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Eli Wills

History 148 Paper 1


Dr. Casserly
4/25/14

American Workers and Women from 1890 to 1945

America would not be the country it is today without its organized workforce and
strong women. However the status of workers and women in American society has
changed significantly over the centuries. The years from 1890 until the end of World War
Two in 1945 was an especially essential time period because many vital changes
happened for both groups during that time. America went through urbanization,
Progressivism, the Great Depression, the New Deals and both World Wars, which
resulted many new opportunities and freedoms for workers and women in America such
as the American standard of living, unions, feminism, womens suffrage and many new
job opportunities for both men and women which in turn, effected how women and
workers were treated, freedom of expression and freedom of speech in American society.
In the early 1890s America started to urbanize, which resulted in cities becoming
economic hubs and a demand for a larger workforce.
1
This new industrial workforce
mostly worked and lived in the cities creating major American buildings or working for
large railroad and oil companies.
2
Previous to urbanization America had been very rural
and most men worked on farms.
3
The demand for work during this time was so great that
child labor increased, people of color were able to get work in factories and single white
women were able to get jobs out of the house such as secretaries and typists.
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The

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Dr. Brain Casserly, Class notes for HIST& 148, April 8
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Dr. Brain Casserly, Class notes for HIST& 148, April 8
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companies and corporations controlling this new workforce became incredibly powerful
and influential, yet workers were not treated well or fairly in the workplace.
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The
workplace was overcrowded, dangerous; over supervised and workers felt they were
being overworked and not earning a living wage which they believed was an
American standard.
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As Progressivism and Consumerism started to arise in America,
laborers started to speak out against the corporations
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. Workers felt they were suffering
from a kind of industrial slavery
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. The workers knew they needed to do something
about this unfair treatment so they started to try to form labor unions. Groups such as the
American Federation of Labor (a group for mainly more successful white laborers) and
the Industrial Workers of the World (a group for the lesser workers) spoke out against
the corrupt corporations through strikes, protests and sought out the government for
help.
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At this time in American history corporations and government shut down protests
but by being relentless towards their cause, the labor unions challenged the way freedom
of speech was viewed in society at the time by showing that some things need to be
spoken out against no matter what the cost.
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In addition, many child labor laws were
enforced during the Progressive Era.
12
As I mentioned, a portion of single white women
were working during this time but most women were focused on the cause of equality
towards females.

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Dr. Brain Casserly, Class notes for HIST& 148, April 10
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Eric Foner. The Story of American Freedom, (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998.), 142
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Dr. Brain Casserly, Class notes for HIST& 148, April 10
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Foner, The Story of American Freedom
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Eric Foner. The Story of American Freedom, (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998.)

As men were fighting for fair treatment in the workplace, women fought for the
new idea of feminism. Before the 20
th
century women were viewed as the caretakers of
the house and were not eligible to vote. Wyoming and Utah were the first states to gain
women suffrage in early 20
th
century.
13
Progressives knew that having women on their
side would help their cause and in turn women knew that working with the progressives
would help them gain the equality they sought.
14
Carrie Chapman Catt wrote an address
to congress about womens suffrage in 1917, which opened with the statement
WOMAN SUFFRAGE IS ENEVITABLE
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. She goes on to say that women do just
as much as men in everyday life and that if it is truly Americas goal to spread freedom
and then they are being hypocritical by not granting suffrage to women
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. On another
note, women were also struggling with freedom within the home. They no longer wanted
to be viewed as housewives who had to finically rely on and serve their husbands.
Margaret Sanger challenged the rigid limits set on American Womens freedom of
expression by distributing contraceptive devices to poor Jewish and Italian women
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.
She wrote in her journal No woman can call herself free who does not own and control
her body
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. Women such as Sanger an Ida B. Wells help drive the nail of feminism into
Americas backbone and as the US started down the road of Imperialism and into WWI.

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Dr. Brain Casserly, Class notes for HIST& 148, April 11
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15
Carrie Chapman Catt, Address to Congress on Womens Suffrage (1917), in
Voices of Freedom: A Documentary History, Volume 2., Eric Foner, ed., (New York:
W.W. Norton, 2005), 105.
16
Carrie Chapman Catt, Address to Congress on Womens Suffrage (1917), 106-
107
17
Margaret Sanger, ed., Woman and the New Race (1920): Free Motherhood in
Voices of Freedom: A Documentary History, Volume 2, Eric Foner, ed., (New York:
W.W. Norton, 2005), 88.
18
Margaret Sanger, Free Motherhood, 90.
As America started expanding their navy to fight the Spanish overseas many new
job opportunities opened up for both men and women.
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Metal was high in demand and
because so many men were going off to fight in the war, it became more common to see
women working what were previously perceived as mens jobs.
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The workplace also
became more diverse because of the great demand for more workers.
21
As America delve
into World War One in 1917 more and more women started entering the workforce and
even started enlisting in the army
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. Workplace conditions worsened during the war and
at the end of it In 1919-over 4 million workers engaged in strikes-the greatest wave of
labor unrest in American History
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. Many of these laborers were steel workers and
fought for an eight hour day because they were being incredibly overworked.
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Also by
the end of the war Congress approved the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the
right to vote.
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As America enters into the Great Depression and is introduced to the the
workforce is re-adjusted and Women continue developing more feministic individuality.
Just before the Great depression in 1929 American Women went though many
changes. Many started attending colleges and created a new kind of women referred to
as flappers.
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The flappers could have been seen as radicals of freedom of expression
because many did not agree with their lifestyle choices. Men were coming back from war
and getting their old jobs back. This made it so the amount of women working in the

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Dr. Brain Casserly, Class notes for HIST& 148, April 16
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Dr. Brain Casserly, Class notes for HIST& 148, April 18
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Dr. Brain Casserly, Class notes for HIST& 148, April 18
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23
John A. Fitch, The Great Steel Strike, in Voices of Freedom: A Documentary
History, Volume 2, Eric Foner, ed., (New York: W.W. Norton, 2005), 125.
24
John A. Fitch The Great Steel Strike, 125.
25
Carrie Chapman Catt, Address to Congress on Womens Suffrage (1917), 105
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Dr. Brain Casserly, Class notes for HIST& 148, April 21
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labor force was smaller but more women got jobs in clerical, technical and professional
areas.
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Women start becoming sexualized in advertising and start dating which was a
new idea at this time.
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When the Great Depression hit millions of men and women lost
their jobs. The workers who still had jobs were still overworked in bad conditions and
didnt receive payment for overtime.
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When Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the New
Deal everything changed. FDR created many new government jobs for the unemployed
such as the Agricultural Adjustment Administration and the Civilian Conservation
Corps.
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When the Second New Deal was introduced it helped unions such as the Steel
Workers Organizing Committee out because the Wagner Act finally let the workers
form unions freely, speak out against their employers and use collective bargaining.
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The Social Security Act made it so those who were unemployed would receive
insurance and pensions.
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The Works Progress Administration provided even more
employment with the building of dams and national parks.
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Also the Fair Labor
Standards Act in 1938 guaranteed a national minimum wage, limited work hours and
payment for overtime.
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Many males came out of the Great Depression with safer more
reliable jobs because of the New Deals but also because many jobs were taken away from

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Dr. Brain Casserly, Class notes for HIST& 148, April 21
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Dr. Brain Casserly, Class notes for HIST& 148, April 24
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32
Steel Workers Organizing Committee, New Declaration of Independence, in
Voices of Freedom: A Documentary History, Volume 2, Eric Foner, ed., (New York:
W.W. Norton, 2005), 125.
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Dr. Brain Casserly, Class notes for HIST& 148, April 24
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Dr. Brain Casserly, Class notes for HIST& 148, April 24
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women and given to men.
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America prepares for World War Two just as it did for World
War One but in greater masses.
Many men are once again sent off to fight in WWI. This makes it so women are
again entering the labor force and African segregation is completely ended in the
workplace.
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Women of all ages and classes are working instead of just those who are
single and white.
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Many men and women worked on the Atom bombs in made-up
communities.
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Though women themselves felt very empowered (We can do it!),
women were seen as lesser in the workplace by some and as a distraction to all men.
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When the war was over and the men came home the women once again had to give up
their jobs.
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Working side by side with men and people of color changed many of the
womens lives and ideals forever.
The changes workers and women went though from the 1890s to the end of WWII
were incredibly impactful on American Society. Urbanization, Progressivism, the Great
Depression, the New Deals and both World Wars gave these two groups new standards of
work and living, the ability to form unions and women were granted rights that many
never thought possible. These changes in society effect how we live our everyday lives
today and without them America would be a little less free.


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"History in Five: The Manhattan Projects Secret City." N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2014.
http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid1493035588001?bckey=AQ~~,AAAAA
GF4K-k~,kv7GNuiTi7CvZW_MfQLKle4v6voTjpWw&bctid=3392860283001

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Dr. Brain Casserly, Class notes for HIST& 148, May 2
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