WOMEN IN THE LABOR FORCE

 

When the war began, America found many of its women replacing more than half a million skilled and semiskilled workers who had enlisted in the Union army.  Employers had to hire and promote semiskilled and unskilled people, which did include women.  After the war, the number of women in the manufacturing labor force increased by 40%.  They usually worked in industries such as garment making, shoes, and textiles.  From 1860 women in the work force had increased from one-fourth to one-third by 1865.  However after the war was over, this figure decreased back to its previous level of before the war.  Because of inexperience in this type of work, the women who worked in these industries were paid less for the same jobs that men had held and their productivity was lower as well.  Some women pulled over 70 hours a week as seamstresses making uniforms for the army.  Because of a low salary of 2-4 dollars a week, President Abraham Lincoln became aware that they were unable to sustain life at those wages.  Lincoln ordered an increase in salary but by the time he did this the war was almost over.  Women would later form the Workingwomen’s Protective Union.

 

A brighter side was that women having to work in the place of men cause them to make substantial gains.  An example was the teaching profession.  Women most likely caused an increase in efficiency even though it would lower the salary of this occupation simply because women were paid less than men.  The profession of teaching would accelerate rapidly from New England to all parts.  Women were also brought into government civil service.  In 1861 many male clerks enlisted in the Union army and hundreds of women would fill their vacancies and many did a better job.  The Civil War would begin the process by which the 20th century had made clerical work feminine.  By 1875, the number of women in government jobs doubled the wartime high in occupations such as bookkeepers, clerks, typewriters, and telephone operators.

 

Women working in the Confederate labor force were somewhat different.  The South had placed so much emphasis on an agricultural economy by pouring its profits back into slavery and agricultural produce that it had no industrial economy to help support the war.  The South had traditionally placed women high above the life of working but now had to call them into the labor force.  Actually many of these women were not new to working.  Most were the wives and daughters of farmers and planters.  Some were used to working just as hard as their men.  Before the war, only about 10% of women in the South were working in its small antebellum industries.  This percentage would increase dramatically during the war.  The Confederate Treasury would have women spending their days signing note after note that skyrocketed inflation in the Southern economy.  Many would work as seamstresses to make uniforms while others went into textile mills and arsenal plants where they would help to make cartridges and shells.  Sadly, there were a few explosions in these Confederate arsenal factories that killed at least 100 women who were said to be just as much war casualties as the men who had died in battle.

 

This page was created by Todd Gentry.