Women join the work force in 1918

July 25, 2019

 

My next time travel novel is set in Atlanta in 1918. America has entered WW1 and women are stepping into previously all-male jobs. It was a time of growing freedom for women who would finally get the right to vote the following year. Here’s a (fictional) account of what it was like by a young woman working as an elevator operator in 1918.

 

"My name is Cassie Owens. Not to brag or anything, but I’ve been on the job as elevator operator for two weeks. I wear a blue uniform with buttons and braid, and I’m treated with respect. Well, except for when Mr. Scruggs chooses my lift when it’s empty and says dirty things to me.

 

Driving an elevator is a lot harder than you think. It’s sort of like driving a bus, except you use this great big rheostat lever to make it go up and down. It takes practice to travel at just the right speed so you don't scare people. It also takes practice to stop the elevator so the floor is even with the floor that people are getting off on. Agnes, the girl I replaced, was fired because she just didn't have the knack. She opened the cage too soon one time and a lady tripped and fell on her face getting out because the elevator floor was lower than the floor for Ladies Lingerie. I never open the cage door until I’m sure I’ve got everything lined up. And if you step on my elevator, you’ll get a smooth ride. I've never once caused any jerking motions like Agnes used to do.

 

My sister Louise got a job as a garbage collector. She’s a big strong girl and says she likes being outside except for bad weather days. I honestly don’t know how she tolerates it. Besides the hot sun and the cold wind, there’s mean dogs out there on the streets, not to mention the smelly garbage filled with maggots.

 

Me and Sis share a room at Mrs. Swaney’s boardinghouse. Mama and Daddy said if we’d both done a better job finding husbands back home, we wouldn’t have to live in the city where the streets are filled with clanging trolleys, honking automobiles and horse-drawn wagons leaving stinking piles of manure behind. (You really do have to watch your step.)

 

Now don’t get me wrong, I truly want the war to end. My cousin Herbert is fighting in France. But because the war has taken so many men away, the government says there’s a manpower shortage. So they’re hiring girls like me for jobs men used to do. Daddy says now that America has entered the war, the fighting will be over real soon. Which means our boys will be coming home and my job will go to a man again. A man whose wages will be more than mine just because he wears trousers.

 

But I’ll be ready. I’ve already put in applications at Rich’s and Davison’s department stores. I want to be a salesgirl in the Millinery department. I love hats!

 

Dad-burnit! Here comes Mr. Scruggs. If he tries to touch me again, I might just give my car a little bumpity bump. That should teach him a lesson."

 

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© 2015 by Connie Lacy