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50 most common jobs held by women 100 years ago

  • #40. Janitors and sextons

    - Total female employment: 29,038

    Janitors and janitresses were responsible for overseeing maintenance of apartment buildings, typically as live-in labor. They shoveled coal into boilers, cleaned out ash and trash, fixed pipes, did repairs, and washed windows, always on call to meet tenants’ needs. Their living quarters were often in the basement.

  • #39. Foreman and overseers (manufacturing)

    - Total female employment: 30,171

    In the years following World War I, most manufacturing employees worked at plants with at least 100 workers, and a third worked at plants with more than 1,000 workers. The role of the foreman was to represent management, setting the pace of production, deciding on pay, and assigning tasks and shifts. The job also included the authority to fire workers at will.

  • #38. Candy factory operatives

    - Total female employment: 31,368

    A century ago, commercial candy production flourished. Fannie May opened its first retail candy store in Chicago, and Jujyfruits, Mound Bars, Chuckles, Gummi Bears, the Charleston Chew, Baby Ruth bars, Milky Way bars, Mr. Goodbar, Milk Duds, Heath Bars, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups—all still popular today—made their debuts in the 1920s.

  • #37. Tailoresses

    - Total female employment: 31,828

    Tailoresses, or dressmakers, could capitalize on their sewing skills, which were traditionally taught to girls. They often would work for upper class women who did not want to sew or mend their own clothes.

  • #36. Printing, publishing, and engraving operatives

    - Total female employment: 32,545

    Printing and publishing jobs were available as the industry advanced technologically. Offset presses became the most common form of lithography, and addressing, duplicating, and labeling machines were introduced as were the first paperback books in the 1930s.

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  • #35. Barbers, hairdressers, and manicurists

    - Total female employment: 33,246

    Opportunities for hairdressers and manicurists grew as the salon business grew, and women no longer were having their hair styled by servants. In the 1920s, nearly 25,000 hair salons opened in the United States, and women enjoyed such innovations as electric hair dryers, permanent waves, and hair color.

  • #34. Iron and steel and machinery factory operatives

    - Total female employment: 36,338

    To equip an industrializing nation, manufacturers were busily producing the equipment the country’s consumers needed. The machine tool industry was booming to meet demand for sewing machines, typewriters, railroad supplies, armaments, automobiles, and airplanes.

  • #33. Non-specified textile mill operatives

    - Total female employment: 36,374

    Women found work in textile mills in part because their low wages kept production costs down. At best, no matter what their skill level, they were paid three-quarters of what unskilled men earned. Women working in textile mills suffered from high rates of brown lung disease, and there was little protection against machinery accidents.

  • #32. Shirt, collar, and cuff factory operatives

    - Total female employment: 42,016

    In women’s fashion, the functional, button-down blouse called a shirtwaist became the popular staple for working women, so its production was a source of employment. Shirtwaists were embellished with lace or detailed stitching on the collars and cuffs. A working woman in a crisp, tailored shirtwaist became a lasting image of the women’s rights movement of the era.

  • #31. Other manufacturing industry operatives

    - Total female employment: 46,196

    Women were finding more jobs in an array of industries such as chemical, glass, and metal manufacturing as the nation industrialized, and they were doing less in traditional piecework at home. Due in part to pressure by the federal Women’s Bureau and trade unions, by the 1920s, 45 states instituted 10-hour days and 50-hour work weeks. The other five states had 54-hour work weeks.

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