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Women Workers, 1916

Both World Wars I and II offered American women the opportunity to temporarily fill jobs on the home front vacated by men entering the armed forces. In some instances this caused a shortage of labor in certain previously "female" sections of the economy. The Omaha Daily News, August 17, 1916, reported on the lack of applicants for traditional women's jobs in factories and private homes:

"Omaha is facing a shortage of woman workers. Housewives and factory superintendents are sending forth a practically unanswered cry for help.

"'Never in our experience has there been such a dearth of woman machine operators,' said Frank H. Dobeck, foreman for the M. E. Smith & Co. . . . Employment bureaus report a similar shortage of domestic help. Many housewives who cannot obtain maids have practically closed their kitchens, the families taking their meals at the hotels, restaurants and clubs." One Omaha housewife told the Daily News, "We found it so difficult to find a competent maid that we have been sort of camping out this summer, eating wherever we chose." Only in retail sales was the situation less than serious, and even in that field there were more jobs than female applicants.

There were varying explanations for the shortage. The manager of an Omaha employment agency said, "I think this scarcity of housemaids is due partly to the fact that many girls return to their farm homes to spend the summer." However, Myrtle Fitz Roberts, head of the vocational guidance bureau, said national statistics indicated this was a "shifting" period in employment for women. She thought the availability of new job opportunities for women was partially responsible for the shortage, particularly of domestic workers.

The labor situation changed after the end of both World Wars I and II when returning American soldiers reclaimed their jobs, reversing many of women's wartime gains in employment.

(November 1997)



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