[Footnote 32: This statement is written in the last week of September, 1910.]
WOMEN LAUNDRY WORKERS IN NEW YORK
(This article is composed
of the reports of Miss Carola
Woerishofer, Miss Elizabeth Howard Westwood, and Miss Mary
Alden Hopkins, supplemented with an account of the Federal
Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of the Oregon
Ten-Hour Law for laundry workers.)
What do self-supporting women away from home in New York give in their work, and what do they get from it, when their industry involves a considerable outlay of muscular strength? For a reply to this question the National Consumers’ League turned to the reports of women’s work as machine ironers and hand ironers, workers at mangles, folders, and shakers of sheets and napkins from wringers in the steam laundries of New York.
For, although the labor at the machines in the laundry wash-rooms is done by men, and all work in laundries consists largely of machine tending, still women’s part in the industry can be performed only by unusually strong women.
In the winter of 1907-1908 the National Consumers’ League had received from different parts of New York a series of letters filled with various complaints against specified laundries in this city—complaints stating that hours were long and irregular, wages unfair, the laundries dirty, and the girls seldom allowed to sit down, and containing urgent pleas to the women of the Consumers’ League to help the women laundry workers.
After consulting some of the laundry women, the League determined to secure through a special inquiry a well-ascertained statement of conditions as a basis for State factory legislation for uniform improvements. A few months before, the constitutionality of the present New York legislation, as well as of almost all of the State legislation concerning the hours of work of adult women in this country, had been virtually determined by the decision of the Federal Supreme Court in regard to the ten-hour law for women laundry workers in Oregon. The opinion of the National Supreme Court, which practically confirmed the passed New York laundry laws and made future laws for fair regulation for the women workers seem practicable, will be given after the account of women’s work in laundries in New York.
Miss Carola Woerishofer conducted the inquiry, which was confined to steam laundries, as hand laundries were more favorably described by many reliable authorities. Among these, the large laundries were commercial laundries, such as we all patronize, and hotel and hospital laundries. The features chiefly observed in all these establishments were sanitation, the danger of injury, and wages and hours of labor. For the account of the hospital and hotel laundries the Consumers’ League of the city of New York obtained the services of Miss Elizabeth Howard Westwood of Smith College and Miss Mary Alden Hopkins of Wellesley College. As a means of investigating commercial laundries, Miss Woerishofer, answering advertisements as they came, worked in laundries in trade employed in nearly every branch of the industry in which women are engaged throughout the borough of Manhattan. Her report follows.