Home Collections Women at Work: Manual Labor Factory Labor: Other
Factory Labor: Other

Automobile Industry Photograph Collection
Mss 543 1931-1944 A939
Publicity photographs of American automobile manufacturers include images of models posed with automobiles, as well as photographs of plants, war work, and industry stunts and events.

Walter Baker Collection
Mss 435 1812-1945
Labor records and marketing materials of a New England chocolate manufacturer in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Ball and Fobes, Fobes and Hayward Collection
Mss 425 1850-1895
Labor records of a nineteenth-century New England candy manufacturer include women workers.

Industrial Life Photograph Collection
Mss 1412 1920-1941 B979
Includes images of women and men working in twentieth-century factories.

Caleb Lincoln Collection
Mss 100 1791-1803 L737
Mentions two young girls working in a paper mill.

Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company Collection
Mss 442 1845-1947
The records of a Massachusetts cotton manufacturer include signed contracts with women workers from 1878 to 1911.

Isaac G. Pierson and Brothers Collection
Mss 501 1795-1865
Records of nineteenth-century nail and cotton factories include employee records for women workers and company store records.

Plymouth Cordage Company Collection
Mss 463 1824-1966 P738
The records of a rope manufacturer include employment records for women workers and information on company welfare systems and medical care.

Scovill Manufacturing Company Collection
Mss 590 1790-1956 S432
Records of a Connecticut manufacturer of brass objects include information about women factory workers, as well as records on organized labor and employee club activities involving women.

Thorndike Company Collection
Mss 442 1836-1918
Labor records and stock ledger of two Massachusetts textile manufacturers with women employees and women investors.

Waltham Watch Company Collection
Mss 598 1854-1929
Records of a watch manufacturer in Waltham, Massachusetts, include information on women workers.

Western Electric Hawthorne Studies Collection
Mss 583 1924-1934
Records of a Chicago study in industrial and employee relations (from 1924 to 1934) include productivity measurements, reports, research papers, transcripts of conversations, and extensive interviews with women workers in an electrical plant.



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Publicity photograph of Curtis "Helldiver" wing production line in 1944 Hudson Motor Car war production plant.

This publicity photo from the Hudson Motor Car Company was probably released early in 1944, with assurance of permission from military authorities stamped on the back. As a woman overseer looks on, two women wield riveting guns on a wing for a Curtiss Helldiver, a carrier-based dive bomber used by the U. S. Navy in the Pacific Theater during World War Two. Close by, men and women are bent over their tasks for the photograph, but further down the line workers are watching the photographer. One of them is a woman, too.

Until the Second World War, a woman would have been a rare sight in an automobile plant. Women constituted only seven percent of the 1939 membership of the United AutoWorkers. In 1942, however, the War Manpower Commission initiated a campaign to attract women to the work force, spurred by Franklin Roosevelt’s call to action. Initially, men moved from other sectors into building ships and airplanes, and women were asked to fill up the spaces they left behind. By 1943, women were encouraged to contribute directly to the war effort.

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Publicity photograph of a Hudson Motor Car Company worker training class for women.

Drawn by appeals to patriotism in songs like "Rosie the Riveter," glamorous magazine images of women at work in war manufacturing, better working conditions, and higher rates of pay, many women flocked to assembly lines. In publicity materials, they were portrayed most often as emerging directly from behind the stove, putting family needs aside for patriotic duty. In fact, at least half of women defense workers had been in the work force before the war, and a significant percentage of the other half came straight from school.

That women workers in the defense industry were often already in the work force is illustrated by this second Hudson publicity photograph, depicting women automobile workers attending training class. "Again leading the way," the caption reads, Hudson planned to retrain more than 1,000 women workers to move from automobile to war production plants.

As many historians have noted, the "Rosies" represented a short-lived peak in the context of steadily rising women’s employment in the twentieth century. Of the 208,000 women workers in the auto industry during the war, 60,800 were left in 1946, up only 2 percent from pre-war totals.

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