Carl T. Thorner
Mary Anderson, Women's Bureau of the Labor Department, as recorded by Belle Case La Follette, December 1926.
I am sorry to say that through the information we receive in our investigations we find that many women, far too many, are not even receiving a living wage. We also find that, in comparison to wages paid to men, women's wages are very far down the scale—so far, in fact, that there is little semblance of equality between the wages of men and women. One of the prevailing thoughts which has fostered this inequality of wages has been that men are providers for the family and that women have only themselves to support, with their incomes supplemented by other members of the family when living at home.
But in investigations made by the Women's Bureau we have found that women are often providers for the family, and that they supplement the man's wages, while young girls more often than young boys take unopened pay envelopes homes to their mothers, We have found, too, that the women have family responsibilities in addition to the matter of pay—the work in the home being left almost entirely to the women to perform after a day's work in the factory.
There are over 8.5 million gainfully employed women in the United States, and of these there are over 4 million employed in the producing and distributing trades. From the facts we have gathered we know that the future of the girl today is closely linked up with the conditions which prevail in the places where she works.
We want to see the girl made an efficient part of industry's machinery, but we also want to see that industry offers a future for the woman and is an institution which the girl can enter, and in which she can stay and prosper and grow.
The beginning has been made, and we find many places in many industries which are offering to women a living wage, hours short enough to allow for education and recreation after the day in the factory is over, working conditions which eliminate fatigue as far as possible, and an opportunity to advance in industry through opening up new activities for women, and through paying wages based on the job and not on the sex of the workers.
We who have worked in the industrial field for many years see much to encourage us, but we know there is still much to be done. The thing of the first importance to know is that women are an important factor and that they are a permanent factor in the industrial world. We know that the girl who goes into the factories and workshops of the country does so to meet a real need. We know that she is indispensable to industry and we know what so few people seem to recognize: that the girls of today, these flappers who are getting so much criticism and publicity, are most of them helping in the support of their families.
For years we have been hearing of the girl who works for pin money, who can afford to work for less than a living wage because she lives at home, who spends her earnings on silk stockings and fur coats. There may be some such girls; in fact, I presume there are, but I have known thousands of working women personally and I have known very few to whom such statements apply.
Through our special investigations we have studied men as well as women, so that we might have a basis for comparison, and what we already knew to be true: that a large majority of single women who live at home contribute all their earnings to their families. Nearly seven out of every ten single women who live at home turn over every cent to their mothers or fathers, getting back for themselves only what can be spared after the family needs are met.
Mary Anderson was chief of the Women's Bureau at the Department of Labor from 1919 to 1944.