Manufacturing Inequality: Gender Division in the French and British Metalworking Industries, 1914-1939

By Laura Lee Downs | Go to book overview

C H A P T E R I
War and the
Rationalization of Work

In March 1918, one Dr. Clothilde Mulon, having been taken around Citroën's new Javel plant on a publicity tour by the management, published her impressions:

First of all to where they make the shell casings. It's an enormous hall with twenty four presses, each surrounded by black demons, male and female, who wield shells of incandescent steel in the flame.... In the ovenlike heat, one man pulls a reddened bar from the flame and carries it in a vise over to a woman, who with a single gesture pierces the bar with a powerful awl, as one might plunge a finger into soft clay. Showers of sparks burst forth and catch on the screens. Three seconds pass and the pierced shell tumbles from the vise, hollowed out, as they say. A man lifts it up with long pincers; it is ready to be tempered. He lays it on a moving walkway that carries it to another shop. Twenty-four teams make these same rhythmic movements around twenty-four machines, tongues of flame flare and spread throughout the vast hall ... a vision of war....

We then move on to see them making shrapnel. At the end of one shop, the lead comes in a single mass; at the other end, it leaves as finished ball bearings. Machines run by women roll, stretch, draw, and wind the lead into wire on enormous bobbins, then cut the wire into ball bearings, which are immediately polished.... The ball bearings are now ready to play their part in the killing.... Women riding little electric carts carry the ball bearings, all boxed up, to the shop where the shells are filled....

Another shop ... immense like a railway station, runs on into another great hall, this one with a second story, raised up like a stage, where trains circulate! Four thousand women work in this remarkable workshop, built in six weeks on a site where less than a year ago thirty-eight houses stood. Here in the bustling din . . . workers make the pointed nose cones for the shells, thread the screws, band the shells, etc. The hollowed shell case arrives at one end of

-15-

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