The Fruits of Her Labor: Women, Children, and Progressive Era Reformers in the Pacific Northwest Canning Industry

By Hall, Greg | Oregon Historical Quarterly, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

The Fruits of Her Labor: Women, Children, and Progressive Era Reformers in the Pacific Northwest Canning Industry


Hall, Greg, Oregon Historical Quarterly


"GIRLS MAKE FOOD FIGHT" WAS the Portland News headline at the outset of a 1913 Oregon Packing Company strike. Women at the plant had had enough of low pay, poor working conditions, and an unsympathetic cannery management. The strikers quickly garnered the attention of local socialists, members of the Industrial Workers of the World, religious leaders, and area residents. Still, the newly formed Oregon Industrial Welfare Commission (OIWC) had the most influence in resolving the strike and addressing the concerns of women workers at the cannery and elsewhere in Oregon. The OIWC--an institution that epitomized the Progressive Era--and its sister agency to the north in Washington dealt with a host of issues regarding women and children in the workplace. Studying the rather underdeveloped history of the formative phase of the Pacific Northwest canning industry, its workforce, and the Progressives who sought to reform it offers a unique perspective on the changing role of women as wageworkers in society, growing public concern about child labor, and state governments' evolving social and labor policy. (1)

At the end of the nineteenth century and during the first few decades of the twentieth, fruit and vegetable canneries in states on the Pacific Coast became primary employers of female workers--adults and children. Canneries, which tended to hire females rather than males for most jobs, were major sources of employment for women and girls. At the same time, Progressives sought to improve working conditions, stabilize wages for women in canneries, and end child labor in the industry. (2) Pacific Northwest Progressives improved conditions, but, in the process, they undermined women's empowerment as wage laborers; whether they did so intentionally or not is unclear in the historical record. They fostered a form of paternalistic government intervention that, on the one hand, helped eliminate child labor in canneries but, on the other hand, sought to discipline women into a compliant and domesticated workforce.

[ILLUSTRATIONS OMITTED]

Progressives generally assumed that women wage workers would eventually become wives and mothers and leave the workforce and, therefore, tended to think of them only in terms of temporary workers. They did not encourage women to organize their own unions, seemingly basing their work on the premise that women and children could not defend themselves in the workplace as well as men could. Labor laws protecting men were sporadic around the country and apparently lacked the comprehensive logic for which Progressives advocated regarding women's and children's labor laws. Progressive reformers worked to protect and preserve what they saw as women's femininity and maternalism. In The Wages of Motherhood, Gwendolyn Mink explores the concept of maternalism, an ideology that assumed that men (husbands) earning a family wage would solve the problem of women having to work for wages. She also explains how Progressive Era reformers chose to lament, rather than to seek empowerment for, wage working women--that is, they supported paternalistic state intervention rather than clear unionization. One of the most ardent groups associated with such maternalist orientation was the General Federation of Women's Clubs, which "opposed the employment of mothers of young children." Operating under similar ideals in Oregon was the Consumer's League, an organization that "lobbied for improvements" in workplace protection for women and children, but not for men, in order to preserve "the future health of the race." (3)

In their efforts to regulate workplaces, western Progressives were following national trends that have been outlined by Susan Lehrer in Origins of Protective Labor Legislation for Women, 1905-1925. Progressives, according to Lehrer and other scholars, thought of themselves as bringing order to industrial work life and rationalization to the labor process by demanding an end to the exploitation--that is, underpayment and long hours--of women's labor as well as an outright ban on children's labor. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Fruits of Her Labor: Women, Children, and Progressive Era Reformers in the Pacific Northwest Canning Industry
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.