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Woman at Work

Woman at Work: The Autobiography of Mary Anderson as told to Mary N. Winslow

Mary Anderson
Copyright Date: 1951
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Woman at Work
    Book Description:

    Woman at Work was first published in 1951. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions. This is the story of a remarkable woman whose life has been devoted to the betterment of working conditions for women. Mary Anderson was director of the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor for twenty-five years, from shortly after its inception until her retirement in 1944. Her autobiography encompasses almost every movement in this country, and international efforts as well, for the benefit of women workers. In her own simple diction, as told to Mary Winslow, who was associated in many of the same movements, Miss Anderson reveals an almost incredible life story. She recounts her arrival in America as a Swedish immigrant of sixteen and her early years as domestic worker, exploited factory hand, and trade union organizer. She describes her bitter struggles for unionization of the garment, shoe, and other industries in Chicago, and the activities of the Chicago and National Women’s Trade Union leagues in helping factory and mine workers gain a start toward living wages, shorter hours, and safer working conditions. She tells, finally, of a quarter-century of federal service – setting standards for women’s employment during two world wars, and serving the cause of labor effectively under five presidents. As the first U.S. government representative to the International Labor Organization, Miss Anderson championed principles of equality for women that were subsequently embodied in the United Nations Charter. Through the story there are sidelights and appraisals of such notables as Frances Perkins, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mrs. Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, John L. Lewis, and many others. It is an absorbing book, and one that documents an important aspect of our country’s social development.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3747-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-2)
  3. 1 From the Old World to the New
    (pp. 3-12)

    THE United States has been my country for more than fifty years. I came here when I was sixteen years old. I could not speak English, I knew nothing of America, but I thought it was a land of opportunity and that was what I wanted. I have had a wonderful life in America. It has given me everything — friends, work, and a chance to do something in the world. Now that I have “retired” after twenty-five years as a worker in the service of the United States, it seems a good time to look back and make a...

  4. 2 A Casual Worker in the Promised Land
    (pp. 13-19)

    WHEN I left Sweden I had the idea that America was a promised land because I felt that there might be something other than household work that a person like me could do. I had heard about what other people, emigrants, were doing. They had written back very glowingly. But when I got to America, I found that housework was almost the only job I could get.

    Leaving Pentwater, after about two days, we took the boat to the lumbering town of Ludington, Michigan. Anna wanted to get away from Pentwater because it was so small there was not much...

  5. 3 The Young Trade Unionist
    (pp. 20-31)

    BY the time I got the job at Schwab’s in Chicago I was twenty-two years old. I had been in America about six years and had had ten different jobs. During that time I had progressed from housework at a dollar and a half a week to a skilled job in the shoe industry at about fourteen dollars a week. I had learned English, had made a few friends, and had seen something of life in a number of different places. I was not a “greenhorn” any more, but I had not had time or money to learn much about...

  6. 4 Women’s Trade Union League
    (pp. 32-41)

    AFTER I joined the union I began to know Jane Addams and Hull House. We had meetings at Hull House, where Miss Addams would speak to us, and sometimes I would meet her at trade union meetings and in other places. It was always interesting to go to Hull House. Sometimes Miss Addams would ask us to come for tea on Sunday afternoons and we would meet prominent people from other parts of the country and from abroad. Among many others I remember especially meeting Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald. I can see Miss Addams now, as she turned from...

  7. 5 Arbitration and Negotiation
    (pp. 42-49)

    ONE evening, after the strike was settled, I went to a meeting of the Women’s Trade Union League. I had been working hard in the factory all day and I was tired after the many weeks of extra work connected with the strike. I wanted to let up and just float for a while. But I found that Mrs. Robins had other plans for me. She had been one of the signers of the Hart, Schaffner, and Marx agreement, because although the strikers had voted on the agreement and had accepted it, the firm said they wanted a guarantee of...

  8. 6 The Organizer at Work
    (pp. 50-60)

    AFTER the termination of the first Hart, Schaffner, and Marx agreement and the signing of a new one in 1913, better arbitration machinery was developed and I was no longer needed to work with the unions. I was kept on as general organizer for the Chicago Trade Union League and later for the national league. I worked in all sorts of other league activities too. In fact, during the next four years, from 1913 to 1917, I was immersed in the problems of women workers and the firsthand experience I gained then was a great help in later years when...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. 7 Women in Trade Unions
    (pp. 61-70)

    SHORTLY after I had been up in the mining district of northern Michigan the time came for me to take my citizenship examination. It was 1915, twenty-seven years after I had entered the United States. I really got interested in becoming a citizen because there was a great stir in Illinois at that time about giving suffrage to women. If women were going to get the vote I wanted to have it too, so I decided to get my final papers. I had taken out my first papers a long time before, but I could not become a citizen until...

  11. 8 Working for Legislation
    (pp. 71-78)

    ALL the time that we were working in Chicago to organize women we were also working in Springfield trying to get some kind of labor legislation limiting hours of work for women.

    I felt very strongly about getting legislation because the trade unions were not very powerful and we had all we could do to settle wage disputes. Our main work in the unions was the setting of prices for piecework and we could do very little about hours. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind about the need for shorter hours, especially for women. The ten hours in the...

  12. 9 New Channels of Work
    (pp. 79-87)

    IN the summer of 1912 when I was thirty-nine years old I had my first real vacation. Of course, there had been plenty of times before when I was not actually working because I had lost my job or was changing to a new one. Every year, too, I had left work for a week or so to attend the Boot and Shoe Workers executive board meetings and I had been to other labor and Women’s Trade Union League conventions. But attending a convention is no vacation.

    Agnes Nestor had been in Philadelphia helping with a garment workers’ strike. When...

  13. 10 Women in Ordnance
    (pp. 88-93)

    IT was in January 1918 that I first started to work for the government of the United States. As it turned out, the federal government was my employer for the next twenty-five years, but I did not think when I first began that I had a permanent career in government ahead of me. In fact, after I had been there only a few weeks, I felt that my job was futile, that there was nothing particularly for me to do, and I decided that when my three months were up I would go back to the league.

    Before she took...

  14. 11 The Woman in Industry Service
    (pp. 94-101)

    WHEN the Woman in Industry Service was started we did not have much of a setup. At first there were just Miss van Kleeck and a secretary and I. After a few weeks I was able to get a secretary, too, and gradually we built up a small staff. When we got going, most of us slept in a Pullman upper berth during the night and worked during the day, visiting factories and making suggestions to the women’s employers for standard conditions of sanitation, hours of work, and safety, because the factories at that time were very lax in all...

  15. 12 Women Workers in World War I
    (pp. 102-107)

    ONE of the jobs in the early days of the Woman in Industry Service that I got a thrill out of was attending the meetings of the War Labor Policies Board. The chairman of this board was Felix Frankfurter, and the person representing the Navy Department was the assistant secretary of the navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt. The director of the Woman in Industry Service was a member of this board and when she was out of town I took her place. Our chief responsibility on this board was to advise how women could be employed most effectively in the munitions...

  16. 13 The Women’s Bureau Is Established
    (pp. 108-115)

    WHEN I first came to Washington with the Woman in Industry Service, the living conditions were just about as bad as they were twenty-five years later during World War II. I had to move many times. The frequent changes and uncomfortable quarters did not make my work any easier. At first I shared a room with another woman on Columbia Road. It was a very small room and when the summer came it was so hot I could not bear it. Then I had a piece of luck when Mrs. Gifford Pinchot turned over to Elisabeth Christman and me for...

  17. 14 Paris 1919
    (pp. 116-124)

    IN February 1919, when I was assistant director of the Woman in Industry Service, the labor organizations of all the Allied countries were holding a meeting in Paris with Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, as chairman. They were meeting to formulate a program for better standards of employment in the postwar period. We were very apprehensive because there were no women delegates to this conference. In fact, women were not represented at all. We had seen in the papers that Margaret Bondfield, secretary of the General Workers Union of England, had been in Paris and had...

  18. 15 International Congresses of Working Women
    (pp. 125-133)

    THE First International Congress of Working Women was held in Washington in the autumn of 1919 at the same time as the first conference of the International Labor Office. We felt that this was a strategic time for our meeting because women were not properly represented at the labor conference and we wanted to inaugurate an international program for women and get it accepted by the conference.

    We had a fine conference. Mrs. Robins had worked for months getting it organized and had put into it not only all her time and enthusiasm, but a great deal of money to...

  19. 16 Activities of the Bureau
    (pp. 134-141)

    BY the time the First International Congress of Working Women was held I had become director of the Woman in Industry Service following Mary van Kleeck’s resignation in July 1919. I took over this job with a good many misgivings. Although I had learned a great deal from Mary about how to administer the service, I knew that it was going to be difficult and I was rather appalled by the prospect. I could never have done the job if it had not been for the help I got from the other members of the staff and from Mary van...

  20. 17 Equal Pay for Women
    (pp. 142-150)

    NEXT to getting the facts about women’s employment and trying to lay the ghost of the pin money theory, I think one of the most important issues that the Women’s Bureau worked on was equal pay for women and men. From the very beginning of the Woman in Industry Service we said that wages should be based on the job content and not on the sex of the worker. We said this in the first standards issued and we have been saying it ever since. I think we have made some progress in getting this principle accepted but it has...

  21. 18 Discriminations against Women
    (pp. 151-158)

    IN all the phases of our work during the whole time I was with the Women’s Bureau we had to be on the alert to fight discriminations against women. One of them was unequal pay but there were others too. Sometimes these discriminations hit us in the bureau itself and made it much more difficult to carry on our program.

    One of the most serious situations we had to face came in the very early days after the Women’s Bureau was established when Senator Reed Smoot of Utah put a proviso in our appropriation bill saying that only two people...

  22. 19 The So-Called Equal Rights Amendment
    (pp. 159-172)

    TALKING about discriminations against women naturally leads to the subject of the so-called equal rights amendment to the Constitution about which there has been so much controversy during the past twenty-five years.

    This proposal to remove all discriminations against women through a constitutional amendment saying “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction,” came up first in 1921 after the passage of the suffrage amendment. One of the organizations that had worked for the suffrage amendment was the Women’s Congressional Committee of which Alice Paul was the head. The members...

  23. 20 Presidents and Secretaries of Labor
    (pp. 173-185)

    ALL during those early years in the Women’s Bureau I had my own personal problems to solve as well as those of the bureau. When the change came from the Wilson to the Harding administration, I felt that I was very much “on the spot.” My name went up to the Senate for confirmation, but because the Republican Senate was not approving Wilson appointees, my job terminated on March 4. Then there was the question of my reappointment and a whole month elapsed after March 4 until the reappointment took place. It was an anxious time for me because I...

  24. 21 Personnel Problems
    (pp. 186-192)

    ALL the positions in the Women’s Bureau, except my own, were under the civil service and I always found that this was a great protection, but at the same time it was often a great handicap to efficient administration. As Miss Lathrop, chief of the Children’s Bureau, used to say, civil service is terrible but it is better than no civil service. I always felt that if civil service was ever done away with, it would have defeated itself, because of all the red tape and formulas that have developed. However, in spite of the interminable delays required to apply...

  25. 22 Ventures in International Relations
    (pp. 193-204)

    NOW that I look back, it seems that one of the most interesting things that happened to me in the first ten or fifteen years I was in the Women’s Bureau was the gradual extension of my contacts with women in other countries. When I went to Paris at the time of the Peace Conference, I met many French women who were active in the labor movement and in England I saw many more, some of them old acquaintances from the days in Chicago and Hull House. From then on I began to meet more and more women from other...

  26. 23 Cooperation: Failures and Successes
    (pp. 205-214)

    DURING all the time I was director of the Women’s Bureau, I was constantly working with the various women’s organizations that were interested in general social problems. I imagine that about half my time was spent at meetings, making speeches, trying to arouse interest in the problems of women in industry, and serving on committees for one thing or another. I found it rather difficult at first, because until I came to Washington I had almost always worked directly with labor groups or with people who were especially concerned with industrial problems. But as director of the Women’s Bureau I...

  27. 24 New Quarters and New Friends
    (pp. 215-221)

    IN June 1930 we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Women’s Bureau. We did not have a formal celebration, just a supper party for all the members of the staff. It was a very jolly gathering. We were all friends together and we were proud of what we had accomplished in ten years. Mary van Kleeck could not be with us, but she sent a lovely letter, a part of which I will quote here, not because of the nice things she said about me, but because she said so much better than I can what the bureau as a...

  28. 25 The Bryn Mawr Summer School
    (pp. 222-229)

    LONG before I was director of the Women’s Bureau, Mrs. Robins, with her usual forethought for working women and her dynamic way of planning, had proposed a resolution to the National Women’s Trade Union League, at their conference in 1916, that the women’s colleges should open up summer schools for the education of women in industry. This resolution was adopted and the agitation for this kind of workers’ education began. But it was not until some years later that anything came of it.

    Eventually, however, one day in 1921, I had word that Dr. M. Carey Thomas, who was the...

  29. 26 Home Life in Washington
    (pp. 230-235)

    WHILE all these things were going on I got really established in Washington and began to have a very pleasant home life. As soon as I knew that I was going to be more or less permanently in Washington, I gave up my apartment in Chicago and brought my sister Anna to live with me. She was not very well and I thought she would be better off if she came to Washington. She kept house for the two of us and we had a very happy time together. We lived in apartments in various parts of the city, ending...

  30. 27 Irons in the Fire
    (pp. 236-245)

    THE years from 1933 on were very busy ones. It was the beginning of the New Deal. We had first the problems of the National Recovery Administration, then all the relief work and the terrible unemployment, the beginning of the social security program, and the split in the labor movement.

    I had known John Lewis for many years and I felt very enthusiastic in the early days of the CIO. I think the CIO started out as a real crusade and many unorganized workers felt that at last they were going to get help. But there were very bitter and...

  31. 28 Women Workers in World War II
    (pp. 246-254)

    AFTER the passage of the lend-lease legislation in 1941 everyone realized we had to start a tremendous production program if we were really going to be the arsenal of the democracies. I knew, having had the experience of World War I, that women would be called upon to enter every industry and we began urging that women should be given training in the kind of work they would be needed for. On every possible occasion we urged special training facilities for women, but we did not succeed very well because neither the Employment Service nor the Board of Vocational Education...

  32. 29 Honors and Retirement
    (pp. 255-259)

    EARLY in 1944 when our war program was well under way and most of the policies I thought were essential had been inaugurated, I began to think about retiring. I was tired and discouraged because we could not get enough money to do what I thought we should do and I felt I could not go on much longer appealing to personal friends on Capitol Hill for support. I thought that a new person as head of the bureau might be able to do more than I could.

    After twenty-five years in the bureau, I had come to know a...

  33. Index
    (pp. 260-266)