MN Women & Work History Timeline 1858 - 1934
1858 - 1899
1858: Minnesota was established as the 32nd state in the union. A vast majority of the 150,000 inhabitants worked as farmers, small business owners, mill workers, teachers, and in-home workers. The type of work available to a person performed was based largely on their gender, race, ethnicity, and ability. The first reference to organized labor was a newspaper account of a two-day strike by the journeymen tailors of St. Paul in 1854. The outcome of the strikers efforts were not published.
• 1860’s: Women performed an enormous amount of unwaged work to help support soldiers from the 1st Minnesota Regiment during the Civil War. Women sewed uniforms, nursed the wounded, raised funds, and wrote more than 1,800 letters per week.
• 1860: Training schools for teachers were opened in Winona, Mankato, and St. Cloud. For the first time, women were allowed to attend and train for a profession outside of the home. Female teachers earned $13.00 per month ($8.00 less than their male counterparts) and were required to follow strict behavioral guidelines: they must remain single, adhere to a curfew, and abstain from alcohol, tobacco, and harsh language. Similarly, male school teachers were required to refrain from card games, taverns, and tobacco. A teachers duties often went beyond educating children to include cleaning the schoolhouse and chopping wood.
• 1861: The Minnesota Education Association (MEA,) was founded as a professional organization for teachers and administrators.
• 1878: The first local assembly of the Knights of Labor was chartered in Minneapolis, and a second assembly was formed in St. Paul a year later. Other locals were quickly organized in Stillwater, Duluth, Albert Lea, Austin, Winona, Barensville, Brainerd, Rochester, and Dresbach, and by 1887 there were 85 assemblies with 6,500 members. The Knights worked to unite all workers, regardless of their skill, race or gender. Anyone was welcome to join an except lawyers, bankers, stock brokers, gamblers, and those in the liquor business. The only labor organizations who chose not to affiliate with the Knights were the Bricklayers and the Typographical Unions. The Knights rally cry was, "An injury to one is of concern to all," and they struggled endlessly for improved working conditions, fair wages, the eight hour work day, and job security. Eventually the Knights erected a three story Labor Temple in Minneapolis.
• 1880’s: The Minnesota chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union was formed. In addition to prohibition, the organization stridently worked for pay equity, and to improve the working conditions for women.
• 1887: Although some workers lobbied for pay equity, wages were very low for most women, who were seen as contingency workers. The Minnesota Department of Labor reported that "Complaints are often heard that women do not earn as much wages their services justify, and that women, doing the same work as men, receive less pay." A century later, gender based wage inequities continue to exist.
• 1888: Labor organizer and reformer, Eva McDonald Valesh (a.k.a. Eva Gay) wrote a series of articles for the St. Paul Daily Globe, one of which revealed the intolerable and unsafe conditions endured by female factory workers.
• 1890: According to a census report, 4,460 children, between the ages of 10 and 14, were "gainfully employed." While most children worked on farms or as household servants, over 1,000 worked in manufacturing plants or in the trades.
• 1890: The Farmer, a magazine for farm workers, was moved from North Dakota to St. Paul to be near the University of Minnesota’s Department of Agriculture. Shortly after this, The Farmer’s Wife, a magazine devoted to issues concerning female farm workers, was launched in Winona.
• 1893: In an effort to colonize Native Americans, legislation was passed that required all Indian children to attend government run schools. The children were forced to abandoned their cultural methods of work and learn "white" methods of industrial labor. After their schooling was complete, many Indian children returned to their reservation, only to find their new methods of work were useless in preparing them for a productive life on their reservation.
• 1894: The Taxpayers’ Business and Laboringmen’s Movement of the Twin Cities was established in St. Paul. The organization’s platform discouraged members from patronizing companies which employed child labor, underpaid their workers, or instilled a sweatshop environment. Their platform also required that all women stay at home, except in cases where a woman was widowed or her husband was invalid. In that case, the woman should receive equal pay for equal work, but only after the woman exhibits a certificate from the Labor Commissioner validating her situation.
1900 - 1910
1900’s: Minnesota passed legislation that finally allowed women to control their earned wages, and to own property. The courts, however, still generally considered any property that was obtained after marriage to be that of the husbands. • 1900’s: As the textile industry grew in Minneapolis, many young women obtained employment in the factories where they would earn $5 to $7 per week. If there was any money left after she paid for rent, food, and clothing, it was sent back home. Some womenÕs families would require them to work in order to pay for the male siblings school tuition.
• 1900’s: Women who live and work on Minnesota farms contribute enormously with their unwaged labor. In addition to their work as a cook, laundress, domestic servant, nurse, and daycare provider, farm woman were also in charge of the poultry livestock, eggs, and the vegetable garden. The extra cash a brought in by selling eggs and vegetables made the difference between a farm being viable and having to take a loss.
1900’ employment opportunities open to women in the waged workforce were extensions of their unwaged work within the home: factory work such as sewing or canning, domestic servant, teacher, nurse. Women continued to be responsible for the unwaged work within the home, even if they did work a full-time waged position outside of the home.
• 1900’s: The majority of women who worked as domestic servants could usually expect to receive a room, food, and a uniform. In return they are required to give up their personal time to be at the beck and call of the family that employs them.
• 1900’s: As the rate of unions increase, so do the rate of women’s auxiliaries. By 1945 nearly every organized labor union had a ladies auxiliary. Most women were banned from union membership, but they were instrumental in the success of them. Women were nurturer, morale guardian, staffing food, walking the picket line, medical support, raising funds, but the were excluded from decision making and basically viewed upon as supportive.
1900: Minnesota was first in the nation for women working for wages outside of the home. One in nine women could be most likely be found employed as a nurse, teacher, domestic, or factory worker. In Minneapolis, 28.1% of women were the main income provider, and in 29.6% in St. Paul. However, the vast majority of women were expected to confine their work to the unwaged chores of home cleaning, cooking cleaning, child care, and gardening.
• 1905: Women continued to join clubs, organizations, and auxiliaries, in order to gain a collective voice against the poor wages and working conditions associated with both male and female work. Both former president Grover Cleveland and the editors of the Ladies’ Home journal warned women against joining such groups and viewed them as a threat to the well being of the home.1906: As more school governing boards are formed, they quickly establish qualification and guidelines for employing teachers. Their preferences are mainly for young, white, unmarried women to teach the elementary grades. The wages were set according to gender. Eighty-five per cent of all teachers in Minnesota were women who earned an average of $39 per month, compared to male teachers who earned an average of $49 per month.
• 1907: Minnesota joined two other states in setting minimum standards for nurses, the main employment option available to women interested in the medical field. Nurses generally worked 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week, for minimal pay.
• 1910: Approximately three hundred women living on the iron range were employed outside of the home. Women in the more professional jobs, such as teachers, nurse, and store operators tended to be American born, while women employed in the non-professional fields such as domestics, laundress, chamber maid, waitress, tended to be immigrant women. Up to 30% of the immigrant women earned extra money by offering bordering services within their home. Because the miners worked a variety of shifts, the women who boarded them had to work virtually around the clock to prepare meals and clean for them.
1910: The number of Minnesota children working full-time rose to 5,706. Ten years later, the number dropped to 3,725, but rose again to over 5,000 by 1940.
• 1910: Women represented 1 in 4 workers in the waged workforce. By 1930 they represented 3 in 10, and by 1940, they were 1 in 3. These numbers are greatly underrepresented as they only refer to waged work, and do not count women who are employed in seasonal, temporary, or part time work. A year later, the Minnesota Bureau reported that over 70% of women who worked for waged earned barely enough to survive. Women were often relegated low paying jobs with little opportunity for advancement. Due to their low wages, many women were forced to view marriage as a necessity for their economic survival. Among the more popular positions for women were teacher, nurse, domestic servant, and factory worker
1911 - 1917
1912: The women of Chatfield organized a cooperative laundry in an effort to lessen their individual workload.
• 1914: As men left their jobs to enlist during World War I, many opportunities were opened for women to work in the mines, lumber camps, and in skilled factory jobs. Women’s employment rates peaked during the war years. Minnesota women also performed unwaged labor for the government, including; selling savings and war bonds; setting up cooperative day care centers; knitting sweaters for enlisted men; rolling bandages; and performing various nursing duties for the Red Cross.
• 1914: Author May L. Spencer claimed that women are the most overworked persons on the family farm, with their endless responsibilities within the home, as well as their chores on the farm.
1916: A minor grievance at the St. James mine sparked a massive strike against the U.S. Steel subsidiary, Oliver Iron Mining Company. Within a week, most of the mines throughout the range were closed and estimates of 8,000 to 15,000 Mesabi mine workers were on strike. Among the miners demands were elimination of the contract system, an eight hour work day, and a daily wage to be paid twice a month. The Oliver Company responded by sending over 1,000 armed guards to protect the mines and keep them productive. The AFL demonstrated little interest in the workers plight, and the workers turned to the IWW for help. The IWW promptly sent in revolutionary speakers, such as Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Sam Scarlett, and Joseph Schmidt to rally support for the workers. The IWW had to organize workers in secrecy to avoid being reported by company spies, and they set up strike committees that were inclusive of all cultural backgrounds.
• 1916: While demonstrating in a parade in Hibbing, strikers engaged in physical altercations with the Oliver CompanyÕs armed guards. A few days later while demonstrating in Virginia, the strikers clashed once again with the armed guards. This time the guards opened fire on the strikers and killed John Alar, a mine worker and father of three. 1916: Oliver Company guards and deputies entered the home of a striker without a warrant and began to abuse the wife of a striker. The borders who were living at the house defended the woman, resulting in a mine guard and a passerby being killed. The occupants of the house were arrested, along with IWW leaders who were nowhere near the scene of the attack. The IWW leaders were charged with murder, on the grounds that their speeches were designed to instigate violence.
• 1916: Women’s auxiliary groups played an integral role during this struggle. After several labor leaders and IWW organizers were jailed, the women raised funds and worked in strike relief stores and kitchens. When the male miners were not allowed to strike, it was the women who walked the picket line with their children. The companyÕs guards did not display any sympathy toward the women and children. One newspaper reported that 150 armed guards in Hibbing attacked and beat the picketing women and children with riot sticks and revolvers. Community support grew for the strikers and local business offered to extend credit to the workers.
• 1916: A representative from the U.S. Commission of Industrial Relations was amazed to witness, “the length to which companies went in beating up, shooting, jailing, and terrorizing their workmen.” A person from the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry charged the guards and police with instigating the majority of violent acts. Among the violent acts were, three miner were shot by Oliver guards for picketing on public property; two men were killed by Oliver deputies during a fight. It is important to note that no charges were filled against the Oliver guards and deputies, but the authorities did arrest more than 200 workers during the labor dispute.
1916: The strikers funds quickly ran dry, and the strike was called off before their demands were met. The Oliver company did implement a ten percent wage increase and a “mutuality plan" to improve the living and working conditions of the miners. The strikers were generally not fired or blacklisted for their strike involvement as in the previous strike of 1907.
• 1916: Women were among the first employed by the Oliver Company’s mutuality plan. They worked as community health care nurses, seamstress’, dietitians, and gardeners.
• 1917: The Nonpartisan League (NPL), initially established in Bismark, ND by Minnesotan Arthur Townley, moved its headquarters from Fargo to St. Paul. The NPL was a pro-labor political organization whose platform included; state-ownership of terminal elevators, flour mills, packinghouses; voting rights for women; and tax-exemption for farm improvements. The NPL believed that if local government owned these resources, farm workers would greatly benefit as they were the largest voting constituency. During the war years, the NPL faced several attacks initiated by the Minnesota Commission of Public Safety and local businessmen who believed the NPL challenged their authority. NPL members and sympathizers were beaten, kicked out of the state, had their businesses vandalized, their offices searched, and had their privacy invaded with secret listening devices.
1918 - 1929
1918: The first teachers union in Minnesota, Local 28 of the American Federation of Teachers, was established in St. Paul.
• 1918: In an effort to prevent employers from exploiting women’s labor, a law was passed that forbade women to work more than 58 hours per week, for less than $9.00. Employers were also required to provide their workers with proper ventilation, sanitation, lighting, and a 60 minute lunch break.
• 1918: A special census taken of female iron range workers revealed that the American-born workers averaged 25 cents per hour for 56 hours per week, while immigrant women averaged 13 cents per hour for 67 hours per week. Women who worked in boarding houses fared worst of all, averaging 10 cents per hour for 100 hours per week. These waged work hours are all in addition to women’s unwaged work within the home.
1920’s: The Minnesota League of Women Voters worked vigorously to gain public support of a constitutional amendment which would ban child labor.
• 1920’s: Women constituted roughly 20% of the waged workforce, remained there throughout the 1930’s.
• 1920’s: Two major forms of discrimination against women during the 1920’s was a woman’s marital status and her race/culture. Over fifty per cent of employers reported they preferred unmarried women for their clerical jobs, and a study by the YWCA found that employers in St. Paul were considerably prejudice against black and Jewish women, preferring white Americans, Germans, and Scandinavians. Most black females worked as domestics workers, and most Hispanic females worked in the sugar-beet fields or in the meat-packing plants. Restriction on employment forced many intelligent and talented women to leave the state in search of more equitable working conditions.
• 1920’s: Lena Hill was the first black woman to practice law in Minnesota. She went on to become the first female president of the Minnesota NAACP.
• 1921: The NPL recognized the contributions of female farm workers, and advocated for women’s suffrage. As a result, many women became actively involved with the organization and joined one of their clubs for women.
• 1923: The Stenographer, Bookkeepers, and Tax Accountants (SBTA) , local 17661, was established, however, very few secretaries were a part of the union. The AFL and the CIO did not target the female-dominated positions as they did the male-dominated bookkeepers or accountants. After union membership dwindled, it was the female clerical workers who revitalized it in the mid 1930’s. The SBTA eventually renamed themselves the Office Workers Union.
• 1926: St. Louis Park schools fired three female teachers simply because they were married. Other school districts also discouraged the hiring of married women because, as the Minneapolis Superintendent of Schools stated, women were not able to appropriately care for their marriage if they worked for wages.
• 1927: The Strutwear Knitting Company locked out of a small number of knitters at the its Minneapolis plant. The company was founded in 1916 and had a long history of anti-labor activity. Plant managers employed spies to restrict labor activity and coerced employees to sign contracts which prevented them from joining labor unions. The management even fired non-union employees who had family ties to union members. The locked-out workers boycotted companyÕs goods and picketed over the next year.
• 1929: After the stock market crashed, the number of unemployed workers seeking financial relief soared. Females and minority workers were often replaced by white male workers, which rendered the women and minorities to be over-represented on relief status. Despite the small number of female headed households, women represented 46% of all relief recipients.
• 1929: A result of the anti-union drives of the early 1920’s was to have the smaller union locals consolidate their efforts to achieve greater power. Among those who consolidated were the Twin Cities culinary trades local unions of cooks, waiters, and waitresses.
1930’s: Nellie Stone Johnson, a black female labor leader, was the first woman to serve on a national committee to negotiate equal pay for women.