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U s women roles in 1900 1945

Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice. Once focused closely on institutional dynamics in the workplace and electoral politics, labor history has expanded and refined its approach to include questions about the families, communities, identities, and cultures workers have developed over time.

Particularly important are the ways that workers both defined and were defined by differences of race, gender, ethnicity, class, and place. Individual workers and organized groups of working Americans both transformed and were transformed by the main struggles of the industrial era, including conflicts over the place of former slaves and their descendants in the United States, mass immigration and migrations, technological change, new management and business models, the development of a consumer economy, the rise of a more active federal government, and the evolution of popular culture.

The period between 1896 and 1945 saw a crucial transition in the labor and working-class history of the United States. At its outset, Americans were working many more hours a day than the eight for which they had fought hard in the late 19th century.

On average, Americans labored fifty-four to sixty-three hours per week in dangerous working conditions approximately 35,000 workers died in accidents annually at the turn u s women roles in 1900 1945 the century.

By 1920, half of all Americans lived in growing urban neighborhoods, and for many of them chronic unemployment, poverty, and deep social divides had become a regular part of life. Workers had little power in either the Democratic or Republican party. The ranks of organized labor were shrinking in the years before the economy began to recover in 1897.

Women's History Matters

Dreams of a more democratic alternative to wage labor and corporate-dominated capitalism had been all but destroyed. Workers struggled to find their place in an emerging consumer-oriented culture that assumed everyone ought to strive for the often unattainable, and not necessarily desirable, marks of middle-class u s women roles in 1900 1945.

Yet American labor emerged from World War II with the main sectors of the industrial economy organized, with greater earning potential than any previous generation of American workers, and with unprecedented power as an organized interest group that could appeal to the federal government to promote its welfare. The labor and working-class history of the United States between 1900 and 1945, then, is the story of how working-class individuals, families, and communities—members of an extremely diverse American working class—managed to carve out positions of political, economic, and cultural influence, even as they remained divided among themselves, dependent upon corporate power, and increasingly invested in a individualistic, competitive, acquisitive culture.

In the eyes of the law, Americans generally—with the exception of married white women—had a responsibility to work, but their sole right at work was the right to quit. Great changes were taking place, yet Americans generally believed that even more change was needed if the republic were to survive and thrive in the industrial era. In the workplace as much as in surrounding communities, Americans feared the implications of this new era of global economic expansion.

Political and ideological violence may have been rare, but when violence broke out, it both stigmatized and divided labor groups, even as it brought swift reactions from local police, private detective firms, and state and federal officials. The labor violence and economic upheavals of the late 19th century had been horrific enough to convince many powerful Americans that reform was necessary.

In 1898, Republican president William McKinley, who would be assassinated in 1901 by the anarchist Leon Czolgosz, appointed the United States Industrial Commission to study the causes of labor violence. At the same time, a broad group of largely middle-class and elite Americans, soon to be known as Progressives, set out to document and then ameliorate the worst forms of corruption in the economy and politics, and to soften the edges of the new industrial system by making workplaces, consumer products, and neighborhoods safer and healthier.

Jeffrey Helgeson

There was no single Progressive Era social movement; rather, reformers sought everything from antitrust legislation, shorter working hours, and safer workplaces to bans on child labor, protective legislation for female workers, and reforms that would clean up manufacturing and the political process.

These top-down reform efforts—efforts that emphasized the need for greater efficiency and order in the economy and at the workplace—would be deeply ambiguous for workers.

But they reflected an important move away from the commitments to Social Darwinism and laissez-faire principles that had defined the Gilded Age.

Progressive reform itself could become a form of social control. For most workers, the greatest fears derived from the accelerating changes at the workplace that were well underway by the turn of the century. There were benefits as production skyrocketed across the economy. Whereas the pick miner in a coal shaft produced 2. Simultaneously, the kinds of occupations Americans held and their experiences at work changed dramatically, not always for the worse.

Gangs of day laborers were transformed into legions of semiskilled workers running transportation and equipment handling machines. Skilled, independent workers in iron and steel production became semiskilled machinists and repair technicians. These mechanized factories also required the development of a whole new set of tool-and-die makers. Overall, there was an upward leveling u s women roles in 1900 1945 of mechanization.

Between 1910 and 1930, the proportion of unskilled workers in industrial work fell from 36 to 30. Black men, when they were not stuck in sharecropping or tenant farming, were generally relegated to the hot, heavy, hard jobs, and most black women were forced to accept the long hours and lack of independence in domestic service.

As early as 1877, two-thirds of American workers were wage laborers, with little hope of opening their own shops or owning their own farms. By 1940, no more than one-fifth of the population of the United States were self-employed. Nativism was on the rise, and workers were divided by skill, craft, race, gender, and region.

In This Article

On the other hand, business leaders and their allies in politics and the press played workers of different backgrounds against one another in order to undercut the possibility of shared militancy. It would be difficult, even for the most privileged workers, to fight for a place in the system. Fighting for a Place in the System With a significant economic recovery underway in 1897, American labor leaders began a new organizing push, primarily through the American Federation of Labor AFLrailroad brotherhoods, and various unaffiliated unions.

These organizations largely excluded racial minorities and women, and this model of organizing sought to come to terms with, rather than to transform, corporate dominance of the industrial economy.

It is true, however, that the AFL assumed that trade unionists would speak for all American workers in the political sphere. The railroad brotherhoods exerted significant, if informal, political influence through allies like Theodore Roosevelt in the Republican Party. Many, though hardly all, employers had initially accepted the rise of the AFL, even going as far as voluntarily recognizing unions and forming the National Civic Federation, a coalition of labor and business leaders u s women roles in 1900 1945 cooperation in the economy.

Employers divided workers by national origin and regularly employed strikebreaking replacement workers. As a result of such attacks on organized labor, membership in unions actually dropped in 1905 and remained stagnant for the next five years.

These were important gains for workers, but they remained limited in no small part by the failure of the AFL to imagine an alliance with the vast majority of unorganized workers. Radical Alternatives in the Progressive Era Workers frustrated with the exclusionary practices and political moderation of the AFL could turn to an embattled world of labor radicalism which was going through something of a renaissance after the defeats of the 1880s and 1890s. American radicals—led by the socialist Eugene V.

Within a decade the SP had built more than three thousand local branches and forty-two state organizations. Dozens of candidates affiliated with the new party won municipal and county elections on town squares stretching from Texas through Illinois to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Debs, won 897,000 votes in his run for the presidency in 1912 and more than a million votes for president in 1920, while he was in prison after being convicted of sedition during World War I.

Although workers suffered oppressive conditions in sweatshops, they were isolated from the rest of the workforce, and they could not take action directly against the manufacturers.

But as manufacturers moved production to larger factories in order to produce standardized clothing and to distance themselves from the increasingly negative reputation of sweatshops—spread by Progressive reformers—the larger shops also brought unskilled workers out of their relative isolation.

Working conditions did not necessarily improve in larger shops, but opportunities to build worker solidarity presented themselves. After years of suffering, garment workers organizing came in quick surges: In one of the most dramatic moments in U. Speaking in Yiddish, she called her fellow garment workers to action.

Within two days, approximately 20,000 workers from 500 factories were on strike. These events also revealed the politicization of immigrant women in the industry and showed that immigrant workers could be organized, contrary to much AFL commentary.

Along with the United Mineworkers, the garment workers forged a new model of unionism, demonstrating that a pragmatic industrial unionism could succeed as well as the more hidebound craft unionism of the AFL. In this, the new unions were important exceptions to the rule of non-socialist craft organizing of the era. Roosevelt Library Photographs, 1870—2004, Franklin D.

Founded in Chicago in 1904, the IWW took inspiration from a group from the Western Federation of Miners who had u s women roles in 1900 1945 radicalized during a series of violent strikes in Idaho, Montana, and Colorado. IWW membership peaked at 600,000 in 1916, riding a wave of important victories and broader socialist sentiment. The IWW sustained a thread of American radicalism that otherwise might have been lost.

In the electoral arena, the SP never managed to reach the status of a viable third national party. Moreover, to the extent that Socialist politicians, such as Victor Berger and his allies in Milwaukee, made gains toward practical reform, they also distanced themselves from the more radical class politics of much of the American left. Similarly, when socialist trade unionists rose to the leadership ranks in AFL unions, their pragmatism emerged.

The IWW—in part because the Wobblies had some success, and in part because they sustained an unflagging rhetorical radicalism—also became the target of government and vigilante repression.

The Role of Women 1900 to 1945

During World War I, 1,200 miners suspected of being aligned with the IWW in Bisbee, Arizona, were rounded up, forced onto a freight train at gunpoint, and abandoned in the desert without food or water for a day and half before a nearby military commander arranged for their extradition to New Mexico. At the same time, the federal government raided IWW offices across the country and convicted hundreds of Wobblies for antiwar speech. In the end, the IWW became one of the driving forces behind the rise of the American Civil Liberties Union and the push for protections of free speech during and after World War I, but the Wobblies could u s women roles in 1900 1945 save themselves from this repression.

By the end of the war, with many of its leaders imprisoned, deported, or having fled the country, the IWW was unable to sustain itself as an institution. Still more obstacles stood in the way of mass labor organizing in the first decades of the 20th century. Chief among them were the racial and ethnic divisions that ran through the shop floors of American industry. Historians have examined in great detail the intraclass racism that blocked white workers from acting in ways that would have been truly class-conscious.

Between the late 19th century and World War I, tens of thousands of black workers gained access to unions, some all-black but some biracial in organization. Yet unions often acted as agents of division; some included racial exclusion clauses in their constitutions, while others gave lip service to solidarity while declaring that, in practice, black workers would undercut the wages and opportunities of white workers.

Black workers, they feared, could outwork white workers, and black workers would do it on the cheap. Caucasian civilization will serve notice that its uplifting process is not to be interfered with in any such way. The black political leader Ida B.

Workers and labor reformers also struggled to organize during one the most conservative eras in United States judicial history. In its 1905 decision in Lochner v.

New York 198 U. Also in 1908, the Court found that labor boycotts of employers had been banned by the 1890 Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Even when the Court did support the constitutionality of reform measures, as in the 1908 Muller v.

The 1926 Railway Labor Act required railway industry employers to engage in collective bargaining and banned discrimination against unions in the railway industry this was expanded to airlines in 1936.

By 1932, then, in the face of much judicial resistance, legislators had responded to growing public alarm by initiating a revolution in labor law that would come to fruition when the Supreme Court upheld the 1935 National Labor Relations Act.

The federal government spurred a national mobilization of the workforce and economic resources, while coordinating industrial planning.

American Labor and Working-Class History, 1900–1945

Although the government went so far as to take over the railroads, the federal intervention in the economy hardly represented wartime socialism. In essence, the federal government forged a larger role in managing the economy with the primary goal of efficient war-related production. This managed economy also facilitated the private accumulation of capital for employers and benefited masses of workers. Why was this a boon for unions and workers?

In the first place, the wartime economy required labor peace. Therefore, the federal government facilitated the formation and growth of unions. At the same time, the wartime economic boom required many new workers. With the end of European immigration and the draft of white men into the military, women and African Americans found new opportunities.