Illinois Staats-Zeitung -- April 23, 1864Seamstresses Strive for Increase in Wages (Editorial)
If any class of workers deserves sympathy and support in its endeavors to obtain an increase in wages, it is the seamstresses. In an earlier article, we described the sad plight of the women and girls who work in the garment factories in New York. We emphasized the fact that it would be much to the advantage of these feminine wage earners if they would acquire positions as maids and housekeepers, who are always greatly in demand. The house, and not the factory is the proper sphere of a woman's activity. We also called attention to the fact that many native-born seamstresses cannot obtain housework because they know nothing about running a home.
It must also be taken into account that the great demand by the Army for uniforms, tents, etc., has made female labor in garment and tent factories indispensable, and that soldiers' wives who have no children are forced to 2do sewing in order to support themselves. And it is the duty of society to see to it that these women, who are doing work necessary for the welfare of the country, receive wages that will enable them to live at least like human beings.
Many of them cannot make a living, not even the girls and women who work in factories operated by contractors who are partly under government supervision. When, for instance, some philanthropists of Philadelphia investigated the conditions prevailing among the female employes in the arsenal of that city, they reported the following:
Women and girls who hold cards permitting them to work in the arsenal get $2.16 for making eight pairs of infantry pants, or twenty-seven cents a pair, and they get four dollars for making eight pairs of cavalry pants. However, one woman or girl cannot make eight pairs of either kind of pants in a week. The pay for other work is much less. A woman reported that her pay for making 3a pair of military pants was decreased from ten to four cents; for making a cavalry coat, from $1.25 to ninety cents; and for making a tent, from twenty-five to sixteen cents. She said it was a good day's work to make three tents, and that it was required of her to sew forty-six buttons on each tent, and to make forty-six buttonholes and twenty loopholes, all for sixteen cents.
Another woman told the investigators that she was employed at making shirts, that she received 12½ cents a shirt, and had to work diligently from early morning to ten o'clock at night in order to earn four dollars a week. Another said that she received seventy-five cents for making a dozen hats, and that her average weekly wage for working from seven o'clock in the morning until eleven o'clock at night was five dollars. Another woman stated that she was more than fifty years old, that her son was in the army, and that she was obliged to work for the support of herself and one child, that she worked at 4the arsenal and received $2.16 for making eight pairs of pants and $2.40 for making sixteen shirts.
Nearly all the women and girls complained that they were treated roughly and contemptuously by all except a few of the officers of the arsenal. And corruption is found even in such institutions. At least, one of the employes claimed that there is better-paid work available, but that the clerks take this work home and have it done by their mothers, or sisters, or wives, or fiancees, who earn as much as fourteen dollars a week. One of the clerks provides his mother and two sisters with this better-paid work, and a third sister is employed at the arsenal at six dollars a week. And the most revolting thing about this sad affair is that these poor wretches are forced to work under such revolting conditions in a government-controlled institution, and must suffer under the greed and selfishness of officers who should set a good example for others in respect to the wages they pay and their conduct toward their employes.5
The Philadelphia investigators intended to bring the matter to the attention of Congress and to demand that the guilty be punished and that a more humane policy be followed hereafter.
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