Philobiblon: Surviving as a shop-girl

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Surviving as a shop-girl

Just found a fascinating new e-text, Making Both Ends Meet: The Income and Outlay of New York Working Girls, by Sue Ainslie Clark and Edith Wyatt, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1911.

It presents a good argument to be thankful for living in the 21st century:

"Lucy Cleaver, a young American woman of twenty-five, ... had entered one of the New York department stores at the age of twenty, at a salary of $4.50 a week.

In the course of the five years of her employment her salary had been raised one dollar. She stood for nine hours every day. If, in dull moments of trade, when no customers were near, she made use of the seats lawfully provided for employees, she was at once ordered by a floor-walker to do something that required standing.

During the week before Christmas, she worked standing over fourteen hours every day, from eight to twelve-fifteen in the morning, one to six in the afternoon, and half past six in the evening till half past eleven at night. So painful to the feet becomes the act of standing for these long periods that some of the girls forego eating at noon in order to give themselves the temporary relief of a foot-bath. For this overtime the store gave her $20, presented to her, not as payment, but as a Christmas gift.

The management also allowed a week's vacation with pay in the summer-time and presented a gift of $10.

After five years in this position she had a disagreement with the floor-walker and was summarily dismissed.

She then spent over a month in futile searching for employment, and finally obtained a position as a stock girl in a Sixth Avenue suit store at $4 a week, a sum less than the wage for which she had begun work five years before. Within a few weeks, dullness of trade had caused her dismissal. She was again facing indefinite unemployment.

Her income for the year had been $281. She lived in a large, pleasant home for girls, where she paid only $2.50 a week for board and a room shared with her sister. Without the philanthropy of the home, she could not have made both ends meet.

It was fifteen minutes' walk from the store, and by taking this walk twice a day she saved carfare and the price of luncheon. She did her own washing, and as she could not spend any further energy in sewing, she bought cheap ready-made clothes. This she found a great expense. ...

After giving practically all her time and force to her work, she had not received a return sufficient to conserve her health in the future, or even to support her in the present without the help of philanthropy. She was ill, anæmic, nervous, and broken in health."

3 Comments:

Blogger CE Petro said...

What a powerful account of life for the average woman.

1/30/2005 01:22:00 pm  
Blogger Mark G. said...

Hi Natalie, that's a vivid passage.

Just by way of getting a feel for the blogosphere, I've been keeping track of where TTLB ranks me each morning, and who is the next critter above me. This morning you are. Hi, neighbor! - War Historian

1/31/2005 12:27:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Hi neighbour! And to think you are already on my blogroll. As I've been saying since I ended up sharing a hostel room in Istanbul with a woman from the same small country town in Australia that I'd just left, it's a big world, but there aren't that many people in it. (At least not that many people who move in the same circles.)

1/31/2005 12:42:00 pm  

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