of National Defense shows most clearly its genuine worth and efficiency.
The War Organizations
At the outbreak of the war many organizations of women—each attempting to solve some phase of the stupendous problem which the nation faced—came into existence. Most of these organizations were local and some of them were worse than merely local—-they were trivial, Ofttimes they were fed upon vanity, either the vanity of the women who organized them, and so assumed an official title, some little pomp or adulation and a place in the public eye, or else the individual vanity of all the members who may have had natty little uniforms and a desire for some adulation from the outer world. In several cases these organizations purchased rifles or revolvers and planned to hold marksmanship contests. One of them announced "shooting afternoons over which hostesses of social prominence will preside. Special chaperons will be provided for children's afternoons."
Some of these organizations have already died. It would not be fair to say that the least of them did not accomplish genuine good; that they did not do at least their small part toward the awakening of the women of the land to a national peril, to the need for national service on their part as well as on the part of the men. Some of the best of them—like the Comforts Committee of the Navy League, which at its New York headquarters has sold from four hundred dollars' to fifteen hundred dollars' worth of wool a day, for women to knit into sweaters for the enlisted men—have survived the hard and tedious months of genuine work that were bound to follow the exciting days of novelty and organization. And the biggest of them, The National League for Woman's Service, has been organized firmly and upon a very definite basis.
This League came into existence early in the present year; some weeks before our declaration of war against Germany. Its founders had seen the changing conditions of women's employment in the United States ever since the day when the Hohenzollern host began its ruthless march across bleeding Belgium. It had thought to formulate those changes carefully, so there should be no panic, and economically, so that woman could take her new jobs with an assurance of fairness as to both pay and hours of labor. Then came our own dramatic entrance into the war. The dispatching of von Bernstorff, the great message of the President, the declaration itself—and the settling down of the nation into making itself fit for fighting. The immediate scope of the League was changed—almost instantly. It turned its first attention from the problem of the industrial line to that of the fighting line
Nurses was its first thought. But nursing is one of the chief functions of the long-established Red Cross, and the National League for Woman's Service had no intention of competing or interfering with that older organization. But there were many other things that the League could do. It could provide decent entertainment and sociability for the soldiers and the sailors at their land bases and in the cantonments. The entertainments which ahead' have been organized and which are given each Saturday evening at the League's New York headquarters, to the sailors who are stationed there, are in no small way a drill for the larger affairs which it hopes to organize when the big army cantonments are finished. Ice-cream and cake for the soldiers and the sailors, cigars and cigarets too—best of all a smile, a shake of the hand, and a real friendly welcome—these are the things that count.
Then, too, there is the problem of the army cook. Why should big-husky boys who can shoulder a gun and upon proper occasion make good use of it, spend their time concocting beef stew or stodgily kneading biscuits? The League is advertising for army cooks—proficient cooks, real cooks, if you please, who can give the boys at the front something that is at least reminiscent of the cooking at the home table.
The Woman at Home
This big new woman's organization takes cognizance, too, of the woman who can not desert her home cares and give her whole time to war work. It recognizes the proficiency of the knitter; perhaps it has seen her as I have seen her, keeping at her knitting in the quiet New England churches on a Sabbath morning, while the pastor drones his sermon. It correlates her work and it reaches out for the home cook—the woman whose preserves or whose pies have more than merely local reputation. Perhaps she can put up preserves or bake some pies for the boys at the front. If she can not afford to supply the raw materials they will be furnished her, even to the fuel for her oven.
The war program of the League is extensive. It seeks to turn the power of its rapidly growing membership into distinct national assistance. When a woman—anxious to do her bit—applies for enrolment, she is carefully examined, not only as to her desires but as to her actual capabilities. If she is willing to give a generous measure of her time to the work, she promptly is allotted to something definite. Perhaps she has been accustomed to driving a car. Good! Immediately she finds herself enrolled in the motor division. And, in case her proficiency is not apace with her enthusiasm, she is sent to one of the recognized automobile schools where, at a reduced rate, she is trained not only to drive a motor-car but to clean and to otherwise maintain it. And she is fitted with a neat khaki uniform.
Oh, no, the National League for Woman's Services does not scorn uniforms. On the contrary, it recognizes their subtle power. It knows that the trig coat and short skirt, the military boots and puttees, even the small round officers' cap are apt to bring an enthusiasm in the heart of their wearer that can be translated into actual endeavor. A woman responds to costume—at least so I am told—and——
Amateurish! you interrupt, with all the fine scorn you can command.
Amateurish? Well, your father was an amateur—perhaps it was you, yourself, who wore a dinky little cape and a still dinkier cap when you saved the country by carrying a torch and marching with your club in the Blaine campaign, back there in the early eighties. But how your heart burned! And the fervor of your very soul found echo in the rhythmic tread of many feet. "They are amateurs perhaps," said Mrs. J. Rogers Bacon—one of the organizers of the Woman's League, as we stood in the bay-window of the headquarters building in Madison Avenue and watched three of the khaki-clad young women jump into their motor-cars to carry some army officers upon their work about the city —a duty which they have been remarkably successful in performing. "They are amateurs, but I am quite certain that they are not dilettantes. Between these two there is a vast difference. For who can recognize the strength of the spiritual force that rests in the soul of the amateur who is ready to learn and ready to serve?"
In those few words the League officer had given a great thought. For these were the women who were amateurs; who were sticking it out. In the hottest three days that New York had known in its entire history they were steadily at the job. Others had enlisted, had shown enthusiasm at the beginning; but with the coming of the summer season the old-time vacation habit was a thing not to be ignored. The new duties were no longer new; work had lost the flavor of novelty. And these slipped out. Forever they are to be classed as dilettantes. But there were others to replace them—far more who forgot the warm-weather vacations, the joys of the open country, and kept hard at work. It was sometimes monotonous. But even in the dullest, hottest moments it was glorified by the knowledge that it was service—the volunteer application of a principle that is being enforced upon the younger male population of the land and which should be the privilege of every American, man or woman, beyond the years of childhood. These were the amateurs. And if it has pleased a single one of them to don khaki, or put an insignia upon the sleeve, what mere man is privileged to deny such a pleasure?
To take these workers—the amateurs that are filled with the spirit and enthusiasm of youth, and the more experienced workers whose enthusiasm is hardly less because it is older and deeper seated—and correlate their endeavors, was not the least of the problems of the League. It recognized from the beginning that the most brilliant worker, the most indefatigable worker, working alone, can accomplish relatively but little. Team-work counts. And team-work, in the understanding of the League, is wearing a pull collar which does not chafe the other fellow. So it was to study teamwork that Miss Grace Parker, the National Commandant of the League, was sent to England at the beginning of the present year to study the women's work there during the first two years of the war. England was chosen rather than France or any of the other nations at war, because it was thought that conditions there most closely approximated the conditions that would arise here.
Learning from England
Miss Parker's chief recommendation to the new League on her return was based upon the great handicap under which she found women working in England. The difficulties that she had expected to find there did not exist. Those sacred barriers of English tradition, that had rendered that land far slower than ours to admit women generously to many trades and professions, had been broken down. But the real handicap was in the utter lack of any registration of the women and the woman-power of England. Such a registration has now been made, but, for more than two years, England-at-war dragged along without it.
It was because of Miss Parker's study of the situation, because of her recommendations based upon her study, that the fundamental policy of the new Woman's League in America was made correlation—which, of course, is only another way of calling teamwork. Not only would the new League seek to register and direct, by suggestion at least, all the women who desired or who were equipped to serve, but it would correlate its activities with the Women's Committee of the Council of National Defense, and also with the Department of Labor, both down at Washington. Which last brings us considerably nearer the question of how Petticoats is getting the man's job—and is preparing, to hold fast to it.
For the Department of Labor is the official representative of the working man and woman at the national capital Already it is being forced to take cognizance of the tremendous pressing forward of women from the third or leisure line of the nation's human power, to the second or industrial line. And In order, that it may take a cognizance that is born of understanding, the National League for Woman's Service has stationed Miss Marie Obernauer as its representative at Washington to work in direct cooperation with the Labor Department. It is a job that calls for both tact and discernment, and apparently Miss Obernauer possesses both in good measure.
For when a contract; for munitions is awarded by either the War or the Navy Department, the Department of Labor is promptly advised, in order that it may be of actual help and protection to the manufacturer as well as to the men and women in his employ. In this crisis it offers its services toward the recruiting of extra labor to meet munitions contracts. And the task that falls to the Woman's League through its Washington representative is that of finding, of selecting, and of protecting the women who to-day form so large a part of this labor. It will make inquiry as to the housing problems in the town in which the munitions plant is situated. In this it often calls into conference the aid of the local Y. W. C. A. or the Jewish Council of Women. It may find in that town many women, married and settled in their homes, who were formerly operatives in the plant which has the munitions contract. These will be sought out, and, if they have very small dependent children, arrangements will be made for caring for these in the nearest day-nursery. Sometimes the League goes as far as helping the manufacturer advertise for woman labor. It found a man in the Frankford section of Philadelphia almost desperate. He had been given a huge contract and bid fair to fail in it—for lack of help. He had inserted "want ad" after "want ad"—without any real success. Miss Obernauer helped him prepare a full-page patriotic appeal for help—for women to serve their country by coming to his factory and working—good hours and fair pay—and his employment list was filled forthwith.
Here is a real opportunity for the League—to my merely masculine, mind perhaps the largest opportunity for it—to serve. A single instance will illustrate:
A certain manufacturer, upon receiving a considerable contract for munitions from the Government, found that he would need a large number of women operatives. He appealed to the League through Miss Obernauer for help in recruiting these women. It made a prompt examination of the conditions, then asked the manufacturer what wages he proposed to pay. He stammered and evaded a bit and finally said:
"Six dollars and a half a week."
The League made further examination. It found that, under war-time conditions in the town in which the munitions plant was located, it would cost a woman $9.89 a week to live.
"You will have to make your minimum wage ten dollars," it ruled, and in that ruling it was supported by the Federal Department of Labor. The manufacturer demurred, then accepted with good grace—in fact, to-day he is paying eleven dollars as his minimum weekly wage.
That is a minimum for both men and women, for the League makes as firm and as consistent a stand for equal pay as its elder sister makes for equal suffrage. In this thing it is as adamant. When first it learned that women were coming to men's jobs in the railroads, it wrote to the larger Eastern lines which were beginning to introduce them and asked them fairly and frankly if they were being substituted for men merely as a war measure or partly as a steady campaign of economy in operation begun long before the war. To this the Eastern roads—the Baltimore & Ohio, the Pennsylvania and the Erie—replied that they were paying the women exactly the same wage as would be given to a man beginning the same task. Which is both consistent and fair.
The Unorganized Workers
Enough now for the League. Despite the many disadvantages under which all brand-new organizations work, it is doing remarkably well. So are some of its sister organizations, notably the National American Woman Suffrage Association, which has not only loaned Dr. Shaw, its honorary president, but also Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, its active president, to the Council of National Defense. We must overlook these merely for lack of space; ignore in this article the endeavors of many earnest and enthusiastic local organizations and individuals to make women of genuine service in the great national plans of economy and efficiency.
How about the woman to whom all these organizations are as yet but mere names, if, indeed, she has ever heard of them at all? How about the woman who dons her new uniform of blue blouse and overalls at six o'clock in the morning and gulps her coffee hastily so she can be at the factory gates before the seven o'clock whistle? It is this woman who is getting the man's job. She never worked in a factory before. She has refused the nerve-tiring, eye-wearing drudgery of a loom, a binder or a sewing-machine. But to work in a real shop—in a man's sort of shop if you please—cleaning and wiping machines, sorting scrap, or, joy of joys, working with a lathe or a gear-shaper or a thread-miller in light metals.
Light metals, did I say?
Upon my desk there rests this moment an advertisement clipped from the Toronto Globe of a few days ago. It reads:
WANTED — Five strong women, age 30, for heavy work. Must weigh 164 lbs. Apply Toronto Engineering Company.
It is to Canada we must go if we are to see our way pointed clearly to us. For if conditions in England are nearer those of the United States than those in France, it is also true that they are far closer to us in Canada than in Great Britain. For at the patriotic call of the Imperial Munitions Board of the Dominion, fifteen thousand women—almost all of them without previous industrial experience—mobilized to assist in the making of ammunition. They work in shrapnel and in fuse-making and upon every sort of shell except the "9-2." In the United States many of these women would be sewing for the Red Cross or perhaps organizing little entertainments to provide funds for its maintenance. Canada, with her careful following of English fads and traditions, has sent some of the most distinguished and the most representative of her women into her munitions factories. "The only difference is this," explained a Montreal woman just the other day. "Overseas a lady and her maid may work side by side all day. as pals, filling shells in the factory; but when they are home in the evening, they are lady and maid once more. For two weeks my Mary has been working in the same room with me down at the factory. And to-night she came to me and showed me her piece-work card. She actually had the impudence to boast to me that she knew more about a loading machine than I."
"We Just Love Machinery"
The Yankee girl has followed the example of her. Canadian sister and has taken service in the machine shop. And there are many cases already where she had shown her aptitude so clearly for this work that when Brother comes home and puts down the sword for the monkey-wrench—which is a new version of the old proverb—he may-have to steam up quite a bit to get his job away from Sister. Sister sometimes has a mechanical turn, too, and likes machine shop work. Down at the big Bush Terminal in South Brooklyn they have been training Sister in a number of things—running motor trucks and big electric switching locomotives, handling steam-winches and cranes, as well as in a hundred and one less dramatic jobs in the great hives of varied manufactories which are housed in that modern industrial city.
Seriously, it is not to be expected that women will permanently replace men in many machine-shops after peace is declared and the nation returns to normal industrial conditions once again. And even before that time a logical solution of the employment question will demand that where men are used industrially, they will, as far as possible, be used in jobs which are fundamentally unsuited to women.
On the island of Manhattan, men sit all day and all night in the ticket wickets of the stations of the elevated and the subway lines. It is a dull and droning job, little suited for men save for the depleted powers of the crippled or aged. In Boston, in Brooklyn, in Philadelphia, and in Chicago the elevated and subway stations have women ticket-sellers. The trunk-line railroads have, as I have already intimated, made great headway since our entrance into the war, in substituting women for men, not only in their shops, not only in their offices and accounting department, but also as gate-tenders at highway crossings in the open country. Some of these very lines have been conservative in the past, to put it mildly, in the employment of women even for office work. But these are the very roads which have given most generously of their man-power, not only to our fighting regiments, but also to the engineer regiments chosen to go over to France and rebuild and operate her worn and wrecked railways. These things and the fact that to-day they are called upon to transport a traffic far heavier than any ever before offered them, have rendered the substitution of woman-power for man-power in their ranks almost imperative.
Yet the railroads have been loath to substitute women for men in some of their most logical opportunities. I remember coming out of Cincinnati a year or two ago on a train of the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad in a small café dining-car which was "manned," and most adequately, by very able and obliging young women. The New York Central lines have also women-operated dining-cars on some of their less crowded routes across Ohio. But few of the railroads, particularly in the East, have seen the opportunity for using women in their city ticket offices—despite the fact that a large part of the patrons who crowd against their counters—particularly in vacation seasons—are women. The Union Pacific system out in Portland, Oregon, has been employing a woman passenger agent for some time past. Her name is Miss Avis Lobdell, and she has qualified already as a real traffic-getter for her road.
How I wish that I might make a list of the women who have been and who are still making good in these specialized jobs! It would include not only doctors, dentists, lawyers, oculists, advertising experts, illustrators, but it would pause to tell how this young woman down in Memphis, Tennessee, is one of the world's greatest experts upon the cotton-seed market; how another buys for and manages the finest private library in the United States, if not indeed in the entire world. I should like to tell of the remarkable success that women have met in the banking business in recent years, not only in the entire management of some prosperous country banks, but in the management of whole departments of the great banks in the city of New York. I should like to tell of one woman who is president of a railroad and of another who is the owner and guiding genius of one of the very largest department stores in the city of Chicago. Petticoats does not hesitate at the big job. And when she takes it she generally manages to get away with it—very well indeed.
We have drifted away from our point as to the man-power. In New York we still see men behind the counters of the stores as well as the railroad ticket offices up and down Broadway. Out in the West a department store has announced that it will substitute women for the men floor-walkers, so long an institution of the big retail shop. As yet no New York store has dared to announce so radical a change. New York is rather conservative at heart—it probably would be shocked to hear that at least two hundred passenger elevators within its limits are now being operated by women.
Men butlers are now unobtainable in New York at any price—and so, thank God! are footmen. Women butlers are being engaged and these make a careful stipulation that then: duties shall not be outside of the dining-room; in fact, that they shall not exceed those of the disappearing genus male in the same job. There are probably from fifty thousand to sixty thousand men chauffeurs in the New York metropolitan district alone—most of them of the age and ability to make several big fighting regiments. The most noticeable thing I saw on a recent trip to Montreal was many cars, but practically no chauffeurs. Most of the cars seemed to be driven by their owners, a great part of them by women.
But it is in the West that the earliest and apparently the largest progress has been made in the substitution of women for men's jobs. Women have been appearing behind the clerk's desks in hotels in Spokane and in Buffalo and doing very well there. They began some time since to appear as bellhops and as pages. One of the largest hotels in Milwaukee recently discharged not only its male dining-room crew, but the equally quarrelsome and dirty lot in its kitchen. It replaced its chef by a cateress—a woman of distinct local reputation. So that to-day, instead of serving a lot of poorly cooked dishes, made up on European models, it is able to give genuine American cooking—and a great deal of cleanliness and satisfaction to boot.
After the War?
One thing more—and a most important thing: For the woman, the problem of getting the job has been settled—for the time being, at least. The full opportunity, after many years of waiting, is at hand. But opportunity is not all. With opportunity goes responsibility. The job, once secured, must be held. Some of them obviously are to be women's work for the duration of the war only. But the others! When Johnny comes marching home he is going to demand his old job back again. And Petticoats, having had a taste of a real man's job and its earning powers, may be loath to relinquish it. The final decision, in pretty nearly every case, must come on merit. If Petticoats proves that she can handle the job more deftly, more faithfully, more accurately than her male predecessor handled it, Johnny can whistle through his fingers and get some other job.
But Petticoats can not afford to forget her responsibility. One of the largest of the new employers of women in the city of New York is the great and remarkably progressive National City Bank. That bank has lost more than a hundred of its men clerks as assistance to the army and the navy—either by volunteer or draft enrolment. It has sought women to replace them, and it has sought the right sort of women by the very simple process of offering them, a little more pay than they could get for similar work in other places of employment. Therefore it is in a position to discriminate, to pick and choose. And it does discriminate. It has physical and technical tests for applicants. And out of more than one thousand applicants for places in the bank in the six early weeks of summer, it was barely able to choose the women to fill the war vacancies. In other words but between ten and eleven per cent, of the applicants were good enough even for admittance to the banking house. And to rise above the lowest classes of employment stern competitive tests were instituted.
The strongest barrier in the employer's mind against the hiring of women, particularly to displace men, is the feeling that Petticoats may be using the job as a sort of convenient bridge between schooldays and marriage. Not that he feels, or I feel that the greatest inherent and natural right of woman is marriage. There are bridge jobs of that sort—open and yearning for the girl who would practise economy and independence and accumulate toward her own little dowry.
But there are other jobs that require permanence. The training requires both time and money on the part of the employer. And these are the jobs which Petticoats has no right to accept unless she can and will stick by them. It is not alone the question of fundamental honesty which is involved. It is the reputation for business honesty on the part of her sex. And the more firmly and the more widely such a good reputation becomes spread, the more woman will come into her own, not in the present accepted trades and professions which she now opens, or in some instances controls, but in other trades and professions—trades and professions where initiative and creative ability, as well or better than drudging hard work-—are repaid by good wages, the best working conditions—and still larger opportunity.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —
THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald