Working Women In The 20th Century

Submitted By tinso
Words: 1524
Pages: 7

Changes in the image of the working woman during the mid-19th through mid-20th century

The role of women changed considerably during the 20th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, women were considered homemakers – their sole role was tied closely to child bearing and rearing as well as doing all the house work and attending the sick in the family. This view of the woman was supported by almost everybody – from men, good wives and the government. Men at this point felt that a working woman means that her man is not providing enough therefore was a treat to her husband’s manhood. Women who found jobs in factories were paid a lot less than men, although they were doing the same job. Most of the women were occupying teachers, secretary and nursing positions. Unions were reluctant to protect women’s rights because initially they also believed that the woman’s place is at home. The government, although realizing that women were a significant and needed part of the labor force, did nothing to protect them. The way people viewed a woman’s role changed a lot during the 20th century. I will examine this change and will bring to light at least part of the difficulties that women who needed or wanted to work, were experiencing.
During the 19th century, the work that married women were doing was in the house. “When a husband was unemployed, sick, or simply not earning enough to balance the budget sewing, housecleaning, watching children and cooking could all be turned into marketable skills and a source of cash.” (Bradbury, 1993) To get paid a woman could do the laundry of other, wealthier families, and get paid for that. Some had learnt how to make clothes or were mending clothes. Others had their vegetable gardens and used to sell vegetables. Women got little pay but for some it was very important. Either because their husbands didn’t have a stable job and weren’t bringing money home on a regular basis, or because their husbands were careless and drank all that they were paid, or in case a woman’s husband is sick and cannot work or is deceased. It is interesting that this work was not seen as an inappropriate or harmful in any way. In the farms, it was women’s job to take care of the cows, milk them, and then make cheese and butter. Women were used to this type of work and although it was a lot of work and was on top of all the duties that a woman had in the house, they were doing it. “Before the first cheese factories were established, farm women performed most dairy work and were primarily responsible for most dairy production in Canada.”(Cohen, 1988) Nobody questioned the women’s ability to take care of the cows, or how they milked the cows; neither did anyone question whether a woman should make cheese or butter. That was until the fabrics were introduced. “The rapid transition of cheesemaking from the farm to the factory almost completely removed women from this form of dairy production in a very short period of time.” Interestingly enough if the family had cows in their farm, the dairy work still belonged to the woman, but in the factories dairying was viewed as a men’s job, and the women’s work remained in the house.
During the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the common view of the woman was as a mother and house maker, whose work is in the house. There were very few women who worked outside of the house. This changed at the beginning of the 20th century because of the rise of bureaucracy and the development of new economics meant that changes are needed in the division of labor. Another important factor was WW1, which brought the demand of workers because of shortage of labor. “A number of other factors – the development of the modern joint stock corporation and the public bureaucracy; changing attitudes towards the employment of women; labor shortages during WW1; and the growing importance of more efficient forms of administration – combined with industrialization to shape the