Guess what year?

On the way to a depressing union meeting on contract negotiations, I had about 20 minutes to spare so I headed to the library stacks and found this gem of a book section on women in the printing trades. Here are a few quotes that jumped out:

“[W]e have never obtained a situation that we could not have obtained had we never heard of a union. We refuse to take the men’s situations when they are on strike, and when there is no strike if we ask for work in union offices we are told by union foremen ‘that there are no conveniences for us.’ We are ostracized in many offices because we are members of the union; and although the principle is right, disadvantages are so many that we cannot much longer hold together.”

“She was dressed plainly but neatly in what might be called a cross between a traveling and office suit of brown color. The toughened expression on her face indicated that she was familiar with the tricks of the profession, versed in the study of vulgarity. No tender, trusting female was she, but a hardened, suspicious, masculine woman.”

“This paper is a veritable man-hater; not the slightest mention of a man in any shape or form is to be found in its columns, neither is the genus homo allowed to hawk it!”

“At least let women have a fair opportunity to do something else besides get married. What man is there who would not resent being told that his chief ambition in life should be to be a father? Yet women are told daily that they should devote twenty years of a lifetime in the preparing for motherhood, at least ten years in bearing children, and the rest of their lives in recovering from the effects. If they prefer to think that the world is populated sufficiently, or that to bear a child does not call for the sacrifice of a lifetime, they are snubbed, and especially so when they show any inclination to compete with men in trades.”

Guess what year they’re from? Comments are open!

🚨🚨🚨SPOILER ALERT🚨🚨🚨
The answers are available below. You can also head to the comments first if you’re curious what others guessed.

The Answers
If you guessed anything between 1871–1890, you’d be close enough (hooray, Ari!). The book, The Origins of Graphic Design in America, 1870–1920 by Ellen Mazur Thomson (Yale University Press, 1997), is new to me and I will likely rack up the overdue notices for a while (sorry, library).

These quotes all come from the chapter, “Women in Graphic Design History,” and in the section on Women in the Printing Trades. As can be imagined, including women in unionizing efforts was not looked upon favorably by most printing unions, including the national organization, United Typographical Union. Non-unionized women working in the printing trades were seen as taking jobs away from the menfolk, since they earned lower wages and had acquired fewer apprenticeships.

“[W]e have never obtained a situation that we could not have obtained had we never heard of a union. We refuse to take the men’s situations when they are on strike, and when there is no strike if we ask for work in union offices we are told by union foremen ‘that there are no conveniences for us.’ We are ostracized in many offices because we are members of the union; and although the principle is right, disadvantages are so many that we cannot much longer hold together.”
– Augusta Lewis, women’s activist, journalist and typesetter, 1871.

This quote comes from Augusta Lewis, who started the Women’s Typographical Union in 1868, presenting at the 1871 International Typographers convention (full citation on p. 210). In 1869 the United Typographical Union began admitting women as members. However, as Lewis points out in her report, female members weren’t being treated so equally. Read more about Lewis, a 2013 inductee of the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.

“She was dressed plainly but neatly in what might be called a cross between a traveling and office suit of brown color. The toughened expression on her face indicated that she was familiar with the tricks of the profession, versed in the study of vulgarity. No tender, trusting female was she, but a hardened, suspicious, masculine woman.”
– Anonymous quote describing a tramp printer from Ohio, F.M. Cole, “Lady Compositers,” Inland Printers 7.2 (November 1889).

I’m pretty sure this one is describing Resting Bitch Face. The Inland Printer was not kind to women in the printing trades. As Thomson describes in the lengthy chapter notes, multiple articles attack or complain about women working in printshops, not being able to handle the hardships of the compositer’s life. The full article is worth a read.

“This paper is a veritable man-hater; not the slightest mention of a man in any shape or form is to be found in its columns, neither is the genus homo allowed to hawk it!”

– “Women as Compositors,” Inland Printer 7.2 (May 1890).

A quote from a British trade journal, reprinted in the Inland Printer that mentions Elle, a journal published by women compositors in Boston. Thomson says there is no other evidence of its existence beyond this mention, so we can thank the Inland Printer since, “it irritated the editors of a mainstream journal” (p.143) enough to print it.

“At least let women have a fair opportunity to do something else besides get married. What man is there who would not resent being told that his chief ambition in life should be to be a father? Yet women are told daily that they should devote twenty years of a lifetime in the preparing for motherhood, at least ten years in bearing children, and the rest of their lives in recovering from the effects. If they prefer to think that the world is populated sufficiently, or that to bear a child does not call for the sacrifice of a lifetime, they are snubbed, and especially so when they show any inclination to compete with men in trades.”
– “Male Versus Female Labor,” Art Age 3.25 (August, 1885).

Again, Thomson’s chapter notes are invaluable clues into the complex attitudes about female labor in the printing trades. This quote comes from a printshop owner arguing that women were great as typesetters and wood-engravers because they were “obedient, did not use foul language, and cost considerably less (p.209).”

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même…

17 Comments Guess what year?

  1. grendl666

    I was just reading some old Inland Printers and happened upon some similar texts from 1883 commenting on the role of women (or relative lack thereof) in the printing trades.

    A few excerpts:

    “We are frequently asked why women do not engage in the business of printing… The fact that handling type is not quite so clean as handling the keys of the telegraph instrument or the teacher’s ferule may keep some out of the printing office…

    “The compositor’s work necessarily compels him to be on his feet all day, and a woman’s inability to stand* for so long a time is a physical objection to her engaging in this line of work.

    “As a general thing, women do not engage in any kind of business, except as a temporary employment, the ultimate object being to preside over a household instead of a printing office.”

    So: we don’t like to get our hands dirty, we can’t stand up for very long, and our main goal in life is to land a man rather than learn a craft. Sexism in the industry has nothing to do with it.

    In the same issue was a rant against “the Chinooman” (or some such spelling) and how printers need to refuse to hire foreign labor.

    Ah, how far we’ve come… not!

    *!!???

    Reply
    1. Amy Papaelias

      Yes, Grendl! The Inland Printer from this era is a bevy of anxiety and exasperation around women entering the printing trades and unions. The “Lady Compositors” article that I linked to above ends with this backhanded compliment: “but a knowledge of their own weakness holds them back from a life of misery, as it should.” Um, thanks?

      Reply
    2. Stephen

      It’s interesting to read this after learning about David Shields’ research into 19th-century wood type manufacturing in which he discovered that at least 25% of the type cutting in one American firm was done by women. Also:

      Rob Roy Kelly writes that, “…during the Civil War, Page had hired women because of the manpower shortage, and finding them so adept at many of the operations in the manufacture of wood type, he continued to hire women regularly until the business sold in 1891.”

      Reply

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