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$gres gt


of the

Women’s Bureau

No. 165


For safe by the Superintendent of Documents, Washington, D. C.

Price 10 cent*







Letter of transmittal
Introduction--------------------------------------------------------------Occupational status
Domestic and personal service-_________________________________________
Numbers employed-------------------------------------------------------Unemployment
— ------------------------------------------------------------------Household service---------------------------------------------------Laundresses and laundry operatives^
Hotels and restaurants - - - —'---------------------------------------Beauty shops_____________________________________________________
Agriculture,-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Numbers employed--------------------------------------------------------Typical employment conditions__________________ __________________
The future of southern agriculture and the Negro worker---------------Manufacturing and mechanical industries------------------------------------------------Numbers employed------------------------------------------------------------------------General characteristics of factory employment for Negro women____
Tobacco stemmeries1:----------------------Negro women in Tennessee factories
Negro women in Chicago factories
Negro women as white-collar workers---------------------------------------------------Numbers employed------------------------------------------------------------------------Reasons for small numbers of Negro white-collar workers-------------------Negro white-collar workers in Atlanta
Negro professional women
Negro women as clerical workers
Negro women in retail trade
Measures for improving the economic status of Negro women workers----Social and labor legislation
Improvement in educational and training facilities___________________
Trade-union organization
Selected references on Negro women workers’------------------------------------------Graph: Occupational distribution of Negro women, 1890 and 1930__:-----




















United States Department op Labor,
Women’s Bureau,

Washington, October 3, 1938.
have the honor to transmit to you a report that brings
together what seem to be the most significant of the very limited data
on the Negro woman worker. There is a constant demand for material
on this important subject.
The study is the work of Jean Collier Brown, of the division of
public information.
Respectfully submitted.
Mary Anderson, Director.
Hon. Frances Perkins,
Secretary of Labor.
Madam: I




: •




One in every six women workers in America is a Negro, according to
the latest census figures—those of 1930. In all, nearly 2,000,000
Negro women were classed as gainful workers at that time. How
many of these women now have jobs and how many are unemployed;
where the employed women are working; how much they earn, and
how their wages compare with those of white women workers: these
are questions that have a direct bearing on the economic problems of
Though women in general have been discriminated against and
exploited through limitation of their opportunities for employment,
through long hours, low wages, and harmful working conditions,
such hardships have fallen upon Negro women with double harshness.
As the members of a new and inexperienced group arrive at the doors
of industry, the jobs that open up to them ordinarily are those vacated
by other workers who move on to more highly paid occupations.
Negro women have formed such a new and inexperienced group in
wage employment. To their lot, therefore, have fallen the more
menial jobs, the lower paid, the more hazardous—in general, the least
agreeable and desirable. And one of the tragedies of the depression
was the realization that the unsteady foothold Negro women had
attained in even these jobs was lost when great numbers of unemployed
workers from other fields clamored for employment.
Not very much is actually known about the economic position of
Negro women today. The depression caused serious employment
displacements that cannot be measured accurately. However, certain
work problems of Negro women are outstanding and may be discussed
with some measure of authority. To that end it may be well to dis­
cuss what is known concerning the general occupational position of
Negro women; and further, something of each major occupational
group as to numbers of workers, employment opportunities, hours,
wages, and working conditions, and any other factors that may be of
special importance.

On the whole, most women, white or Negro, work for their living
just as do men, not because they want to but because they must.
The reason larger proportions of Negro than of white women work lies
largely in the low scale of earnings of Negro men. In their pre-Civil
War status it was the ability of Negro women to work that governed
their market value. At the close of the Civil War a large proportion
of all Negro women—married as well as single—were forced to engage
in breadwinning activities. In 1930, at the time of the latest census,



it was found still true that a larger proportion of Negro women than of
white women were gainfully occupied. Practically 2 in 5 Negro
women, in contrast to 1 in 5 white women, work for their living.
In pre-Civil War days the employment of the Negro woman was
almost completely restricted to two fields where work is largely
unskilled and heavy—agriculture and domestic service. Agriculture
utilized the large majority of workers. In 1930 about 9 in every
10 Negro women still were engaged in farm work or in domestic and
personal service, with more than two-thirds of them in domestic and
personal service. The major occupational shift for Negro women has
been, therefore, within these two large fields of employment. What
occupational progress Negro women have made has been for the most
part in connection with their entrance into the better paid, better
standardized occupations in domestic and personal service. In addi­
tion, increases have been shown in the last 20 years in the professions
and in clerical work. From 1910 to 1930 there was an increase of
33,000 Negro women in manufacturing, though a small decrease took
place between 1920 and 1930.
1930 O

Domestic and personal___


Manufacturing and





Transportation and com­
munication; trade




Numbers employed.
In 1930, the date of the latest Nation-wide census, 3 in 5 Negro
women workers reported their usual occupation as in domestic and
personal service. Included in this broad classification were more than
600.000 domestic employees in private homes; over 250,000 laundresses
not in laundries; 50,000 laundry and cleaning and dyeing workers;
about 18,000 housekeepers and stewards, and practically the same
number of waitresses; 16,000 untrained nurses and midwives; almost
13.000 hairdressers and manicurists; more than 11,000 charwomen and
cleaners; and over 4,000 elevator tenders. The number of Negro
women in domestic and personal service in 1930—1,150,000—repre­
sented a gain of nearly 50 percent from 1920 to 1930. Negro women
in household employment increased by 81 percent.



Today, 8 years after that census, though there are no complete
statistics on unemployment for the whole country, it is certain that
the plight of Negro domestics since the beginning of the depression
has been an exceedingly serious one. Certain scattered data such as
follow are indicative of the situation as a whole.
In a comprehensive study of employment and unemployment in
Louisville, Ky., conducted by the State Department of Labor in the
spring of 1933, it was found that a little over one-half of the Negro
women,_ in contrast to less than three-tenths of the white women
were without jobs. More than three-fourths of the Negro women
wage earners in the survey depended on domestic and personal service
tor their livelihood, but the depression had thrown 56 percent of
these out of work.
In a survey by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration of
persons on relief in 40 urban centers as of May 1, 1934, over twothirds of the approximately 150,000 women who described their usual
occupations m terms of servants and allied workers were Negro,
r or 23 northern and midwestern cities the difference in number be­
tween white and Negro women in this classification was not so great04.000 Negro women as against 37,000 white women; but in the 17
southern cities covered in the F. E. R. A. report there were only
5.000 white women, as agamst 52,000 Negro women, classed as servants
and allied workers.
Household service.
So much for the unemployment of Negro domestic labor. But
what about the working conditions of various types of domestic and
personal service workers? The largest group, and the one concerning
which there is the least definite information as to employment stand­
ards, is that of household workers.
From common knowledge, and according to the few recent scat­
tered studies that are available, low wages and long hours are char­
acteristic of household service. In a survey of household employ­
ment m Lynchburg, Va., in the spring of 1937, the typical wage of
the group covered—largely Negro workers—was $5 or $6 a week,
lwo cases were reported at $1.50 and one at $10, and there was one
report of payment in the form of a house “on the lot” rent-free and
one of payment made only in clothing. The typical hours were 72
a week I here were 16 reports of 80 to 90 hours and there was 1
report of a week of 91 hours.
A compilation of household employment data for the South in
1934, in which some 26 Y. W. C. A. local associations cooperated,
showed that the average weekly wage for Negro workers was $6.17
and the average workweek was 66 hours.
During the period of the National Recovery Administration a sur­
vey of household employment in 33 northern counties in Mississippi
conducted by the Joint Committee on National Recovery, showed that
wages of Negro domestics usually amounted to less than $2 a week.
An informal investigation of household employment was made in
the spring of 1937 by a Washington, D. C., committee representing
women s organizations, by inquiries of both private and public employ­
ment agencies. The study showed that the general minimum weekly



wage at which workers were placed was $5, and the average was
from $7 to $10. The chief demands were for mothers’ helpers at the
$5 wage and for general workers. The large majority of applicants
were Negro women. Inadequate living and working conditions on
the job were reported for many households. In a number ol homes
no bathing facilities were provided for the workers; too often the bed
was found to consist of a cot in the living room or furnace room
Long hours and heavy work were characteristic of many lobs and
the difficulty of managing children constituted another problem.
Laundresses and laundry operatives.
The census makes a distinction between women laundresses who
are self employed, working in their own or their employers’ homes,
and operatives employed in commercial laundries. In 1930 there
still were about 270,000 Negro women laundresses not m laundries,
despite the rapid rise of power laundries in the decade from 1920 to
1930. There were nearly 50,000 Negro women laundry operatives.
Though employment conditions generally are better standardized
and more favorable for women in commercial laundries than in private
homes, the direct influence of home laundry work on the hour and
wage standards set by the commercial laundry can be seen clearly.
In a study of laundries by the Women’s Bureau in 1935, Bureau agents
were told again and again that commercial laundries, especially m
the South, were having a terrific struggle to compete with Negro
washwomen. The following comments made by laundry employers,
employment office officials, and other informed persons illustrate the
conditions at that time:
Since the depression, servants are required to do laundry as well as maid work;
most of them get only $3 a week on the average.
Greatest competition is colored washwomen. Will take a 30-pound bundle
for a dollar. Some of them do a week’s washing for 50 cents.
The washwoman charges only 60 to 75 percent of what the laundry charges
for the same size bundle.
The manager knew of a number of washwomen who were glad to get a day’s
work for carfare, lunch, and an old dress.

Data of much interest concerning employment conditions of Negro
women in l8und.ri.6S 8-r© found, in tho "VV om.6n s Bureau laundry study.
Conducted during the N. R. A. period, the study shows a relation
between code rates and actual conditions, and indicates what amounted
to a race differential in the minimum wages set, as follows: Minimumwage rates set by the N. R. A. laundry code for a 40-hour week ranged
from 14 cents to 30 cents an hour, depending on geographical section
and size of city within the section. In the nine southern States, for
whose entire area the weekly minimum was set at $5.60, three-fourths
of the women laundiy workers were Negroes, according to the 1930
census. On the other hand, in 10 States for which the highest mini­
mum was set, 4 in the far West and the others in New England, less
than 4 percent of the women laundry workers were Negroes.
Wage data in the study showed average weekly earnings consider­
ably higher in the North than in the South. The average for all men
employees—productive labor, office employees, routemen, and other
labor—ranged from $27.63 a week in Boston to $16.44 in Savannah.



For aU women employees the range was from $13.38 in Boston to
$5.79 in Charleston.
For white and Negro women on productive work weekly earnings
were just about comparable in Atlantic City—$7.99 for the white
and $7 64 for the Negro women. Negro women in Chicago had the
highest average weekly earnings of any such city group covered by
the study, $9.83, but the earnings of the white women averaged $11 14
VV ages of women workers in the South were distressingly low for
both white and Negro workers on productive work. The widest
differences in average weekly wages was in Memphis, where white
women received $9.21 for an average week’s work while Negro women
found but $5.57 in an average pay envelope. In Jacksonville the
earnings were $8.43 for white women and $5.01 for Negro women - in
Charlotte they were $8.47 for white and $5.25 for Negro: in Gre’enyille they were respectively $7.84 and $5.45; in Savannah, $7.62 and
$5.32. In no southern city covered by the Women’s Bureau in the
laundry study did the average earnings of Negro women reach the
exceedingly low minimum of $5.60 set by the N. R. A. laundry code.
Hotels and restaurants.
Many Negro women have found work in one or another of the
branches of public housekeeping, as cooks, waitresses, chambermaids
cafetena counter girls, and so forth. In 1930, the census reported
more than 86,000 Negro women in such occupations. Though hours
tend to be shorter and better standardized in public than in private
housekeeping, the workweek of the woman in a hotel or restaurant is
likely to be much longer than that of the woman in factory, store or
Negro women in hotels and restaurants were included in a Women’s
Bureau survey of the wages and hours of Tennessee women in the
winter of 1935-36. In the hotel industry in Tennessee more jobs are
open to Negro than to white employees, so the data in the studv are of
special interest.
In the lodging departments of hotels most of the jobs open to women
are those of chambermaids, cleaners, and linen-room attendants.
I he first two were filled by Negro women and the last by white
women. Average week’s earnings for Negro chambermaids and gen­
eral cleaners were $5.65, the most common rate of pay for this work
being about $25 a month. About two-fifths of the employees in the
lodging departments were given a noon meal or their meals and lodg­
ing. I or the few hotels with laundries the average week’s earnings of
the women laundry workers—chiefly Negroes—were only $4.60.
In hotel kitchens Negro women generally were found doing vege­
table or pantry work, most of the cooks being men. Meals allowed
on duty augmented somewhat the low average week’s earnings of
$5.50. For the smaller group of white women doing somewhat similar
work the weeks earnings averaged about $8. Very few Negro
Waitresses were found in hotel dining rooms.
. While the wage scale for women in the kitchens of restaurants not
in hotels was somewhat higher than of those in hotels, the average
earnmgs of Negro women in such kitchens were but $8.55. Over 80
percent of the Negro women, many of whom served as the chief cook
of the restaurant, had earnings below $10.



Beauty shops.
A relatively new occupation for Negro women workers is that of
beauty service. That this occupation is developing rapidly for Negro
women is common knowledge, but this fact is proved by the census,
which shows that while in 1910 there were only about 3,800 Negro
women workers in such employment, in 1930 the number was 3% times
as large, or about 13,000.
_ _
Some indication of employment conditions for Negro women in
beauty shops may be gained from a Women’s Bureau study of such
establishments in' the winter of 1933-34. In the four cities covered
by the survey, 390 white shops employing some 1,300 women, and
75 Negro shops employing 150 women, were covered. Most of the
Negro women were serving the needs of their own race, but a few were
at work in white beauty shops or barber shops.
Though beauty-shop employment is sometimes considered to offer
desirable vocational opportunities for Negro girls and women, earnings
reported to Women’s Bureau agents were low. The average weekly
wage was only $8, or about three-fifths of that of the white women in
the industry. Almost two-thirds of the women received less than
$10 a week and only about 1 in 16 earned as much as $15. Hours
were very long. Three of every five Negro women reported had a
schedule longer than 48 hours. More than two-thirds of these women
had worked, or been ready for service, more than 54 hours in the week.
Closing hours were later and the spread of hours was longer than in
the white shops.

Long as may be the hours of the Negro domestic worker, low as may
be her earnings and those of the Negro woman in laundry, hotel, or
restaurant, in general the economic status of these workers is much
more favorable than that of the Negro woman agricultural laborer.
For this woman worker there are few aspects of her working life over
which she has any real control. Crop conditions, markets, and prices;
the employment status of her family, whether as owners, tenant farm­
ers, sharecroppers, or wage workers; the necessity of accepting field
work as one of a family group rather than on an individual basis; lack
of educational facilities, particularly in the rural South, which would
enable her to equip herself for other employment if it were available—
these are some of the factors that materially affect her living.
Numbers employed.
In 1930, agriculture absorbed the services of the second largest
group of Negro women—about half a million. Roughly seven in
eight of these women—about one-fourth of whom were wage workers
and three-fifths unpaid family workers—were in the seven southern
States of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina,
South Carolina, and Texas. Cotton is, of course, the major crop in
these States, and it is on cotton that Negro labor is so largely employed.
Typical employment conditions.
A marked trend from tenant farmer to the lower status of share­
cropper is shown for Negro labor in the South from 1920 to 1935 by
United States Department of Agriculture reports—a trend not shared
to the same extent by the white agricultural group. Though many
stories have appeared recently in periodicals and the press concerning



the near-desperate plight of some of these workers, little information
is available to define the problem with any exactitude. A brief but
vivid description of the Southern sharecropper-system was given by
a Negro woman sharecropper at a national economic conference spon­
sored by the Joint Committee on National Recovery, from which the
following is quoted:
And clothing isn’t in it. Since they stopped using fertilizer the clothes are very
scanty, because we could take fertilizer sacks and make aprons and dresses for
the little children. But since they are not using fertilizer very much you just
can’t hide their nakedness through the winter. Sometimes you find in some of
the houses that the little children are barefooted, and the children in some of the
houses couldn’t go to school in the winter because they did not have clothes to
go in. And some of them haven’t even got houses to stay in as good as lots of
common barns. And some families of 12 or 14 live in houses with maybe one room
and kitchen, with maybe three beds where 10 or 12 are sleeping in the three beds,
and the kitchen is so open that you can just pass by and look through and see
them all sitting in there, and not even have a flue for the stove pipe to go in, and
the stove is setting out in the floor. And maybe they have two joints of a stove­
pipe, and maybe one piece of elbow, and when you start a fire you will get smoke
all over the house until it gets started burning good, and you have to stay outside
until it starts burning good because it smokes you out. Families have to put up
with all kinds of things like that.

Though data on Negro agricultural workers are difficult to secure,
a survey of agricultural labor conditions in Concordia Parish, La.,
issued by the United States Department of Agriculture in October
1937, throws some light on the status of these workers in a rich cotton
section. Both men and women cotton pickers were interviewed by
Government agents. Wages were found to be unbelievably low, year’s
earnings for agricultural work averaging only $41.67 for women,
$120.19 for men. The average income for a whole year, including
earnings of dependents, relief (both work and direct), and nonagrieultural earnings, was only $62.36 for the women; for men it reached
$177.53. None of the women who did only farm work had more than
150 days of employment, and most of them had less than 90 days in
the year.
After stating that more than half of the Negro women interviewed
had less than a fifth-grade education, this Department of Agriculture
report concludes by outlining in general the economic status of Negro
cotton labor:
In summary, the basis of the labor supply on the plantations of Concordia
Parish is this uneducated and racially distinct group of people. Both men and
women work in the fields. The combination of low wage rates and intermittent
employment means meager annual earnings. Many of the workers, though not
employed full time, live in shacks on the plantation the year round; others come
from nearby villages or come across the river from Natchez, Miss. Social con­
tact is primarily within the group itself with little or no outside association.
Concordia Parish presents a picture of the evolution of the old plantation with
its slave labor emerging as a unit operated with cropper or wage labor. The
position of its laboring class has not changed materially from that of earlier times.

The future of southern agriculture and the Negro worker.
Disheartening as are the present circumstances of Negro agricultural
workers in the South, the future seems to hold even more serious threats
to their economic security. An article in the Monthly Labor Review
for July 1937, by N. A. Tolies of the Bureau of Labor Statistics,
discusses among other topics the relocation of displaced farm tenants:
The greatest potential source of future migration in the United States is to
be found among the tenant farmers of the southeastern Cotton Belt. The



thousands of former tenants now to be found seeking casual jobs in Florida may
be only the forerunners of much greater numbers of both white and Negro
Tenancy in the Old South is the successor to the slave system. Both institu­
tions were, in different ways, devices for holding on the land, on a subsistence
basis, sufficient labor to meet the maximum seasonal requirements of agriculture.
As a result, the Southeast is now drenched with labor and is therefore especially
vulnerable to all forces which may cause the displacement of workers. The
depression, followed by the crop-restriction program, has already forced some
displacement of tenants. Much greater displacements may be caused in the near
future as a result of technical developments. If the mechanical cotton picker is
perfected, most of the demand for tenants and wage workers in the eastern Cotton
Belt may be eliminated. But apart from the cotton picker, the spread of im­
proved methods already in use is likely to cause considerable displacement.
Mechanical equipment and the use of check-row planting are capable of eliminat­
ing much of the labor requirement for cotton raising, except in the picking season.
It is questionable whether the landowner of the Old South will continue to provide
subsistence the year round for workers who are needed only during a brief season.
To compete with the rapidly developing areas of the West and of foreign countries,
the plantation of the Old South may be forced to adopt its competitors’ method
of hiring workers only during the season when their labor is required. In that
case a large fraction of the 1,000,000 tenants of the old Cotton Belt may be con­
verted into constant migrants from job to job or displaced from agriculture


The industries the census classifies as “manufacturing and mechani­
cal” rank third in giving jobs to Negro women; the number so
employed was 101,000 in 1930. The situation with regard to employ­
ment opportunities for Negro women in this group of industries
differed widely from that of the domestic and personal service occu­
pations in the 10 years between 1920 and 1930. While thousands of
new workers found jobs as domestic employees, laundry operatives,
or beauty-shop attendants, there was actually a small decrease in the
total number of Negro women employed by industry.
Why this decrease took place cannot be explained. One possible
cause is that in 1920 there still were many Negro women employed
in the jobs they had taken on during the war-time period of labor
scarcity, and that by 1930 most of these jobs would have reverted
to white men or women. Another explanation concerns the tremen­
dous technological _ changes in industry, which have been focused
largely on the elimination of low-skilled jobs, the jobs on which the
majority of Negro women are employed.
Numbers employed.
The tobacco industries employed more than 18,000 Negro women
in 1930. Next in rank as employers of Negro women were the clothing
industries, with 16,000; food and allied products, with 11,000; textiles,
with 6,000; lumber and furniture, with 3,200; iron and steel, with
1,600; and paper, printing, and allied industries, with 1,400. Miscel­
laneous manufacturing accounted for an additional 10,000 Negro
women, and dressmakers not in factories for 20,000.
General characteristics of factory employment for Negro women.
In a compilation by the Women’s Bureau of data on Negro women
m industry from reports for 15 States secured over a number of years,
it was shown that large numbers of these workers were employed in
sweeping and cleaning of various kinds. Others worked at tasks that
might be classed as general labor. This would include most of the



work done in glass factories; in textiles, with the exception of hosiery;
in the wood industry; in tobacco rehandling; in meat packing, m
which a third of the women reported worked with casings and chitter­
lings- the washing of cans or dishes in bakeries, canneries, and food
establishments; peeling or pitting fruit; cleaning and pressing clothing,
done by over half the women reported in clothing establishments;
sorting rags in rag and paper factories; and picking out nut meats.
Though in some instances Negro women were found m considerable
numbers to be operating machines of various kinds, many of these
involved only simple operations or repetitive movements, though some
required dexterity or a degree of skill. A few Negro women were
in supervisory posts or in other positions involving more or less
, NThough current information concerning the work status ot JNegro
women in industry is scattered and not comprehensive, brief summaries
from various reports may serve to outline certain economic problems
such women must meet.
Tobacco stemmeries.
In 1934 the Women’s Bureau made an investigation of the current
pav rolls of the stemmery departments in three branches of the
tobacco-manufacturing industry in Virginia and North Carolina
An overwhelming majority of the stemmeries’ employees were found
to be women, largely Negro women, whose work consists oi removing
the stem from the leaf and of getting the tobacco ready for the various
processes of manufacture.
. , , ,
Weekly earnings were very low. Of all employees included onetenth earned less than $5 for the week, not far from half earned less
than $10, and about 87 percent received less than $12. Over fourfifths of the employees covered by the survey worked full-time hours.
That many workers in the tobacco plants have failed to earn a
livelihood and required supplementary aid from relief agencies was
evident from the firms’ pay-roll data and facts from the emergency
relief agencies. In a tobacco manufacturing center the emergency
relief administration reported in one month that slightly more than 10
percent of its case load was experienced tobacco-factory workers.
In another city over one-sixth of the cases in one month, and over
one-seventh in another month, were families m which one or more
members were tobacco workers. In one city, roughly two-thirds of
the families were receiving full relief, and relief of tobacco workers m
this city was averaging a few thousand dollars a month..
In regard to the ability of the industry to pay a living wage, the
Women’s Bureau report stated:
Labor cost is comparatively such a small part of the total production costs that
the wage levels could be raised without making an appreciable difference to the
industry. One stemmery, with 2,000 employees showing an average weekly wage
of $10 82, had produced during the week over 3,000,000 pounds of strips, or enoug
tobacco for a billion cigarettes. The cost of labor operations was less than a
penny a pound of prepared tobacco, or less than a mill per package of 20 cigarettes.

Negro women in Tennessee factories.
Not far from 1,000 Negro women in factories were included by the
Women’s Bureau in its State-wide study of women in Tennessee
industries in the winter of 1935-36. In the middle Tennessee area
the average week’s earnings for the 361 women covered were $7.30.



Most of the women were employed in tobacco plants and warehouses
on jobs such as stemming, stripping, and hanging tobacco leaf.
. Ul]e Jar&re hosiery mill employed women on boarding—that is mill­
ing damp stockings over heated forms to shape and press them, an
operation usually done by men and boys.
Negro women formed a larger proportion (18 percent) of all women
employed m manufacturing in the western area of the State, especially
m Memphis, than elsewhere. They were working as operatives in one
or more establishments m the shelling of nuts; in work on cotton and
burlap bags, especially the rehandling of bags; in various jobs in wood­
working, caning chairs and making fruit boxes and baskets; in packing
cosmetics and other pharmaceutical products; and in making paper
boxes for cosmetics. The average weekly earnings of Negro women
m this section were the exceedingly low amount of $4.50. Women
worked 4 or 5 days a week picking nut meats for earnings of $2 55
Year s earnings were reported for 62 Negro women in Tennessee
lactones. For this group the average for the year was only $345.
Negro women in Chicago factories.
Mi informal survey by a branch of the Chicago Y. W. C. A. of a
relatively small number of Negro women industrial workers in the
sprmg of 1936 provided material of interest. Describing the cottongarment industry as one of the more important industries emploving
Negroes, the report states that usually the work is power-machine
operating on a straight piece-work basis. During the N R A the
minimum rate for experienced workers was $ 13 a week. Of nine girls
experienced m this field, five showed earnings of less than $10 after
ttie JN. K. A. ceased to function. One earned less than $5. Other
summarized statements from the report follow:
Another industry in which many Negro girls have had experience is that of
dates and nuts, though employed for only a very short season of the year earn
mgs are notoriously low. Of 17 applicants who worked in this industry slnct the
■^*3' AV
specified their earnings to be less than $10 a week. Six of them were
between $5 and $7.50 Two of them made less than $5. Though hours
of work were not reported, it is known that the industry works full timf during
the busy season, during which all these girls were employed.
inrWf™er 1?dustl'y t^at employs chiefly Negro workers is the used burlap bag
between $10iflndrtifl2O^nWOTh?’S.mdlC^ tJlat wages are somewhat higher, of
Detween $10 and $12.50. This is an industry with disagreeable and hazardous
’ * \e Presenee of dust and lint in the air, unless carefully controlled
hands6 "kn°Wn hazard’ and the material is disagreeable to handle and hard on the
Of 91 girls who had factory experience since May 1935, half earned less than $10
a week, and of the industries represented the lowest paid was the date and nut
industry with an average of $6.72 a week. These figures present a glarfng con­
trast to the general average of $14.97 a week for women workers in Chicago fac
Department of LaZr
7 ^ diVisi°n °f Statisti°s and researoh of the Illinoi«

T^r;hCT^ by fh°same Y- W. C. A. was concerned with employ­
ment possibilities of Negro women workers in the Chicago needle
trades. The investigation showed that Negro workers were chiefly
Of fl^ li1'! '1!c<dt°n.goods lines, generally somewhat less skilled.
Of the 48 firms about which information was secured, only 13 employed
ZnN^h-WTkr- Z1 but two made house Besses and aprons.
i r In Z*3 mdustry, opportumties were distinctly limited
Several of the firms employed Negroes only on pressing, a job that
requires unusual strength and endurance, on the ground that “the



Negro can stand heat better than a white girl.” Comparatively few
concerns had both white and Negro workers on power-machine work.
The few that did employ many Negro workers employed virtually no
white workers.
Numbers employed.
In 1910 there were only about 30,000 Negro women in professional
service; m 1920 there were almost 40,000; in 1930 there were 63,000.
These figures represent an increase of more than 100 percent from
1910 to 1930. Clerical workers within the ranks of gainfully employed
Negro women numbered only 3,000 in 1910; in 1920 there were 8,000
such workers; and in 1930 there were 11,000. More than 7,000 Negro
women worked in stores in 1910; in 1920 this group had increased to
11,500; and in 1930 the total was 14,500.
. In all, Negro women in what may be termed “white-collar occupa­
tions”—-in transportation and communication, trade, public service,
professional service, and clerical occupations—totaled but 91,600 in
1930, or only about 5 percent of the Negro women gainfully occupied.
On the other hand, native white women in the same occupations
totaled 4,330,000 in the same year, or 56 percent of all gainfully
occupied white women of native birth.
Reasons for small numbers of Negro white-collar workers.
. Naturally there are many reasons for this disparity in the propor­
tions of Negro and white workers in the better paid, more highly
skilled, occupational fields. Educational facilities for Negro workers
are notoriously inadequate in some sections of the United States.
Negroes have had a relatively short span of years in which to demon­
strate their ability in certain fields requiring training and skill. But
there is an additional reason of much significance, which is clearly
suggested in a recent publication of the Works Progress Administra­
tion of Georgia, a State which contains only slightly less than a tenth
of all the Negroes in the United States, entitled “Occupational Char­
acteristics of White-Collar and Skilled Negro Workers.”
The shift downward in the present [the shift from white-collar to skilled, semi­
skilled, and unskilled positions] was caused by the depression. White-collar
occupations among Negroes depend, for the most part, upon the Negroes them­
selves. The doctors in the main have only Negro patients; Negro lawyers have
Negro clients; and Negro teachers must teach in Negro schools. Negro business
has a limited market, as it is confined to the Negro group. During a period of
retrenchment, certain phases of white-collar work continue while others disappear.
Negro businesses with no reserve disappear during periods of depression, and the
clerks, stenographers, and messenger boys hired must find other occupations.
Generally, there is nothing else but to go to lower occupational levels.

With the great bulk of Negro workers, men and women, receiving
wages that permit of only the barest subsistence—as has been shown
by the data for various occupational groups in the present report—the
reasons for the limitations of Negro white-collar opportunities become
plain. Unless Negro workers have adequate purchasing power, they
are unable to secure needed professional services; to buy from Negro
stores; to attend Negro theaters and other places of amusement; to
protect themselves through insurance agencies and the like. Increased



white-collar employment among Negro workers inevitably will follow
a rise in the economic status of all Negro wage earners.
Negro white-collar workers in Atlanta.
The Georgia Works Progress Administration report, to which
reference has been made, contains interesting data concerning
Negroes—both men and women—in white-collar jobs, including those
of the professions, in Atlanta. This survey, conducted from January
to July 1936, covered nearly 5,000 persons. Of 1,500 Negro women
white-collar and skilled workers in Atlanta, just half reported their
usual occupation as professional in character and nearly one-fourth as
clerical. With regard to their jobs at the time the survey was made,
however, only 38 percent were employed in the professions and about
19 percent in clerical work. Over a fifth of all the women were
The average monthly income for just over 3,300 white-collar and
skilled workers in this Atlanta study was $60. The professional
workers had the highest income ($72.75), the skilled workers followed
($70), and the clerical workers ranked lowest ($63).
Negro professional women.
Teachers accounted for nearly three-fourths of Negro professional
women in 1930, and trained nurses for nearly one-tenth. In addi­
tion, at least 1,000 Negro women were employed as actresses, as
college presidents and professors, and as musicians and teachers of
Information on the salaries paid to N egro teachers is available in a
report prepared by the Office of Education of the United States De­
partment of the Interior issued in 1934. Salaries of rural teachers
in 17 States and the District of Columbia averaged $945 for white
teachers and $388 for Negro teachers. For teachers in junior and
senior high schools in 17 States and the District of Columbia, salaries
averaged $1,479 for the white and $926 for the Negro teachers.
Additional information on salaries paid Negro rural teachers in a
number of States is available in a 1937 report of the National Educa­
tion Association. The lowest annual salary for N egro rural teachers
was $150 in Mississippi, where white teachers received an average
salary of $458, more than three times as high. The highest Negro
average for rural teachers was $812 in Maryland, in which State
white teachers averaged $1,474.
Negro women as clerical workers.
A survey of office workers in seven cities was conducted by the
Women's Bureau during 1931 and the early part of 1932. In two
of these cities—Atlanta and Chicago—an effort was made to secure
information for Negro women employed in the types of office covered.
The two races were not employed together in any office visited, but
five insurance companies and one publisher in Chicago, and two
insurance offices in Atlanta, all controlled and managed by Negro
ownership, were found to employ Negroes. In both cities several
banks and other types of office employing Negroes were visited, but
they had only from one to three women, all combined being too few
to form a representative group.
In the 6 Chicago offices 101 Negro women, 90 in insurance and 11 in
publishing, were included. Their average monthly salary in insur­



ance was $80, as compared to $94 for the white women in insurance.
In Atlanta insurance offices the average monthly salary for A egro
women was $55, in contrast to $94 for white women. In Chicago
about one-third of the Negro women (including 11 in publishing),
and in Atlanta about seven-eighths, were on salaries of less than $75
a month. Four-fifths in Chicago and 98 percent in Atlanta were
on salaries of less than $100.
One fact of special interest in this study was that the amount of
general schooling and the attendance at business schools were higher
for the Negro women than for the study as a whole. In Chicago
50 of the 100 women with education reported had completed high
school and 34 had some advanced training. In Atlanta 16 of 56 were
high-school graduates and 23 had had some advanced training.
Negro women in retail trade.
_ Though no information is at hand showing wages or working con­
ditions of Negro women in stores, an article in the November 1937
issue of the Monthly Labor Review on “The Negro in Retail Trade”
may serve to indicate something of the present status of employ­
ment opportunities in this field. The report states that—
Negro proprietors in 1935 were operating 23,490 retail stores in the United
States—a decrease of 2,211 stores as compared with 1929. The reduction in the
number of such stores in the South was 2,936. In the North and West, however,
they increased respectively by 490 and 235.
In 1929 the pay rolls of these stores totaled $8,528,000; in 1935, $5,021,000, a
drop of 41.1 percent. For the same years the total value of sales was respectively
$101,146,000 and $48,987,000—a decline of 51.6 percent. Within this period,
1929 to 1935, the number of retail stores operated by proprietors of all racial
groups expanded by 110,803, although the chain-store units decreased by 19,828,
pay rolls dwindled 30.2 percent, and the aggregate value of all sales declined
32.5 percent.


The public must pay heavily for the substandard working and living
conditions of many thousands of Negro women workers. When
people have no jobs or their wages are too low for adequate support,
they still must have food, shelter, and clothing. The presence on
relief rolls in 1935—the last date for which there is accurate informa­
tion—of one in every four Negro women workers, and the fact that
two-ffifths of these unemployed women were the economic heads of
families, constitute a situation that is of grave import to the citizens
who must support these women and their families.
. Experience has shown further that low living standards are costly
in that they breed crime and disease, which affect all citizens. Workers
desperate for jobs are the prey of unscrupulous employers, who by
using cheap labor are able to undercut employers willing to pay fair
wages. At times such workers are available as strikebreakers.
When a significant proportion of the population is forced to live at
a substandard economic level, all classes—farmers, factory workers,
merchants, professional men—are deprived of the benefits resulting
from adequate purchasing power in the hands of those who would
spend if they could.
Because of the relation of the problems of Negro women to those of
other community groups, it may be helpful to discuss certain measures



for improving the economic status of Negro women that seem most
practicable and realistic at the present time.
Social and labor legislation.
In general, woman labor has benefited markedly from social and
labor legislation during recent years. State hour and minimumwage laws, workmen’s compensation provisions, the joint Federal
and State social security program, have served to make more secure
and satisfactory woman’s economic status.
Unfortunately, Negro women workers have by no means shared
equally with white women in the benefits of these provisions. Work­
ers in agriculture and domestic service, largely because of the difficulty
of labor-law administration, have been exempted from the cover­
age of most of the laws; and it has been shown that the great majority
of Negro women workers are to be found within these two occupational
Take minimum-wage laws, for example. Such laws to date have
been enacted by 25 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto
Rico. In general, minimum-wage legislation has been designed for
several purposes: To set a bottom limit below which wage rates
cannot fall; to assure to women wages adequate to meet the cost of a
healthful standard of living; to end sweatshops and cutthroat competi­
tion among employers; to relieve the community of supplementing
low wages by public and private relief; and to establish on the part
of workers the purchasing power that is necessary to bring about and
maintain industrial recovery.
However, rough estimates made in the Women’s Bureau indicate
that only about 1 in 10 of all Negro women workers are covered poten­
tially by minimum-wage legislation, though about one-fourth of all
such workers are to be found in States having minimum-wage laws.
Of all women, Negro and white, roughly 4,000,000, or well over onethird of all employed women, are covered by such laws. It is evident
that minimum-wage laws thus far have not been an important factor
in raising the wages of the bulk of Negro women workers. _
On the other hand, one aspect of minimum-wage administration
during recent months has been of considerable benefit to large num­
bers of Negro women. When the States with newly enacted laws
have begun to issue individual wage orders covering specific occupa­
tions, almost universally they have covered first the service industries
where many Negro women are employed. Laundries, hotels and
restaurants, and beauty shops have been among the first industries
for which wage rates have been set.
Improvement in educational and training facilities.
In addition to general schooling, specialized training in an occupa­
tional field at some stage of the education process is desirable for all
young Americans. It is also very useful for older workers who have
not had such opportunities at an earlier period. The worker with
no special training whatsoever is at a serious disadvantage in seeking
employment in an age that is rapidly becoming more highly specialized.
The present demand for skilled domestic workers, so.much greater
than the supply, points to an urgent need for better training facilities
for such workers. In the spring of 1937, in the neighborhood of
400,000 applicants describing themselves as domestic employees were
registered in the active files of the United States Employment Service



though a survey conducted by the Employment Service as of January
1, 1937, had indicated that at least 500 cities were facing a shortage
of trained household workers, and possible placement in these cities
over a year might reach nearly half a million.
An important contribution to household training has been made by
the Works Progress Administration in many centers throughout the
country. For example, during the year 1936, training projects for
domestics were conducted in 184 centers. Of 3,629 persons receiving
certificates as domestic trainees, 3,491 were placed through the facili­
ties of the many offices of the United States Emplovment Service.
Other agencies, public and private, offer training facilities for house­
hold workers, though the combined efforts of all these groups fall far
short of taking care of the existing needs in this regard. Schools are
badly needed also for vocational training in other lines, such as beauty
culture, millinery, and power-machine operating.
Trade-union organization.
Recent developments in American trade-unionism have been
significant in relation to Negro workers. Forinstance, one of the most
important union contracts affecting women workers in American
trade-union history was negotiated in August 1937 between the United
Laundry Workers Local 300 of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers
of America and a large New York City firm which is in the towel and
uniform supply laundry business. The agreement covers drivers
and also about 8,000 inside workers, by far the greatest proportion
of whom are women. Among the important provisions in the contract
are the following: A limitation of hours for women to 45 a week; a
minimum wage for inside employees of $15.75 for a 45-hour week,
with a guaranteed minimum of $15 a week for 11 months; a raise in
wage rates of at least 10 percent, with a minimum raise of $2 unless
a greater raise is required to bring the weekly earnings up to $15.75;
a week’s vacation and 3 days’ sick leave with pay for each worker
after 1 year’s service; and 7 fixed holidays with pay. An additional
provision of particular interest which is made a condition of the
continuation of the agreement is to the effect that “the union shall
make all reasonable, customary, and usual attempts authorized by
law to procure contracts with the said competitors of the employer
within a reasonable time from the date thereof.”
The success of the laundry workers’ union in New York City that
negotiated this agreement for a section of its membership is attested
by a recently estimated membership of 30,000 persons, men and
women and white and Negro. While the union has obtained a
guaranteed annual wage in the linen-supply division only, union
contracts with other firms regularize many important aspects of
But it is far simpler to talk about the economic problems of Negro
women workers and to suggest possible remedies than it is to take
definite action toward their solution. These problems have taken
deep root in the social and economic structure during past decades,
and only untiriug effort on the part of Negroes themselves, aided by
the Nation’s socially minded citizens, will succeed in eradicating them.







Negro women in industry in 15 States. 1929.
A survey of laundries and their women workers in 23 cities. 1930.
Women in Florida industries. 1930.
Wages of women in 13 States. 1931.
The employment of women in slaughtering and meat packing. 1932.
Household employment in Philadelphia. 1932.
The effects on women of changing conditions in the cigar and cigarette
industries. 1932.
The occupational progress of women, 1910 to 1930. 1933.
Household employment in Chicago. 1933.
Women at work: A century of industrial change. 1934.
The employment of women in offices. 1934.
Women in Arkansas industries. 1935.
Women in Texas industries: Hours, wages, working conditions, and
home work. 1935.
Hours and earnings in tobacco stemmeries. 1934.
Employment conditions in beauty shops. 1935.
Factors affecting wages in power laundries. 1936.
Employment of women in Tennessee industries. 1937.
Reading list of references on househould employment. 1938.
Unattached women on relief in Chicago. 1937.

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