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Women in Industry



Bulletin No. 173

Need for Standards
Great changes in women’s work have come
about in a little more than a century, as the
result of transferring industry from the home to
the factory. While at the beginning of this
period women were unpaid workers in the home,
making articles and rendering services for their
families, they have emerged in gradually in­
creasing numbers as wage workers outside their
homes helping to manufacture goods or perform­
ing services for the public.
When women’s work was confined to their
homes, they could control to a large extent their
working conditions. Now they are but cogs in
a gigantic machine, and control has shifted from
their hands to those of industrial management.
Because this system in so many cases has not
provided standards of working conditions, hours,
and wages adequate for women’s welfare,
Federal and State governments have had to step
in with another type of control—the labor law.
The Nation’s best interests demand high labor
standards for women. Many who are mothers
and homemakers must be wage earners as well,
for the modem industrial system requires them
to carry heavy burdens of family support. Where
women work under low standards they become
the unwilling competitors of men, undercutting
men’s standards. As women’s bargaining power
has always been weaker than that of men, they
have been exploited to a greater degree, and
therefore a larger measure of public concern and
control is necessary in their employment.
What constitute adequate standards for
women in industry? How are these developed
and to whom should they apply?


Development of Standards
Labor standards are not stationary but are
influenced by continuously changing condi­
tions. Widespread unemployment has speeded
the movement for a shorter workday. The vital
need for adequate purchasing power in the
hands of labor has stimulated the movement for
higher wages. When the danger of a specific in­
dustrial poison has been proved, regulations pro­
hibiting its use have followed. Thus standards
are raised chiefly as a result of scientific ad­
vancement and enlightened public opinion.
Labor standards are developed through many
channels—employers, unions, governmental and
private agencies. Such standards should apply
to all workers who need their protection. There
were about seven million women wage workers
in the producing, distributing, and service
trades at the time of the last Nation-wide census
to whom these standards developed by the
Women’s Bureau should apply. The somewhat
different standards essential to safeguard the
more than two million women in household and
agricultural employment require special con­
The standards here recommended are not allinclusive—they may not even represent all the
best or the most recent practices adopted by
exceptional employers. But they are basic in
any program concerned with the health, efficien­
cy, and security of women workers.

Starr Teachers College Library

On Working Time



Hours of work are getting shorter. The 5-day
week of 40 hours or even less, though unknown
a dozen years ago, is now a schedule widely
used. Short hours are needed if our unem­
ployed are to find jobs and workers are to be
healthy, safe, and efficient.
Standards relating to working hours should
1. Not more than 8 hours of work a day or
40 a week.
2. A 5-day week; 2 days of rest in 7, pref­
erably Saturday and Sunday.
3. Meal periods of at least 30 minutes. No
work period of more than 5 hours
without a break for meal or rest.
4. Overtime to be avoided; if this is not
possible, to be paid at the rate of time
and a half or more.
5. On monotonous or high-speed jobs, a
rest period of at least 10 minutes in the
middle of each work period without
lengthening the workday.
6. No woman to work between midnight
and 6 a. m.
7. Some vacation with pay after 6 months
on the job; a longer vacation after
longer service.
8. Time off from the job with pay on prin­
cipal legal holidays.


On Wages
Living standards for workers depend directly
on earnings. A good daily or weekly wage is not
sufficient; employment for practically the whole
of the year is necessary if workers are to earn an
adequate living. On the volume of workers’
yearly earnings depends their ability to buy
back much of what they produce, and wage
earners constitute two-thirds of all those engaged
in gainful work in our country. To benefit
all—labor, employers, farmers, and the general
public—Federal and State governments are
providing by law for a floor to wages as well as
a ceiling to hours.
Wage standards should include the following:
1. Wage rates to be based on occupation, and
not on the sex or race of the worker.
2. Minimum wages to be established
through legislation.
3. Tipping to be abolished as an unsound
method of pay; tips not to be consid­
ered as wages.
4. Cost of uniforms and their laundering, of
breakage and spoilage, not to be de­
ducted from wages but considered as a
cost of production, just as are other
supplies, upkeep and breakage of ma­
5. Training of learners to be considered a
legitimate expense of industry.
6. Wages to be paid regularly and in full,
preferably once a week and on a fixed



On Working Conditions
Modern employers have proved for them­
selves the value of good plant housekeeping,
including adequate health and safety protection
for workers. This means dollars in the pockets
of the management. Employers who are behind
the times should take prompt action to provide
the following essentials:
1. Clean, uncrowded workrooms, with
scientific ventilation adequate to meet
all conditions in the particular
2. Safe workrooms, frequently inspected,
with effective guards against risks
from machinery, danger from fire, and
exposure to dust, fumes, or other
health hazards met on the job.
3. Avoidance of use of poisonous sub­
stances; where these must be used, all
known precautions to be taken.
4. Good natural lighting and suitable
artificial lighting by means of general
and individual equipment; both types
adequate for the job, without glare or
flickering, and insuring right quality,
distribution, and direction.
5. A chair for each worker, built on posture
lines and adjustable to both worker
and job; wherever possible, change of
posture to permit either sitting or
6. Good drinking facilities, with pure cool
water, convenient to workers. Indi­
vidual cups or sanitary bubbling
7. Washing facilities in convenient loca­
tions with hot and cold water, soap,
and individual towels. Dressing
rooms next to washrooms with




adequate care of clothing. Rest
rooms with beds for workers taken
sick, comfortable chairs and couches
for use in rest or lunch periods.
Toilets for women in locations con­
venient to workrooms; a ratio of at
least one toilet to every 15 women.
Lunchrooms separate from workrooms.
Hot nourishing food to be available.
In a large plant, a hospital room with
doctor and nurse; otherwise, first-aid
equipment with a responsible person
in charge and the emergency services
of a doctor.
Avoidance of repeated lifting of heavy
weights or other motions taxing
women’s strength unduly.

On Industrial Home Work
Efforts should be made to abolish the indus­
trial home-work system, with its long and
irregular hours, night work, low earnings, and
child labor. Since employers who use the labor
of home workers can produce in direct competi­
tion with factory employers who have higher
standards of hours, wages, and working condi­
tions, home work is an unfair practice, under­
mining such standards.

On Employer-Employee
The democratic principle of trade-union
organization for collective bargaining has been
accepted as the fundamental basis for employeremployee relations. In union activities women


must take their part and should have full
representation in proportion to their numbers.
The following personnel and employment
practices, already adopted by many employers,
are cited as desirable:
1. A centralized personnel department re­
sponsible for the mechanics of the
employment, transfer, or discharge of
workers and for the establishment and
maintenance of adequate working con­
2. The appointment, where women are
employed, of a competent woman as
employment executive with responsi­
bility for conditions affecting women
3. Assurance against discrimination either
in hiring or on the job because of sex,
race, age, or marital status.
4. Establishment of a regular system of pro­
motions with opportunity for women
to attain supervisory positions, particu­
larly in departments employing women.
5. Technological changes, where found de­
sirable, to be introduced with all
possible effort to safeguard the interests
of the workers.
6. Insurance of a steady flow of work; pay
for enforced idleness while in the plant.
7. The stabilization of employment through­
out the year to prevent seasonal slack
8. Avoidance of speed-up systems charac­
terized by overfatigue and high nervous
tension. While efficiency changes that
increase the speed of work can be par­
tially compensated for by shorter hours,
higher pay, and more frequent rest
periods, nothing can restore workers’
health burned out by speed-up abuses.


On Workers and
The purpose of government is to serve the
welfare of its citizens. Because workers have
special needs, they have worked for and secured
special laws and special agencies in Federal,
State, and local governments to meet these
needs. The close cooperation of labor with
government is essential if administration of laws
and maintenance of standards pertaining to its
welfare are to be adequate. Workers should
use the agencies of government. They should
know clearly what their rights are under labor
laws, and what their responsibilities are.
The Women’s Bureau in the United States
Department of Labor is the particular agency
established to serve the interests of women who
work, to formulate standards and policies to im­
prove their working conditions, increase their
efficiency, and promote their profitable employ­
ment. This Bureau acts as a clearing house on
all problems and conditions pertaining to women
workers. It makes special studies of women’s
problems and recommends solutions. The
Women’s Bureau is glad to receive questions
about women’s work and to reply with the avail­
able information. When unable to deal directly
with a particular question, the Bureau will refer
it to the Federal or State agency best equipped
to give the assistance needed.
Detailed information on standards outlined
here may be obtained by writing to the Women’s
Bureau, United States Department of Labor,
Washington, D. C.


The following list of Women’s Bureau publications in­
cludes those relating most closely to the subjects covered
by the suggested standards. Bulletins may be ordered
from the Superintendent of Documents, Washington,
D. C., at prices listed.
87. Sanitary Drinking Facilities With Special Refer­
ence to Drinking Fountains. 1931. 10 cents.
94. State Requirements for Industrial Lighting: A
Handbook for the Protection of Women
Workers, Showing Lighting Standards and
Practices. 1932. 10 cents.
99. The Installation and Maintenance of Toilet
Facilities in Places of Employment. 1933.
25 cents.
135. The Commercialization of the Home Through
Industrial Home Work. 1935. 5 cents.
136. The Health and Safety of Women in Industry.
1935. 5 cents.
156. State Labor Laws for Women, Part 2. Analysis
of Hour Laws for Women Workers. 1938.
10 cents.
161. Women at Work. A Century of Industrial
Change. 1939. 10 cents.
167. State Minimum-Wage Laws and Orders. 1939.
20 cents.
Short Hours Pay. 1937 (Leaflet).
The High Cost of Low Wages. 1939 (Leaflet).
The Woman Worker. Bimonthly periodical.
25 cents a year.

Issued in 1939
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents,
Washington, D. C. -------- Price 5 cents.

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