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Industrialization - Student Activities

Activity 3: Where Are The Women?

Why were there very few businesses started or owned by women in 1900?
Rath Packing Company At this time women did not have the opportunities for work that women do today. Women did not have equal rights with men. Married women were usually expected to work in their homes but not in business and industry. When women did work in industry it was often in a job that was considered “women’s work” such as a garment factory running a sewing machine.

In this case many women would work together. Women would almost never work side by side with men in a factory setting.

Women could not apply for most jobs. When unmarried women did get work outside of their homes, they were often paid less than what men received for the same work.

Why were women not considered equal to men?
It wasn’t until the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920 that women won the right to vote. It was argued that women didn’t want to vote, that they didn’t have the knowledge to be informed voters or that they couldn’t serve in the military. Women were thought to be weaker and incapable of performing leadership roles. Women were valued in their homes, but not usually in public life.

What kinds of work did most women do at this time?
Most women worked in their home or another person’s home. Unmarried women often worked as hired help in the home of another family. They cleaned, cooked, ironed, canned, hauled water, washed clothes and did everything that needed to be done in the home—often without machines to make the work easier.

Local Red Cross nurses, required to wear veils for sanitary purposes, prepare socks and sweaters for WWI Soldiers: 1918.

But many unmarried women taught school. This was one job outside the home that provided women with opportunities for leadership. Being a school teacher allowed women respect in their community. But if a female teacher married she was expected to stop teaching.

Teacher in Classroom

Some unmarried women found work in businesses such as the North Star Egg Case Company in Waterloo.

North Star Egg Case Company, Waterloo, Iowa, circa 1910

Later, unmarried women found work in businesses such as the Waterloo Courier.

Waterloo Courier Composing Room, circa 1925


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