Working Women

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Women's Work

According to entries in the censuses many girls from working class families worked from their early teens until they were married. It is rare to see a married women listed in the censuses with an occupation. Not infrequently widows are listed with an occupation in the City Directories. It is very hard to tell if married woman had careers.

An interesting example is the actress Elise von Hoym, the wife of the actor Otto Von Hoym. According to several accounts of the German theater in New York Elise Von Hoym was not only a respected actress and singer but a director of the New Stadt German Theater on the Bowery. Yet the 1855 census listed Otto as an actor and next to Elise's name only wife was entered.

See The German Theater in New York City.

An article in the April 18, 1868 Harper's Bazar on WOMEN AND THEIR WORK comments:

"It is a grave defect of our generally admirable Census Reports that, while giving minutely the statistics as to the occupations, wages, and condition in life of the male population of the country, they wholly omit anad facts and figures regarding the female portion.

Filling and sewing bags of granulated sugar - New York - not dated (New York Public Library Digital collection

Brush making late at night. 1912 (New York Public Library Digital collection

These type of images were taken to illustrate child labor exploitations. Children too young to be employed outside the home worked at home before and after school. HOWEVER, these images show that "the lady of the house" was also doing her part to compliment the family income.

Women and Their Work in the Metropolis Harper's Bazar April 18, 1868

Fur Sewers and Milliners

Women and Their Work in the Metropolis Harper's Bazar April 18, 1868

Type setters and paper collar makers

Women and Their Work in the Metropolis Harper's Bazar April 18, 1868

Umbrella makers and photograph mounters

Women and Their Work in the Metropolis Harper's Bazar April 18, 1868

Hoop skirt makers, toy painters, envelope folders, preparing candies

Women and Their Work in the Metropolis Harper's Bazar April 18, 1868

Artificial flower makers, paper box makers, book folders

Women and Their Work in the Metropolis Harper's Bazar April 18, 1868

Hat trimmer and silver burnisher.

Women and Their Work in the Metropolis Harper's Bazar April 18, 1868

Shoe fitter and seamstress

The seamstress is the only one portrayed with a child.

The Harper's article says that needlework was the bain of the working woman. It payed the least and had the most competition.

Female compositors (type setters) earned about $10 per week. Other female workers in the printing industry earned $8 per week.

Paper box makers earned $6 per week

Paper collar makers earned $5 per week.

In 1868 there were more female teachers in New York City schools than male teachers.

A female physician in NYC made $15,000.

A. T. Stewart & Co. employed a large number of women. They worked as: makers of clothing ($8 per week), cutters and forewomen ($15 per week), piece workers ($6.50 to $12 per week), fur workers ($8 per week), washer women, ironers, and fluters ($7.50 per week), saleswomen (no salary given) and young women with good figures to try on "patterns", and telephone operators.

See Alexander Turney Stewart

To see the entire article go to Harper's Bazar

Increase in women in the Work force between 1870 and 1890

Sanitary and Heating Age 1895

"Women Workers. One of the most interesting features of a statement recently issued by the Census Bureau at Washington, regarding the number of persons engaged in gainful occupations in this country in 1890, is the evidence which it gives of the increasing number of women who are engaged in the industries and occupations formerly monopolized by the other sex. While the growth in the number of workers in the manufacturing industries during the ten years between 1880 and 1890 was 49 per cent., that in trade and transportation 78 per cent, and in professional service 56 per cent., the increased percentage of women workers under these classifications was even larger, amounting in the case of trade and transportation to as much as 263.25 per cent. Of the 22,735,661 persons, in 1890, engaged in gainful occupations, 18,820,950 were males and 3,914,711 were females. In 1880 the total number of persons so employed was 17,392.099, of whom 14,744,942 were males and 2,647,157 were females. The percentage of increase in the number of workers was 30.72. The male increase was, however", only 27.64, while the female increase was 47.88. The proportionate increase in female labor over 1870 is still more striking, as it amounts to 113.19 per cent., as compared with 76.4 ptr cent, on the part of the males. Thus, within a score of years, the number of women workers in this country has more than doubled, while the number of male workers has increased but 76 per cent. The most striking' increases in the numbers of female workers are shown, not, as might be expected, in domestic and personal service, but in trade and transportation, in professional service and in manufacturing and mechanical industries. Among the employments for women which have almost wholly developed within the last 20 years are clergymen, journalists and physicians. In these professional classes it is interesting to note that in 20 years the number of male clergymen just about doubled, while the female clergymen increased from 57 in 1870 to 1235 in 1890. Between 1870 and 1890 the number of male journalists as nearly as possible quadrupled, but in the same time the women journalists increased from 35 to 888. The number of men physicians increased in the same time only about 40 per cent., but the women physicians increased 900 per cent. Twenty years ago there were no women registered as chemists, engineers or surveyors, while in 1890 46 women are described as chemists or engineers and 127 as surveyors. In the list of various occupations given in the report it appears that women have invaded every department of industry and professional service excepting the army and navy."

Woman in the Work Force in Red Hook Brooklyn mid 1850 to 1900

There were several instances of women in Red Hook, Brooklyn (either married or widowed) running taverns, bars and/or restaurants. Married women were also midwifes and wet nurses. Widows were frequently janitresses, dress makers, seamstresses, laundresses, cooks and hat makers.

Single women worked in the local Vaseline factory, garments shops, match factory, and the rope works. Single women also were teachers, stenographers, telephone operators, sales girls, bookkeepers, typewriters, cooks, nannies, chambermaids, cashiers, house keepers, waitresses, laundresses, maids, servants, "Bonnaz operators" (lace mill), milliners, neckware workers, feather curlers, artificial flower makers, small machine operators (like braiding machines), finishers, trimmers, and piece workers.

In the late 1800 there were a lot of ads for "Figure Wanted" - showroom. In general the ads were looking for a "perfect 36 bust". It appears that the women were trying on clocks or other clothing for clothing manufacturers. One ad from 1899 seeks: "FIGURE "WANTED - 36 bust; must be experienced. Peter Samuels, 112 Prince." Peter Samuels was a manufacturers of fur cloaks.

While rarely listed with an occupation of their own it is assumed that many women must have helped their husbands in the shops and taverns. A story reported in Hoboken tells of a women and her children who maintained the family's tavern during the day while the husband worked in a factory. In the evening the husband took over the running of the tavern. This was likely also true of business in Red Hook and the Lower East Side of New York.

Widows, especially widows of small children, must have have had some type of employment. My ancestor Catherine Furst supported herself and her two young children as a seamstress after the death of her second husband. See Catherine Furst Schwartzmeier Lindemann

In 1889 "A large number of Brooklyn girls work in New York, pay being higher than in Brooklyn and the industries more diversified." Many "girls" commuted by ferry from Brooklyn to Manhattan. There was apparently a separate women's cabin on the ferry as indicated by a story in January 1907. A horse that had been pulling a wagon escaped his driver and found its way to the women's cabin. The ladies fled to the men's cabin and no one was able to get the horse out of the women's cabin. Several men tried and finally one enterprising young woman teased the horse out by offers of candy.

Some Red Hook Women who are know to have been employed outside the house:

  1. Mathilda Ruppanner, born Prussia circa 1825 was a mid wife.

  2. Dora Hammerstrom, a widow, ran a candy store at 121 Coffey Street.

  3. Meta de Groot, a widow, had a newsstand and cigar store at 382 Van Brunt.

  4. Catherine Buse, the wife of Frederick Buse, had a candy store on Richards street.

  5. Mrs. DeMars, a widow, was instrumental in founding the Demars Kentucky Jean overall factory on Van Brunt street.

  6. Kunnigunda Siebe, a widow, ran a saloon on Ferris street in 1878.

  7. Frederika Barshaw was a junk dealer and owner of an iron foundry at 194 Conover.

  8. In 1860 Mary Balfe the wife of John was a "store keeper" She was listed in the 1865 City directory Balfe, Mary A., fancygoods, 499 Columbia.

  9. Elizabeth Bell, the wife of John, ran a boarding house and eatery.

  10. Margaret Behnken was an interesting character.

  11. Margaret Brenner had a restaurant at 104 Van Dyke in 1891

  12. Gesine Brickwedel took over the family liquor store after the death

  13. Annie Cassin the widow of Thomas ran a liquor store at 307 Van Brunt. One son became a lawyer, another and insurance agent and her two daughters became school teachers.

  14. Julia Collimore the widow of Michael had a liquor store.

  15. Susan Dempsey sold oysters.

  16. Ann Ropke Deppermann the widow of Frederick ran the family saloon.

  17. Meta During the widow of Alfred had a newstand and candy store at 382 Van Brunt.

  18. Julia Fay widow of Lawrence managed a hotel.

  19. Elizabeth (Betsey) Hart know as Aunt Betsey was acknowledged as having owned and operated a restaurant at 21 Hamilton Ave. with her husband Benny.

  20. Gesine Helke Groh was married first to Herry Helke and after his death to Lorenz Groh. she ran a Red Hook Restaurant

  21. Ellen Kasserbrock ran a grocery store after her husband died in 1873.

  22. Amelia Herganhan Kuhn and her husband Francis, the parents of artists Walt Kuhn, ran a hotel that catered to ships and sailors.

  23. Ann O'Brien Costello had a saloon on Van Brunt.

  24. Julia Mullady and her daughters were dressmakers.

  25. Mary Murphy had a restaurant at 72 Van Dyke.

  26. Margaret Murray was a saloon keeper after the death of her husband.

  27. Ann Shea the widow of Kieran Shea ran a hotel at 448 Van Brunt.
  28. Anne Struck the widow of Herman ran a hotel on Van Brunt.

In 1897 at the Vaseline factory in Brooklyn "girls" worked an average of 59 hours a week.

There were at least two "working girls" clubs in south Brooklyn in 1890s: The South Brooklyn club and the Red Hook club.

1889: Shop girls in Brooklyn worked from 7 till 9 every day except Saturday when they worked form 7 to midnight and Sunday (when the stores were closed) they were expected to get the shop in order. For this they earned $3 per week.

1891: First year primary grade teachers earned $300 a year. By year five they couuld earn $575.

1894: 2 Dec. A woman in "South Brooklyn" was making "fine preserves". She produced her goods in a three story house but was still unable to keep up with the demands for her produce. A jar of her fruit cost $1.00 - twice the price of manufactured jams. A woman in Flushing and another in College Point were producing "superfine " pickles. Around the city other women were producing ketchup, mincemeat, vinegar, apple butter, and pickled chillies. (The Sun, New York)

Ada C. Rehan and her sister, Kate, were stage actresses. They lived on Partition (later Coffey street). See Red Hook Celebrities

There were relatively frequent reports in the news papers of the arrests of midwives for "criminal operations" as a result of which the patients died. Another issue for midwives and physicians was not reporting a still birth or death of a newborn.

See Red Hook


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Copyright by Maggie Land Blanck - This page was created in 2016 - Latest update, June 2016