A NEW DAY
COLORED WOMAN WORKER
A STUDY OF
COLORED WOMEN IN INDUSTRY
IN NEW YORK CITY
Under the joint direction of
NELLE SWARTZ, Chairman
Chief, Bureau of Women in Industry.
representing the Consumers' League of the City of
MARY E. JACKSON,
representing the Young Women's Christian Associa-
representing the Women's Trade Union League
JAMES H. HUBERT,
representing the New York Urban League
HENRIETTE R. WALTER,
representing Division of Industrial Studies, Russell
MRS. PERCIVAL KNAUTH,
representing Pt1 committeee on Colored Worl ,rs of
the Manhattan Trade School.
MISS JESSIE CLARK MRS. GERTRUDE E. McDOUGALD
March the first
TABLE OF CONTENTS
F O R E W O RD ... ... ....................... ................ ...................................................... 5
COLORED WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRIES OF NEW YORK
C IT Y ............................................................ ..................................-. .. ........ 8
A. The Worker Herself ..... ................... ................... 8
I. Her General Background...................... ....... 8
II. Her Industrial Background-.........-........- 10
B. The Environment in Which She Finds Herself 13
I. The Types of Work She is Doing............. 14
II. The Conditions Under Which She is
W working ..... :........ ............ .... ........ ... 17
III. The Wages She is Getting .....................-- 20
IV. Collective Bargaining and the Colored
W o rk e r .................................................. .... .................... .. 2 3
C. The Colored Woman As a Permanent Factor
in Indu story ............ ...... ... .............. ........................ 25
S U M M ARY ................................................................................. ...........- 29
RECOMMENDATIONS ........ ............ ........................ 31
A PPEN DIX ............................................. ............. .. 33
A.- Schedules of Investigations .........----.... 34
B Sum m ary Tables ..................... ........ ... .....- 36
I. Industries and Workers ...........................-- 36
II. Hours of Work ................. ---..-.. 36
III. W ages ................. 7......................... ...- ..... 37
A SCENE IN THE GARMENT INDUSTRY, WHERE COLORED WOMEN
ARE EMPLOYED IN, THE LARGEST NUMBERS.
Two years ago any discussion of Colored women in
industry would have been met with the question, "But
are there any Colored women working in shops and fac-
tories?" And with good reason, for the Colored woman
is a newcomer in the field of industry. Individuals, it is
true, had found their way into special places long ago, but
industry as a whole had never accepted them.
For generations Colored women have been working in
the fields of the south. They have been the domestic
servants of both the south and the north, accepting the
positions of personal service open to them. Hard work
and unpleasant work has been their lot, but they have
been almost entirely excluded from our shops and fac-
tories. Tradition and race prejudice have played the
largest part in their exclusion. The tardy development
of the south, and the failure of the Colored women to de-
mand industrial opportunities have added further bar-
riers. Clearly, also, 200 years of slavery and 50 years of
industrial boycott in both the north and south, following
the Civil War, has done little to encourage or to develop
industrial aptitudes. For these reasons, the Colored
women have not entered the ranks of the industrial army
in the past.
That they are doing so today cannot be disputed. War
expediency, for a time at least, partially opened the door
of industry to them. Factories which had lost men to
the war and White women to the war industries, took on
Colored women in their places. The demand for more
skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labor had to be met.
The existing immigrant labor supply had already been
tapped and the flow of immigration stopped, and semi-
skilled White workers were being forced up into the
really skilled positions by the labor shortage. Cheap
labor had to be recruited from somewhere. For the first
time employment bureaus and advertisements inserted
the word "Colored" before the word "wanted". Col-
ored women, untried as yet, were available in large num-
bers. Some were dissatisfied with the menial tasks of-
fered them and were eager to take advantage of the larger
opportunities open to all women. Most of the better
educated women had been unable to secure the kind of
work for which their training had prepared them. A
great many welcomed a change of occupation. They had
been waiting .a long time for such an opportunity as the
war boom and the labor shortage afforded them. And
they came, not only into the factories, but into the mer-
cantile establishments, in stock rooms and as elevator
operators. In the industries of New York City today
many Colored women are busy in the garment trades, in
paper box factories, in establishments making leather
goods, fashioning hats, dyeing furs-taking their places
in many of the most-important industrial processes.
The presence of the Colored woman in industry is still
an experiment. And, like all experiments, it brings prob-
lems and rouses questions in the minds of the thoughtful
-questions concerning the worker herself, the environ-
ment in which she finds herself, and whether or not she
is in industry to stay.
Roused to the consciousness of these problems several
organizations, interested in questions of women's work,
formed a joint committee in June, 1918, to study the
employment of Colored women in New York City and
Brooklyn. Serving on this committee were representa-
tives of the Consumers' League of New York City, the
Women's Trade Union League, the Young Women's
Christian Association, New York Urban League, the Divi-
sion of Industrial Studies of the Russell Sage Founda-
tion, the Committee on, Colored Workers of the Manhat-
tan Trade School. The Committee laid the plans and
directed the progress of this study made possible through
the generosity of the Young Women's Christian Associa-
The result is herewith published with the hope that it
may lead to a better understanding and appreciation of
these now voiceless and defenseless women in industry-
something of their hopes, their needs, and their ideals,
the potential value of Colored women workers, the
economic and productive waste because of our lack of un-
derstanding of them and the unjust and undemocratic
way in which the Colored women have been denied an
opportunity to make a decent living under good condi-
tions in the industrial field.
Scope of Study
To gain different aspects of the problem, companion
surveys were made between July and November, 1918;
one, by Mrs. Gertrude McDougald, a, Colored investigator,
through interviews with Colored workers, and the other
by Miss Jessie Clark, a White investigator, through in-
terviews with employers of the factories in which Colored
women were employed. Interviews were had with 175
Colored women and with 300 employers. A detailed
study was made of 242 factories and mercantile establish-
ments, and careful note was made of the various processes
on which Colored women were working.
In an effort to find a representative group of Colored
women workers, inquiries were made of Colored pastors,
welfare organizations, trade unions, settlements, and the
files of the public and non-commercial employment bu-
reaus were consulted. The names of over 400 who had
entered industry were secured. Frequent moving and
the "lodging" habit, found to be prevalent, made it im-
possible for the investigator to locate more than 175 of
this number. These, however, were most responsive, and
expressed a desire to help "if it will only make things
better for our people." To obtain a cross-section of in-
dustries experimenting in the employment of Colored
women, lists of establishments were obtained from many
sources. These included the Federal Employment Bu-
reas, the Manhattan Trade School, the New York Wo-
men's Trade Union League, local unions in different
trades, the New York Urban League, and from the New
York City branch of the Young Women's Christian Asso-
ciation. The workers themselves helped to complete the
COLORED WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRIES
OF NEW YORK CITY
A. THE WORKER HERSELF
I. Her General Background
The women interviewed varied in type and physical as-
pect from the unmixed blacks to those in whom the Negro
blood could hardly be detected. Sixty per cent of them
had come from the Atlantic Coast states south of Wash-
ington, D. C. Since three out of every five of this group
had been in New York more than three years, it is evi-
dent that a majority had not taken part in the recent
migration. The length of residence in New York ranged
as high as forty-one years. The next largest group, or
28% of the whole number interviewed, were native to
New York City, and the remainder came from the British
While the ages of these Colored workers ranged from
13 to 56, most of them had been recruited from among the
younger women and girls. Seventy per cent of them were
under 26 years of age. The largest five year group, how-
ever, was of those between the ages of 16 and 21, with
only about 9% below 16 years of age. The thirties and
forties were represented by one or two women for each
year. These figures are significant in that by far the ma-
jority of white working women are between the ages of
16 and 21 years, but the proportion of Colored women
under 16 is smaller than would be found in a similar group
of White women.
Of the 175 women questioned, about 68% were single,
26% were married and the remaining few were widows.
With the exception of a few who lived at working girls'
homes, or at the Young Women's Christian Association,
the single women without dependents were lodging with
private families. Most of those who were not entirely
self-supporting were living with their parents, and re-
ceived their lodging or board free.
Seven of the married women had been deserted and the
others were working to supplement the earnings of their
husbands. In many instances the door was opened by a
child who answered: "They're all working. I'm tending
the house." The cleanliness of the homes of these work-
ing women, even when in wretched tenements, paid tribute
to their orderliness. After a nine-hour day in the fac-
tory or store, clean floors and dusted rooms meant work-
ing late into the night.
Inquiry into the general schooling of these women dis-
closed a higher average of education than is found among
White women in the same occupations. One from Vir-
ginia answered in surprise, "Why I never went to school
more than one year in my life!" Others were college
graduates. Many spoke with regret that poverty and
the poor school facilities of the south had barred them
from better things. One-fourth of them had had only
seven years or less of schooling. Considerably over half,
however, had persisted in the face of poverty until they
had graduated from the elementary school. Twenty-
three women said they had attended high school for two
years or less, while 22 had been graduated from northern
high schools or southern colleges.
The significance of this high average of general school-
ing can best be realized by a comparison with the school-
ing of a similar group of White workers in the same in-
dustries, and in many instances in the same shops. Over
against the 25% of Colored women who had had seven
years or less of school, we find 63% of these White wo-
men. The proportion of Colored women who had finished
the elementary school was 8% larger than of White wo-
men, and only 4% of the White girls cited attendance at
high school for two years or less as compared with 13%
of the Colored. No one of the White girls had been grad-
uated from high school or college. It is true that one rea-
son for this better showing of the Colored women may be
found in the difficulty with which she finds good paying
work. It is true, also, that the new occupations opening
up to Colored women are those filled largely in the past
by immigrant White women. It is nevertheless signifi-
cant that she should persist in school attendance when
the chances are so small of a financial return proportion-
ate to her training.
II. Her Industrial Background
The White girls interviewed all started work between
the ages of 10 and 21, 67% beginning work before the age
of 16 years. While half of the Colored women were
at work before they were 16 years old, a large numn-
ber began between the ages of 16 and 25. There were also
some very late beginners who had been forced into indus-
try for the first time by the recent increase in the cost of
Other than the plain sewing taught in the public schools,
76% had had no trade training. Some of the women had
taken night school courses in millinery, but opportunities
in that trade had never been offered them. Most of the
trade training, however, was secured in the day trade
schools, though a few women had industrial training in
the south during four year college courses. Of the 24%
who had attended trade schools, one-half had completed
their training. The rest had persevered from four to
eleven months, and then had been obliged to accept work
of a different kind than that for which they had begun
their training. But few of the specially trained women
found work in the trade for which they had been pre-
pared. Occasionally they found their niche through
the placement department of the schools and sometimes
through personal initiative. Nine trade-trained women
entered the Post Office department under civil service ex-
amination. Others, discouraged by seasonal fluctuations
and the handicap of color, took places as ladies' maids,
elevator operators, etc.
One would have to wait in an employment bureau for
many days to hear of even one request for a Colored
bookkeeper or stenographer. Yet a number of women
had been specially trained as stenographers. These fin-
ally entered factories doing unskilled, monotonous work
-their spirits broken and hopes blasted because they had
been obliged to forfeit their training on account of race
prejudice. School teachers were among these new re-
cruits in both skilled and unskilled industries. Some had
been grade teachers, two had taught in high school, and
one had been a supervisor in a normal school.
In relation to the question of previous experience, the
175 women fall into three groups; those who had never
before been wage-earners; those who entered industry
from some quite different kind of work; and those who
had recently changed jobs, either within the shop, or from
one shop to another.
For about half of them, industrial work had come as
their first experience in wage-earning. Of those chang-
ing work, the largest number had been in domestic and
personal service. Next came the school teachers, and the
remainder came from miscellaneous occupations, such
as commercial work, soliciting, hair-dressing, and sew-
ing. One West Indian woman had been a hawker in a
Everyone is now familiar with -the reasons given by
White girls for shunning domestic service. It is not sur-
prising, therefore, that the same aversions are expressed
by the Colored cook and maid. Those who left domestic
service for industrial work did so to escape the long hours,
the confinement, and the friction of a personal "boss."
They had averaged about 6 years as domestics, most of
them in the north. All but one- fourth of them had made
the change within the year.
The reasons for change in occupation given by the Col.
ored teachers are of interest for they afford a hint of the
spiritual strain and drain endured by most women of that
race. One was asked if she preferred sewing to the teach-
ing she had left. "No, I don't", was her answer, "But I
just couldn't stand the treatment we got in the south,
so I came north to escape humiliation and to live a fuller
THE SPIRIT OF DEMOCRACY-WHITE AND COLORED WORKERS WORKING
SIDE BY SfDE IN PEACE AND HARMONY.
and freer life. And I'm happier, even though I'm find-
ing it harder to make enough to live on."
A much younger woman had met with discouragement
while studying in the Massachusetts Teachers' Training
School, and had followed the line of least resistance in
becoming a cloak-room maid at $6.00 a week. The dis-
appointment often experienced by the European immi-
grant was expressed by one teacher from the West In-
dies. She was found dusting furniture in a department
store for $8.00 a week-"and just to think, I was prin-
cipal of a school of 300 pupils for eight years, with five
teachers under me, and all I can get in this country is
Once, the change from the old occupation is accom-
plished, we find a constant shifting from job to job. Nine-
ty per cent of the 175 women changed jobs in the effort
to increase their wages. Some hoped to advance to more
skilled work, but soon found that race prejudice barred
The foregoing facts indicate that the typical Colored
woman in industry is a young, unmarried woman, prob-
ably southern born, with at least a grammar school edu-
cation. Having begun work in her teens, she is now en-
tering industry without trade training, or previous in-
dustrial experience, after five or six years of domestic
B. THE ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH SHE FINDS
During the war, the pressure of the government upon
employers for greater and greater production called for
an increase in mechanical equipment and number of
workers. The supply of skilled male workers was
absorbed long before all the processes demanding skill
were manned, with the result that women, both White and
Colored, were promoted to operations which had never
before been open to them.
In visiting 242 establishments of various sorts in Man-
hattan and Brooklyn, it was found that 217 were employ-
ing Colored women. In these factories there was 2,185
Colored women engaged in industrial practices. The fac-
tories were representative of the luxury trades, such as
flower and feather manufacture, millinery and marabou
shops, toy-making and candy-making, as well as leather
goods and button factories. The following table indi-
cates in general the hospitality of the trades covered to
the experiment of employing Colored women.
Industry Factories Workers
Needle Trades ............. 121 892
T oys ............................. .... 10 194
Buttons .................. ..... 9 120
Candy ................ ............ 4 196
Leather Goods ............... 9 96
M arabou ......................... 5 66
Paper Boxes and Bags 10 58
Millinery ...--....-- .......... 6 30
Flowers and Feathers 6 17
M miscellaneous ..................... 37 516
T otal .............................. 127 2,185
Most of these industries had employed Colored women
for the first time since the war. The chief exception is
found in the needle trades where the largest number em-
ploying Colored workers is found. When asked how
long he has been hiring Colored workers, an employer in
the needle trades will answer, "Oh, I've always had
them." It is true that some processes in garment mak-
ing have been open to them for several years, but never
in large numbers or on the more skilled work.
I. The Types of Work She is Doing
The long list of the articles the Colored woman worker
is now helping to produce varies strikingly from her
products when in domestic or personal service. Today
the Colored woman is making belts, puttees, leggins,
razor blade cases, gloves, veils, embroideries, raincoats,
books, cigars, cigarettes, dyed furs, millinery, candy, arti-
ficial flowers and feathers, buttons, toys, marabou, and
women's garments. During the war she was also mak-
ing horses' gas masks and soldiers' uniforms.
This versatility, however, is more apparent than real.
Most of the operations upon which Colored women are
used are semi or unskilled. Few, as yet, are skilled as
machine or hand operators. Because of their newness
to industrial work the majority have been put on pro-
cesses requiring no training and small manual ability.
They are employed at repetitive hand operations and
occasionally run a foot-press or a power-sewing machine.
It has sometimes been said that Colored women are
averse to machine work. In one millinery shop, however,
the superintendent said that every Colored worker in
his shop preferred operating.
In the garment trades, where skill of the best opera-
tors is carried to the point of making the entire garment,
Colored women are found
(a) as examiners, who inspect the completed gar-
ments for mistakes in workmanship.
(b) as forewomen of cleaning groups.
(c) as cleaners or bushelers, who cut and pick
threads from finished garments.
(d) as pressers, who work with a large flat iron,
pressing pleats, seams, etc.
(e) as power-machine operators, though only a few
have been employed as yet in this capacity.
In candy factories, Colored women not only wrap and
pack candy, but also in baking, lift large trays from table
to machine and from machine to table. The trays weigh
7 pounds, and the constant lifting may occasion some
strain to women unused to or unfit for the work.
In flower and feather novelties they perform the two
main operations known as pasting and branching. The
former involves the pasting together of the small parts
of flower and feather ornaments. The latter is the as-
sembling of these portions into the finished articles. A
few are doing tinting, hard work which requires some
In seven millinery establishments Colored and White
women are doing preparing, trimming and operating.
The majority of them were performing the least skilled
work-that of preparers, or trimmers' helpers.
Colored women are also doing "loosening" in a tobac-
co factory, a process formerly performed by men. The
worker stands in front of a large tray of tobacco and
with her hands "teases out" any parts which may have
become matted in the cutting machine. The work de-
mands no skill, and is undesirable because of the stand-
ing and reaching, the dust, and the extreme monotony.
They were also working on chemically impregnated
cloth which made their hands sore, and were filling small
tubes with strong chemicals. Rubber gloves were not
furnished and since they wear out so quickly the workers
could not afford to buy them.
The phenomenon of replacement by Colored women
includes not only their replacement of Colored and White
men, but of White women as well. The extent to which the
latter has taken place is hard to determine, but it has
been evident that as White women with industrial expe-
rience have moved up the scale of wage and skill, Colored
women without industrial experience have taken their
places. For example, in the needle trades a few White
women examiners, pressers, and cleaners have gradually
been replaced. Colored women have been found definitely
taking men's places as operators of foot-presses in but-
ton and toy factories; as turner's-in in bag factories; as
sewing machine operators in leather goods manufacture;
as bakers of fondant in candy factories; and in other
Replacement for Colored women, however, does not
mean advancement in the same sense as for White women.
Because the White woman has been in industry for a
longer time, and is more familiar with industrial prac-
tices, she is less willing to accept bad working condi-
tions. The Colored woman, on the other hand, is handi-
capped by industrial ignorance and drifts into conditions
of work rejected by White workers. Colored women
were found on processes that White women refuse to
perform. They were replacing boys at cleaning window
shades, work which necessitates constant standing and
reaching. They were taking men's places in the dyeing
of furs, highly objectionable and injurious work involv-
ing standing, reaching, the use of a weighted brush, and
ill smelling dye. In a mattress factory they were found
replacing men at "baling," working in pairs, wrapping
five mattresses together and sewing them up ready for
shipment. These women had to bend constantly and lift
clumsy 160 pound bales.
II. The Conditions Under which She is Working
Two of the most important aspects of factory life are
the worker's surroundings and the number of hours she
works in those surroundings each week.
As is to be expected the workshop conditions varied in
individual shops and differing trades. Colored women
were found in dark, ill-smelling factories. They were
also working in fairly clean places. The flower and
feather shops were small, over-crowded and poorly ven-
tilated. The floors were dirty and bits of feathers were
flying in the air. The paper box factories were dark and
also poorly ventilated, and in the rooms where the paper
bags were made the noise of the bagging machines was
terrific. A stenographer in one of the offices said, "Yes,
I'll take you up, but I can't stay long, the noise is so ter-
rible." But, in this very factory the thirty girls who
*vere bundling stood within two feet of these machines
for 9% hours a day in violation of the state labor law.
In most of the factories visited, provisions for the
health and comfort of the employes consisted in the mini-
mum number of toilets and smallest dressing room facili-
THE UNSKILLED WORKER-WOMAN AT HER TRADITIONAL OCCUPATION.
ties allowed by the state labor laws. Toilets were gener-
ally in an unhealthy and unclean condition. The dress-
ing room was usually a small square of thin partitions
inside the workshop, obviously built to comply with the
minimum requirements of the labor law. It seldom had
an adequate number of hooks for the women's wraps,
and frequently lacked even a chair or a couch. A few of
the larger factories had rooms where the workers could
eat their lunches and prepare hot beverages, but only
one establishment provided a lunch room where they
could buy food. Here the food was served at cost price.
The first aid cabinets (provided according to law in fac-
tories using power driven machines) usually were the
only equipment for caring for sick and injured employes.
Two factories employing Colored women in the Bush
Terminal, however, used the Terminal Hospital for
emergency cases. During the course of the study, several
factories were reported to the State Labor Department
as violating sanitary provisions of the Labor Law.
There were no startling discoveries made as to the
hours which Colored women are working, except as eleva-
tor operators. Approximately 50% of women replacing
men as elevator operators in New York City are Colored.
For these women it means a ten or twelve hour day, fre-
quently on the night shift, seven days a week. Clearly
the women elevator operators need some protection by
law from long hours. The law allows a 54-hour week for
women in stores and factories. According to the state-
ments of the employers, out of 217 factories only 6%
were reaching this legal minimum. About 65% of them
were working their women employes from 48 to 50 hours
each week. Union flower and feather shops maintain a
regular 48 hour week with an hour lunch period. The
needle trades, leather goods, marabou, and button fac-
tories averaged a 49 or 50 hour week, with a 9 hour day
and a half day on Saturday. Seventy per cent of the
garment factories reported a 60 minute lunch hour and
18% gave only a half hour. The marabou shops all had
an hour lunch period, while in the leather and button
factories the length varied in the different establish-
ments. Long hours characterize the toy, candy, and
paper box factories, with a, 50 hour week as the usual
minimum. The hours in the millinery establishments
ranged from 44 to 54 per week, with the longest hours in
the small custom order shops.
Of the 2,185 Colored women working in these factories,
over 60% had a working week of 48 to 50 hours. Only
19.5% were working over 50 hours a week. Their distri-
bution according to hours is shown in the following table:
Women Per Cent Weekly Hours
316 14.5 53 or more
326 15.0 52 "
426 19.5 51 "
962 43.9 50 "
1565 71.4 49 "
1822 84.1 48 "
1975 91.1 47 "
2032 93.7 46 "
2064 95.2 45 "
2086 96.3 44 "
2088 97.2 43 "
2089 97.6 42 "
2185 100.0 No record
Except for the elevator operators, the fact that only
6% of the 2185 women were working 54 hours, the legal
maximum, and only 19.5% were working over 50 hours a
week, is indicative of the fact that the prevailing tend-
ency toward a shorter working day affects the Colored
worker as well as the White.
III. The Wages She is Getting
Industrial ignorance and the lack of understanding of
the value of collective bargaining have caused Colored
women to accept low wages, as well as unpleasant work.
In talking with the employers of 2,185 Colored women it
was found that over half that number were receiving
$10.00 or less a week. About a third were getting exactly
$10.00 per week. The wages of some were as low as $5.00,
and a small number were averaging as much as $20.00.
The majority of them (76%), however, were being paid
from $8.00 to $12.00 a week, la starvation wage in these
days of high prices.
Some industries were paying better wages than others.
In the button factories, the flower and feather shops, and
leather goods factories, only a negligible per cent of the
Colored women employed were getting more than $12.00
a week. Those in the needle trades and marabou fac-
tories were better paid, with almost 50% in each aver-
aging over $12.00. The others came between these two
extremes. While it is not possible here to enter into a
discussion of the wages in each industry, process by
process, it is interesting to note rather carefully two
trades representing the extremes, the needle trades and
the button factories.
In the needle trades the Colored women were averag-
ing the highest wages, over half receiving more than
$12.00 a week. This trade is one of the first to have been
opened to them, and is also highly organized. As has
been stated they were found working as operatives, drap-
ers, finishers, pressers, cleaners and examiners. In
nearly every case, however, White workers on the same
processes received from $2.00 to $5.00 a week more than
their Colored sisters. The union minimum rate for oper-
ators in this trade is $45.00. The 60 men employed were
making from $25.00 to $48.00. The one union operator
found among the Colored women was making $20.00 a
week. Over half of the 172 Colored operators were get-
ting $12.00 or under. With two exceptions their highest
wage was $15.00. The wage of the White worker ranged
from $9.00 to $20.00 a week for the same work. The Col-
ored pressers were paid a weekly rate of about $10.00,
while in the same department the White pressers were
averaging $12.00 at piece work. The usual wage of the
Colored cleaners was $11.00, as compared with $14.00
for the White cleaners, though the output of the Colored
equalled that of the Whites in half the shops, and ex-
ceeded it in one. The rates of the 212 Colored finishers
ranged from $7.00 to $18.00, as against $9.00 to $22.00 for
the White. Only 5 Colored drapers were found, and these
had a $16.00 to $18.00 wage, while first and second class
White drapers were getting from $25.00 to $50.00, and
from $18.00 to $25.00 respectively.
None of the 120 Colored women found at work in the
button factories were averaging more than $12.00 a week.
The initial wage for operating and packing was $8.00.
The operating of foot-presses was paid on a weekly basis,
and the Colored women were making from $8.00 to $12.00
as compared with the $9.00 to $18.00 of the White work-
Throughout the trades, differences in the wages of the
Colored and White were unmistakable. While every
other Colored woman was receiving less than $10.00 a
week, of the White workers only one out of every six was
so poorly paid. Sixteen per cent (16%) of the Colored
women were getting $8.00 or under, as over against 2%
of the White workers. Only 18% of the Colored women's
wages were over $12.00, as compared with 46% of those
of the White workers. In so far as the lower wage scale
represents the earnings of an apprenticeship period, or
is the result of less productive power it is justifiable. A
great many employers justified the payment of better
wages to White women on the ground of their greater
speed. Foremen in the millinery factories, however, ad-
mitted that they paid the Colored workers less, even
though they were more satisfactory than the White.
And other evidence indicates that the excuses of appren-
ticeship and less production were used to cover efforts
of the employers to obtain a new supply of cheap labor.
This wage discrimination seems to have taken three
forms. Employers have sometimes segregated the Col-
ored workers, keeping the wage scale of the Colored de-
partments lower than that of similar departments made
up of White workers. An example of this was seen in the
paper bag factories. One factory which employed no
White bundlers was paying Colored bundlers $8.00 a
week for the same work for which another factory where
Colored and White were working in the same depart-
ment was forced to pay a minimum of $15.00. A second
method has been to deny the Colored the opportunity of
competing in piece work, as in the case of the Colored
pressers in the needle trades who were paid $10.00 a
week on a time rate basis, while the White pressers aver-
aged $12.00 a week at piece work. The third form of dis-
crimination has been the frank refusal of employers to
pay a Colored woman as much as a White woman for a
The keeping down of the whole wage scale is a compar-
atively easy matter since there is little chance for com-
parison of wages between the two groups. Exploitation
is not as easy where both groups are working in the same
departments. Several superintendents, confessing to. at-
tempts at wage discrimination, said the Colored leave as
soon as they find it out. Even the White workers resent
two scales, largely no doubt, from a desire to protect
their own interests. The refusal to grant a piece-rate
basis to Colored Women is made on two grounds. First,
that Colored women could not earn as much as they are
now earning on a time rate, and would leave dissatisfied.
Second, that Colored women work more slowly and resent
"speeding up" and "pace setters." How far this situa-
tion is really due to aversion on the part of the Colored
women to haste, and how far employers are seizing an
opportunity for exploitation, it is difficult to determine.
The fact remains, that in one way and another Colored
women are undercutting the White women, and that they
are being forced to accept less than a living wage for
IV. Collective Bargaining and the Colored Worker
Only 12% of the 175 women interviewed were union
members. These belonged to the Amalgamated Clothing
Workers of the World, and the Fancy Leather Goods
Union, and the International Ladies' Garment Workers'
Union. The latter includes members of the White Goods
Union, the Ladies' Waist and Dressmakers' Union Local
#25, the Cloak and Skirt Makers' Union Local 323, and
the Costume Dressmakers' Union.
Seventy-one per cent (71%) had either never heard of
unions-as one said, she "had never seen it"-or else
had not been asked to join. A small number were anxious
to know how to become members. A few had experienced
unpleasantness with prejudiced union officials and were
suspicious of the sincerity of the unions.
In the factories visited, less than .003% were union
members. This may be explained in several ways. In
the first place, many of the Colored workers are to be
found in the lowest paid industries such as the candy,
toy and paper box industries, which are themselves un-
organized. Then again the individual shops in which
they are working in other industries were often the
smaller, low-paid shops, where the Colored workers are
not unionized. Of the "miscellaneous" factories visited,
only four were found which were partially organized
and in these there were no Colored women working on
the processes in which the workers had been unionized.
But even in the well-organized trades, where! a major-
ity of White girls are members, such as the marabou and
needle trades, few of the Colored women are union mem-
bers. Of the 18 Colored parers in one marabou shop only
one had joined the union.
The responsibility for this lack of organization is un-
doubtedly due to a lack of understanding of the value of
collective bargaining on the part of the Colored workers,
and racial prejudice on the part of the White workers.
While some unions not only welcome, but make special
effort to recruit Colored members, others are reluctant
to accept them. The Book-binders' Union, for example,
is closed to them. -It is not strange that the Colored
worker is slow to understand the advantages of trade
unionism. New to industrial life, and striving to get a
permanent foothold she is fearful of anything which may
jeopardize her chance of advancement. The need of edu-
cation among Colored women concerning organization
cannot be over-emphasized. The labor movement must
meet this need. The inclusion of Colored workers on its
organizing staff and in its councils of deliberation would
go far toward meeting this need.
C. THE COLORED WOMAN AS A PERMANENT
FACTOR IN INDUSTRY
As yet no one can predict with any certainty that the
Colored woman is in industry to stay. Discussion of a
problem which is so dependent upon future circumstances
may not be undertaken in any spirit of prophecy. The
labor market is changing every day. So long as Colored
women meet the demand for cheap labor, employers will
retain them in preference to better paid White workers.
But let a lowered wage scale force these same White
workers back into competition with the Colored, and the
issue will depend upon the comparative stability and pro-
ductive power of the two. The White workers have the
advantages of precedent and of larger industrial experi-
ence behind them. The Colored are handicapped by prej-
udice and their own industrial ignorance. They have
been in industry too short a time to have proved what
their place is to be or to have become thoroughly adjust-
ed. In considering whether or not Colored women are
proving successful as industrial workers, these facts must
be borne in mind.
The Employers' Point of View
An effort was made to discover what employers thought
of the success or failure of their experiment. As was to
be expected, their testimony was contradictory. In many
instances Colored women have made good. In other
cases they have not. About half of the employers con-
sidered them as efficient as their White workers. These
thought them well-mannered and more courteous than
the White girls, and found them steadier, although slow-
er in movements. The other half considered them lazy,
stupid, and unreliable, and declared that they would not
have them if White girls were obtainable.
In the marabou and millinery trades the Colored wo-
men are pleasing their employers. "Just as good as our
A TYPICAL REPLACEMENT.
White workers," they say. In the millinery trade most
of them are as yet in unskilled processes. That they are
giving satisfaction in the marabou trade-with fair hours
and a living wage-is significant.
In the needle trades satisfaction with the "pressers" is
unanimous. Some say they are a little more deliberate
than the White, but all agree that they are better ironers.
Superintendents are not as pleased with the "cleaners,"
but expect to retain them even after the labor shortage
has disappeared. As "operators" and "finishers" they
are judged inefficient and careless.
Among the manufacturers of buttons and of leather
goods, the consensus of opinion seems to be that the
women are slow and unreliable, and that their output is
considerably lower than that of the White workers. Two-
thirds of the employers in the candy factories said that
they would no longer employ Colored women when they
were able to get White.
In general, employers offered three objections to Col-
ored workers. First, that they were slow. Second, that
they were unreliable and lacked stability, and, third,
that it was difficult to get experienced ones.
As to the stability there seems to be some difference of
opinion. Instances were cited of workers who had re-
mained with the same firm for years. These, however,
were in the minority, and most employers agreed that
their Colored employees were less regular at work than
the White employees. One superintendent, who had been
employing them for a year, said that they had never yet
all been at work at once. It is not unusual for the whole
Colored force to be absent at the same time. Many firms,
accustomed to pay-day in the middle of the week, pay their
Colored workers on Saturday in order to insure their
working on Thursday and Friday. This lack of responsi-
bility is also shown in the frequent changing of jobs.
Many workers have not averaged over a week in a place.
Others have not been quite as transient, but have left
just when they have become valuable to their employers.
In view of the aversion of most employers to training
beginners, the difficulty of getting experienced Colored
workers is not strange. When learners could be started
at four and five dollars and the apprenticeship period
stretched out indefinitely, it was profitable for an employer
to train workers in his shop. But now learners expect
$8.00 and are not averse to leaving for better positions
when trained. However, more than 25 employers spoke
of their futile attempts to get trained Colored workers.
In one shop 13 of the 23 machines were idle. Another
shop advertised for skilled Colored operators. None with
While these statements of employers may be true at
present there are definite reasons for them. It could
hardly be expected that a group to whom the doors of
industry have always been closed could suddenly appear
when needed, entirely efficient and imbued with all fac-
tory sense. Colored women are new in industry. They
have had no opportunity to gain dexterity in the type of
work now open to them. The occupations which they left
for industrial work did not train them in punctuality or
steadiness. Their hours of work have never before been
well defined. Most of them have never known the com-
petitive stimulus of group work until now. It is to be
expected that they should lack stability and skill in these
first trial months. Low wages, too, make for instability,
be the worker White or Colored. Fair hours and a liv-
ing wage are the most basic essentials of stabilizing in-
By way of comparison, a few factories definitely re-
fusing to employ Colored women were visited. In most
cases they had no Colored workers because they had had
no labor shortage. Some special advantages of shorter
hours, pleasanter work, or high wages had prevented it.
In 10 of the 27 factories visited the prejudice of White
workers had kept the employers from making the experi-
Attitude of White Workers Towards Colored Women.
Inquiries as to the general attitude of the White work-
ers toward the introduction of Colored women again
brought conflicting reports. About half of the employers
claimed that their White workers had no objection to the
Colored women, that they were either cordial or entirely
indifferent toward them. Of the other half, some said
their White workers objected when the Colored workers
were first hired, but felt no prejudice now. Other White
workers preferred to have the two groups segregated.
Still others were willing to let the Colored do unskilled
work, but refused to allow them on skilled processes.
On the other hand, however, 78% of the 175 Colored
women questioned reported cordial relations with their
co-workers. In every instance where personal or- social
hostility had been evident, piece work had prevailed and
work was not very plentiful at the time. All of the 175
Colored women interviewed expressed a desire to be on
friendly terms with the White workers.
An interesting development occurred in a shop making
dresses with two long tables of finishers, one of White and
the other of Colored, and each presided over by a fore-
woman and examiner of their own color. When Colored
workers were first taken on a year ago, they were placed
with the White finishers under a White examiner and
forewoman. So much friction resulted that the present
arrangement was made. The superintendent proudly
tells what wonders the change has worked. Complaints
have been reduced to a minimum and the efficiency of
both tables has been materially increased. That a group
which has always suffered from racial discrimination,
feels more comfortable and is better assured of fair play
with supervisors of its own color is easily understood.
It has been demonstrated in war activities in other cities,
and points to the value of training Colored workers for
It has been apparent throughout this discussion that
the coming of the Colored woman into our industries is
not without its problems. She is doing work which the
White woman is refusing to do, and at a wage which the
White woman is refusing to accept. She replaced White
women and men and Colored men at a lower wage and is
performing tasks which may easily prove to be detrimen-
tal to her health. She is making no more mistakes than
are common to a new and inexperienced industrial worker,
yet she has the greatest of all handicaps to overcome.
What is the status of the Colored woman in industry
with the coming of peace? At the time of greatest need
for production and the greatest labor shortage in the his-
tory of this country Colored women were the last to be
employed; they were not called into industry until there
was no other available labor supply. They did the most
uninteresting work, the most menial work and by far the
most underpaid work. They were the marginal workers
of industry all through the war, and yet during those
perilous times, the Colored woman made just as genuine
a contribution to the cause of democracy as her White
sister in the munitions factory or her brother in the
trench. She released White women for more skilled work,
and she replaced Colored men who went into service.
The American people will have to go very far in its
treatment of the Colored industrial woman to square
itself with that democratic ideal of which it made so much
during the war.
And now indications point to the fact that Colored
women are the first to be released. Aside from the in-
"ustice of it all, there are several practical reasons why
industry should not continue its policy of neglecting Col-
ored women. In the first place, business will undoubtedly
boom again when once this country gets on a peace pro-
duction. Immigration from Europe will undoubtedly be
very limited. Industry may be compelled to re-hire these
Colored women before long. Will it not mean training
them all over again? Just as a new industrial group had
become accustomed to the routine of factory work, they
are discharged. What a waste of productive power!
As a result of this study the Committee urges:
I. That greater emphasis be placed upon the train-
ing of the Colored girl by:
A. More general education.
B. More trade training through appren-
ticeship and trade schools.
II. That every effort be made to stimulate trade
organization among Colored Women by:
A. Education of Colored Women work-
ers towards organization.
B. Education of Colored Workers for
C. A keener understanding of Colored
Women in industry among White
organized and unorganized work-
III. An appreciation and acceptance of the Col-
ored Woman in industry by the American
employer and the public at large.
COLORED WORKER'S SCHEDULE
Nativity Yrs. in N. Y. C. Age Age at beg. work Yrs. at work s. m. w. d.
Schooling Trade training Age at learning trade Years in this trade
Member of union
Name Reason for joining or not
Occupation before coming to N. Y. Reason for entering industry
Seasonal Wkly. wages Reason for
Name of employer Address Industry Steady Kind of work T. or P. Time held Leaving
Attitude of white worker toward colored worker
Attitude of colored worker toward white worker
Attitude of colored worker toward employer
FAMILY INDUSTRIAL HISTORY HOME CONDITIONS
Relationship Usual wkly. Contrib. to Regularity
to worker Age Occupation earnings family budget of work Rent No. rooms
Lodgers Total in household
Care of children, if mother works
Workers wkly. living expenses
SRent Food Clothes
Investigator Source of name
rce of data
Name of firm
T P T P
3. Gov't Contracts
Goods Proportion of output
4. Hiring Workers
Hired by whom White Colored
No. hired last mo. W. C. No. leaving last mo. W. C. Why
Women replacing men
Colored women replacing white women
5. Labor shortage
6. Labor Laws
. Men Women
Employed 7. Homework Contractors
8. Hours A. M. P. M. P. M. Hr. Irs. Hrs. Hrs.
Begin End Sat. Noon Sunday Total Daily Total Weekly Variations
9. Overtime Minimum Age
Hours per week Hours per day
10. Hours of Children under 16
11. Employer's attitude toward colored workers
12. White workers' attitude toward colored workers
13. Do colored workers work in groups or as individuals Why
14. Policy regarding trade unions
15. Health provisions
Lunch room Rest room Dispensary First Aid Other
16. General workroom conditions
Date Investigator Person interviewed
Relation to firm
FACTORIES AND WORKERS
Flowers & Feathers
Per cent Number
50 Hours .............
51 H ours.............
No Report ....
Total ..........- .........
Per cent Number
CUMULATIVE TABLE OF WAGES BY INDUSTRIES
Per cent in Per cent in Per cent in Per cent in Per centin Per ent Per cent i Miscel-
Wages e Toys Buttons Candy Goods Marabou Paper Box Millinery Feathers laneous
-- - - - I --- - - -A1
100.0 1 100.00
White and Colored in same Factories
$5 Week ..---...--...
$6 W eek .........................
$7 W eek .......................
$8 W eek --................
$9 Week ------..
$10io Week ---.....
$1i W eek ..............
$12 Week ..-- .......
$13 W eek ........................
$14 Week -----..
$15 W eek ..................
$16 Week ........
$17 Week .----...
$T8 W eek ...............
$20 Week .----......
$21 Week -----.- ....
$24 Week ..-- .......
$25 Week ....
$30 Week --.........--.....
No Report .-..---.
T otal ..........
Workers White Workers
Per cent Number Per cent
CUMULATIVE TABLE OF WAGES
$5 and under...............
$6 and under..............
$7 and under...............
$8 and under...............
$9 and under-............
$10o and under...............
$ii and under...............
$12 and under...............
$13 and under...............
$14 and under...............
$15 and under...............
$16 and under...............
$17 and under ..............
$18 and under ...............
$19 and under..............
$20 and under..............
$21 and under...............
$24 and. under...............
$25 and under ...............
$30 and under...............
$35 and under..............
No Report ...............
T o tal ....................
[ KEEP CARD IN POCKET
DUE RETURNED DUE RETURNED