Women at Work

started 26 July 1998 - updated 24 March 2004
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Column 18. Trade or profession. - An entry should be made in this column for every person enumerated. The occupation, if any, followed by a child, of any age, or by a woman is just as important, for census purposes, as the occupation followed by a man. Therefore it must never be taken for granted, without inquiry, that a woman, or a child, has no occupation.

(Instructions to Enumerators, Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910)

At the Office

Given current regulations on harassment in the workplace, I don't think we read these cards in quite the same way as would the people sending them in the early 1900s. (The first two are part of a series, with the same two people posing.)

circa 1911
"When seated near a pretty maid
It's hard to keep your thoughts on trade."

1911 postmark
"Her thoughts on business are not deep,
As round her waist your fingers creep."

It's not visible here, but on the original image, close inspection reveals that the man is married. (The wedding ring on his left hand is highlighted in gold, as are the trim details on the furniture and her clothing and jewelry.)

Busy at the Office (1909 postmark)
Is the surprised (or vaguely outraged) young man really the beau of the woman smooching with the older man behind the closed door?
Mechanical Valuation Department, Oct. 3, 1933, Meadville, Pa.
Given the involvement of engineers, we should not be surprised that this photo is neatly labelled and dated. Seated at the center of the group is
"Mid" Johnston, the stenographer, apparently the only woman in the office. She perhaps gets the place of honor because of that distinction. All the men are listed as junior engineers, except for the very nattily dressed H.M. Manigault (behind Mid ), who was the Asst. Valuation Engineer; the man next to him, Frank Walling, who was the clerk; and Jonnie Stockholm (seated to right of Mid), who was the computer. (Obviously he was a very early model. Note the lack of a hard drive or even a floppy disk.)

In Service

Real photo postcard, circa 1910
This woman posed in her maid's uniform.
Studio: Wm. Aimer, Photographer, Perth
"Pay Up Now" - 1912 postmark
The woman on the right appears to be the maid threatening to leave, but what's behind the angry glare? Is the man trying to stop her from picking up her case? Is the other woman restraining him?
"Alvina the Cook"
Real photo postcard, circa 1910
She wears a plain white dress. All the other girls appear to be wearing school uniforms. This and the following photo were part of a group of that came out of the same album. Another card in this group was addressed to Miss Clara Niemann at the Lutheran Home for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic in Watertown, Wisconsin. (Note there is a Clara in this group photo, back row on left.)
March 2004 - This and the following photo have been donated to Bethesda Lutheran Homes & Services in Watertown (formerly the Lutheran Home for the Feeble-Minded) along with the other real photo postcards from the same album.

Other occupations

Is she a doctor?
Real photo postcard, circa 1910

There are two names written on the back of this photo. "Doctor MacMullen" under the correspondence section and "Miss Clara Niemann" under the name and address section. I have no evidence but I believe that the photo was given to Clara Niemann (see photo above) and the woman shown here is Doctor MacMullen. With her spectacles and serious expression, she has the look of a professional woman. Photo by Wood of Chicago.
March 2004 update: Thanks to Dot Newberg of Bethesda Lutheran Homes who came across this biography of Della MacMullen M.D. (scroll down through the list). I found a listing in the 1930 census for Della M. MacMullen, age 60, Medical Physician, living at 357 West 63rd Street in Chicago. (Clara Niemann apparently came from Chicago originally since the postcards from family and friends were mailed from there.)
Cabinet card from the studio of
circa 1890

I bought this photograph not for the image, but for the name of the photographer. Kate Bryant appears to have taken over business from her husband or a male relative. The 1889 Indianapolis city directory lists only David C. Bryant as a photographer at this address, 6 E. Washington Street. By 1890, Kate Bryant is listed as a photographer working at another address. She was still in business in 1900.
March 2004 update- Here's some more information on Kate Bryant

(Best image I could get)
"Bible Class in English at Malolos, Philippines"- 1922 postmark
The woman at center in a white shirtwaist with dark tie is most likely an American missionary. (The Filipinas wear traditional Maria Claras with butterfly wing sleeves. The Filipinos wear white suits or barong tagalogs.) This
printed message on reverse came from "A Dead-in-Earnest Missionary" in Manila to Methodist Episcopal Sunday School Superintendents and others in the U.S.

In the case of a woman doing housework in her own home, without salary or wages, and having no other employment, the entry in column 18 [Trade or profession] should be none. . . . A woman working regularly at outdoor farm work, even though she works on the home farm for her husband, son, or other relative and does not receive money wages, should be returned in column 18 as a farm laborer. . . . Of course a woman who herself operates or runs a farm should be reported as a farmer.

(Instructions to Enumerators, Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910)

Real photo postcard, circa 1906 - Probably British.

This is a good illustration of the phrase "cottage industry" given the stone and thatch building behind them. Take a slightly closer look at just the women. The woman seated beside the spinning wheel has wool in her lap. The older woman standing on the right appears to have some knitwork in her hand. (I can't tell if it's crochet or knitting, but there's a needle or hook in her right hand, and a strand of yarn hanging from her left hand disappears into her pocket.) The younger woman on the left holds an as-yet-unidentified device in her lap. Is this a family group? The man standing on the right seems more of a tourist than a relation.

March 2004 - Received the following e-mail from Susan Quinn in Scotland:
The device the woman on the left is holding is a wool winder. The skein of wool is taken and put over wooden arms, which is what looks like the long strip across the device, and by turning a handle the wool is wound onto an axle type thing, this is the post sticking up at the left hand side of the device. The girls' left hand is resting on the handle that turns the winder. My mother had a more modern version of one of these from the forties and fifties when wool normally came in hanks or skeins and had to be hand wound before knitting. I also worked in a local museum here is Scotland where we had one similar in age to that in the picture. I believe this picture comes from the Shetland Islands as I have seen similar. In the background can be seen fishing lines and nets stretched out to dry over an upturned boat (I think) after having been mended and baited probably by the ladies in the picture.
Thanks for the info, Susan!

Salon de 1908 - L'Habit Bleu [The Blue Coat]
par Alexis Vollon
- French.
I assume this is a staged, artsy photograph trying to reflect the everyday life of a peasant girl. The woman may perhaps work more as a professional model than a seamstress.

French artist
Alexis Vollon (1865-1945)
Real photo postcard, circa 1910s
I don't have any other obvious photos of women working at home, probably because they would generally stop working and freshen up for the camera. This woman seems particularly proud of her horse and her garden.

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