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Bulletin No. 142




Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis






For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, Washington, D. C. -
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis






- -



Price 10 cents
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis


________ _=======================================
The islands __________________
__ ______ __ ____________ ______ __ ___ __ _
Geographic location ____________________ __ _________________ __ __
Topography __ ________________ ____ _______ _______ __ ____ __ _____ _
•History of the islands ______ _____________ ___ ___ _____ ________ __
The inhabitants ___________ __ _____________ __ __ ______ __ ____ __ _____ _
Color, nativity, and sex ______ _______ ___ ____ __ __ _______ ______ _
Economic conditions __________________ __ __ __ ____ ___ ___ __ _____ _
Economic position of women ______ __ ____ __ ______ __ ____ ______ __
St. Thomas __________________ __ ________ __ . _________ ___________ __ _____ _
Present employment opportunities _______ ______ _____ __ ______ ___ __ _
Earnings ____________________ ________ ____ ____ ___ _________________ _
Hours ____________ __ ____ __ _________ _______ ___ ____ ___ ___________ ___
St. Croix____________________ __ ____ ______ __ _____________ _____ __ ____ __
Present employment opportunities ________ ____ ___ _________________ _
Earnings __ ___ _______________ __ ____ __ ____ __ ______ ______ __ ____ ___ _
Hours _______________________________ ____ ________ __ _____________ _
St. J ohn ____________________ __ ______ ____ ________ ________________ ____ _
Present employment opportunities ____________ _____ _______________ _
Living habits a nd costs ___ _______ ______________ __ ____ __ ______________ _
Housing _____________ ________ _______________ __ ____ ______________ _
Homesteading __ __ _____________________ __________________________ _
Fuel ______ _____________________________ ___ ______________________ _
Clothing ____ __________ ____________ ____ __ ______ __________________ _
Foolcl ____________________________________________________ _____ __ _
Suggested work, training, and educational projects for women __ _____ __ _
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis




14 ·



Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis


W a.sldngton, JWne 4, 1936.
MADAM: I have the honor to transmit a report 0£ a survey made
by the Women's Bureau of the present economic condition of women
and their opportunities £or work in the Virgin Islands. Every
assistance in obtaining information was furnished by the Governor
of the islands and his associates, and without their helpful guidance
and advice this survey could not have been made. The bulletins of
the Navy and the Interior D epartments were freely used for general
background in this report.
The survey was made and the report written by Ethel L. Best,
industrial supervisor.
Respectfully submitted.
· S eoretary of Labor.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

It has been said that the "proper study of mankind is man", but
it is equally necessary to include the environment and history of the
special section of mankind under consideration in order to understand its present h abits and customs. In a brief study of the problems of the women in the Virgin I slands of the United States made
by the Women's Bureau in November and December 1935 many
of the difficulties found were similar to those of women on the mainland, while others were the result of environment, inheritance, and
economic history. In order, therefore, to understand the present ·
problems of the women of the Virgin Islands and the possibility of
bettering t heir position, it is necessary to review briefly the history
and natural resources of the islands.

Geographic location.
The Virgin Islands consist of three major islands, St. Thomas,
St. John, and $t. Croix, and some 50 smaller islands largely uninhabited. The islands lie at the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea
in a line between Europe and the Panama Canal, so the island of
St. Thomas with its magnificent harbor is a natural port of call for
vessels sailing between Europe and the canal.
The total area of the three islands is about twice that of the
District of Columbia.
St. John, the smallest of the three islands, is about 3 miles east
of St. Thomas. St. Croix, the largest, lies 40 miles to the southeast of St. Thomas. It is not, however, so much the differences of
size that are significant as their physical characteristics.
St. Thomas is of volcanic origin and has a range of rocky hills
running east and west. On the western part of the island these
hills reach an elevation of 1,550 feet. The soil of the island is very
thin and is liable during the heavy showers to be washed from the
hilly slopes, which are sparsely covered with vegetation. The island
is poorly supplied with water, the main dependence being on rain
water collected in cisterns. The rainfall is not excessive, about 47
inches a year, and as a result of this the vegetation frequently becomes brown and dry.
The island of St. John is quite similar in configuration to St .
Thomas, being composed of hills and valleys with little level land.
The soil is more fertile than in St. Thomas, and its many streams
insure a fairly good supply of water. There are no good roads on
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the island, most of them being mere trails, and all traveling is done
on horseback or on foot.
St. Croix, the largest of the islands, is entirely different from the
others. It is mountainous on the northern part, but most of the
island consists of fertile plains of rich soil. There are several
rivulets from the mountain slopes, and the low rolling country of
the southern part of the island is well adapted to modern agricultural
The climate is semitropical in all the islands and the temperature
is equable, ranging from around 69° Fahrenheit at night in the
winter to as high as 91 ° during the day in August, September, and
October. 'fhough there is day after day of sunny weather, the heat
is not prostrating, since it is tempered by the trade winds.
History of the islands.
Christopher Columbus on his second western voyage in 1493 discovered the Virgin Islands and named them "St. Ursula and the
Eleven Thousand Virgins." These islands, at first claimed by Spain,
were later colonized by several countries. Danish, English, Dutch,
, and French colonists came during the seventeenth century, and the.
ownership of the islands drifted from one nation to another until
1754 when they came under the direct control of Denmark as royal
colonies. Since that time the islands have been held twice by the
English, for 10 months in 1801 and 1802 and for the 8 years from
1807 to 1815. From that time until 1917, when the United States
purchased them for a naval base, they remained colonies of Denmark.
After _purchase by the United States, they were first under the
· supernsion of the Navy D epartment but were transferred in 1931
to the Department of the Interior by President Hoover.
In spite of the long period of D anish possession, the islands show
little influence of Danish culture. The language of the natives is
English, spoken with a slight Scotch accent and with peculiar intonations so that to an outsider it. is difficult to understand. The
English influence also is seen in the custom of passing to the left
instead of to the right, and there seems to be no more inclination
to ohange this habit under the rule of. the United States than under
that of Denmark. A few years ago the Colonial Council, at the
suggestion of the Governor, voted down any change with the argument that the donkeys were accustomed to pass on the left side and
a change would tangle traffic !

The Virgin Islands were at one time the center of the American
slave industry. Negroes were brought on slave ships from Africa to
the slave market on the Virgin Islands. Some were transported to
the West Indies and some to the cotton and tobacco fields of the
United States, while those who remained tilled the soil. It is
reported in Knox's History that the number of slaves on the islands
never exceeded 3,500 in St. Thomas, 2,500 in St. John, and 26,000
in St. Croix, but that these numbers are not inconsiderable is shown
by the fact that the figure for St. Croix is greater than the entire
population of the three islands according to the 1930 census. Durmg the period from 1733 to 1848 there were several insurrections of
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slaves, which finally culminated in a proclamation by the Governor granting them their freedom in· 1848-15 years before President
Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in the United States.
From 1835, when the population of the islands was approximately
43,000, the number for the most part declined at each recording until
in 1917, when the United States bought the islands, the population
was approximately 26,000, a decrease of about 40 percent. The last
census of the islands, taken in 1930, gives the figure as 22,012,
showing a still further decline in population of a little over 4,000.
This decrease probably is caused to some extent h ,. a lower birth
rate as well as ,e migration to the mainland of persons unable to
find work on the islands.

Color, nativity, and sex.
The color of those who now inhabit the island.. is mainly black,
though a large number are a mixture of white and black. Only
about 2,000, or 9 percent, are white. This small proportion of whites
includes some of the Federal Gov-ernment employees from the mainland and their families, some D anes who remained after the islands
were sold to the United States, and a colony of about 700 French
who live on St. Thomas. In the last few years a number of Puerto
Ricans have migrated from their island and settled here. These
Puerto Ricans find the conditions very satisfactory after experiencing the crowded conditions in their homeland. Many are engaged
in business, though the greater number work in the fields.
Because of male emigration, the female population of the islands
exceeds that of the males by about 16 percent.

Economic conditions.
The economic problems of the Virgin Islands are largely those of a
straJ.1ded population. The mainstays, cane and commerce, have long
been in decline as increased sugar production in more favorable locations gradually reduced prices and as ships grew in number and size
and improved their equipment. Renewed rum production now holds
forth new promise, and the bunkering business is again improving,
but returns are still far short -of former days. Cattle grazing has
advanced and now utilizes nearly 80 percent of the islands' acreage.
Unfortunately it employs relatively little labor.
Unreliable rainfall, high evaporation, and topography make horticulture difficult and uncertain, while distance from sizable markets
adds much to the handicaps. Industries that must meet the competition of mass machine production are impractical for the Virgin
I slands. Except for the basics of cane, cattle, and bunkering, successful industrial activities must be almost entirely along lines of
specialized production for specializ.e d markets where individuality
and novelty rather than price will constitute the appeal.
There are three definite developments under way that have demonstrated their soundness and their value. Small farm ownership
through homesteading is replacing the former hi~h rental system of
land cultivation and is increasing the individuals productivity and
income. Handicraft production has been increased tenfold in 4 years
by the styling of products and the development of northern market
outlets. The Virgin Islands Co., with Federal moneys, has purchased and is rehabilitating several defunct sugar mills with their
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis



acreages; is demonstrating the profit possibilities of modern production methods; and is affording employment for hundreds who have
long been idle.
St. Thomas, long famous for its wonderful harbor, was for many
years one of the principal ports of call in the West Indies and the
point of transshipment for merchandise brought there for redistribution. The heavy walled warehouses still standing bear testimony to
the former commercial importance of the island.
With the increased use of steam vessels longer distances could be
traveled without stopping for supplies, and fewer vessels touched
at St. Thomas on their way west. . Still later, with the increase in
oil-burning vessels, it was found less necessary to call for refueling,
as plentiful supplies of oil could be carried on the larger boats. Refrigeration has largely eliminated the food problems of ships. With
fewer vessels stopping for supplies fewer people came ashore
freighters carried their cargoes straight to their destinations, and
the glory of St. Thomas declined even before the World War largely
interfered with ocean travel.
The islapd of St. John did not enjoy the advantage of a harbor
like St. Thomas's, but it was almost equally dependent on the ships
that used the port of St. ThomaS'. TravelerS' and sailors stopping
for fresh vegetables and fruits after a long tedious voyage were
supplied with these commodities from St. John. At the time of
four different censuses, 1835, 1841, 1846, and 1850, the island of St.
John supported a population of over 2,000, but by 1880 the number
had declined to a little under 1,000, and at the last census only 765
were enumerated. At the present time the island is little cultivated
and the exporting of garden products to St. Thomas is left largely
to Tortola, a neighboring island belonging to Great Britain.
St. Croix, the largest of the islands, has always depended on agriculture. Extensive estates on this island produced cane from which
sugar, molasses, and rum were made in quantities that were shipped
all ·over the world. The cultivation of the island by slaves made
production cheap and shipping was not a problem since vessels
stopped to sell slaves or to coal and buy food supplies. During the
many years of the slave trade, Christiansted and Frederiksted also
were important as wholesale centers for the American slave industry,
until in 1848 when slavery on the island was abolished. Even after
1848, when slaves were given their freedom, St. Croix continued to
prosper, but gradually as other parts of the world increased their
sugarcane acreage and as beet-sugar consumption .grew, the industry
became less profitable and declined. In 1932 less than 5,000 acres of
cane were planted where at one time 18,000 acres were given over to
its cultivation, and only one mill of 250 tons capacity remained of
the three that formerly ground 1,100 tons daily. As will be seen
later, projects recently introduced have been planned in an endeavor
to improve these conditions.
Fields were left uncultivated or turned into grazing lands where
cattle wen~ raised to supply the local market demands, the pasturage
increasing from 31,255 acres in 1909 to 41,500 acres in 1931. With
this shift from sugarcane growing to cattle raising there followed
naturally a decrease in employment on the island.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis




Economic position of women.
The most recent census material on employment shows that in
1930 43..4 percent, or well over 2 in 5, of the women on the islamds
who were 10 years of age and over were gainfully employed~ When
these figures .are compared with those for the mainland the proportion of women working is seen to be almost twice as high in the
Virgin Islands as the 22 percent on the mainland. This difference
is not surprising. Not only are wages· of men very low; but many
women are the heads of families so that their work is as necessary
as the men's for the.i support of the :family. The woman. :fools the
responsibilities for the home and children more than the father does.
As a, rule, she is the ;mainstay, and largely through her efforts the
children are clothed and fed and the home, is held together.
According to the. 1930 census there were 4,067 women 10 years of
age and over gainfully occupied. The largest part, somewhat more
than one-hal:f, were engaged in domestic and personal service ; the
next, close to one-fifth, m agriculture; slightly more than one-eighth
in manufacturing andi mechanical industries; somewha.t less than
one-tenth in trade; and the remainder in professional service., transportation, public service, a.nd unspecified industries.
In an analysis made by the director of public welfare. in St. Thoma
for the period from March 31 to August 31, 1935, it was shown that
61.1 percent-a little more than three-fifths-of the employables
registered at the.. department of publi~ wel:fare were women. The
need of additional employment for women is. clearly shown when, o:f
the 5,462 women on the single island of St. Thomas in 1930, over
2,100 applied for work-relief jobs.
To give a picture of the present employment op;portunities for
women in the Virgin I slands and the possibilities of mcreasing, such
opportunities it is important to consider each of the three islands
separately. Due largely to the natural a.dvantages and to different
degrees of accessibility to the outside world both now and in the
past, the people and their capabilities, as well as the islands themselves, vary considerably. Much o:f the work on the islands is irregular and spasmodic- to a far greater degree than on the mainland and
bo,t h the workers and their employer accept such a condition, as
natural and unavoidable.
In an island community the needed products can be imported if
they are not available on the island, but when there is a shortage
of means to earn a living one cannot depend on neighboring islands
or the mainland to furnish work.
Facts illustrating the differences in the islands as well as many
showing similarities will be,, reviewed separately for St. Thomas, St.
Croix, and St. John.
Present employment opportunities.
The present work opportunities for women in St. Thomas are
extremely limited. The only manufacturing industry of any importance is the making of bay rum. At the time of the survey a
maximum o:f 14 women were employed in two establishments making this product. There is no agriculture aside :from a few truck
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gardens. Articles for daily living as well as those for :food are
largely imported and as there are no duties and only a 5-percent
internal revenue tax, this arrangement may be cheaper than to try
to make the island more self-sustaining. It is necessary, however,
to have money to buy the goods imported and there are :few opportunities to earn money.
At the time o:£ the survey women were found in the following
lines of employment:
N u m ber of women employed


Domestic service ____________ __ __ __ _____ 300 to 400 (estimated).
Hotels and restaurants __ ,____ __ ___ _____ 20 t o 25.
Stores _____________ ___ __ ____ _________ __ 29 f ull time, 8 part time.
B.ay-rum plants ___ ___ ______ ____ ____ ___ _ lO to 14.
Hospitals _______________ ___ ________ __ __ 46.
Schools ________ ______________ __ _____ ___ 40.
Bunkering of ships ______ __ _______ __ ___ 30 to 75.
Cooperatives of the Virgin Islands
(2 )
(exclusive of rugs) ____ __ ____ ____ __ _
Hooked rugs (under Cooperatives ) __ ___ __ (3 )
1 There were a few women employed in offices, in a telephone exchange, in the public
library, and in one laundry.
2 Not reported (average number of persons r egularl y employed 103).
3 Not reported (averag,e number of persons regularly employed 50).

In addition to the lines of employment mentioned, there are a
number of dressmakers who work in their homes and a considerable
number of women who take in washing. Women also sell candy,
fruits, and vegetables along the street or in their homes. These
latter places can hardly be called shops, :for frequently they consist
o:£ a table or tray containing the articles to be sold, or o:£ one side
of a room with a counter carrying the stock. In the center o:£ the
town is the public market, where women sell :fruit, vegetables, poultry, and eggs. In the majority of cases the women have bought the
products they offer, purchasing them either :from the neighboring
island of Tortola or from a small colony of French :farmers who
live on the other side of the town of St. Thomas. Very rarely does
a woman. raise and sell her own produce, since truck gardens are
rare in St. Thomas.
In 1935 there was also a work-relie:£ project for women that employed a total of 165 women. These women did not work steadily
but were employed for a few weeks and then laid off for a couple.
o:f weeks while another group took their places, the object being to
spread the work so that as many women as possible might benefit
by it.
Not only in work relief was the work irregular and earnings
uncertain. In the stores about a fifth of the women employed were
on part time. Work in the bay-rum :factories was spasmodic, varying according to the demand of the industry, frequently with days
and weeks of no work and then a full week with overtime.
Bunkering ships by hand-that is, loading coal by carrying it in
baskets from the island to the ship-is still done by men and women
in St. Thomas, but that work too is irregular and uncertain. When
a boat is in the harbor a siren notifies the coa1ers, who are scattered
a11 over the island, that a boat is coming. They flock to the docks,
and even before the gang plank is down begin to fill the baskets.
The number o:£ coalers has decreased markedly of late years. Though
there is no record o:£ the actua1 number employed, it would appear
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to vary from 50 to 200 according to the time of day and day of the
week. Sunday, the day on which the coaling was observed, there
appeared to be ahout 60 workers, with perhaps a third of them
women. Because of the pleas of the workers, the company still
employs men and women and a third of the coaling on a ship is
allotted to them, while two-thirds is done by the loading crane.
According to the West India Co., hand coaling is an expensive
method compared to the modern electric crane and costs about 40
cents a ton more than machine coaling. .T he work is heavy and dirty
and most undesirable, yet in .spite of these facts the men and women
have beg~ed the company to continue hand coaling. A common
remark of the other workers on the island, when a job is very difficult and undesirable, is "I'd rather coal than do that."
The Cooperatives of the Virgin Islands (located in St. John as
well as St. Thomas) were started in 1931 with Government funds to
provide a market for native products. H andicraft sales have increased sixfold, ranging from $3,978.52 in 1931 (part of the year) to
$23,371.67 ( exclusive of rugs) in the fiscal year 1934-35. The articles made consist of baskets, embroidered linens, preserves made
from native fruits, tortoise-shell pieces, mahogany boxes, hooked
rugs, and so forth.
According to the Governor's annual report, the Cooperatives gave
work to over 300 persons on a full- or part-time basis during the
fiscal year ending June 30, 1935; the average number of persons
given regular employment was 103. The hooked-rug project, established by an F. E. R. A . grant of $5,000· and fostered by the Cooperatives, gave work to about 400 different persons from January
1, 1934, to June 30, 1935, the average number on the pay roll weekly
being 50.
Every available means of earning .a few pennies is utilized and a
chance to earn a decent living is eagerly sought. If a tourist plans
to rent a house and start housekeeping, he receives numerous offers
of service, and for any other work where a few extras are needed
the supply far exceeds the demand.
Especially for the younger woman who has completed school is
the situation difficult. When an investigation was made in November 1935 of 18 girls graduated from high school in 1935, 5 had jobs,
only 1 was continuing her education, while 12 were at home, helping
around the house, doing a little dressmaking, or just waiting for
possible work.
The conditions, therefore, that complicate the problem of wageearning women in the Virgin Islands are ·the few jobs available,
the low wages paid, and the unusually heavy responsibi!ities the
women carry.
Earnings of women in the different occupations in which they
were engaged varied considerably.
In 1935 domestic servants received from $6 to $18 a month, the
usual amount being from $8 to $12. If meals were not furnished
and the worker supplied her own food, an extra $3 a month was.
In hotels women were employed in the kitchen and as chambermaids. Wages were similar to those in private homes, though cooks,,
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as a rule, received more in hotels. Monthly wages of from $6 to
$40 were reported in the three hotels included, one being in St.
Croix. The latter figure ($40) was twice as high as any other reported in domestic service or in hotels. In 6 of the 12 cases reported
the pay was $12 a month; meals were furnished the two assistant
cooks receiving this amount.
In the employment of women as salespeople in stores a wide
variety of wages prevailed. The most usual wage was $25 a month,
but of the 29 women for whom salaries were reported 1 earned only
$8 a month and 11 earned from $10 to $15. These earnings seem
extremely low even when compared with the amount paid to household servants, as in the. case of domestic workers meals and frequently living quarters were included, while the workers in stores
had no such additions and the character of their jobs required them
to be better dressed while at work.
The municipal hospital and the public schools were the largest
sources of employment for the pro:fessional and semiprofessional
women. A graduate nurse earned from $30 to $40 a month with
board and room provided, while the visiting nurse and the school
nurse received $10 a week without meals or room. Obstetrical
nurses were paid slightly more in cash, $50 a month, though they
were not furnished meals or rooms. Wages of domestic help, exclusive of the housekeeper, in the hospital were similar to those of
domestics in households and ranged from $6 to $11 a month.
Domestic help other than laundresses received meals in addition to
a cash wage.
The teachers in the schools were the most highly paid group of
women workers on the islands, and yet their salaries generally
were extremely low compared to teachers elsewhere. A little over
two-thirds of the 40 teachers were paid less than $600 a year, while
about one-third received less than $400. Only two had salaries. of
over $1,000. A comparison of the earnings of women teachers with
those of men teachers shows no man receiving less than $600 and
9 of the 11 being paid over $1,000. The qualifications and duties
of the men and women may have varied but the amounts necessary
on which to live and carry their relative responsibilities probably
were similar.
At the other extreme from these groups are the women employed
on the coaling of ships. They were paid 1½ cents a basket 1
and of this amount they must pay a third to those who fill their
baskets. Their earnings depend on the number of boats that coal,
the proportion of this work done by hand coaling, and the number
of workers that turn out for work. On Sundays and late in the day
:fewer workers appear, and those who do come get more work, while
if several boats dock on the same day some boats may have to be
entirely coaled by crane.
One woman, who had done the work for 16 years, said that she
usually "gets" from 20 to 40 baskets per ship; the baskets weigh 80
pounds, and at 1 cent net per basket she earned from 20 to 40 cents
per ship. In some weeks a number of ships coal and she can earn
1 Recently the rate paid for coal ca rriers in St. Thomas was r educed from 1½ cents to
1 cent per basket. This has bad the effect of making it practically impossible for the
coal carriers to continue. It i s p roba bl e tha t most coaling w ill be done hereafter by the
use of the crane, w hich, inciden tall y, i s a n electric crane and not a steam crane.
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$1.50 or $2, but in other weeks no ships come, so that she can never
tell what she will earn. This woman lived with her father and
mother, who owned a house and a small garden, but her money comprised the entire cash income for the :family. Another woman
stopped while coaling to speak to the director of public relief, whom
she knew, and a:fter she le:ft he remarked that she had never applied for relie:f, an exception to most o:f the coalers.
Fairly steady work may be the case among women in many o:f
the industries, yet weekly or monthly earnings, even i:f multiplied
by 52 and 12, respectively, make very little to live on for an entire
The women employed by the Cooperatives, with the exception of a
:few in the store and in the hooked-rug department, worked in their
homes and brought the result of their week's work to the Cooperatives once a week and received their pay. It was possible to obtain
for these workers complete records o:f earnings over a year's period,
as the books were c,a refully kept and :free access to these was given
by the director.
As is true of all home work, there were wide variations in the
amount of work brought in, depending on the speed and industry
of the worker and to an even greater extent on the number of workers in the family. Since no attempt was made to visit all the
workers, the number responsible for the work turned in was not
The Cooperatives were expanding during 1934-35 and anxious to
increase their production. Classes were given with Federal Emergency Relief Administration funds to train women in weaving palm
and wist reed and in making baskets. These classes furnished many
new workers, and 302 names were added to the pay rolls in the first
10 months of 1935, not ,a ll of whom, however, became steady workers.
Of the total number of women only 111 had earned sufficient monev
to be discussed, and many of these 111 could hardly be termed steady
workers if judged by their earnings.
Well over one-half ( 54 percent) earned less than $50 during the
entire year and only 12 ( 11 percent) earned $200 or more. Mention
should be made here that even these small earnings m,ay represent
the work of more than one person.
The work when divided into three groups, according to its type,
varied markedly in earnings. The workers in palm and reed goods
such as baskets, purses, mats, hats, and so forth, earned considerably more than those in linen work, or than those producing specialties
such as bead work, dolls, and purses. 0£ the 47 basket makers, 29
earned $100 and more and 2 showed yearly earnings of $393.10 and
$482.83, respectively. None of the women hemming and embroidering linen earned as much as $100 and· about four of every five workers
earned less than $50 during the year. A smaller number of women
than in the preceding two groups (10) made a variety of articles,
dolls, belts, and purses from beads, and some jellies and preserves.
Their earnings were irregular and only 3 of the 10 women who
reported earned as much as $50.
The earnings of the linen workers and those making specialties are
to a great extent the result of the work of a single member of a
family, while the basket work is more or less that of several members
of the family. In a family of six persons, five, the mother and four
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children ranging from 15 down to 5 years of age, worked m,llking
mats and purses for the Cooperatives. The woman with the highest earnings, $482.83, had one son who worked steadily with her
and two others who worked after school, evenings, and Saturdays
and Sundays, and the fa,ther helped evenings and when not employed
on the roads.
In the majority of these families there may be some slight income
besides the earnings .from the Cooperatives, but that this frequently
was not the case is shown by the annual report of the director, which
states that out of 150 fairly steady workers 100 were known to have
no other means of support. In interviews with some of the women
themselves the principal support of the family was found to be the
Cooperatives. In a number 0if families the father and brother helped
by fishing, which added more to the. family larder than to the
pocketbook. The earnings of the fishermen per week varied from
nothing in some weeks to $3.50 in other.s. An average of $1.50 to $2
was said to be the rule. Occasionally a brother was in the C. C. C.
-camp and contributed, or a husband sent money from the United
States, or a boy ran errands and earned a little, but without doubt
work .from the Cooperatives was the most important when not the
only contribution to the family budget.
The hooked-rug department of the Cooperatives has been another
source of earnings to the women in St. Thomas, but due to foreign
competition this work has been largely discontinued. In spite of a
20-percent special tax iri addition to the prevailing regular duty,
Japan was able to ship rugs into the United States and sell them for
25 cents a square foot, while rugs from the Cooperatives cost 30
cents to make. The average weekly earnings were low, about $1.40
per worker, but the more experienced workers earned as high as $5
and one exceptionally good worker received $7.92 for 1 week's work.
The hooked-rug industry cannot, however, be included among the
present opportunities for women's employment as there is little work
being done at this time. .
The same past tense must be used in regard to the work-relie.f
projects, conducted by the public-welfare department. Sewing projects were conducted on each island. Towels, sheets, and pillowcases
were made in addition to a quantity of clothing, all of which were
distributed to needy families. A mattress project in St. Thomas
produced over 500 mattresses made from Federal surplus relief commodities material by relief labor. The cotton was shipped in hales
and the women combed and cleaned the cotton, cut and stitched the,
ticking, and labeled the finished products. A total of 165 women
were given more or less employment. Some weeks only a few seamstresses and a cutter were necessary and in others as many as 49
women were employed. The daily hours were 8, but the week varied
from 1 to 5 days. In order to spread the work, a certain number of
women were given a few weeks' work and then others were taken on
for a few weeks. The pay was on an hourly basis. It varied from
10 to 15 cents an hour during the first half of the period to 15 and
20 cents after June 1, 1935. Not only were these earnings of assistance to the women but the mattresses and pillows, which were given
away to the needy on the three islands, were much appreciated. One
woman who looked at least 80 was carrying hers away from the
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,dock on her head. It was a warm day and the mattress was hot
and heavy. As she stopped to rest she w~s asked if it was not pretty
heavy, and her reply was: "I'd be mighty glad to carry it twice as
.far. I always have wanted a bed and I'll sure sleep well tonight~"
The foregoing earnings• although very low can hardly be Judged
by standards on the mainland. Tradition and custom on the islands
have established a different pattern of living and although many
desires and even needs are unsatisfied nevertheless the mild and agricultural climate ·a nd the ease with which vegetables and :fruit are
grown, prevent the suffering from cold and hunger that might occur
in other less-favored localities.
Most of the work of the women was not done in industrial establishments with regular hours of work, so the actual amount of time
spent each day on the job was impossible to obtain. From statements of employers it was found that in most cases the hours of
saleswomen in stores were from 8 to 6, with an hour for lunch,
excepting that on Saturday they were on du~y until 10 or 11 in the
evening, an hour for dinner being given on Saturday. These hours
resulted in a long workweek for women in stores.
The work of women in the bay-rum plants was very irregular,
as to both daily and weekly hours, as well as being very seasonal.
In one plant the work was sfuady for about 12 weeks in the yea(r,
with a 5-day week and a 7-hour day, but for the rest of the year
there was work for only a day or two now and then. Another plant
reported a 7-hour day, with sometimes a full week of 6 days, but
frequently only a few days a week or no work at all. In this plant,
also, the work was largely seasonal, with the most work during the
fall and winter months.
The hours of workers in hotels (includes one hotel in St. Croix)
resembled those of domestics in private employment, with a long
day of anywhere from 11 to 13% hours between beginning and ending but time during that period allowed for meals. The chambermaids had several hours off in the afternoon and one whole afternoon
off each week.
Graduate and student nurses had a 12-hour schedule with 2 hours
off during the day, with ·a half day off twice weekly. The hours
for cooks, pantry maids, and dishwashers in the hospital were long
also, beginning at 6 and ending at 6 with two hours off in the afternoon. One afternoon a week was given off duty, but, of course,
Sunday work was necessary, as in hotels, so weekly hours were
around 60. The workweek for the ward maids was somewhat
shorter-a 9-hour day and a 60-hour week. One full day a month
was given these workers. For laundresses the hours were considerably shorter, consisting of an 8-hour day, with a half day on
Saturday and no work on Sundays or holidays.

Present employment opportunities.
The present opportunities of work and employment needs in St.
Croix are largely determined by the physical characteristics and
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history of the island. Because of its fertile valleys and good soil,
agriculture is the principal industry, and men and women alike
depend largely upon it for employment. There are two towns on the
island, one, according to the 1930 census, with about 3,800 and the
other about 2,700 inhabitants, but the majority of the people live
in little hamlets attached to what were formerly estates scattered
throughout the island. These groups are a survival of an older
method of living when each estate or plantation was a unit with
its manor house, its own fields of sugarcane, its own sugar mill, its
cattle and horses, and all the appurtenances for an economic unit.
With the decline of sugar culture on the island, many of the manor
houses and mills have fallen into decay, and fields that formerly
were under cultivation are now overgrown with scrub trees and
bushes. The workers' houses and the workers themselves still remain,
and the latter are anxious to work the fields or get any employment
which, together with their little plot of garden and house, may
enable them to support themselves and families.
The names of the little villages, taken from those of the estates on
which they are situated, bear witness to a former more colorful life.
Peter's Rest, Anna's Home, Perseverance, Contentment, Hard. Labor,
Upper Love, Lower Love, Jealousy, Envy, all sound like names from
a romance rather than those attached to actual places.
In a report of the islands _published by the Department of the
Interior in 1936, the followmg picture of conditions is given.
"Throughout its [St. Croix's] length may be seen the old ruins of
former prosperous sugar estates, topping each rolling hill. Around
many of these the luxuriant cane still grows, for this island still
depends for its life upon sugar. The tremendous increase in the
world's cane and beet acreage and the consequent low price of sugar
have made it difficult, though not impossible, to continue profitable
production of sugar on St. Croix, with its uncertain rainfall and its
low acre yield. * * * Of the 51,000 acres of land on St. Croix,
41,000 are now given over to grazinf? as · the least costly and least
hazardous use to which it can be put.' These cattle are used for the
beef market or for the cane fields of Puerto Rico rather than for
dairy purposes. This reasonably successful cattle industry, using
80 percent of the land and only 3 percent of the labor, contributes
little work for men ·and women on the island.
Though the present survey was in the interest of women, it is
difficult, especially in industries such as agriculture, when men and
women do some of the same work or supplement each other, to separate the two sexes. Such is the condition found in the Virgin Islands
Co. This company has done more than any other single factor to
improve conditions in St. Croix and to give employment to its people,
and therefore it ranks first in importance in the industrial life of
the island.
The Virgin Islands Co. was created on April 9, 1934, by the Colonial Council of St. Thomas and St. John to aid in effecting the economic rehabilitation of the Virgin Islands. This company is a
partnership program by which the Government of the United States
and the people of the Virgin Islands cooperate in a long-range
social, economic, and industrial program, the profits being available
in the islands for educational and social purposes.
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According to the Governor's annual report, the general plan is that
certain sugar factories, cane lands, and rum distilleries in St. Croix
are to be purchased from the appropriation of $1,000,000 made by
the Public Works Administration.
The Government bought 3,000 acres of land on St. Croix, and by
the aid of men and tractors uprooted the jungle of trees, plants, and
vines on 2,000 acres. Seven hundred acres have been put under
cultivation, principally sugarcane. Two sugar mills and a rum distillery were purchased also ; one mill and the rum distillery were
put into operation; 220,000 gallons of rum were distilled and 26
million pounds of cane were purchased from 650 growers.
About 1,500 persons were employed in November of 1935, approximately one-third being women. The occupations of the men varied
widely, as they were employed in the sugar mill and distillery as
well as in the fields. But women were nearly all at work in the
fields, hoeing and helping to plant the cane, and cultivating and
picking tomatoes. Not only did the tomatoes give additional employment to women in the fields, but women were employed to grade and
pack them. This was irregular, however, as packing was done for
only a few days at a time~ and only during the shipping season
from December through February.
Field work gives the greatest employment in St. Croix, and it was
an interesting sight to see a long line of women dressed in their
bright-colored cotton dresses with madras turbans on their heads,
often with a hat topping the turban, hoeing slowly across a field, or
with wooden trays full of cane seed balanced on their heads preceding the planters down the cane fields. Not far away in another field
would be found a modern tractor pulling up roots or plowing, and
one realized that modern and up-to-date methods as well as longestablished ways of doing, were contributing to the regeneration of
the island's chief industry.
During the sugarcane season- that is, from the planting to the
shipping of the sugar- employment is given to between 400 and 800
persons, about a third of them women. The work of the women is
entirely in the fields, but the men, besides doing fieldwork, are also
employed in the refinery. There ,are three rum distilleries, privately
owned, that provide some work for men, but women are not employed in distilleries except to wash bottles. This work is very
irregular, and the one plant visited had no . difficulty in obtaining
plenty of help even though the work is intermittent.
At the time of survey, as in St. Thomas, but to ,a less degree, there
was work for women in : Domestic service, hotels and restaurants,
stores, rum distilleries, bakeries, hospitals, and schools.
There was no estimate of the number of domestic servants on the
island, but they seemed to be in considerable demand, especially the
more efficient ones. The hotels and restaurants were few and small
and probably could give employment to not over 15 or 20 women.
Practically all the stores in Christiansted, the larger of the two
towns, were visited, and 18 women ( exclusive of those in the family)
were reported as employed. Because in many stores the wife and
daughters of the owner helped to sell goods, the positions available
were fewer than would appear to be the case from the number o.f
stores and the women observed in them.
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A bakery was attached to a store and five women were employed
part time.
The rum distillery gave irregular employment to from 20 to 30
women, and the manager said that if he had work enough he would
have no difficulty in obtaining from 4 to 5 times the present number.
In other words, there were many more workers available than positions to be filled.
On the island are two hospitals, a leper home, an insane asylum,.
and an old people's home. These institutions combined employed
59 women, a l,a rger number than in the public schools or any other
industry or organization except the Virgin Islands Co. The largest
schools were the parochial ones, in which the teaching was done by
The schools employed 30 male teachers and 34 women, a greater
proportion of men than was found in the schools of St. Thomas.
The Self Help Association, a new and philanthropic organization,
was run somewhat on the line of a woman's exchange. Women
brought in their work and left it for sale in the little shop in Frederiksted. Good cross-stitch work was being done by the pupils of
one of the vocational training classes attached to the school, and a
wide variety of preserves and jellies were on sale as well as fiber rugs
and novelties. No records were obtained as to the number of women
The wages of workers in St. Croix were reputed to be lower than
those in St. Thomas. It would not be surprising if this were the
case, as there was a larger percentage of the population living in
the country and the towns themselves are smaller than in St.
Thomas. Further, St. Croix is more isolated than St. Thomas and
less in touch with the outside world. But in spite of these facts
there was little difference in wages.
Servants received from $6 to $12 and usually less if employed by
the natives, but this latter condition also prevails in St. Thomas.
Hotel wages compare :favorably with those of St. Thomas, and the.
occasional employee in a restaurant received about the same as
those in St. Thomas. The saleswomen in stores, however, did not
fare so well as those in St. Thomas. Of 17 women for whom wages
were obtained 9 received $10 a month and two $6 or less. However,
a few women had higher salaries than anything reported in St.
Thomas, two women receiving $50 a month and one woman $45.
The custom of the family helping in the store was prevalent in St.
Croix, where 8 stores out of 14 visited employed only members of the
family to sell goods: This family service was especially noticeable
in the stores owned by Puerto Ricans. In the past 4 years or so
many Puerto Ricans have moved to St. Croix to escape the crowded
conditions of their own island and in the hope of more opportunities
for work. It is estimated that as many as 3,000 have immigrated
and settled in St. Croix to work on the land and to build up small
businesses in the towns.
There is little industry on the island. The rum factory where
women wash, wipe, band, label, polish, and stamp the bottles furnishes rather irregular work. Usually the plant .operates 3 days a
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week and sometimes it is closed entirely £or a week or two. This
and a small bakery constitute the industrial life of the town. Wages
in these two establishments correspond with the standard set by
other industries throughout the island. The rum plant pays better
than the bakery, and wages in this plant are similar to those for
other semiskilled work. The earnings 0£ the bakery workers are on
a monthly basis and lower than in ,the rum plant, but work is
steadier and two meals are furnished. The hours in the bakery,
· though inconvenient, as they are in the early morning and in the
,e vening with time off between, are such as to allow the women time to
attend to their own homes and families, which, without doubt, is
considered an advantage.
In 1935 the earnings 0£ employees in the hospitals were somewhat
.above those in St. Thomas. Graduate nurses earned $50 a month
plus meals and student nurses $25 plus meals, both slightly more
than was reported in St. Thomas. Domestic help in the hospitalscooks, ward maids, and laundresses- received a little better wage in
St. Croix, their wages ranging from $10 paid to laundresses and
ward maids to $12 paid to cooks. In all cases meals were given in
Teachers' salaries, as in St. Thomas, were not high as a rule, only
two women earning over $1,000 a year, while of the 34 women 30
earned $600 or less. The largest group, 20 women, had a salary 0£
$300 a year.
With these salaries for professional workers, it is not surprising
tu find women working in the fields receiving 50 and 60 cents a day.
The various privately owned estates paid 40 cents, with a bonus at
the end of the year if profits had been made. The Virgin Islands
Co. paid 50 cents to women, with no bonus. All labor receives more
during the spring months in the busy season when women's wages
increase to 60 cents a day: The kind of work det.ermines the pay.
The :fieldwork is divided. into two classes-first and second classand that of women falls in the second class, while men who do the
same work also are considered second-class workers and receive the
wages for that class of work.
The work 0£ grading and packing tomatoes is seasonal and irregular. The majority of the work is done between December 15 and
March 1, but even during this period the work is not steady, varying
from a full week of 5 days to a much shorter one. The pay is 60
cents a day, with extra pay for overtime. It must also be noted
that the first- and second-class labor employed ·by the Virgin Islands
Co. were furnished with a house, water, and a plot of land for a
garden, rent free, a considerable addition to the straight money wage.
This was also the custom on many of the estates.
There were a few clerical workers in St. Croix, with a very wide
variety in wages. The most usual wage was from $5 to $7· a week,
but one woman received as high as $40 and another, who was a private secretary, received $1,800 a year. Three operators on the telephone switchboard received $24 a month for an 8-hour day, about
the same as clerical help. The positions available on the island in
~hese occupations were very few and the prospect of an increase
m the number would seem slight, at least for the near future.
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Contrary to the usual impression of the tropics, the hours of work
were not excessively long except in domestic service and in a few
of the stores. In St. Croix the workday for employees of th e Virgin
Islands Co. was 8 hours. The same schedule of 8 hours a day was
found in the rum factory and even shorter hours were reported in
the bakery.
Stores usually were open from 8 to 6 except on Saturdays, when
they remained open in most cases to 10 or 10: 30 in the evening.
The hours of the women in the hospital were similar to those of
St. Thomas, with slightly shorter hours for the cooks in St. Croix.
The regular hours of the hotel workers also were much like those
in St. Thomas, but it is probabl~ that actual hours worked were
rather better in St. Croix, as there were fewer tourists and meals
were more regular. They were served at a given hour as in the
home, thus eliminating long evening hours for workers in the dining
room and kitchen.
Present employment opportunities.
The island of St. John, though nearly as large as St. Thomas,
and only 3 miles east of it across Pillsbury Sound, is much more
isolated than the two other islands and much more primitive. There
are no automobile or driving roads and travel is by foot and horseback. Sailboats go back and :forth between St. Thomas and St. John ·
and mail is brought regularly to the island twice a week, but passenger boats run only about every 2 weeks.
There are a :few small settlements, Cruz Bay, Coral Bay, and
East End. Cruz Bay and Coral Bay eac~ have a little store, but
the houses are few and scattering. 'the only means of a livelihood
are those of the other residents on the island, namely, fishing, charcoal making, picking bay leaves, and basket work.
Practically all the houses have some land around them, and on
these plots a few vegetables are raised for home consumption; a few
families have chickens, or even own a cow, but the eggs and milk
usually are sold to the white families on the island, or taken to St.
Thomas and exchanged for other necessities.
Near Coral Bay is a bay-leaf distillery that supplies the oil to the
bay-rum factories in St. Thomas and other West Indian islands. The
bay leaves can be gathered and the distillery operated throughout
the year, but the fall is the best time to gather the leaves as they
yield more oil at that time. The capacity of the distillery is three
times that of the present demand as other islands now grow the
bay leaves and distill the oil, but the best leaves are grown in
St. John.
The women, often assisted by the entire family, pick the bay
leaves from cultivated fields- the plant also grows wild-and pack
them into sacks that are carried on backs of donkeys down the hill to
the distillery. The sacks contain 75 pounds and the pay is 25 cents
a sack. The demand for the oil is irregular, and picking, even in
the season, is done only for a few days a week, so weekly earnings
must be low, probably not more than $2 or $3. Only eight women
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were reported picking bay leaves, but these were assisted by other
members of the families, and the earnings represent those of family
The other two occupations in which women work are charcoal
making and basket weaving. Men and women together work in
the charcoal industry. The men cut down the trees and dig the
pit, and both men and women carry the wood to the pit and pack
it. The fire smolders from 24 to 48 hours; then both women and
men rake out the hot charcoal, and after it has cooled, they pack
it in sacks or cans, and barrels, for shipping. The price varies ac,.
cording to the supply and demand . . Usually a barrel brings :from 30
to 50 cents, but occasionally the price rises to 80 cents. A pit may
contain anywhere :from 10 to 40 barrels, and as it takes 2 or 3 weeks
to cut and collect the wood, the product of a month's work would
be less than two pits a month. The work is heavy, dirty, and, when
the coal is hauled out, very hot. A woman interviewed finished her
description with "very hot, heavy work."
A good many women do basket weaving, mostly the type called
wist reed work. The wist reed grows wild on the island and must
be gathered, stripped, and split. It grows like a vine in the brush,
and the gathering often involves miles of walking besides the work
of cutting the vines. The stripping and splitting is done with a
knife, and the strips must be made round and smooth. It is very
tiresome work to do for long at a time; usually the splitting is done
for half a day and the worker weaves for half a day. It was estimated by the workers that "if you sat right down to it" you could
weave from one to two plate-sized mats in a day, hut that would
not include time spent gathering the reeds and stripping and splitting. The pay for making these plate mats is $1.20 a dozen, and
:from that must be deducted ,a 10-percent charge for dyeing the
straw if a colored straw is desired and if it is not dyed by the woman
herself. The general opinion was that earnings were from 50 cents
to $1.50 a week, depending on how much time could be taken from
household duties. At present the work seems to be less a family
industry than the palm-basket work of St. Thomas, but as the children are learning it will shortly become, like nearly all home work,
a family industry.

From the :foregoing pages it is clear that the earnings of women
are much lower in the Virgin Islands than in the United States, but
in any such comparison two points must be carefully considered-the
climate and the habits of the people.
It has been stated that no people who for generations have lived
in a tropical climate look ahead or save for the future. They desire
only enough work to satisfy immediate needs for food, shelter,
clothing, and recreation. However, even for these primary needs
and in the tropics one must have money.
The cost of housing is very low in the islands, .b ut a great deal
of it is very inferior. Outside of the towns most of the homes are
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built by the owners on rented ground. In some cases the. ground
also is owned and in others no rent is paid and the owner is, according t o the terminology of the mainland, a squatte.r . The latter condition frequently is unavoidable as on all the islands the landowners
art:J comparatively few, and they are not willing to sell, at least at
present prices. The tax system is partly responsible for this as taxes
are high on improved property and negligible on unimprove.d, so
t hat many large tracts, of unused land are held as a speculation on
the possible increase of values. Rents for a plot of land vary from
50 cents to $1 a month. In most cases this includes enough land for
a small garden, but in the French village on St. Thomas this is not
the case. This village, settled· by · emigrants from St. Barts., a.
French West Indian island, has little extra space. The houses are
primitive affairs built close together. The inhabitants intermarry
and young couples build their little houses in the village near the
home of one of the parents.. About 20 of these families have recently
moved to the other side of the island, where it is possible. to purchase small holdings, of land, and there they are raising garden
produce, which they sell to the market women in St. Thomas. The
people in the French village earn a bare subsistence by basket work
sold at the Cooperatives and by fishing.
The native houses in the country districts are made of clay, wood,
or sometimes of corrugated tin from roofs blown away by a hurricane and consist of one or two rooms very sparsely furnished. In a
few may be found big mahogany four posters that completely fill the
room, handed down from some former estate owner, but m many
there is no bed nor even a chair. The houses have no chimneys; the
cooking is done out of doors on charcoal braziers. The Virgin Islands Co. and the Works Progress Administration are building comfortable two- and three-room houses with an outside shed where
cooking and washing can be done. The two photographs facing
page 19 give some idea of the difference between the old and new
living quarters.
In the towns the houses usually are small and close together. If
larger than average, the.y are divided for two or more families.
Rents in the less well-to-do ~uarters range from $3 up to $10 or $12
a month, and these houses, hlrn those. in the country, have few conveniences such as inside plumbing or stoves.
Except in the towns, few of the. houses have glass in the windows,
but they all have heavy hurricane shutters, which usually are tightly
closed at night. This is done artly because of superstition-evil
spirits or "jumbies" entering i windows are left open-but more
largely because of the belief that night air and insect life are injurious. The result, in small overcrowded rooms, may be imagined.
A housing survey made by the welfare department in February
1934 covering the 6,319 persons residing in the town of St. Thomas
revealed challenging facts :


1. Forty percent lived in one-room houses.

2. Twenty-one percent lived in two-room houses.
3. Fifty-four percent of those living in one- and two-room houses had families
of more than two persons.
4. Twenty-eight percent of the occupied one-room houses were classified as
to condition as very bad and only 53 percent as good.
The study showed an appalling lack of decent housing for the lowest-income
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No complete housing survey had been made in St. Croix, but the
conditions are known to be even worse than in St. Thomas, and in
St. John the proportions living under bad housing conditions
probably would be even greater than in St. Thomas or St. Croix.
A housing survey in October 1933 in St. Croix, where the need is
greatest, showed 2,623 one-room houses, with from 1 to 12 persons
in each house. There was found to be no privacy. There was no
back door (indeed only one door), so that washing, cooking, and
living is within the few feet at the front of the house.
The Governor states in his report that correction of the housing
situation is of paramount importance in any program attempting
to raise the standards of living and morals of the people of the
Virgin Islands. Incidentally, the building program involved would
aid materially in solving unemployment problems.
Homesteading was inaugurated in the fall of 1932 with the purchase of two estates in St. Croix and one in St. Thomas, totaling
2,635 acres, of which 2,127 are in St. Croix, where the land is best
suited for agriculture, where people are experienced farmers, and
where sugar mills can take their cane. Half of the sugarcane on
the island of St. Croix was, at that time, being raised by about 600
small-farm renters paying from $7 to $12 rental an acre a year for
their land. Two hundred and fifty of these are now cultivating their
own homestead plots of about 6 acres each, which they are purchasing at an annual average cost of less than $3.50 per acre, and
which will pay for the land, with interest charges, in 20 years.
Roads were built, drains installed, and the land was cleared and
plowed for homesteaders as desired, the cost for clearing and plowing
being charged additionally against their crops for the first 3 or
4 years.
Homesteaders are buying their farms for less than half of the
previous rentals charged, and with the aid of mechanical equipment
now available to them they are cultivating twioo as much land as
previously and are doubling their net cash income. Less than 15
percent of these homesteaders have failed to meet payments due and
to satisfactorily develop their land-both considerations being
equally required by the homestead commissions.
The average homestead is slightly under 6 acres, and the average
price with permanent improvements exclusive of house is about $210,
requiring an annual payment of $16, including interest. To this are
added the charges for cultivation aids and for houses now built for
some. Only five have defaulted their payments completely, although
54 have made only part payments chiefly because of development
delay. .A score have made advance payments of next year's
While homesteading has not been so markedly successful in St.
Thomas as in St. Croix because of the difference in basic conditions
previously referred to, yet the St. Thomas project has fulfilled all
that was expected of it. In St. Thomas 50 ,p lots have been allotted
and aid given for the initial work of clearing and cultivating part
of eaich plot. Because of rugged topography, mechanical cultiva-
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tion was possible on only a small percentage of the acreage. The
immediate market dependence of the St. Thomas homesteaders has
been fruits and vegetables for local sales. The extensive planting
of fruits and other perennials is being encouraged to relieve homesteaders of the uncertainties and the toil of seasonal production of
vegetables only.
Houses are constructed for homesteaders only after they have
passed a probationary period of land cultivation and have so developed th~ir homestead plots as to reasonably assure the ,p ayments
necessary for house purchase. These natives, who are ready to incur
almost any indebtedness with only the hope that they may be able
to meet it, must be protected from themselves lest they lose land as
well as house by inability to meet installments. This policy not
only has proved sound in itself but has increased ambition and developed healthy competition.
The two-room concrete house, 12 by 24, with front and back galleries, small kitchen, and cistern, costs about $700 and may be purchased on a 20-year plan at a cost of about $4 a month. This is ·
considerably more than the previous rent most of these homesteaders
have been paying for their one-room, tumble-down quarters in the
nearby towns or in some estate "village", but the living conditions
are many times better and result in marked improvement in family
pride and family status. Fifty houses have already been built or
are building and 80 more are .p lanned and provided for from funds
now available.

The cost of fuel is a very different problem in the islands from
what it is in a colder climate. No provision is made for heatingprob~bly it is not necessary-and the cooking is done almost entirely
on charcoal braziers, the cost of charcoal ranging from approximately 8 to 44 cents a week on St. Thomas. In the country districts
of St. John they make their own charcoal, and among some of
the poorer families on the other islands twigs and branches of trees
are gathered from the neighboring country. Electricity is available in the towns, but many use lamps, as they are cheaper, and the
cost of kerosene, as estimated by the families, is usually from 1 to 2
cents a night, depending on how late it is burned.
The problem of clothing also is largely determined by climate.
No very heavy clothes are needed, and there is too little variation in
the seasons to make different types of garments necessary. Most of
the women buy materials and make the dresses at home or, as is
the custom in the French village, have them made by local dressmakers. The cost of having them made is not great, varying from
25 to 85 oents. The ready-to-wear dress is an innovation appearing
in the islands only in the past 2 or 3 years. Women living in the
country have for everyday wear madras turbans, usually crowned
by broad-brimmed hats; a church hat, costing from 80 cents to $2, is
part of the usual wardrobe.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis



A. sample wardrobe for a year was given by one women as follow
3 church dresses ___ ___ ___ ____ __ ____ __________ $1.30 to $1.50 apiece.
5 everyday dresse ----- - ------------ -------- 75 to 80 cents apiece.
2 church hats ____ ___________ ___ ____________ _ $1 apiece.
2 everyday hats ___ ____ ___ _____ __ __ ___ ___ ____ 65 cents apiece.
3 pairs hoes ______ ____ ______ ___ ______ _______ $2 to $2.50 apiece.
6 pairs stocking ----- - ---------------------- 15 cents a pair.
Underwear___ _______ ____ __ __ ____ ___ ____ ___ __ ·5 total cost.

It is common know ledge that a far greater proportion of the total
income is spent on food in the lower-earnings group than in the
higher. Naturally, hunger demands satisfaction before money is
used for clothing, better housing, or recreation. Actual hunger can
be satisfied at very little cost in the Virgin Islands, but anything
approaching a well-balanced diet is expensive.
The families in St. Croix and t. John grow in their gardens
or pick from native trees part M their food supplies, but the staples
uch as groceries must be bought, and these are supplemented by
fish and an occasional chicken or piece. of pork.
With no ice, all meat and fish must be eaten fresh. A.n interesting
example of how superstitions grow and also of the feeling of the
native that newcomers from the North are "different" is shown by
the experience of one of the Government representatives. He
caught a large fish and had it · sliced so as to share it with his
friends. He asked the servants how much they would like kept
for them. They replied that it was poison, all large fish were, and
that they would not touch it. The next day much interest wa
taken in the health of the family, and when no ill effects were forthcoming, it was pointed out to the servants that the family had eaten
and not been poisoned. The answer was : "You're different from
us, big fish poisons us"; as it probably did if kept too long without
ice! The more well-to-do on the islands have electric refrigerators,
but the poorer people have no means of keeping perishable supplies.
The principal vegetables grown on the islands are yams, pumpkins,
squash, beans, peppers, eggplants, onions, and to a less extent tomatoes and cucumbers. The usual meal, however, consists o:f far
more starches than vegetables. Bread, johnnycake, beans, rice, and
split peas for soup are staples, and on St. Croix "calla-lou", a stew
o:f vegetables with meat or fish, is very popular. Native fruits contribute to the diet but not used so much as they might be, especially in the towns, where they are purchased usually at the market
or at the little home shops. Bananas and sugar apples are popular
and fairly plentiful in season, but the other fruits, the papaya, guava,
pineapple, alligator p ar, mango, soursop, and many more varieties
are not in great abundance and therefore cost more and are much
less important articles of diet.
A.11 canned goods and groceries are imported, and although there
is no duty _there is a landing tax of 5 per~nt as well as freight
charges which add to the cost. A.11 butter is canned, and as there
is very little fresh milk on the islands canned or evaporated milk is
used by those in the lower-income groups.
The following list of the usual foods eaten and their cost for a
family of two adults and one child or one adult and three children
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis



for one week as well as other necessary expenditures was compiled
by the department o:f public welfare:

Bread ________ ____ $0.50
Fish____ ________ _ .40
Meat___ ____ ___ ___
. 30
Lara_____________ . 20
Eggs____ __ ____ ___
. 10
Salt______ __ __ ___ . 01
Milk________ __ ___
. 25
Butter __ __ ___ ____ . 10



Meal _________ ____ $0.21
Flour___________ _ .20
Rice_____ _____ ___
Beans and peas__
. 22
Potatoes _________ . 15
Seasoning________ .04
Tea_______ ___ ___ _ .10
Miscellaneous __ __
. 30
Total ___ _____ __

3. 36

Other n ecessities

Rent _____________ $0.75
Coal_________ __ __
Kerosene oiL_____
. 20
Clothing, medicine,
etc__________ __ 1. 00
Total ____ ______ 2. 13
Total expenditures_ 5. 49

This amount is so low as to be incredible, and yet it is above the
earning power o:f most o:f the workers.
Steady employment at $6 a week or $25 a month would provide
this minimum, but even in stores visited in St. Thomas and St. Croix
only a little more than a third o:f the•women earned .as much as this.
Earnings from the Cooperatives, with their less regular employment,
showed ·only t wo women averaging more than $25 a month. The
15-cents-an-hour wage o:f the mattress work-relie:f project, if 40 hours
had be.en steadily worked, would have yielded the minimum amount,
but this could not be done and the work spread among enough
In the United States in December 1935, according to the Bureau of
Home Economics, a minimum food budget for 1 week in a :family
of four was $9.15, and a restricted budget $6.25. When these sums
are compared with the estimated food cost in the Virgin I slands,
$3.36, it is clear that much o:f the difference is due to an in:ferior diet
in the islands. The Home E conomics budget was computed on a
planned basis and that of the Virgin Islands on actual food bought,
conditioned probably to a great extent by the amount of money t o
be spent, but at least the figures, allowing for discrepancies of place,
show the wide difference between minimum needs and actual consumption o:f the Virgin I slands :family.

The wisdom of .giving unemployed persons the opportunity t o
support themselves mstead of giving them direct relie:f admits of no
argument. Moreover, i:f the work started as work-relief :erojects
can in a :few years be established on a self-supporting basis, it Justifies
The Cooperatives of the Virgin I slands not only paid all expenses
during the• fiscal year ending June 30, 1934, but had a surplus o:f
$3,190.86 to return to the business. As st ated before, total sales
grew from $3,978.52 in 1931 (part of year) to $23,371.67 in the 12
months ending June 30, 1935. The Virgin I slands Co. of St. Croix
is planning its work t o establish the project on a like practical business basis while giving immediate work to the unemployed.
It is reasonable to believe that new projects sta.r ted on the islands
should, i:f possible, be. under one o:f these two agencies, the Cooperatives or the Virgin Isl~nds Co., and thus have, the benefit of the busi-
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis


23 .

ness ability shown by these managements. Therefore, in the following suggestions, it is -µrged that all industria:i. projects not of a
temporary character be nnd.e r the direction of one or the. other of
these two organizations and also that they be consulted on plans for
In creating and establishing opportunities for the women of the
Virgin Islands two basic conditions must be observed. The product
must .either supply local needs or be in the nature o:f a specialty of
the Virgin Islands. There- can be no successful project for. e,x port
that is not based on what the islands themselv-es can produce that is
not produced elsewhere under much more favorable economic. conditions. Sugar, rum, ba.y rum, vegetables that reach the market earlier
than the usual crops, basket work, special typ~ of embmidery are
all natural products more or less indigenous to the islands. To try
to compete with factory production in• providing occupations for
women is out of the question unless for local consumption. In the
latter case, if the material is produced locally and the labor and
ma,r ket also are local, success would. seem to be reasonably certain.
In all the islands there is need of training and education to make
more general use of natural resources. Teaching food values, cooking, and canning of local fruits and v~etables would not only benefit the people themselves but increase the market for tourist and
mainland trade.
Classes in hygiene and homemaking would result not only in
better living conditions but in increased demand for household
goods that might be, supplied by goods. made :on the islands. It is
suggested also that much of the training and educ:a.tional work can
without doubt be carried on by local people, thus increasing p@Sitions
as well as giving instruction.
The islands have some possibilities in common and others that are
peculiar to a single island. In the following list, there.fore, certain
projects will be suggested for the three islands and others will be
better adapted to conditions in one of the three.
Work projects and traiwing:


Manufacture of simple furn iture from native ,voods and reeds.
Canning, drying, and preserving of fish.
Extension of training for the Cooperatives.
Community kitchen to teach cooking and canning.
Classes in dressmaking and plain sewing.
More classes in schools for vocational work.

E dltwa.tion:


7. Glasses inPersonal hygiene ____________ __
Prenatal and postnatal care ___ ____ __ _
Infant and child care___________ __ ____ Illustrated by slides or films.
Home making ____ __ __ ______________ _
Food values ______________ ________ ___ _
8. A women's committee to aid the Cooperatives by increasing present
markets and by suggesting new designs and articles to be made.
Work projects and training:


Manufacture of simple furniture from native woods and reeds.
A cannery for surplus garden products and preserving native fruits . .
Community sewing rooms.
Training courses for women in home and . market gardening.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis




5·. Classes inPersonal hygiene _____________ ____ _}
Prenatal and postnatal care __ __ __ _
Infant and _child care ___ ___________ Illustrated by slides or films.
Home making_______ ____ ___ __ ____ _
Food values ___________________ ___ _
Work, projects and traini ng:

1. Instruction in market and home garden planting and care.
2. Seeds sold at minimum cost.
3. Sale of vegetables and fruits through a central agency on the island
that will provide shipping and marketing facilities.
4. Classes in reed weaving.



5. Classes inPlain cooking __ ________________ ____

Personal hygiene ___ -:- ______________ _ Illustrated by slides or films.
Infant and child care ________ ___ __ _
H ome making ________________ ___ __ _
Food values __ _____ __ _____ __ _______ _

These suggestions are all for permanent projects and should not
be undertaken as relief projects, so that plans should include the
money not only for their establishment but for their continuance.
The problem of new work opportunities is so closely tied up with the
education of the women to want and to use the opportunities that
in order to succeed both training and work should go together.
Many of these projects are not new to the islands and have been
tried in the past, and from their many attempts and their abandonment much can be learned. For example, on new projects, payment
for work done should be equivalent to or slightly better than compensation for like work on the islands, and payment should be
prompt. Money is made and spent for immediate needs and postponed payment discourages the worker. As far as possible, seasonal
work should be avoided and also spreading the work among too many
workers. Pride in good workmanship is developed by feeling it is
"my job." These are a few very simple points but they were brought
out in talks with the women themselves.
There seems little doubt that with patience and the continuance of
the present wise administrative policy the Virgin Islands may become.
not only a delightful place to visit but an equally successful one in
which to live and to work.

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis