Women at Work
Today’s salute to Women’s History Month is written by Alfie Paul, a processing archivist who works with civilian textual records.
“We didn’t want women, but now they’re here we’ve found they are just as fast and just as capable as the men. They are all right.”
From “When You Hire Women,” Special Bulletin #14, 1944
As Women’s History Month comes to a close, I wanted to highlight one of the first record groups I worked with when I started here almost 4 years ago—RG 86, the records of the Women’s Bureau.
Women’s employment dramatically increased during the World War I period and the U.S. government saw a need to create an agency focusing on matters related to women in industry. The Women in Industry Service was created on July 1, 1918 as an emergency wartime agency. Its successor, the Women’s Bureau, was established in 1920 to promote the welfare of “wage-earning women, improving their working conditions, increasing their efficiency, and advancing their opportunities for profitable employment.”
The records offer a glimpse into the evolving way Americans and the government viewed women in the workforce through a wartime necessity to a regular part of our lives. The women in my life always worked so, for me, this record group gave me great insight into the history of American women at work.
Some of the more interesting records concern detailed research into women’s working conditions, labor laws affecting women, occupations, demographics and their concerns. There are agency published bulletins and studies, film scripts, and graphic material. It’s definitely worth a day in the research room. Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Women’s Bureau (NC 33, 1963) is available for perusal.
Here are some series of note, though there is much more to be discovered. Search for Records of the Women’s Bureau in the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) online:
A1 3: Bulletins Issued by the Service, 1918-1919 (ARC ID 1593429)
A1 23: Bulletins (ARC ID 1600799)
A1 24: Special Bulletins (ARC ID 1638754)
A1 25: Unpublished Studies and Materials (ARC ID 1639220)
A1 37: Radio Scripts (ARC ID 1640229)
A1 8 and A1 10: General Correspondence of the Women’s Bureau (ARC IDs 1633939 and 1633962)—I found the complaints file in these series particularly poignant. In May of 1944, Maggie Grayson wrote asking “Could you give me some information on how long a woman should work in the District [of Columbia]? My working hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. I know these hours are too long for any woman.” Or man I might add!