Sunday, February 22, 2015

Chicago Stockyards and Women -- February 22, 1902

In the middle of February, 1902 Adolph Strasser, who had been one of the five men to organize the convention of 1886 that would lead to the formation of the American Federation of Labor, made the mistake of pointing out that women were taking the jobs of men in the making of cigars.  “Women are entering the shops and factories from every side and taking the places of men,” he said.  “They have no conception of the trials they are bringing on their brothers and fathers by their willingness to accept positions of all kinds.”  [Chicago Tribune, February 21, 1902]

Mary McDowell
On February 20 Miss Mary McDowell of the University of Chicago Settlement made her res[pmse in an address before the Woman’s Union Label league at the Masonic Temple building.  She pointed out that on the city’s southwest side women were taking the places of men at the great stockyards of the city.  “They are entering the packing-houses by the score, and with each who enters a man is forced out.  They are doing everything except the killing.  Strange as it may seem, they are wielding the knife, and with great dexterity.”

On the following day he Chicago Tribune verified that assertion.  “Between 5,000 and 6,000 women and girls are on the pay rolls of the various Stock-Yards houses,” the Tribune reported.  “They form 75 percent of the employees of the canning factories.”

In a trip through the packing plant of Libby, McNeill & Libby females were found who were more than willing to respond to the brouhaha.  “Jennie Laughan said, “Like my work?  Sure I do.  The pay beats that of my sister down on State street all hollow.  Why, I was off two days of last week and still made $9.  Don’t think for a minute that I am going to give up this job to any man.  Cutting him out?  Sure I am, but what’s the dif’?  I would like to tell Miss McDowell a few things.   [Chicago Tribune, February 22, 1902]

In Laughan’s family her father made $15.00 a week, her brother $12.00, her sister $6.00 and young Jennie made $10.00, almost a quarter of the family’s income.  “Suppose my sister and me were to live at home and not make a cent?  We would be loose in the pocket $16 a week, and that goes a big ways,” she said.  “My father’s in the yards, and so is my brother.  I ain’t cut them out of no job.”

Women at Libby, McNeill & Libby trimming sausage meat, 1902
Chicago Tribune Photo
The Treasurer of the Libby, McNeill & Libby, Edward Tilden, was effusive in his praise for the girls and women working for the company.  “Such work is better done by girls than by men, and we always have had them do it.  We are proud of our plant and proud of our girls.  They are all contented and draw good wages.  They dress well and have money, and you will not be able to find one that agrees with Miss McDowell.”

The source of disagreement with Miss McDowell’s remarks came about as a reaction against her assertion that before long women and girls would be working jobs that were actually involved with the slaughter of the animals themselves.


An official at Swift’s vehemently denied the assertion.  “Nonsense!  This is a packing-house and we employ girls.  We have them handle our sewing machines.  They pack butterine and they are in the sausage department.  They draw good wages and do well.  One has but to see the slaughter pen to realize that Miss McDowell is wrong.  Even the killing of chickens will never be in the hands of women.”

The source of disagreement with Miss McDowell’s remarks was a reaction against her assertion that before long women and girls would be working jobs that were actually involved with the slaughter of the animals themselves.

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Stockyard Workers in 1918
Chicago Daily News Photo Archives
n official at Swift’s vehemently denied the assertion.  “Nonsense!  This is a packing-house and we employ girls.  We have them handle our sewing machines.  They pack butterine and they are in the sausage department.  They draw good wages and do well.  One has but to see the slaughter pen to realize that Miss McDowell is wrong.  Even the killing of chickens will never be in the hands of women.”

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