Viewing page 5 of 17

After a grueling 10-four day of work in a steel mill or a shell factory the women still had the job of buying food, doing the cleaning and washing and all the other work which she had performed when she spent her days being a housewife. The chief difference now was that she not only had less time for this job, but less money to clothe, feed and house her family on.

Today there is a widespread belief among workers, generally encouraged in the press, that a war boom, while it may be responsible for higher living costs, more than offsets these costs by a tremendous rise in wages.

High Wage Myth Exploded

All the facts on wages and living costs during the last war serve to explode this myth.

To begin with, at the outbreak of the first World War, wages were extremely low. The United States Commission on Industrial Relations reported in 1915 that "between one-third and one-fourth of the male workers 18 years of age and over, working in the factories and mines, earn less than $10 a week and from two-thirds to three-fourths earn less than $15 a week." The women workers, the report said, "work at wages of less than $8 a week."

Not only were wages low before the war, but during the 25 years up to the war, they had been steadily declining, according to John B. Andrews, a labor legislation expert.

During the period from 1913 to 1918, it is estimated that wages went up an average of 30%.

What happened to the cost of living during that time? The general average, including prices of the commodities which make up the chief items in the family budget, rose 97.8%. The cost of living rose nearly 100% and wages went up 30%. Which means that a raise in wages of 30% left a worker just about 70% WORSE off than he was at the beginning of the war!

8

[[end page]]
[[start page]]

Such were the problems that the women during the last war, many of them the sole support of their families, had to meet. In most cases these women were completely without organization and they had no alternative but to accept such conditions and get along as best they could until the war was over, the men were back on their jobs, and the women were back doing the things they had done before the war "emergency."

It was generally assumed that when peace came and the army was disbanded, most of the women would leave their work and the men would take over where they had left off. But several things had happened to make such a belief short-lived.

Industry, always on the lookout for factors which would reduce their production costs, had discovered that with the increased use of power-driven machinery, women could do many of the jobs which before had been done by men, and for less pay.

[[image: sketch of two people carrying a picnic basket filled with food. There is a women in the back and a man in front saying "I used to be able to carry this by myself." The picnic basket is being weighed down by a weight labeled PRICE RISES.]]

During the war immigration had stopped and with it had stopped the main source of cheap labor. Women and children provided a new source which industry was not anxious to lose.

At the end of the war, many of the men released from the army came back to find their old job being done by a 

9
Please note that the language and terminology used in this collection reflects the context and culture of the time of its creation, and may include culturally sensitive information. As an historical document, its contents may be at odds with contemporary views and terminology. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution, but is available in its original form to facilitate research. For questions or comments regarding sensitive content, access, and use related to this collection, please contact transcribe@si.edu.