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Pittsburgh Women in Organized Labor @ Pitt Archives: Organizations/Committees for Women

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

Pennsylvania Commission for Women

The Pennsylvania Commission for Women Records contain information on legislature and actions that affected women in Pennsylvania. There are fact sheets, handbooks, and newsletters pertaining to working women's issues included in this collection. 

In 1964, Pennsylvania Governor William W. Scranton appointed a 21 member Commission on the Status of Women, which published Focus on Pennsylvania Women. When this was published, there were about 148,718 men in manufacturing and 28,264 women in manufacturing in Pennsylvania. The median earning of men was $4,225, while the median earning of women was about half of that at $2,247. In the same year, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, which made discrimination based upon religion, race, ethnicity, or sex illegal. 

The National Association of Commissions for Women (NACW) was organized in 1970, and the Pennsylvania Commission for Women (PACW) was established in 1975. PACW was established by Executive Order 1975-3 to ensure that women had equal rights and opportunities as citizens of Pennsylvania. The Commission still exists today. Members of PACW are appointed by the Governor and correspond directly with him on matters relating to women. PACW is a smaller group of about 20 women who serve for 1 or 2 terms. The members give speeches, publish newsletters and informational booklets, conduct research, and work with other women coalitions throughout Pennsylvania.

Women in the Urban Crisis

Women in the Urban Crisis (WIUC) was a non-profit organization formed after an urban crisis conference met at Chatham College in March 1969. The women leaders of the community who were brought together focused on the urban issues of Pittsburgh: education, employment, health, housing, and welfare. The organization only lasted about 15 years, dissolving in 1984. 

The collection at the Archives Service Center contains a variety of informational pamphlets/booklets, newsletters, and publications pertaining to women's issues in the workplace. This includes newsletters published by the Pennsylvania Commission of Women, informational booklets from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor of Industry, and publications from the Women's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor.

WIUC supported Project Equality and advocated the passage of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). Project Equality, the nation's largest private fair employment program spin off, began in January 1971. For the first time, religious economic power was directed toward the goal of equal employment opportunities for minorities. This systematic program enabled religious institutions to support businesses and industries committed to taking affirmative action for equal employment opportunity. WIUC also advocated CETA. Section 612 of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1973 (CETA), Section 98.21 of the CETA regulations, and the City of Pittsburgh Ordinance Number 75 attested to the absence of discriminatory practices on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, handicap, and political affiliation.

The organization also supported other groups with similar goals, such as Pittsburgh Working Women and the Pittsburgh Association for the Advancement of Women. Pittsburgh Working Women spoke up for "higher pay, respect for the work we perform, acccess to on-the-job training, enforcement of equal employment laws, and more", largely focused on women office workers. The Pittsburgh Association for the Advancement of Women, created in April 1971, focused on 5 major areas: educational services, research, child care information and coordinating service, legal counseling, and employment and career counseling. The Pittsburgh Association for the Advancement of Women aimed to obtain equality through knowledge. Because of this, they offered a variety of summer session courses. Courses included basic accounting, basic information on accounting, the changing world of the black woman, and other topics geared towards informing women about the world and the workplace.  


Coalition of Labor Union Women

The Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) was founded in Chicago in 1974, and it is the only national organization for union women in the United States. CLUW was founded to organize the unorganized, promote affirmative action, increase women's participation in their unions, and increase women's participation in political and legislative activities. The Pittsburgh chapter of CLUW has participated in many of the national events, campaigns and rallies. 


"Won't You Join Us... MEET the WADS"

WAD was the Women's Activities Department of the AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education. The WADs were members of the Women's Activities Department. They were women union members, as well as the wives and daughters of union men. Because voting was/is such an important action, WAD wanted to maximize the number of union members, friends, and families who participated.

This pamphlet is from the Allegheny County Labor Council Records.

Jean Witter

Jean Witter was a Pittsburgh lawyer who became very involved in women's activism. She was heavily involved with NOW, becoming one of the first presidents of the Pittsburgh chapter. Witter strongly advocated the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), as she was very interested in equality for women. After the amendment failed to pass, she continued to advocate for women's rights. Sexual discrimination and equal employment rights remained top priority throughout her career Her collection includes information on affirmative action, the Black Women's Association of Pittsburgh, equal employment, and the Fair Labor Standards Act. 

Although Witter was heavily involved with NOW, her collection also includes materials about the affirmative action efforts of other organizations. There is a pamphlet on the Women's Equity Action League (WEAL), which was a nationwide women's rights organization founded in 1968. In their informational pamphlet, "The Wheels Are Turning for Women", WEAL stated: "We seek equitable treatment and compensation for women who are employed, and we press for the elimination of barriers for women seeking employment and girls preparing for jobs and careers". There is also an advertisement for a conference on women's employment. On May 25, 1971, Pitt's Graduate School of Business held a national conference to present current action programs for the full employment of women. 

Underemployment of women in many fields disproportionately affected African American women. Because of this, there were national and local conferences that addressed the issue. On April 1, 1972, the Black Women's Association of Pittsburgh concluded  "That black women with an over abundance of experience are not getting the better jobs, but that they were going to black men and whites, men and women". To take action, BWA stated that "The Black Women's Association will ensure the permanency of a black women's organization, enlarging the membership, including all women attending the conference..." and the organization would "...acquaint ourselves with the federal laws which will require companies to place immediate attention on employment and upgrading black women".

National Organization for Women (NOW)

The National Organization for Women was founded in 1966 as a feminist organization aimed towards eliminating discrimination. NOW continues to fight to achieve and protect equal rights for women and girls in all aspects of life. Much of the information and materials on NOW is from the Papers of Gerald Blum collection at the Archives Service Center.

In the 1980s, NOW strongly advocated the adoption of an Equal Rights Amendment. In their Administrative Policy Manual, NOW pushed for affirmative action, stating: "The National Organization for Women in its purpose calls for action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men. This purpose includes, but is not limited to, equal rights and responsibilities in all aspects of life, and it includes freedom from discrimination because of race, ethnic origin, age, marital status, sexual preference/orientation, or parenthood..."

NOW was and is concerned with a wide range of women's issues. In the NOW Issues Policy Manual, topics such as affirmative action, AIDS, childbirth, desegregating civic organizations, displaced homemakers, human rights, and global feminism were only a few among many. Child care was an issue for working women of the 1980s, as almost 60% of women with children were in the paid workforce. NOW also campaigned to end discrimination against pregnant workers. Overall, NOW in the 1980s promised "its commitment to ending sex-and-race based wage discrimination and, to this end, will establish a National Coordinating Task Force on Workplace Segregation and Wage Discrimination to develop strategies for eliminating wage discrimination and job segregation..."

Many of the NOW materials available through the Archives Service Center can be found in Boxes 3 and 4 of the Gerald Blum papers.

The policy manual provided by NOW during the 1980s covered many issues. Along with relaying statistical information such as budget, bylaws, coalitions, and elections, the policy manual also focused on affirmative action.

In the Affirmative Action Policy adopted February 12, 1985 and amended July 18, 1985, "The National Organization for Women in its purpose calls for action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men. This purpose includes, but is not limited to, equal rights and responsibilities in all aspects of life, and it includes freedom from discrimination because of race, ethnic origin, age, marital status, sexual preference/orientation, or parenthood..." 

This was especially true in the case of employment: "Equal employment opportunity and affirmative action will be applied in every aspect of the organization regardless of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, age, sexual preference/orientation, national origin or any other non-performance standards."

The NOW Issues Policy Manual discussed many concerns of women during the 1980s. There were numerous topics covered, including affirmative action, AIDS, childbirth, desegregating civic organizations, displaced homemakers, and the Equal Rights Amendment. NOW's philosophy was to oppose any discrimination based upon religion, sex, race, national origin, age, or lifestyle choice.

Child Care (1985): Because almost 60% of women with children were in the workforce, NOW stressed the importance of affordable, quality child care. Child care was especially important for single parents, troubled families, and women in crisis. Because of this, NOW incorporated child care as an important element of its national agenda.

Economic Rights: NOW emphasized the importance of issues such as organizing into collective bargaining units, full employment, guaranteed minimum income, and overturning the Bennett amendment. The Bennett amendment was passed in 1964 to limit sex discrimination claims regarding pay. Without the Bennett amendment, it was possible to sue under Title VII for equal pay for work of comparable value. The National Organization for Women also wanted to develop a network of feminists who understood that there was a basic need for full employment. Full employment was necessary for the "realization of feminist goals, worker and minority rights, and basic human dignity".

Job Training: To gain full employment, it was also important for women to have access to equal participation in job training programs.

Women and Labor (1978): In efforts to close the wage gap and improve the status of women in the work force, NOW resolved to take action in multiple areas. In addition to continuing to work cooperatively with the organized labor movement, NOW planned to place pressure on governmental organization for the implementation of Pregnancy Disability legislation and the concept of equal pay for work of comparable value. NOW condoned the WINN-DIXIE boycott, and pledged to support women who were fighting sexual discrimination within their unions. 

Pay Equity (1988): According to NOW, women's work was undervalued and underpaid. Pay equity was a "crucial strategy to eliminate the gender and race bias which perpetuates the low wages associated with female- and minority-dominated jobs..." Because of this, NOW planned to develop and distribute materials to help bring pay equity initiatives to employers across the United States.

Sex and Race Based Wage Discrimination (1986): Women and minorities came to constitute a majority of the workforce, yet their wages were still less than those of white men with jobs of similar skill, effort, and responsibility. Because of this, NOW reaffirmed its commitment to end wage discrimination and planned to establish a National Coordinating Task Force on Workplace Segregation and Wage Discrimination. 



In addition to containing documents relaying the goals/mission of NOW, the Gerald Blum collection at the Archives Service Center contains leaflets, fact sheets, and papers about issues that women faced in the workplace. According to a CCAC Child Care Action Campaign, 51% of mothers returned to work before their babies' first birthdays. Quality, affordable child care was crucial.  Additionally, a pamphlet entitled "Women and Working", compiled by Lauri West Memorial Library, contained the titles of dozens of books and guides as resources for working women. The overall topic was working women, and the subtopics discussed related issues such as balancing domestic and professional life, entering the professional sphere, and re-entering employment after previously leaving due to motherhood. 

According to the Pennsylvania Women 1976 Annual Report, prepared by the Pennsylvania Commission for Women, 42.5 percent of women aged 16 and older were in the workforce in 1975. About a third of these women worked in clerical positions, while only about 14 percent held professional positions. Majority of these professional positions were nurses/health workers or secondary school teachers. One-fifth of employed women worked in factories, but less than two percent were in high-paying skilled crafts/trades. About 8 percent of women were in retail, while less than 3 percent of working women were involved in private domestic work.