View original document

The full text on this page is automatically extracted from the file linked above and may contain errors and inconsistencies.



( Reprint, January, 1931)

( Reprint, with revision, of article published in
The Nation's Health, May, 1921)


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




Price 5 cents

An adequate wage, based on occupation and not on sex and
covering the cost of living of dependents.
Time for recreation, self-development, leisu_re, by a workday of
not more than 8 hours, including rest periods.
Not less than 1%days off in the week.
No night work.
No industrial home work.
A clean, well-aired, well-lighted workroom, with adequate provision against excessive heat and cold.
A chair for each woman, built on posture lines and adjusted to
both worker and job; elimination of constant standing and constant sitting.
Guarded machinery and other safety precautions.
Mechanical devices for the lifting of heavy weights and other
operations abnormally fatiguing.
Protection against industrial poisons, dust, and fumes.
First-aid equipment.
No prohibition of women's employment, except in industries
definitely proved by scientific investigation to be more injurious
to women than to men.
Pure and accessible drinking water, with individual cups or
sanitary fountains.
Convenient washing facilities, with hot and cold water, soap,
· and individual towels.
Standard toilet facilities, in the ratio of 1 installation for every
15 women.
Cloak rooms, rest rooms, lunch rooms, and the allowance of
sufficient time for lunch.
A personnel department charged with responsibility for the
selection, assignment, transfer, or withdrawal of workers and for the
establishment of proper working conditions.
A woman employment executive, and women in supervisory
positions in the departments employing women.
Employees to share in the control of the conditions of employment by means of chosen representatives, some of them women.
Cooperation with Federal and State agencies dealing with labor
and employment conditions.
The opportunity for women workers to choose the occupations
for which they are best adapted as a means of insuring success in
their work.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Practically speaking, the entire program :for the regulation of
hours, wages, and conditions of work for women in industry is based
upon the power of the State to protect health. It is the recognition
by the courts of the special significance to general welfare of the
health of women, combined with the more serious effect on women
than on men of long hours, low wages, and unhealthful working
conditions·, that has resulted in the upholding of laws _regulating
uch conditions. With the legal sanction for regulation once given,
legislation of one sort or another affecting conditions under which
women may be employed has been put on the statute books of every
tate in the Union. These laws vary in the different States, of
course, ranging all the way from a careful regulation of hours and
wages and a very definite supervision and control of working conditions in States such as Oregon, California, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts, to the simple requirement of seats in Georgia and· Iowa.
In spite of the fact that the theory justifying the power of the
State to make these regulations ·has been so generally accepted, the
regulations enforced have varied to such an extent that' no two States
h ave established the same standards. For this reason one of the
earliest tasks undertaken by the Women's Bureau when it was organ• ized was to formulate definite standards for the employment of
women in industry that could serve as a guide to the many different
groups working for the better protection of wage-earning women.
The standards thus formulated cover conditions in only a general
way, but they are the fundamentals that apply to all industries
and all occupations. Qualifications and elaborations must be
jnstituted at times to meet special cases and peculiar conditions, but
the fundamental standards necessary to insure health and efficiency
remain unaltered. Briefly stated, the standards for the employment
of women that constitute the creed of the Women's Bureau are these:
The 8-hour day ; Saturday half holiday; one day's rest in seven.
No night work.
A living wage based on occupation and not on sex, the minimum to cover
the cost of living for dependents.
Good working conditions, including the following: Adequate was~ing facilities; adequate and sanitary toilet accommodations; dressing rooms, rest rooms,
and lunch rooms; clean work rooms with carefully adjusted lighting, ventilation,
1 This article was prepared under th e direction of Mary Anderson, Director of tbe
Women's Bureau, by Mary N. Winslow.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis



and beating; plentiful and sanitary drinking facilities ; chairs, machines, and
work tables adjusted so that the workers can either stand or sit at their work;
carefully guarded machinery; elimination of the necessity for constant standing
or other posture causing physical strain, the repeated lifting of heavy weights
or other abnormally fatiguing motions, and the operation of mechanical devices
requiring undue strength; elimination of exposure to excessive heat or cold or
, to dust, fumes, or other poisons without adequate safeguards; pL'ovision of firstaid equipment.
Prohibition of employment of women in occupations involving the use of
poisons proved to be more injurious to, women than to men. No prohibition
except where such proof is established.
Women to have opportunity to choose own occupations.
Prohibition of industrial home work.
Systems of employment management; women supervisors of women.
Cooperation of workers in establishing standards.
Cooperation with Federal and State agencies along same lines.

In this group of standards are found many recommendations that
apply fully as strongly to men as to women. For example, there is
no indication that bad ventilation in a workshop is a more serious
menace to women's health than to that of men, nor that it has any
distinctive effect on women. Insufficient ventilation will lower the
efficiency and the ability to resist disease of both men and women,
and it should be recognized as a problem for all employees in all
industries under all conditions.
The prevention of glare by properly placing and shading lights is
another working condition that is not particularly a woman's problem but instead is a problem for all in industry.
In fact, very few, if any, of these recommended standards can be
said to apply only to women, and the Women's Bureau does not advocate that they should be considered as applying only to women. The
important thing about them is that they apply e_specially to women.
For all conditions in industry bear particularly heavily on women,
and therefore good working conditions, hours, and wages have a more
important relation to their health. Long hours in the factory are
not so serious :for the man, who is through work when he leaves his
job at night, as they are for the woman, who in many cases has several
hours' housework to do after she gets home. The married woman
in industry, who is forced to work because of economic necessity
brought about by her husband's death, incapacity, or inability to earn
an adequate wage for himself and his family, usually must take
whatever job she can get, without too much question of wages or
hours. But she is the one worker in all the group who most needs the
protection of the law, for the care of her children and household
will take many hours and much strength, and her health will uffer if
hours of work. are not limited.
Perhaps the two most important health measures that industry
can institute for all workers, but particularly for women who are
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis



not organized so that they can make their own de{Ilands and who are
massed in the low-paid _i:g.dustries, are the 8-hour day a·oo~the payment of a living wage. It has already been pointed out how the long
hours are a special hardship for women, but the low wage paid to the
average woman worker is an even greater menace to her health.
State surveys by the Women's Bureau in the 9 years 1920 to 1928
yielded wage figures for about 150,000 white women in 15 States. 2
The medians of the week's earnings-half the women receiving more
and half receiving less-may be classified as follows: Under $9,
Alabama and Mississippi; $9 and under $11, Kentucky and South
Carolina; $11 and under $13, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas,
Missouri, and Tennessee; $13 and under $15, New Jersey, Ohio, and
Oklahoma; $15 and under $17, Florida and Rhode Island. Conditions such as these exist throughout the industries where women are
employed, and the standard of living that a wage of around $12 a
week must require certainly should be recognized as one that will sap
the health and vitality of a large group of workers.
This is particularly true when the woman worker is recognized as a
provider not only for herself but for dependents. The responsibilities of the wage-earning woman and her contribution to the
support of others-mother, father, sisters, brothers, husband, children-have not yet received full recognition from industry or the
general public. Yet every investigation that touches wage-earning
women piles up the evidence that women are working more often
than not to eke out a husband's or father's insufficient wage and
make it adequate for the family needs or to earn the wage that
formerly had been earned by a husband or father who has died or
been incapacitated.
With this great necessity upon them for an adequate wage, women
must struggle constantly against the old "pin-money" fallacy. A
man feels that wire and children or other dependents are something of a burden, but he i's recognized as the breadwinner, or the
potential breadwinner, for a family group, his wages are based accordingly, and his burden is lightened. A woman may have and
often has, an equally heavy burden of dependents, but this burden is not made lighter for her by the popular superstition that
she is working to make a little extra money and will soon get married
and be on " easy street " for the rest of her life. The Women's
Bureau has figures from a number of surveys showing the extent
of the responsibility for the support of others among wageearning women. Even before this material was assembled, however,
there was ample evidence that this responsibility was much greater

In 1 midwestern and 3 northern Stutes a very few negroes were included.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis



and more uni"l'ersal than was generally supposed. The figure may
be summarized thus :
Of 8 studies by various agencies, covering about 17,000 women,
13.6 per cent of the women reported that they had total dependents.
In 7 other studies, covering more than 13,000 women, 21.7 per cent
of the women were contributing to the support of dependents. And
of 19 other studies, covering about 55,000 women, 55.1 per cent contributed to their families all their earnings and 37.6 per cent contributed part of their earnings.
Aside from hours and wages and general working conditions there
are certain conditions in industry that need to be especially studied
for their effects on the health of women, so that proper regulations
may be instituted for their control.
The very widespread use of the piecework system in industries
where women are employed is a condition that is challenging much
attention. Nearly every manufacturer will say that he employs
women most successfully on the repetitive processes in his plant,
the processes that require an infinite number of rapid repetitions
of the same movement, such as placing small bits of metal under a
press and releasing the press so that the metal is cut or hammered
into shape; feeding machines that place the caps on tin cans, which
means putting one tin can after another in the same place as fast as
the hands can move; wrapping and packing cigarettes; or running
an electrically driven sewing machine that makes two thousand or
more stitches a minute. Such occupations, which are paid for by
the number of finished articles turned out, naturally are carried
on at full speed, in some cases under conditions of machinery or
kind of work that require very careful attention. The pathological
effect on a woman's nerves and health of this continued tension and
activity has never been definitely determined. Any casual observer of
women working at these processes can tell, however, that they must
have pathological significance. Indeed", when girl after girl in a
group of cigarette . packers is found to be afflicted with a constant
jerking or rythmic motion of her body that follows the motions she
makes while at work, resulting in extreme fatigue arid nervousness,
it would seem that the effect of the speeding up of pieceworkers
in some occupations is so obvious as to need but little research to
stamp it as a serious menace. There is great need for careful and full
examination of the effects of this system in order that it may be
properly controlled.
Posture at work is another subject that has received insufficient
attention, although the need of some regulation has been more
generally recognized. It is very common to find State laws re. quiring that seats be provided for women who are employed in industry, but as yet there has been no definite standard established of
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis



the kind of seat that should be required. An old box with a plank
nailed on it £or a back, a high stool with no back and no foot
rest, a barrel, a wooden kitchen chair, are seats commonly found where
women are employed. Many requests are made _to the Women's
Bureau by managers of factories £or descriptions of the best type of
factory chair for women, but so far no investigation of the subject
has been complete enough to warrant a definite recommendation.
The fundamentals of proper seating, the need of a back, foot rest,
rounded front to the seat, and individual adjustment, have been
established, but there is still much that should be known from the
medical end of the question before a complete seating " code " can
be formulated.
Very little has been gathered of the effect on women's health of
continued standing or sitting. Standing, of course, has received the
greater attention as its effects are more quickly noticed, but that sitting for 8, 9, or 10 hours a day can in itself be harmful is a new idea
to many employers as well as to the workers themselves. It is quite
possible in the majority of cases to regulate the height of work table
and chair so that a worker may either sit or stand conveniently a.t
work, but before such a treatment of the problems of posture can
become general the need for it must be very strikingly illustrated by
a definite account of the effect on a woman's health of too much
standing or sitting.
An attempt has been made in several States to fix a standard
weight that a woman may lift without harm to herself, but as this
has been done with apparently little -medical knowledge or study of
the subject, the legislation is haphazard and may result_in unnecessarily restricting the employment of women.
In Ohio and Pennsylvania a woman may not lift a core and core
box the combined weight of which is more than 15 pounds. In New
York women in the core rooms of foundries are prohibited from
lifting more than 25 pounds. There is a very great difference between 15 and 25 pounds, and it is obvious that if 15 pounds is all that
a woman can safely lift in Ohio and Pennsylvania, the women of New
York are being permitted to endanger their health; while if 25
pounds is safe for a woman in New York to life, the women of
Pennsylvania arid Ohio are being unnecessarily restricted in their
There are so many ways in which a weight may be lifted-up or
down, continuously or occasionally, by pushing or pulling-and the
way of doing it, whether with the arms or: back, with a sudden effort
that may wrench or strain, or with a careful coordination of all
the muscles that can be brought into play, may vary so with each
individual that the standard weight that can be lifted safely will
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis



be very difficult to arrive at. If any such restriction is to be imposed,
it should be done only after a very careful-examination of the effects
of lifting .and- a very minute description of the surrounding conditions that would render the lifting of such a weight a menace to
health. In this case, again, adequate testimony on the subject is
totally lacking.
In addition to the more or less mechanical conditions, such as seating and lifting, that may affect the health of women, there is another and very broad field that research has hardly touched. This
is the peculiar effect on women of certain chemicals used and fumes
and gases produced in industrial processes. It has been established
beyond a shadow of doubt that lead poisoning incident to exposure
to lead in the form of dust or fumes has a much more serious effect
on women than on men. It is known that lead poisoning in women
may result in sterility or in children being born dead, or in more
babies dying during the first year of their lives. Corresponding
results have not been found in the case of men who have suffered
from lead poisoning, and, because of this knowledge, in some States
women are legitimately barred from employment in occupations
where the danger of contracting lead poisoning is great.
It was only a carefui study of a large number of cases of lead
poisoning among men and women over a considerable period that
produced the evidence establishing the fact of the heightened
susceptibility of women· and its definite effects upon them. Women
are working in many other occupations in which they are exposed to
poisonous fumes and dust, but little evidence is forthcoming to
show to what extent these elements are particularly dangerous to
them, and without such evidence there can be no just and wise regulation of their employment. Furthermore changes in industrial processes are bringing new hazards in their wake by the increased use
of poisonous compounds.
The present day is hearing a great cry that women should be
given equal opportunity with men for all occupations in all industries, but even the most ardent of the exponents of this creed will
pause before a presentation of the cas_e for better protection of working women based on a scientific study of the effect on their health,
and that of future generations, of exploitation, long hours, low
wages, and improper working conditions. The women of to-day,
as well as their employers, " come from Missouri." No longer will
sentimental or idealistic appeal be sufficient for either of them.
They want facts, and if the facts are presented strongly and clearly
they will get action. But the facts must be collected first, and the
field is open and crying for attention from scientists and health
experts as well as from industrial engineers.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis