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Milestones:
The Women's Bureau Celebrates Nov 2
65 Years of Women's Labor History

U.S. Department of labor
The Women's Bureau

,

Digitized by the Internet Archive
in 2016 with funding from
University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries

https://archive.org/details/milestonesthewom00wash

Statement from Secretary of Labor,
William E. Brock

he Women's Bureau was created by
Congress as part of the then-young
Department of Labor in 1920, the year women
won the right to vote. Its first director was
Mary Anderson, a Swedish immigrant who
had worked for $1.50 a week as a domestic.
With a staff of 20 and a yearly budget of
$30,000, the new Bureau documented abysmal
working conditions of women in the places
jobs were then available to them - canneries,
laundries, cotton mills, garment factories,
offices, department stores and, as domestics,
in homes.
In 1985, as the Women's Bureau celebrates
its 65th anniversary, things are vastly different.
Women workers - who now number 44
percent of the labor force - still have special
problems, but the problems have changed.
Now, the Women's Bureau is less concerned
with long hours and debilitating conditions.
Equal pay and equal access to jobs traditionally
dominated by men are among today's top
concerns. Instead of ending child labor, today's
Women's Bureau is trying to promote more
child care - by employers for their
women workers.
I am proud of the dedication and
accomplishments of our Women's Bureau.
I share fully their commitment to helping
solve the problems of women in our labor
force and helping them achieve full equality
with men workers in every field.

T

William E. Brock

ay the same as night, night the
same as day.
D
And all I do is sew and sew and sew.
May God help me and my Jove
come soon,
That I may leave this work and go."
- Yiddish folk song sung in the sweatshops
of New York City, early 1900's.

2

The Women's Bureau Is

T

he Women's Bureau of the U.S.
Department of Labor is the only agency
at the Federal level of Government with a
congressional mandate to promote the welfare
of working women. From its position in the
Office of the Secretary of Labor, the Bureau
participates in departmental policy making
and program planning. It provides legal and
economic updates on the status of working
women, and serves as a coordinating body
in the Department of Labor for programs
affecting women.
The Bureau has offices in the 10 Federal
regions across the Nation. Headed by regional
administrators, they implement the Bureau's
programs and policies, develop programs
addressing local needs and disseminate
information and publications. Both national
headquarters and regional offices work
cooperatively with women's organizations and
commissions for women, the private sector,
unions, and program operators; educational
and social service agencies; and government
at all levels.
Congress established the Bureau in 1920,
responding to mounting public concern over
the long hours, poor conditions, and low wages

of working women at the tum of the century.
The Women's Bureau was charged with
investigating these conditions, documenting
them, and recommending tandards for
improvement. Since then, the Bureau has
devoted itself to identifying and meeting
the ever-changing needs of American
working women.
In celebration of the Bureau's 65th
Anniversary, this publication tells the history
of the Women's Bureau through the lives of
the women who have served as its director,
and through the voices, hands, and faces of
American women at work. Their story is
one of dreams, challenges, struggles, and
achievements, of conflict and cooperation. The
story of the American woman worker is also
the story of this Nation, as it, too, sought to
test its limits and fulfill its potential during the
past 65 years of experimentation, change and
growth. Our national history has been enriched
immeasurably by the expanding contributions
of women - half the population - to its
economic, social, and political life. The
Women's Bureau continues to pioneer new
opportunities for American women to make
their mark on our collective future.

3

Statement from Director Lenora Cole
Alexander on the 65th Anniversary
of the Women's Bureau

am proud to be the ninth woman entrusted
with implementing the congressional mandate
with which the Women's Bureau of the U.S.
Department of Labor was charged 65 years
ago: "to formulate standards and policies
which shall promote the welfare of wageearning women, improve their working
conditions, increase their efficiency, and
advance their opportunities for profitable
employment." This original statement of our
mission has served the Bureau and working
women so well that it has not been changed
since 1920.
When Congress passed the 1920 KenyonCampbell Bill which brought the Bureau into
being and gave it permanent status, it could
not have anticipated its eventual impact, nor
the impact of women workers on American
life. But Mary Anderson, its first director,
certainly must have nurtured some fairly
prophetic visions. A "heavyweight" woman
of "admirable obstinacy," she put a minimal
staff and budget to work for the women beside
whom she had toiled as an immigrant in
the shoe factories of America at the tum of
the century.
She was a woman of action - and of great
humility. Remembering her appointment some
44 years later, she remarked, "Well, I of
course wasn't the kind of person that could do
any research or anything of that kind . . .but
I did know what we needed." She dispatched
investigators to the most sordid places where
women worked in inhuman conditions, and
began the Bureau's tradition of churning out
report after report to document and testify for
"what we needed."
One of the Bureau's major historical
contributions is the impressive body of reports
documenting in detail who the "working
woman" was, why she worked and where, for
what pay, in what conditions and with what
problems she grappled in the performance of
her job and home-related duties. The Bureau's
fact-finding missions helped to establish an
accurate and persuasive record of changing
realities to challenge the popular myths and
traditional stereotypes which have so often
prevented working women's issues from being
rationally discussed and effectively addressed.

I

4

Although the Women's Bureau was never
empowered with enforcement, it has always
testified for and supported the Federal or State
legislation and programs that have changed the
lives of American workers - male and female
- at crucial periods in our national history.
Equally as important as educating policymakers
and employers about working women's needs
has been the Bureau's tradition of informing
women themselves about their rights, their
options to organize and participate in unions,
about new opportunities for training and
employment and how to take advantage
of them.
We are also proud of the educational
programs that have been initiated, funded,
designed, or implemented by the Bureau often in cooperation with other bodies - in
response to the ever-changing needs of our
constituency. Examples are the Bryn Mawr
Summer School for Women Workers of the
1920's and 1930's, industrial training programs
for women during World War II, affirmative
action programs for minority women in the
1970's and today's career counseling and skilled
trades apprenticeships for young women and
our special programs for older women and
displaced homemakers to facilitate their entry
or reentry into the job market.
Why should there be a Federal agency
devoted to the concerns of a single sex?
Although recogniz.ed as a necessity in an era
when public opinion recogniz.ed the abuses
experienced by women factory workers, in later
eras, the Bureau's unique mandate for women
has come under fire. As women, along with
men, gained improved wages and working
conditions, they sought equality - rather than
special protection - under the law. From its
inception, the Women's Bureau has fought for
a consideration of women's employment as an
economic and human welfare issue, including
larger policy areas affecting American society
as a whole. But, even as real improvements
were won for workers of both sexes, each
decade has produced new variations on the
"sweatshop," where women work in fear and
despair. Our original congressional mandate
kept the Bureau on the lookout for such
unacceptable exceptions and encouraged it to

keep women's issues alive during those times
in American history when the country was
least willing or able to pursue them.
Today, we can look back on the fruits of our
labor, but also on those recurring problems that
continue to warrant our best thinking. Proud as
we are of its past accomplishments, we also
must admit that the goals of this agency remain
as much a vision as an accomplishment.
Women still seek an end to sex-based
discrimination in training for and access to a
wider range of occupations and better paying
jobs. We still seek safe working environments
and fair hiring, personnel, and benefits policies,
no matter where or for whom we work. Equal
pay for equal work is still only a dream for
many women. Women still earn, on the
average, less than two-thirds as much as men.
We remain heavily concentrated in the lowest
paying jobs, despite some impressive inroads in
traditionally male professions and occupations.
Minority women remain at the bottom of the
ladder in the wage/occupation categories while
bearing the heaviest responsibilities as solesupporters of dependents. Traditional social
attitudes are still embedded in many employee
benefit policies, despite the dramatic changes in
earning and family responsibilities undertaken
by women alone, or shared with their spouses.

We still seek recognition in policies - not
only in words - for our economic need to
work, for the human needs which arise from
the multiple roles women continue to fill as
workers, mothers, wives, and single parents
and for our potential and proven capabilities in
assuming greater responsibilities in our society
as a whole.
What has changed - greatly - since 1920
are the social , economic, legal , and political
contexts in which working women's issues have
developed, the range of working environments
and occupations in which women may be
found , and the demographic characteristics
of the female labor force. Working on behalf
of women workers today requires that we
address a vastly wider range of different needs
and a proliferation of sub-issues - different
manifestations, if you will - of the basic
issues all working women have held in
common throughout the decades. The Women's
Bureau has been anticipating, identifying, and
responding to these changes for 65 years.
While the Bureau and a few other groups trod
a lonely path in the early years, the Bureau
was joined in the pursuit of its goals by a
much broader field of active organizations and
community bodies as time went by. Thanks to
such cooperative efforts, working women today
5

have a much greater choice of alternative
approaches, support, action, and solutions in
the pursuit of their aspirations than ever before.
The Bureau has always refused to consider
women as a special interest group. Women
constitute one-half the population, a population
with some special characteristics, but whose
activities and welfare ultimately have a
powerful impact upon our entire society.
Because of its focus on the changing patterns
of women at work in America, the history
of the Women's Bureau necessarily charts
the major political, social, economic and
demographic changes of the past 65 years of
this American century. The Bureau was born
out of an industrial revolution, the early
struggles of the women's and labor movements
and the First World War. Throughout its
lifetime it has meshed with national and
international trends, integrating women's
concerns into the formulation of broad
ranging policies and programs.
6

An unflagging dedication to its original
mandate and its flexible, cooperative approach
have helped the Bureau to survive and lead. It
has shifted its priorities thmughout the decades
to those areas where it uniquely could serve
women best. It has willingly acted as a catalyst
for the creation of new groups with which
to share its duties as partners in progress
for women.
The Women's Bureau has been the protector
of women laborers in the 1920's and the
Depression, an advocate for female war-time
workers in the 1940's, a proponent of key
legislation in equal employment and civil rights
matters in the 1950's and 1960's, an initiator
and supporter of national and local affinnative
action programs in the 1970's, and a forger
of new links between the public and private
sectors to enhance women's employment
opportunities across the country in the 1980's.
The Bureau's future roles will be defined by
the needs of women workers.

■

Today, the Women's Bureau remains
committed to its mandate. It continues to
anticipate new needs and to seek innovative,
effective responses. It remains the only
agency at Federal level of Government with
a congressional mandate to promote the
welfare of working women. Using its strategic
position in the Office of the Secretary of the
Department of Labor and 10 Federal regions
across the Nation, the Bureau elicits the
cooperation, support and action of a diverse
network of other Federal agencies, State,
regional and local authorities, labor unions,
women's and social service organizations,
the corporate world, private foundations,
professional associations, educational institutions, and international bodies. This 65th
birthday celebration must include a sincere
expression of gratitude and appreciation for

the contributions of these "coworkers" to our
work. We at the Bureau believe that the high
degree of interaction and cooperation achieved
over the decades is itself a testimony to the
success of our mutual endeavors.
The Bureau has enjoyed its share of success,
as well as experiencing the struggles, erosions
of achievement, recoveries, reassessments, and
sense of renewal that anyone reaching the wise
age of 65 might hope to look back upon. But
this senior citizen is not about to retire; there
is still too much work to do and no one as
well-qualified as the Women's Bureau to
do it. On behalf of the Bureau, I invite
you to join us in forging a new era in
women's employment.

ct-tL_~
Lenora Cole Alexander

7

8

A Contrast ,n Profiles

M

any achievements are reflected in the
following account of the history of the
Women's Bureau - a major volume in the
history of women at work in America. A few
statistics sketch a striking contrast in profiles
between the women who worked in 1920 and
today's working women.
When the Bureau was founded, the working
woman was most likely to be single, in her
twenties, and generally went to work out of
expediency to help her family in times of
economic hardship. She did not expect to work
for many years, nor to acquire the same skills,
seniority or wages as working men. She was
most likely to be found in "women's jobs,"
such as factory or other operative work,
clerical, private household, or agricultural
work, requiring little education and skill. Only
one out of five of her contemporaries probably
graduated from high school. Less than onefourth of all women between the ages of 20
and 60 were working, and only 18 percent of
women ages 35-64 were employed. The female
labor force totalled about 8.25 million, of
which approximately one-third were to be
found in factories. Women represented less than
20 percent of the total American labor force.
Today, 50 million women workers make up
nearly 44 percent of the nation's civilian work

force. While the total labor force grew by 21
percent between 1975-84, women made up
more than 62 percent of the growth. Well over
half of all women age 18-64 are working, and
women are most likely to be working between
the ages of 25-54 (70 percent). The typical
woman worker today is a working mother,
and she is increasingly likely to be widowed ,
divorced, or married to a man making less
than $15,000 per year. At the age of 35, she
can expect to work for another 25-31 years.
The average working woman is a high school
graduate with some college or post-secondary
training, but 41 percent of all women workers
now hold college degrees. She is most likely to
be working in a clerical job, nursing, teaching
below the college level or in retail sales - all
relatively low paying occupations. But women
have dramatically increased their participation
in nontraditional areas, significantly in management and administration (34 percent female in
1984), as well as in the professions, police
protection, and skilled trades. Women are
also venturing into sole-proprietorship as
entrepreneurs - some three million by 1984.
Today,' some women can be found in all of the
514 individual occupations identified in the
1980 census.

9

Mary Anderson
appointed by President
Woodrow W ilson, served 1920-1944.

T

he first "up from the ranks" labor woman
to head an executive department of the
Federal Government, Mary Anderson led the
Bureau for nearly 25 years, continuing efforts
begun in her youth to win better wages, hours,
and working conditions for women. She served
five presidents and more important, the ranks
of women workers which swelled from 8.25
million in the year she assumed her position,
to some 19.61 million by 1945.
An immigrant from Sweden, she arrived in
the U.S. in 1889 at the age of 16 and took
her first job as a dishwasher in a Michigan
lumberjack boarding house for $1.50 per week.
Moving and changing jobs, seeking better pay
and conditions, she eventually became a skilled
shoe worker earning $14 a week. She was the
first worker at her plant to join a union and
eventually became president of the Shoe
Stitchers Local 94 of the International Boot
and Shoe Workers Union.
After 18 years in the shoe trade, Mary
Anderson spent 8 years travelling across the
country organizing women in the trades into
union for the Women' Trade Union League
10

(WTUL). While attending the Versailles Peace
Conference as a WTUL representative, she
drew President Wilson's attention to the need
for a clause in the International Labor
Organization's constitution that would give
women the right to participate in its work.
Later, she became the first woman to do so.
At the outbreak of World War I, Miss
Anderson was appointed assistant director
and, eventually director of the newly formed
temporary agency in the War Department,
Woman-in-Industry Services (WIS), established
to "insure the effective employment of women
while conserving their health and welfare."
In July of 1918, WIS was transferred to the
Department of Labor. In 1920, responding to
decades of lobbying by women's organizations,
Congress gave WIS permaneni peacetime status
as an agency of the Department of Labor, to
be known as the Women's Bureau.
Under her directorship, the Bureau
investigated and reported on working women,
their environments, conditions and needs,
setting standards eventually incorporated into
labor laws at the State, and finally, Federal
level. She was largely responsible for the
inclusion of women in the Federal Wage and
Hour Law of 1938 (currently known as the
Fair Labor Standards Act). Mary Anderson
combatted exploitation of women in all forms,
demonstrating an "admirable obstinacy" which
has inspired Bureau staff ever since.
Having witnessed the slippage in ground
gained by women workers after the First World
War, she fought for and succeeded in winning
more skills training, wider job opportunities,
and better pay and work conditions for women
who responded in unprecedented numbers to
the call for workers in World War II. Before
retiring in 1944, she wrote and spoke extensively on the need to plan for reconversion
of wartime women workers into peacetime
contributors to the national economy. She had
no illusions about the difficulties women would
continue to face, writing in 1944:
"Calm recital of facts and figures will
scarcely allay rising fear in some quarters that
women will take jobs from returning soldiers.
Nor will statistical statements prevent unjust
and unfounded discrimination against women

workers. Facing the special problems of women
and formulating specific solutions must be the
line of action. Otherwise, in the transition
period of sudden demobilization of both
military and industrial forces, with large
numbers of jobless persons competing for
work, women will be the victims of a catchas-catch-can _'~ation. Another complication
looms as a result of women's migration in the
past two years from less to more essential jobs,
from civilian to war industries: Many women,
having burned their occupational bridges
behind them, may try in vain to go back to
their former fields unless given special
assistance . . . Full employment of our
productive resources . . .is essential to save the
country from a worse depression than the one
that began in 1929. . . full employment means
women as well as men . . . To evaluate
women's services on a cheaper basis than
men's or to permit women to compete with
men as workers on lower wage levels is neither
sound nor just. I prefer to state the equal-pay
policy. . .in the terms advocated by the
Women's Bureau from its beginning - that

wage rates should be based on occupation and
not on sex." ("The Postwar Role of American
Women;' American Econormc Review
Supplemen~ Vol. XXXIV, No. 1,
March 1944).
After her retirement, "the dean of Federal
women," continued to give the Women's
Bureau valued guidance and to promote better
conditions for working women by lecturing,
writing, and testifying before Congress and
international bodies on their behalf. She also
served as Chairman of the National Committee
on Equal Pay.
But, Mary Anderson left a legacy to all
workers. In 1962, at the age of 90 and shortly
before her death, she was honored with the
Department of Labor's "Award of Merit" in
recognition of her significant contribution
toward furthering the work of the Department
to "foster, promote, and develop the welfare of
the wage earners in the United States." Perhaps
for this champion of workers and women an
even more meaningful reward was living to see
passage of the 1963 Equal Pay Act shortly
before her death in 1964.
11

Frieda S. M iller,
appointed by President
Harry S. Truman, served 1944-1953.

hen Mary Anderson prepared to retire,
she said she would not have been
willing to do so without the assurance that
"the right kind of woman" would succeed
her. The person was found, Frieda S. Miller,
whom Miss Anderson described as "ideal for
the job."
Born in Wisconsin, Miss Miller earned
a bachelor's degree at Milwaukee Downer
College/Wisconsin and pursued four years
of graduate study in economics, sociology,
political science, and law at the University of
Chicago. She then joined the newly established
department of social economy at Bryn Mawr
College as a research assistant and became
secretary of the Philadelphia Women's Trade
Union League, holding the position through
the post-World War I period. This brought her
into close contact with the American labor
movement and women workers in particular.
She was active in the Worker's Education
Bureau of America, erving on its executive
board until 1924.
Frieda Miller travelled as a delegate to the
1923 International Congress of Working Women

W

12

in Vienna. She spent a year in Europe studying
labor conditions in England, Germany, and
Austria. On her return in 1924, she put these
experiences to work as a factory inspector for
the Joint Board of Sanitary Control of the
women's gannent industry in New York, .
gathering and compiling statistics on conditions
in the industry.
She joined the staff of the New York City
Welfare Council in 1927, followed by an
appointment as director of the Division of
Women in Industry and Minimum Wage of the
New York State Labor Department, where she
helped strengthen laws affecting the hours,
wages, and working conditions of women.
Appointed Industrial Commissioner of New
York State in 1938, she replaced Frances
Perkins who left the post to become the first
woman cabinet member as Secretary of Labor
under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1943,
she went abroad as a special assistant to
Ambassador to England, John G. Wmant,
building upon international experience gained
at Pan-American and International Labor
Conferences during the previous decade.
As Director of the Women's Bureau, she
united her experiences and capabilities to
continue the work begun by Miss Anderson,
focusing upon postwar employment prospects
for American women. Commenting on the
immediate postwar period some 20 years
later, she said, "The arresting fact about the
employment picture for women was not the
exodus of those who left the labor market
after the war. . .but rather the continuation
in gainful employment of the millions whose
services were needed by the economy, and
who, in turn, depended upon their pay
envelopes to cover living expenses."
(Women's Bureau archives.)
Child care and household employment
became pressing issues for those who remained
in the work force. "More than half of the
present total of 18.5 million women workers
are married. In about a fourth of the families
where the husband is employed, the wife is
also in the labor force. Five million women
workers have children under 18. Four million
women are heads of families. Under these
circumstances, unless satisfactory arrangements

can be made for the care of children by
obtaining competent household help through
child-care centers or in some other way, family
life suffers and absenteeism among working
mothers rises as they struggle with home
responsibilities and emergencies. . .(but)
conditions in domestic employment have for
the most part been left to be determined by the
individual decisions of housewives and women
seeking work. This field of employment is
roughly speaking, at the stage of development
where industries such as the needle trades
were half a century ago," she wrote in 1952.
("Household Employment in the United States,"
International Labour Review, Vol. LXVI,
No. 4, October 1952.)
Frieda Miller also used her international
contacts to share information and cooperate
in the new initiatives of labor and women's
organizations in Europe, the Philippines, and
the Americas. These international efforts were
given new impetus by the establishment of the
United Nations Commission on the Status of
Women in 1946. Miss Miller continued to seek
new directions for American women workers
and linkages with their counterparts abroad
until her resignation in 1953.

P

eacetime and wartime wages for women
have a common denominator women earn Jess than men."

- Eliz.abeth Christman, Women's Bureau staff member and
National Women's Trade Union League organizer, 1942.

13

Alice K. Leopold,
appointed by President Dwight D.
Eisenhower, served 1953-1961.

T

he third director of the Women's Bureau
presided over what many look back upon
as the doldrums in the history of the women's
movement and of working women's issues
in particular - the Fifties. But Alice K.
Leopold's own background and the types of
studies conducted during her directorship point
to some teady, if unpublicized, progress and
changes that would lead to new momentum in
the decades ahead.
Mrs. Leopold was the first married woman
to hold the directorship. She had a background
in retail management - as personnel director
of two large department stores, Hutzler
Brothers in Baltimore and B. Altman & Co.
in New York - rather than in the industrial
environment that characterized her predece or . She had also held elective, not
merely appointed State government positions,
gaining practical experience of the political
and legi lative proces es from the in ide
as Secretary of State for Connecticut and a
member of the Connecticut legislature. All of
these differences symbolized changes in the
profile of the American woman worker and

suggested some new possibilities. Women had
only gained the right to vote in 1920, when the
Bureau was founded; now its director was a
seasoned politician, with additional experience
as secretary and project chairman of the
Commission on Intergovernmental Relations;
a manager, not just an employee; and a wife
and mother, too.
Mrs. Leopold's tenure also suggested that
women, while ever in economic need of work,
might also enjoy some psychological and
intellectual rewards from their employment just like men. She stated in a speech before
a 1955 conference, "The Effective Use of
Womanpower": "Not only can men and
women work together side by side, but in this
era, our Nation needs this kind of working
partnership. The contributions of both men
and women to the economy are necessary if
our Nation is to maintain its high level of
productivity, its great capacity to use new
methods, its high standard of living and of
good working conditions. . . people, whether
men or women, work for the same reason.
They work for their economic survival.
Hopefully, they work at jobs that interest them,
that give them a feeling of accomplishment."
Mrs. Leopold received additional duties as
special advisor to the Secretary of Labor on

_________-- -

........

....,.........-_,,.....

-

SMAl i.

policies relating to employment standards
for women, serving also as Chair of the
Secretary's Advisory Committee on
woman power.
During her directorship, the Women's Bureau
documented changes in women's occupations,
publicized employment and training
opportunities in insurance, professional
accounting, mathematics and statistics, legal
work, physical and biological sciences,
and technologies, and highlighted the

phenomenon of increasing numbers of women
in higher education by surveying the first jobs
taken by new women graduates. Other studies
reported on child care and maternity benefits
for working women, and investigated the needs
and provisions for "older" women workers.
By the time Mrs. Leopold resigned in 1961,
the stages was set for the next two decades
which would see the most profound changes in
American social and labor relationships since
the Great Depression.

15

Esther Peterson,
appointed by President
John F. Kennedy, served 1961-1964.

om in Utah, the descendant of pioneers
and Swedish immigrants, Esther Peterson
brought to the Women's Bureau a broad and
deep background in education, labor, and
women's affairs. Her varied experiences in
the U.S. and abroad helped her fulfill the
expanding responsibilities of the Women's
Bureau in the early 1960's.
With a bachelor's degree from Brigham
Young University and a master's from
Columbia University, Mrs. Peterson began a
teaching career that spanned 12 years, including
6 years at the Windsor School, Boston, where
she also taught garment workers at the YWCA.
She then alternated teaching with her family
responsibilities until 1939.
During thi period, she joined the National
Consumers League, and remained an active
member, serving on its board of directors
for 15 years. Between 1939 and 1944,
Mrs. Peterson served as assistant to the
director of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers
of America. By 1945 she had become the
union's legislative representative in Washington,
a po t he held until moving overseas with her

B

16

husband, a foreign service officer.
While living in Sweden and in Belgium,
Mrs. Peterson participated in several international conferences, establishing relationships
with women leaders of the labor movement
in Europe. She was one of the organizers
and teachers of the first International School
for Working Women held in LeBreviere,
near Paris.
Upon returning to the U.S. in 1957, Esther
Peterson was named legislative representative
of the Industrial Union Department of the
AFL-CIO, serving in this post until appointed
Director of the Women's Bureau in 1961. She
commented shortly after assuming her new
post, "We don't intend to slip back into
any of the old notions about women's place.
Their place is where they can do the most
good . . ." Later that same year, the President
also named her Assistant Secretary of Labor
for Labor Standards. But the major event for
Mrs. Peterson and the Bureau's constituency
in 1961 was the establishment of the first
President's Commission on the Status of
Women, on which she served as executive
vice chairman, under the chairmanship of
Eleanor Roosevelt.
Remembering the kind of thinking that led
to the establishment of the Commission in an
article she prepared more than two decades
later, she wrote:
"I believed we needed a definitive study
in the United States to assess where women
were, one that could identify inequalities
systematically and examine possible solutions.
We needed to burst the bonds of the narrow
and anachronistic view that the Women's
Bureau in the Department of Labor 'took care'
of women as far as the Federal Government
was concerned. I wanted to get consideration of
women into the warp and woof of everything."
("The Kennedy Commission;' Women in
Washington: Advocates for Public Policy,
Irene Tinker, ed. , 1983.)
The Commission's report, ''American
Women," presented in 1963 as "an invitation
to action," became the blueprint for developing
policies and programs to increase women's
participation in all sectors of American life.
While admitting that many of the proposals

sound moderate today, Mrs. Peterson noted that
some are not yet realized. Writing about the
report's recommendations, she said, "Our goal
was to begin to address women's problems in a
comprehensive manner and to move toward
changes based on practical considerations.
Women were already working; we did not,
despite some press reports, encourage them
to do so, but we did insist that they had a
right to work, to be treated fairly and to be
offered reasonable compensation in order to
help them meet their obligations to themselves,
their families, their communities and the
nation . . .we did not propose to restructure
society. Rather, we strove to fit new
opportunities into women's lives as they were.
We were practicing the art of the possible."

The Bureau continued with its own studies
under Mrs. Peterson, including indepth reports
on 1945 women college graduates 15 years
later, new job horizons for the degree-holders
of the sixties, a geographical comparison of
the status of women workers, and an important
report on black women workers at the opening ·
of the decade.
During Mrs. Peterson's directorship, the
Bureau achieved renewed momentum, broader
support and higher visibility from its key
position in coordinating women's issues at the
Federal level - among government agencies,
the White House, state and local government
bodies and private groups. Its major legislative
achievement was passage of the Equal Pay Act
of 1963.

17

Mary Dublin Keyserling,
appointed by President
Lyndon B. Johnson, served 1964-1969.

T

he Bureau's fifth director brought a
hard-edged economist's eye to working
women's issues, as well as experience in
education and social welfare. A graduate of
Barnard College in her native New York, Mary
Dublin Keyserling completed her graduate
study at the London School of Economics and
Columbia University. She taught economics and
statistics at Sarah Lawrence College from 1933
until 1938, when she began a 3-year term as
general secretary of the National Consumers
League.

From 1941 until 1953, Mrs. Keyserling
held high-level economic posts in Federal
Government agencies, including that of
director of the International Economic Analysis
Division of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
From 1953 until her appointment to head the
Bureau in 1964, she was associate director
of the Conference on Economic Progress, a
national research organization concerned with
the major problem of the American economy.
She al o worked as a consulting economist
in private practice in association with her
husband.
18

Concurrent with her leadership at the
Bureau, Mrs. Keyserling served as Executive
Vice Chairman, Interdepartmental Committee
on the Status of Women. During her directorship, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of
1964, including Title VII, and Executive Order
11375 amending 11246 was issued in 1967.
These continue to provide the bases for equal
rights and equal opportunity for women of all
races and ages.
With the new legislation, the issue of
protection versus discrimination against women
workers came to a head, as it had in the early
days of the women's labor movement, and
would again in the future. Now, much of the
protective legislation, so hard-won in previous
decades, had to be reassessed in light of
women's efforts to gain entry to a much
broader range of jobs and occupations on an
equal footing with men. The Bureau, ever
responsive to the changing demands and needs
of its constituency, led efforts to study the
impact of the new legislation on women
workers, reassess standing laws, and push
for training opportunities which would allow
women to follow their interests and fulfill
their needs.
The Bureau provided support and research
to the Citizen's Advisory Council on the Status
of Women. It also encouraged extension of
commissions and studies beyond the national
level. Mrs. Keyserling remembered in a 1981
article for the Barnard Alumnae Magazine,
"During the years. . .I served as Director of
the Women's Bureau of the U.S. Department
of Labor, we worked hard and successfully
to promote the appointment of Commissions
on the Status of Women in every state, the
District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Commissions were also formed in many cities
and counties. They played a vital role in
furthering equality of rights for women. They
reviewed the state and local discriminatory
statutes and many were repealed or altered.
They encouraged private and public administrative action and did much to educate the public
as to needed chang~s not only in law, but in
custom, social practice, traditions and attitudes.
Women's associations throughout the country
were closely associated with this contribution

to progress."
Mary Keyserling helped the Department of
Labor to set an example for other employers by
establishing a demonstration child care center
in a nearby building for children of low
income Department employees.
By the end of Mrs. Keyserling's tenure at
the Women's Bureau, women's issues, minority
Women's issues and working women's issues
were not only being discussed, but acted upon
by a much larger cast of actors, most of whom
had the power of law, numbers or access to
public opinion which would make progress
formerly only dreamed of, actually begin to
happen in the years that followed.

1111e are brought up to believe in
fl ll democracy; we are told that if we

have talent coupled with ambition, we will
go far; those of us who accept this challenge
are at a definite disadvantage. We are not
told that undemocratic elements are at play
and that we will be hindered in our efforts
simply because we are women. Someone
should have told me years ago that I'd ·have
to be content with half a loaf. . . I wouldn't
have tried so hard."
- Cathryn Crosby, a Michigan secretary,
in a letter to the Women's Bureau, 1956.

19

Elizabeth Duncan Koontz,
appointed by President
Richard M . Nixon, served 1969-1973.

lizabeth Duncan Koontz had devoted most
E
of her life to the field of education before
becoming the first black woman to head the
Bureau and the highest ranking black woman
in the Administration. Born and raised in
North Carolina, she earned education degrees
at Livingstone College and Atlanta University,
did additional graduate work at Columbia
Univer ity and Indiana University, and pursued
training in special education for the mentally
retarded at North Carolina College.
Mrs. Koontz' teaching career spanned
30 year (1938-1968), during which she served
her home State's public schools, including a
3-year period of work with slow learners and
disadvantaged children. In 1962, she served on
the North Carolina Governor's Commission on
the Status of Women, one of many commission
and committee membership in the service
of education and ocial development. A life
member of the National Education Association
(NEA) he represented the NEA on a trip
to Berlin in 1962 to ob erve the effect of the
Berlin Wall on education. From 1965 to 1966
he erved as president of NEA' largest
20

department, the Association of Classroom
Teachers, followed by the position of vice
president, 1967-1968.
In 1968, Mrs. Koontz became the first black
president of the NEA. During her term of
service she initiated the Conference on Critical
Issues in Education, which sought to eliminate
discrimination against women, minorities,
and the handicapped, and to destroy many
myths and stereotypes plaguing the teaching
profession. Her position with the NEA and
contributions to numerous other associations
and working commissions led her to participate
in many national and international conferences
around the world.
Shortly after being appointed to direct
the Women's Bureau, Mrs. Koontz was also
named U.S. Delegate to the United Nations
Commission on the Status of Women. In this
capacity, she helped the Bureau share research
and expertise with women abroad, especially
in the developing countries.
Mrs. Koontz took full advantage of the
previous year's legislation and the new visibility
of women's issues to increase the activities of
the Bureau and promote awareness of its
programs and purposes among the general
public. She also set out to support the fight
for passage of the proposed Equal Rights
Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution,
given new impetus by the civil rights movement, a shift from the Bureau's traditional
opposition to ERA in the past. In general, she
sought to make the Bureau a more visible
activist, employing a sophisticated public
relations sense to gain attention for working
women's issues generally and to the special
issues of black and minority women in
particular.
The Bureau had a long history of including
black women in its studies and standards
policies, because black women had always
worked in higher proportions than white
women, usually in the most tedious and
poorly-paid jobs, under the worst conditions.
It took a black director and a new social
awareness to bring the message home to the
wider public. The first to admit that her own
appointment was "tokenism," Mrs. Koontz
consistently highlighted the serious problem of

bringing historically disadvantaged minority
women into the econonuc and political
mainstream of the Nation. "Women hold the
lowest paying jobs. Black women are at the
very bottom." She led the Bureau in extensive
outreach efforts to ensure that minority women
knew of their newly confinned rights and
encouraged them to report problems to the
newly formed Federal and State agencies
charged with enforcement of civil and equal
rights laws, through a program of Bureau-

sponsored minority consultation workshops.
But Mrs. Koontz never failed to focus on
the shared problems of all working women,
regardless of race, or econonuc and social
status, rooted in sex discrimination. "Our
society has set aside roles for women - the
pedestal approach. However, the fact is that
many women can't stay home even if they want
to . . .women are learning that 'til death do us
part' doesn't mean her death but her husband's
death." Citing in 1972 the increasing figures on
households headed by women (one out of
nine) and especially among minority women
(four out of nine), she called for federally
subsidized, community-controlled child care
centers to alleviate the number one problem
for all working mothers.
Major support for working women's rights
was gained during Mrs. Koontz' directorship the more explicit Department of Labor
regulations requiring Federal Government
contractors to take positive action in eradicating
discrimination against women and minorities.
The ~omprehensive Employment and Training
Act of 1973 sought to improve opportunities for
disadvantaged workers; with later amendments
it would open new doors for women. In
1972, the Secretary of Labor issued an order
directing the Women's Bureau to coordinate all
Department activities concerning women and
designated the director as special counselor to
the Secretary of Labor.

21

Carmen Rosa Maymi,
appointed by President
Richard M . Nixon, served 1973-1977.

om in Puerto Rico, Carmen Rosa Maymi
was the Bureau's first Hispanic director
and the highest ranking Hispanic woman in
the Federal Government. A holder of an
undergraduate degree in Spanish and master's
in education from DePaul University, she also
conducted graduate work at the University of
Chicago Graduate School. She began her
career a an employment counselor with the
Migration Division of the Commonwealth of
Puerto Rico in Chicago, followed by a position
a a i tant director of an Urban Progress
Center of the Chicago Committee on Urban
Opportunity, and later as Urban Program
Unit Director.
M . Maymi entered Federal service in 1966
a a Community Services Specialist in the
Office of Economic Opportunity, leaving to
act a project director on Federal contracts
dealing with model hou ing, ervice to Indian
reservations and migrant programs. She
returned to the Government to conduct a study
on the 'Economic Opportunity of Spanish
Speaking People in the 1970' " for submission
to the Committee on Economic Discrimination

B

22

of the Domestic Council.
The first Women's Bureau director to be
appointed from within the ranks, she joined
the Bureau as a consultant in 1972 and was
subsequently named associate director for
program development.
At her swearing-in ceremonies, Ms. Maymi
outlined the growing diversity of the female
workforce she was appointed to serve: "I am
acutely aware that the 33 million women
workers in the United States include women
of all races, ethnic backgrounds and religious
persuasions, and I am pledged to serve them
all. Of particular concern to me are the women
who are hard to reach through the usual
communication channels - women in isolated
regions, women unable to break the language
barrier, and women whose poverty has kept
them out of the mainstream of economic life.
For those, the Women's Bureau must find
extraordinary means to provide its services."
As director, she worked to develop the
Bureau's growing linkages through cooperative
programs with private organizations interested
in promoting the full utilization and potential of
women. In conjunction with the objectives of
the International Women's Year - 1975, she
led the Bureau in increasing its international
activities, travelling around the world to share
its experiences. International programs included
a joint study between the U.S. Department of
Labor and the Ministry of Labor in Japan on
the role and status of women in the labor
force, as well as ongoing work for the UN
Commission on the Status of Women, ILO,
and other specialized bodies. Ms. Maymi
represented the Bureau at human rights of
women conferences and continued to make
its resources available to other countries
exploring the role of governmental and private
organizations for women.
On the national level, she designed programs
and developed models to illustrate the legal,
economic, and social status of women, directed
research in traditional Bureau areas, including
legal research on existing and proposed Federal
and State laws affecting the status of women,
and oversaw outreach programs designed to
serve those special target groups such as
women offenders, trade union women, youth,

and minority women, often cooperating with
voluntary organizations and commissions.
The 1970's also saw increased awareness of
the labor contributions and problems facing
Hispanic women - due largely to their
participation in the first successful efforts to
organize farm workers in western agricultural
enterprises and factory workers in the southwestern manufacturing plants. Many other
Hispanic women were to be found in garment
industry sweatshops. Writing for a publication
of the National Council of La Raza in 1974,
Ms. Maymi pointed out the unique barriers
Hispanic women encountered in finding
improved work opportunities: "Hampered by
a language barrier and discriminated against
because of their sex and their ethnic
background, few have had the opportunity or
incentive to acquire the necessary education.
These women had a median level of 9.4 years
of schooling in 1970. Only about two out of
three women of Spanish origin, aged 25 years
and over, could read and write in English in
1969. This situation is improving, however,
among young women of Spanish origin, aged
10 to 24, the proportion. . . is now 9 out of
every 10. This parallels the improvement in
the educational attainment of young Spanish
speaking people generally." Still, Ms. Maymi
insisted, "the common denominator of
discrimination against women is sex, not race."
During her directorship, a new Department
of Labor building was designed with space set
aside for a child care center, self-supported by
parental fees and governed by a parental board.
This model center paved the way for child care
centers at other Government and private
sector offices.

I
\

; I

• \

\

,\
\

,· \'

'

hen I was appointed to the Board of
W
Regents in Ohio . . .I was nattered
and excited. I was the
and only woman
first

on the Board - a real breakthrough for
women on a truly powerful and influential
Board. My first experience as the only
woman was dismaying. I was treated with
great politeness, deference, but I did feel I
was not taken seriously. . . When a second
woman was appointed, the change was
dramatic. We were both considered
individual members of the Board, not
just women, and listened to accordingly."
- Ohio Regent Mary Ellen Ludlum, mid-19'ill's.

23

Alexis M. Herman,
appointed by President
Jimmy Carter, served 1977-1981.

T

he second black director, Alexis M.
Herman, was the youngest woman to be
appointed to the Bureau in its then 59-year
rustory. During her directorsrup, the Bureau
was elevated to the Office of the Secretary,
facilitating its full participation in the
Department of labor's overall program
planning and policymaking.
Born in Alabama, M . Herman received
her bachelor' degree from Xavier University
in New Orlean and did graduate work at the
Univer ity of South Alabama. She spent most
of her adult life working in programs to help
minoritie , women, and young people to
improve their economic status serving as a
ocial worker, guidance counselor, community
outreach worker, program developer,
adrnini trator, and consultant.
Ms. Herman came to the Bureau from
Atlanta where as national director of the
Minority Women Employment Program of
R-T-P Inc. he implemented program to
place minority women in wrute-collar jobs in
10 itie and to place women in nontraditional
blue- ollar job in 4 other cities. She developed
24

the original model for MWEP under the
auspices of the Southern Regional Council
in 1972.
During her directorship, the Bureau mounted
new programs to help low-income and young
women with employment related problems,
cooperating with the Office of Youth Programs
in a Demonstration School-to-Work Project for
high school girls in urban areas. It increased
efforts to improve opportunities for women in
nontraditional occupations, backed by new
Federal affirmative action programs, pressure
on apprenticeship programs to open their
ranks to women and amendments to the
Comprehensive Employment and Training Act,
which greatly enhanced its benefits for women
workers. The Bureau continued research to
define the increasingly varied target groups
within its mandate of "working women;' so
as to better represent and fulfill their special
needs. It focused anew on the special needs of
women who work in the home and of older
women, pushing for adult education programs
to facilitate entry or reentry into the workplace
for widowed, divorced, or single-parent
women.
The Bureau under Ms. Herman sought to
strengthen linkages with the private sector, as
well as other Government agencies in pursuing
its mandate. She wrote in a 1979 article for the
Labor Law Journal: "Such linkages are critical
to the success of both anti-discrimination and
human resources programs because one effort
opens doors for women by eliminating artificial
barriers to their employment in occupations
and industries where they are excluded today,
and the other effort assists in the training and
referral of qualified women."
But there remained many policies that
had not yet been corrected: "However, the
successes that have been realized in these two
areas have not been paralleled by an increased
awareness that policies must be reshaped to fit
today's realities in the other two broad policy
areas . . .family support systems and inequities
in the impact of traditional policies governing
health, retirement and labor policies . . .these
policy areas have not received the same
priority. . .and they have not been related to
an overall policy to provide support systems to

families. . . As earning responsibilities are
shared many families view child rearing as the
responsibility of both (mother and father). . .
Likewise, much remains to be done in
reevaluating health, retirement and employment
policies formulated for a different set of social
values and realities."
. Ms. Herman also represented the Department
of Labor and the U.S. at many national and
international conferences. She was delegate to
the UN Mid-Decade Conference on the Status
of Women at Copenhagen and at the OECD's
first ministerial conference on the status of
women in Paris. On both occasions, the Bureau
issued publications informing the public on
issues addressed and solutions found in the
U.S. The Bureau also contributed to the work
of the National Advisory Committee for
Women, 1978-1979 and the President's Advisory
Committee for Women, 1979-1980.

p until six years ago, there weren't a
U
Jot of women doing what I do - but
those women who started really paved the
way. I have very few problems now from my
male co-workers. Mostly it's a matter of
curiosity. They say, ''Why do you want to do
this work?' Well, first, I Jove the work and
I'm good at it. And second, I bought a
house last year. I could never have done that
in my old job."
- Juanita Edwards, journeyman press operator,
Washington, D.C. , early 1980's.

25

Lenora Cole Alexander, Ph.D.,
appointed by President
Ronald Reagan, serving 1981-present.

r. Lenora Cole Alexander, the third black
and ninth woman o hold the Bureau
director hip, has a strong background in higher
education and public service on behalf of
minorities and women. She earned her three
degrees, culminating in a doctorate, at the State
University of New York at Buffalo. While
holding variou teaching and administrative
position in higher education in Chicago,
Buffalo and Washington, D.C. he promoted
programs for the coun eling of women and
minoriti and ought way to create new
opportunitie for them.
Prior to her appointment to the Bureau,
Dr. Alexander erved as vice president for
tudent affairs at the University of the District
of Columbia (1977-1978) and vice pre ident
for tudent life at The American Univer ity
(1973-1977). Her profi ional and community
activiti have included ervice on boards
and commi ions with the D.C. Chamber of
Commerce D.C. Rental Accommodations
Cammi ion ational As ociation of Student
Personnel Admini trators, ational Council of
egro omen Washington Opportunitie for

D

26

Women, Legal Aid Society of Washington,
and The American Council on Education.
In addition to her responsibilities as Director
of the Women's Bureau, Dr. Alexander is a
member of the Veterans Administration
Advisory Committee on Women Veterans,
the President's Task Force on Legal Equity
for Women, the Interagency Committee
on Women's Business Enterprise and the
National Advisory Committee on Women's
Educational Programs. Like her predecessors,
Dr. Alexander is responsible for ensuring
coordination among all Department of Labor
agencies on programs affecting women and she
serves as the Secretary of Labor's principal
advisor on matters relating to the employment
of women.
In her statement as director-designate before
the Senate Committee on Labor and Human
Resources, in October 1981, Dr. Alexander
quoted the original congressional mandate of
the Bureau, noting that, "significantly, now
more than 60 years later, the needs of working
women have not departed greatly from the
original mandate . . .primarily for economic
reasons, large numbers of women have been
thrust into the labor market . . . Women now
constitute more than 43 percent of the nation's
workforce. In J97CJ, approximately 60 percent
of all employed women were single, widowed,
separated, divorced, or married to men
whose earnings were less than $10,000 a
year. Presently, 48 percent of impoverished
families. . .are maintained by women . . .
Women are a valuable and untapped reservoir
of human and economic talent. . .they have
always responded to Government policy. Fully
utilized, they will be a force in providing
workable solutions for many of the economic
problems confronting American society.
Given the opportunity, women will assist in
developing the President's program to revitalize
the nation's economy. . ."
Dr. Alexander also stated her intention to
"enlist assistance from the private sector in
responding to the needs of working women.
Over the years. . .the Bureau has developed
and tested a number of demonstration
employment and training models . . . Many of
the e models have great portability for use in

in the private sector and can facilitate a higher
degree of elevation for the status of their
women employees. The Women's Bureau is
prepared to serve as a link in this type
of effort."
Under her leadership, the Bureau has
mounted a number of initiatives to carry out
these ideas through its Washington base in the
Department of labor and 10 regional offices
across the country. Among them are efforts to
promote employer-sponsored child care and to
introduce child care at occupational training
center sites, address the school-to-work
transition problems of young women, and
increase the gainful employment of women
through job fairs and job matching services.
The Bureau is also working more closely with
women serving on corporate boards and in
high-level management positions, to help other
women move up in the management structure.
It is advocating the interests of the increased
number of female entrepreneurs, whose
numbers increased by 30 % between 1972 and
1'!17 alone, totalling some 3 million in 1984.
Through the Job Training Partnership Act
of 1983, the Bureau has broadened the target
groups of women served by its programs,
including displaced homemakers, disadvantaged
teenagers, dislocated workers and the
chronically unemployed. Dr. Alexander has
increased the staff at the Bureau's regional
offices and secured its own line item budget
authority for demonstration projects. She
has encouraged the Bureau to become more
research oriented, to better identify issues
and problems as they arise.

Current research topics include employmentrelated needs of women veterans, immigrant
women, dislocated women workers, displaced
homemakers and older women, and the
career transition problems of women in the
professions, in addition to its regular legal and
economic status reports on working women
in the U.S. today. The Bureau is beginning to
study the persistence of poverty among working
women in an expanding economy.
On the international scene, Dr. Alexander
and the Bureau cooperate with an everincreasing number of organizations involved in
developing policies for the welfare of working
women in other countries and on a global
scale. She has worked with the ILO and the
International Commission on Women, serving
as a delegate to its conference in Cartagena,
Columbia. She led the U.S. delegations to Paris
for meetings of the OECD, Working Party No.
6, on which she serves as elected vice-chair.
As a member of the U.S. delegation to the UN
Commission on the Status of Women meeting
in Vienna in 1983, Dr. Alexander played a
leading role in planning the 1985 World
Conference of the UN Decade for Women.
She attended the conference in Nairobi as a
member of the official U.S. delegation and
the Bureau contributed a substantial number
of publications on the issues addressed.
Carrying on its tradition for preparing
women for the future, the Women's Bureau
is currently investigating the impact of rapid
technological change on women's job
opportunities for the rest of this century,
and beyond.

Tl

A Chronology of Women's Labor
and Women's Bureau History
Selected Events from the Turn of
the Century to the Present

T

he history of women's participation in the
American labor force begins long before
the Women's Bureau was established in 1920.
The following timeline, while by no means
complete, highlights some major events in the
facilitation of women's contributions to the
national economy through wage-earning work
from the beginning of this century to the
present day.
National Women's Trade Union
League (WTUL) established at American
Federation of Labor convention.
190 5 Illinois branch of the WTUL passes
resolution to seek Federal investigations of
working women's conditions. NWTUL lobbies
with other women's organizations in
Washington, D.C.
1906 Bill introduced to fund such reports.
1907 Bill passes; several investigations
conducted over 3 years, authorized by Secretary
of Commerce & Labor, yield 19 volumes of
reports unveiling poor conditions, health, and
wages of women workers and recommending
establishment of a permanent agency to
watchdog and set standards. Women's groups
continue to lobby for such an office in the
Department of Labor.
1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire disaster
in New York City focuses national attention on
dangerous conditions under which women
work.
1913 Department of Labor separates from
the Department of Commerce and establishes
a Women's Division as a sub-division of the
Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is not effective at
the policymaking level due to lack of strong
mandate and adequate organization, but does
publi h informative materials on segments of
the women's labor force.
1916 Jones-Casey bill introduced for
establishment of Women's Division in the
Department of Labor but does not pass.
Women continue to lobby for four more years.
1917 Council of Defense sets up Committee
on Women in Indu try, comprising WTUL and
Consumers League members to advise it on
mean of afeguarding the welfare of women
1903

28

workers during the war. Board of Labor
Standards and U.S. Railway Administration set
up women's branches, as does the Ordnance
Department, the latter to oversee women's work
in munitions plants.
In July, the first draft of American men to
fight in World War I begins to cause shortages
of labor. By the fall, the U.S. Employment
Service launches campaign to replace men with
women in "every position that a woman is
capable of filling." A post-Armistice Women's
Bureau study showed that while 14,402 women
were employed in 562 plants engaged in metal
production (other than steel and iron), before
the first draft, the figure rose to 19,783
thereafter, and to 23,190 employed in 558
plants after the second draft.
1918 June, War Labor Administration sets
up a "Woman in Industry Service" to meet
the problems connected with more rapid
introduction of women into industry. A month
later, Mary Van Kleeck, a WTUL activist,
moves from the Ordnance Department to
direct the new agency with Mary Anderson as
assistant director, and Helen Brooks Irvin as an
experienced organizer of black women workers.
WIS sets to work to formulate standards for
employment of women in war industries,
including a 48 hour work week, equal pay,
lunch breaks, sanitary, and safety precautions.
By August, defense departments begin to
include these in war contracts, although many
contractors did not observe them. In its five
months of existence before the Armistice, the
WIS was successful in promoting better
working conditions, if not equal pay, for
women and it continued to publish detailed
reports and guidelines based on the WWI
experiences of women and employers until it
was transformed into the Women's Bureau
in 1920.
1919 One of the most militant years in U.S.
labor history. An epidemic of strikes breaks out
across the country caused by continued rise in
cost of living and post-war economic recession
as the country shifted from war to peacetime
production. Women and minority workers are
among the worst affected by economic
problems and cut-backs in jobs; they join
in strikes.

First International Congress of Working
Women meets in Washington, D.C. It later
becomes the International Federation of
Working Women with the promotion of trade
union organization among women as its main
priority.
1920 June 5: Congress establishes the
Women's Bureau in the Department of Labor
with a staff of 20 and a budget of $30,000,
under the directorship of Mary Anderson. The
WB ~ediately begins its field investigations.
Analysis and recommendations on national ,
state and industry trends affecting women at
work begin to emerge. Some titles published in
1920: "Night-Work Laws in the U.S. , 1919";
"The New Position of Women in American
Ind~s~ry"; and "Industrial Opportunities and
Tram.mg for Women and Girls."
Two months later, the 19th Amendment
becomes the law of the land, giving women
the right to vote.
1921 WB reports on "State Laws Affecting
Working Women"; "Health Problems of
Women in Industry"; "Woman Street Car
Conductors and Ticket Agents"; "Women's
Wages in Kansas," among others.

1922 WB investigates "Negro Women in
Industry"; "The Family Status of Breadwinning
Women"; "The Occupational Progress of
Women."
1923 Alice Paul of the National Woman's
Party introduces the first proposed amendment
to the Constitution on equality for women.
WB reports on "Women's Contributions in
the Field of Invention" and co-sponsors a
Women's Industrial Conference.
Federal Government Classification Act
passes; an equal pay victory for WB, which
exposed hiring and wage discrimination versus
women in a 1920 report, "Women in the
Federal Government." The new law establishes
that Government salaries should be determined
by job duties, not sex of employee.
1924 WB reports on "Married Women
in Industry"; "Domestic Workers and Their
Employment Relations"; and "Women in
Alabama Industries."
1925 Rose Knox, president of Knox Co.,
producers of gelatin for food and industrial
purposes, begins to oversee her profitable
business "in a woman's way." She institutes one
of the first 5-day work weeks, keeps her plants
clean and pleasant and wins enduring loyalty
from her employees.
WB reports on "Home Environment and
Employment Opportunities for Women in
Coal-Mine Workers' Families" and "Standard
and Scheduled Hours of Work for Women
in Industry."
1926 WB investigates "Women in the
Fruit-Growing and Canning Industries in the
State of Washington"; "Lost Time and Labor
Turnover in Cotton Mills"; "Effects of Applied
Research upon the Employment Opportunities
of American Women"; "Women Workers and
Industrial Poisons."
1927 WB reports on "Industrial
Accidents to Women in New Jersey, Ohio and
Wisconsin"; "The Development of Minimum
Wage Laws in the U.S. , 1912-1927."
1928 WB reports on "State Laws Affecting
Working Women"; "The Employment of
Women at Night."

29

WB publishes findings on "Negro
Women in Industry in 15 States"; "Conditions
of Work in Spin Rooms"; "Women Workers in
Hint, Michigan."
As the depression hits America, Anne
Ronnell is paid $25,000 for writing the song,
"Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?"
1930 WB reports on "Variations in
Employment Trends of Women and Men";
''A Survey of Laundries and Their Women
Workers in 23 Cities"; "Industrial Home
Work"; "Women in 5- and 10-cent Stores and
Limited-Price Chain Department Stores"; "The
Employment of Women in the Pineapple
Canneries of Hawaii."
Ellen Church, United Airlines, becomes the
first airline stewardess.
1931 WB publishes "Industrial Experiences
of Women Workers at the Summer Schools,
1928-1930."
Verne Mitchell, aged 19, becomes the first
woman to pitch baseball for an organized male
team - Chattanooga Baseball Club.
1932 Section 213 of the Federal Economy
Act requires that one spouse resign if both
husband and wife are working for the Federal
Government. A Women's Bureau study later
shows that more than 75 percent of those
resigning were women. Section 213 remained
on the books until 1937. It is but one of many
public and private pressures on women to give
up "pin money" in favor of the working man
in the depression, despite the reality of
women's responsibilities for their families'
support.
WB reports on "Women Office Workers
in Philadelphia"; "The Effect on Women of
Changing Conditions in the Cigar & Cigarette
Industries"; "The Employment of Women in
Slaughtering and Meat-Packing."
1933 France Perkin is appointed first
woman Cabinet member, when named
Secretary of Labor.
WB reports on "Women Workers in
the Third Year of the Depression - A
Study of Students at the Bryn Mawr Summer
School"; "Effects of the Depression on WageEamers' Familie : A Second Survey of South
1929

30

Bend"; ''A Study of Change from 8 to 6 Hours
of Work."
1934 WB investigates "The Age Factor
as It Relates to Women in Business and the
Professions"; "The Employment of Women in
Puerto Rico"; "The Employment of Women
in Offices."
1935 ''A Survey of the Shoe Industry in
New Hampshire"; "Employment in Hotels
and Restaurants"; "Employment Conditions in
Beauty Shops."
1936 More WB reports on "Women
Unemployed Seeking Relief in 1933";
"Piecework in the Silk Dress Industry";
"Re-employment of New England Women in
Private Industry"; "The Employed Woman
Homemaker in the U.S. : Her Responsibility
for Family Support."
1937 "Women's Hours & Wages in the
District of Columbia in 1937"; "The Legal
Status of Women in the United States of
America - Summary and State by State."
1938 Fair Labor Standards Act sets
minimum wage, maximum hours without
overtime, standards to protect workers in most
poorly-paid jobs. This law improved working
conditions and reduced the need for the

\

I

WB to carry out field investigatons on basic
conditions, freeing it to expand its scope
to other issues affecting women workers.
Mary Anderson and the WB made major
contributions towards the passage of this bill.
WB looks back on "Women at Work:
A Century of Industrial Changes."
1939 WB publishes "Conditions in the
Millinery Industry in the U.S.A."; "Standards
for Employment of Women in Industry Recommended by the Women's Bureau."
1940 Slightly more than 11 million women
are holding jobs. War in Europe stimulates
U.S. production, but men, not women, are first
beneficiaries of more jobs. WB issues reports
on how women could contribute to upswing
and recommends training programs to prepare
them for future calls from industry.
1941 Government programs begin to
"warm up" unemployed in heavy industry, but
most employers still believe women are not
suited for a high proportion of available
production jobs.
After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. enters
World War II. A Fair Employment Practices
Commission is established to help alleviate
discrimination against blacks in war production.
Black women especially press to escape from

domestic and agricultural jobs into more
lucrative factory employment.
1942 As draft begins to decimate the
ranks of male workers, the Government is ue
a nondiscrimination directive, reversing
depression-period restrictions on employment of
women, especially married women. Many gains
in protective legislation for working women are
also waived in favor of wartime needs. For first
time, employers actively seek out women
workers for nontraditional jobs and some offer
services - day care, meals, transportation making it easier for women with families to
work. WB publishes a series of 13 reports on
women in various wartime industries, as well
as "Equal Pay for Women in War Industries"
- which was not the practice in many cases.
By mid-year, War Manpower Commission starts
a campaign to actively recruit women in labor
shortage areas. National War Labor Board
issues an order "permitting" employers to
equalize wages paid to women with those paid
to men for work of comparable quality and
quantity; Federal government lowers legal
working age for women from 18 to 16.
1943 War Production Board announces a
need for 1.5 million more women workers
within a year.
1944 Between 1940 and 1944, more than
6 million women join the civilian labor force,
though fully 75 % of all women working for
wages during the war had worked before. By
mid-year, the WB had already begun studying
the effect of cut-backs in employment of
women, as employers prepared for postwar
slowdown. Some women began to quit their
work voluntarily, many others who preferred to
stay were harassed by employers. The Bureau
recommended full employment and equal wages
for men and women, as part of the
reconversion process.
Women joined unions in large numbers
during the war, in spite of resistance from
some trades. Before the war only some 800,000
women belonged to unions (9.4 percent of total
union membership) . By 1944, more than 3
million were union members (22 percent
of total) .
31

1945 More than 19 million women worked
for wages sometime during the war emergency
years. With the end of World War II, the_ ~
focuses on postwar employment opportumtles
for women and begins its involvement with
United Nations organizations relating to women
and economic development.
Women's Bureau and the WTUL wage an
aggressive campaign for a House-sponsored
Women's Equal Pay Act.
1946 WB publishes its analyses of World
War II industrial experiences for women and
begins a series of reports on women workers
in other countries.
1948 Economic & Social Council of the
UN adopts the principle that women should
receive the same pay as men for equal work.
WB publishes "Handbook for Women
Workers" and looks at "Working Women's
Budgets in 12 States."
.
Some 17.2 million women are employed m
the civilian labor force; a drop of 2.4 million
from the all-time war period high of 19.6
million in July 1945, but an increase of
835,000 over the 1947 total of 16.3 million.
1949 Union of Electrical, Radio and
Machine Workers sponsors first postwar
conference of any major union on the
problems of women workers.
WB publishes "Outlook for Women in
Police Work."
Miranda Smith, a 40-cent-an-hour tobacco
worker becomes the first black woman to serve
in the executive councils of a national union,
as Southern Regional Director of the FTA.
1950 18 million working women, nearly
half of whom are married, make up 29 percent
of the workforce, and 32 percent of the working
age female population is working. The postwar
period aw a drop in young married workers,
but half again as many women age 45-54 were
working after the war as before.
WB publi hes "Women in Higher-Level
Po ition ' and tarts a erie on job
opportunitie in ocial work, following up on
po twar eries on job in medical and healthrelated occupation .

32

1951 WB reports on "Part-time Jobs
for Women."
1952 A coalition of civic groups, women's
organizations, labor and employer organiza~ions,
including the WB, form a National Cormruttee
for Equal Pay and hold a conference. WB_
publishes the conference's report, along w1~
its own papers on "Women Workers & Therr
Dependents" and "Maternity Protection of
Employed Women."
1953 WB reports on "Older Women as
Office Workers" and "Employed Mothers and
Child Care."
1955 White House Conference on Effective
Use of Womanpower in which WB plays major
role. Director Leopold describes it as
the "beginning of new efforts on the part of
the U.S. Department of Labor to develop our
country's manpower to the fullest." It explores
sex-stereotypes as limits to opportunities for
women and presents suggestions for increasing
women's labor participation. WB publishes
the conference report, and "Employment
Opportunities for Women in Professional
Accounting."
The last of the local branches of the WTUL
dissolves itself, on the basis that most of the
League's functions have been assumed by the
unions. The AFL and CIO merge.
1956 WB reports on "Employment
Opportunities for Women Mathematicians and
Statisticians"; "College Women Go to Work Report on Women Graduates, 1956."
1959 WB promotes "Careers for Women
in the Physical Sciences."
1960 Working women make up 33 percent
of the national labor force; 30.5 percent of
married women work for wages, contributing
about 26 percent of total family income. ~nethird of all wage-earning women hol~ clencal
jobs. Nearly 80 percent of wage-earmng
women hold jobs stereotyped as "female" and
the gender-gap in earnings widens - median
annual earnings of women fall to 60 percent
of the rate for men.

President's Commission on the
Status of Women established to investigate
participation of women in key areas, including
employment. WB takes an active role in
studies and recommends ways to overcome
sex discrimination in employment.
1962 Presidential memorandum bars
discrimination against women in Federal Civil
Service hiring and promotions policies.
1963 Congress passes the Equal Pay Act,
requiring most companies to pay equal wages
regardless of sex to all those performing equal
tasks.
''American Women, An Invitation to Action"
- report of the Presidential Commission is presented.
The Feminine Mystique examines the causes
and effects of the underemployment of educated
American women.
1964 Congress passes Civil Rights Act,
including Title vn, which prohibits firms with
15 or more employees from discriminating on
the basis of sex, among other characteristics.
Establishes Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission to coordinate efforts to implement
1961

the law and to conciliate disputes. Shortly
thereafter, the EEOC is flooded with sexdiscrimination complaints.
1967 Age Discrimination in Employment
Act bars discrimination against workers
age 45-65.
1968 Executive Order 11246, as amended by
11375, prohibits discrimination in employment
on basis of sex, among other characteristics,
by all employers with Federal contracts ov_er
$10,000, and requires them to file affirmative
action programs.
1969 Cornell University becomes the site
of the first women's studies course.
1970 31.5 million women make up 38
percent of the civilian labor force. Mor~ than
40 percent of married women are working for
wages or looking for work, and the rate am~ng
younger women with children begins the rapid
increase that will continue throughout the
decade. There are 1. 9 million divorced women
workers. The proportion of women in unions
drops to 12 percent of all union memberships.
There is an increase of nearly 80 percent of
women in skilled, predominantly male, trades

.

33

compared to 1960 - still, their participation
accounts for only 2-3 percent of total workers
in such trades.
"Women's Strike for Equity" - women
demonstrate in cities across the country to
observe the 50th anniversary of women's
suffrage and to highlight demands including
equal opportunity in jobs and education.
1971 National Women's Political Caucus
organized.
Department of Labor rules require
Government contractors to take positive
action on discrimination against women.
197 2 Congress passes Equal Employment
Opportunity Act, outlining in detail anti-sex
discrimination guidelines for employers.
20 percent of first year medical students
are women, compared to 13.5 percent the year
before. 12 percent of first year law students
are women, compared to less than 5 percent
in 1967.
Secretary of Labor issues order directing
WB to coordinate all Department activities
concerning women, designating its director
special counselor to the secretary.
197 3 Comprehensive Employment &
Training Act (CETA) passed to help prepare
economically disadvantaged persons and those
facing barriers to employment to become
productive members of the labor force.
Programs are to be conducted at the State
and local level under the monitoring of the
Federal Government.
1974 WB and Department of Labor
help to finance Fir t Trade Union Women's
Conference in New York City, which leads to
the formation of the Coalition of Labor Union
Women (CLUW). At its founding conference
in Chicago, it states as its purposes organizing
unorganized women, affirmative action in the
workplace, political action and legislation, and
participation of women in their unions.
- 25 % of all black women workers hold
clerical job · 11 % remain in domestic service.
- Rece ion begins.
1975 Rece ion deepen , women workers
harde t hit by unemployment.
"9 to 5" founded in Bo ton; it eventually
34

becomes a national association of working
women.
UN International Women's Year - 1975
begins International Women's Decade.
Tax Reduction Act increases availability of
income tax deductions for child and dependent
care expenses.
1977 Publication of Pink Collar Workers,
by Louise Kapp Howe, coins new term to
highlight continuing sex-segregation of women
in low paying jobs.
WB plays leadership role in Interagency
Task Force on Women Business Owners.
Women now make up T/.6 percent of all
union members, due to increased efforts to
organize clerical, office, hospital and other
workers in predominantly female occupations.
19 7 8 WB input is reflected in Department
of Labor's affirmative action guidelines,
1977-78, expanding opportunities for women
in apprenticeships and construction work.
WB also participates in policy efforts which
result in revised CETA; new provisions
relate specifically to employment needs of
economically disadvantaged women. Pregnancy
Discrimination Act requires that women
affected by pregnancy be treated the same as
other persons similar in their ability/inability
to do work.
WB's focus expands to include training
programs for women in prisons.
WB is transferred from Employment
Standards Administration to Office of the
Secretary of Labor.
1979 For the first time, more than half of
all women aged 16 and over are participating
in the labor force. Labor force participation of
white women has risen rapidly to virtually the
same as that of black women.
Executive Order 12138 establishes national
Policy on Women's Business Enterprise,
directing Federal agencies to establish goals for
contract awards to women-owned businesses.
WB begins funding model programs for
career counseling and occupational training of
displaced homemakers, women without recent
paid work experience or evident marketable
skills who must begin to earn their own
livelihoods.

WB director testifies for amendment to Title
VII of Civil Rights Act, banning discrimination
in employment based on pregnancy.
1980 More than 40 million women in the
workforce, but 80 percent of working women
remain in traditionally female jobs.
• Sexual Harassment Guidelines reaffinn that
sexual harassment is an unlawful employment
practice, clarifying what constitutes such
harassment and employer responsibility.
WB participates in Organization for
Economic Cooperation & Development
(OECD) Conference on the Employment of
Women/Paris, the first cabinet and ministry
level meeting of officials from 24 member
countries to address women's issues.
WB participates in UN Decade for Women
Conference in Copenhagen, having previously
sponsored two regional meetings in the U. S. to
assess progress and develop strategies for
remainder of the decade.
1981 Economic Recovery Tax Act increases
tax credits and maximum expenditures for child
care and excludes employer-provided child care
benefits from gross income for tax purposes,
expands eligibility definitions and makes
provisions for division of IRAs that benefit
married, divorced women workers, and
homemakers.
1982 WB launches effort to expand use of
its model program - "Women in Nontraditional Careers" (WINC) - training school
counseling staff, providing classroom
instruction on labor market opportunities, and
exploring jobs in local communities. Using a
WB-produced curriculum guide, regional
workshops held over several years result in
30 schools and colleges incorporating the
WINC approach.
WB, recognizing that mothers of pre-school
children are the fastest-growing segment of the
labor force, makes establishment of employersponsored child-care systems across the country
a priority initiative. Publications, conferences,
workshop are spon ored, and technical
assistance provided to encourage company

and community-based responses to employee's
needs. WB also produces a video-tape "The
Business of Caring," which presents various
options used by employers.
1983 Job Training Partnership Act replace
CETA as primary federally-funded job training
program. Its goal is to move disadvantaged or
dislocated workers to pennanent jobs in the
private sector through the cooperation of the
public and private sectors, with an emphasi on
local administration. WB publishes a guide to
JTPA benefits for working women and sponsors
workshops to promote its effectiveness.
1984 Emergency Mathematics and Science
Education and Jobs Act provides set-asides
for special projects for underrepresented and
underserved populations, including girls and
women, from funds provided to State
educational agencies.
Retirement Equity Act of 1984 makes it
easier for women to collect retirement benefits
under ,private pension plans.
Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act
reauthorizes Federal funding for vocational
education, targeting over half the funds
allocated to States for programs for special
needs groups, primarily women.
1985 WB sponsors national WINC
conference for key professionals interested
in encouraging young women to pursue
nontraditional occupations.
WB begins replication of Project Discovery,
a pilot program to help first-time job seekers,
or, those seeking to reenter the workplace,
focusing on minority women, aged 35-50.
1985 World Conference, UN Decade for
Women, Nairobi - WB director participates as
member of U.S. delegation. WB publishes a
report on the major economic and legislative
accomplishments of the U.S. during the Decade
for Women.
WB begins new series of publications on
impact of technology on office workers and
conducts research to help women veterans take
advantage of their military experience in new
jobs.

35

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U.S. Department of Labor ~


Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, One Federal Reserve Bank Plaza, St. Louis, MO 63102