Further informal reports made by the shop-girls in the early summer of 1910 proved that the income and expenditures of women workers in the stores had remained practically unchanged since the winter of Mrs. Clark’s report.
So that it would seem that the budgets, records of the investigator, and statements given by the young women interviewed last June may be reasonably regarded as the most truthful composite photograph obtainable of the trade fortunes of the army of the New York department-store girls to-day.
The limitations of such an inquiry are clear. The thousands of women employed in the New York department stores are of many kinds. From the point of view of describing personality and character, one might as intelligently make an inquiry among wives, with the intent of ascertaining typical wives. The trade and living conditions accurately stated in the industrial records obtained have undoubtedly, however, certain common features.
Among the fifty saleswomen’s histories collected at random in stores of various grades, those that follow, with the statements modifying them, seem to express most clearly and fairly, in the order followed, these common features—low wages, casual employment, heavy required expense in laundry and dress, semidependence, uneven promotion, lack of training, absence of normal pleasure, long hours of standing, and an excess of seasonal work.
One of the first saleswomen who told the League her experience in her work was Lucy Cleaver, a young American woman of twenty-five, who had entered one of the New York department stores at the age of twenty, at a salary of $4.50 a week.
In the course of the five years of her employment her salary had been raised one dollar. She stood for nine hours every day. If, in dull moments of trade, when no customers were near, she made use of the seats lawfully provided for employees, she was at once ordered by a floor-walker to do something that required standing.
During the week before Christmas, she worked standing over fourteen hours every day, from eight to twelve-fifteen in the morning, one to six in the afternoon, and half past six in the evening till half past eleven at night. So painful to the feet becomes the act of standing for these long periods that some of the girls forego eating at noon in order to give themselves the temporary relief of a foot-bath. For this overtime the store gave her $20, presented to her, not as payment, but as a Christmas gift.
The management also allowed a week’s vacation with pay in the summer-time and presented a gift of $10.
After five years in this position she had a disagreement with the floor-walker and was summarily dismissed.
She then spent over a month in futile searching for employment, and finally obtained a position as a stock girl in a Sixth Avenue suit store at $4 a week, a sum less than the wage for which she had begun work five years before. Within a few weeks, dullness of trade had caused her dismissal. She was again facing indefinite unemployment.