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Pittsburgh Women in Organized Labor @ Pitt Archives: Post- WWI through the 1960s

The Roles of Women in Pittsburgh's Labor History as seen through the University of Pittsburgh's Archives & Special Collections

After WWI

While many of the men normally employed in industry were away fighting during World War II, women were called in greater numbers to (temporarily) fill some of their positions. To encourage workers to patriotically maximize wartime production, Westinghouse Electric placed Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller’s 1942 poster, “We Can Do It” in their factories. An article in the UE Victory News proclaimed “Now that the opening of a second front in Europe is assured by the agreement reached between Roosevelt, Molotov, and Churchill, the role of women in industry in this country becomes increasingly more important…” However, other factors also drew greater numbers of women into employment. An increased number of women in the population, as well as married women with economic needs, resulted in greater numbers of employed women¹. The war opened new employment opportunities for many women, although some women began working before the war and continued to do so afterwards. 

There were many examples of Pittsburgh women working outside of the home prior to World War II. Anna Simak began working at the Union Switch Signal Company in 1925, at the age of 16. Sisters Margaret Darin Stasik and Evelyn Oswaldina Darin worked for the East Pittsburgh Westinghouse Electric Company starting in the late 1920s. Mary Cozzicoli, daughter of an Italian immigrant father and an Italian descendent mother, worked in a sorting mill for Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation’s Aliquippa Works during the 1930s.These women were just a few of many individuals who became involved with Union efforts and continued to work during World War II. 

Issues of Working Women

Because women entered the workforce in greater numbers during World War II, there were new issues that had to be addressed. Many women questioned the sustainability of their jobs after the war. They realized that many previously employed men would return to reclaim their jobs. Women who worked during the war still had less seniority than the men who had left to fight, so these women were highly likely to lose their positions after the war. Because they had little representation from organized labor, many women would be pushed back into lower-paying, typically female, "pink collar" jobs. 

Other concerns also arose about women in the workforce. During a Women Leaders Conference with Industry during World War II, industry leaders noted excessive absences from women not used to working outside of the home. Many married women struggled to balance home life and work life. They were still expected to perform domestic duties in addition to their new jobs. Some workplaces, such as department stores, implemented shorter work shifts of 4-5 hours as a solution. However, this fix was not always practical nor possible within all work spaces.

Regardless of the issues that women workers faced, the women who had begun to work outside of the home during the war did not retreat into the domestic sphere after the war ended. Although they were pushed back into more "feminine" occupations, women constituted a much larger percentage of the workforce than they had before the war. These women were in the workforce to stay, and many of them were prepared to fight for better opportunities and equality. 

Rust Engineering

Bookkeepers, 1917

Women Engineers, 1925

Anna Madden, telephone operator, 1917

Rust Engineering produced equipment and facilities for heavy industry. By the 1950s, the company was renowned across the country for its engineering. However, it remained extremely important to the Pittsburgh area. Women held numerous positions within Rust Engineering throughout the years. These positions ranged from telephone operator to engineer. However, many women remained in relatively "feminine" positions. There were many departments in which no women worked or in which women rarely worked. The number of women in each department varied from year to year.

According to the Pittsburgh Office Personnel Directory from the 1970s, there were no women in the following departments: Cost Analyst Department; Engineering Department; Staff Engineers; Project Engineers; Architectural Section; Clerical Section; Electrical Section; Instrumentation Section; Layout Section; Piping Section; Specifications Section; Estimating Department; Planning and Scheduling Department; Foreign Offices; and Rust Associates Ltd. Additionally, there were no women Rust Corporate Officers.

All of the other departments of Rust Engineering had women workers, although the ratio of men to women in each of these departments widely varied. Some departments contained very small percentages of women workers. The Chimney and Boiler Department, the Mechanical Section, the Structural Section, the Project Department, the Rust Furnace Company, and the Vibroflotation Company primarily consisted of male workers. In contrast, departments such as the Computer Department and the Personnel Department largely consisted of women. The Stenographic Section and the Executive Department had only women workers. The ratio of female to male workers was becoming more equal during the 1970s, yet the job titles that women could obtain were still largely determined by sex.

In addition to the limited occupations that women held within the company, there were also personal health issues. During the 1950s and 1960s, women who worked at Rust Engineering were subject to termination in employment due to pregnancy. According to the "General Information and Policies for Employees" packet of the 1950s-1960s, "Termination of employment will be effective immediately following the third month of pregnancy". This policy did eventually change, however, as new policies against discrimination were enacted. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act Of 1964, which prevented discrimination against workers based upon characteristics such as sex or race, helped with the issue of termination due to pregnancy. 


Union Labor Report Special Supplement

The Union Labor Report was a labor bulletin produced by the Bureau of National Affairs. This bi-weekly bulletin focused on labor issues. This "Special Supplement" report, released on July 3, 1964, provided subscribers with information pertaining to the Equal Employment Opportunity Law. The Equal Employment Opportunity Law, or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibited employers from discriminating against employees based upon sex, race, national origin, color, and religion. This bulletin details what Title VII means to both employers and employees. It also provides the text of the law. 

Labor Unrest Continues

Women were beginning to reach beyond the domestic sphere and to work outside of the home, yet there were still many who took part in union activities on behalf of their husbands and children. During the April 1928 Coal Walkout in Bentleyville, a borough in Washington County, the wives of United Mineworkers of America members and the wives of Save-the-Union committee members participated in marches and demonstrations on behalf of the workers. On April 17, about 150 women marched to the Acme Mine and began demonstrating.

Women also participated in violent outbreaks in 4 different areas of Western Pennsylvania- New Kensington, Westland, California, and Ellsworth- on June 9, 1931. Although these women were not necessarily working members of the protesting union, their participation within these fights for better conditions and pay were important. They recognized that better conditions and pay for their spouses and children also affected them.

Women Soldering, Fred Wright

US Steel National Defense Program Identification Card Listings

The United States Steel National Defense Program Identification Card listings include the names, addresses, sex, and occupations of the workers of US Steel's National Works of McKeesport in the 1940s. During World War II, because the National Defense Program oversaw war production, workers in factories producing war goods were issued identification cards. This way, the government could keep track of the individuals in production and ensure the reliability of the productions. These identification cards also provide insight into the demographics of the workers. In the US Steel list of the 1940s, there were many more men listed than women, indicating that more men worked within US Steel than woman. Out of the women who are listed, there were very few black women. Also notable are the listed occupations of the women, as many of them held labor positions rather than occupations of higher skill and pay. 

Union Support

Hotel and Restaurant Union Supports UE Local 601, 1946

Westinghouse Electric

The United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE) conducted research about the companies in which UE members were employed. The UE looked into working conditions and took wage surveys to determine equality within the workforce. In Westinghouse Electric during 1943, a semi-annual hourly wage survey was completed that highlighted the disparity in wages between male and female workers. Jobs were divided into different working classes, which had different paying rates. Men had many more working classes available to them, all of which had higher earning rates than the highest-paying women's class. Even compared to the boy equivalence, women were still paid less. 

Married women, in addition to experiencing pay discrimination, also faced limited employment options. Westinghouse and General Electric prohibited married women's employment until World War II, when the loss of so many male workers led to a shortage of labor. Although married women were often denied jobs due to their relationship status, married men were not given the same treatment. Married women were thought to belong to the domestic sphere and to be incapable of working at the same capacity as unmarried women. Because of this, most female electrical workers were young, short-service, semiskilled, and of working-class origin. 

Woman Welder, January 24, 1945


¹Karen Shallcross Koziara, Michael H. Moskow, and Lucretia Dewey Tanner. Working Women: Past, Present, and Future (Washington, D.C.: Bureau of National Affairs, 1987), xiii.