© 2006 Rachel Caliri
Springfield, Massachusetts, an economically and ethnically diverse city,
is home to a variety of factories and corporations. At the turn of the twentieth
century Springfield became a hub for the immigration surge Europe, creating new
labor pool. According to the 1920 census, the “Springfield area,” the
city and its suburbs, included 332,762 inhabitants. Nearly one fourth were foreign
born and about sixty percent were either immigrants or their children.1 One
of the most prominent employers in Springfield was the Armory, a diverse workplace
that employed native born workers, immigrants, and women. Starting with World
War One, the Armory started hiring women to help with the war effort. This proved
beneficial to women because it gave them a push towards independence. During
the war hundreds of women worked at the Armory and depended upon that income
to sustain their families. When the war ended, the men came back to Springfield,
forcing women to leave their jobs depriving them of the income and independence
that they had worked so hard to sustain in and outside the workforce.
Members, young and old, of the Dispersing Department
Women in the work place struggled against much adversity, fighting for
a safer work place. Female Armory workers made the connection between quality
working conditions and productivity. The Armory provided women with a ten-minute
rest period every morning and afternoon; an accommodation not made for men. 2
In January of 1918, the Armory provided women with new restrooms. The January
1918 edition of The Springfield Armorer reports that this was due to “the
ever increasing number of Uncle Sam’s women workers.” 3 Such
patriotic wording towards women shows an increasing level of respect that the women earned
through the years.
On January 14, 1919, The Armory fired five hundred employees, returning the workforce
to prewar levels of about 2700 employees. This resulted in the firing of most
married female employees whose husbands worked. One of the heads of the Armory,
Col. L. D. Hubbell reported to the press that after the January firing, he “is
employing returning soldiers wherever possible.” 4 This
happened at a time when thousands of American men returned from World War One
and needed employment to sustain their families. Col. Hubbell, a soldier himself,
perhaps sympathized with the returning G.I.’s and wanted to offer them
Armory positions. He did not seem to sympathize with the hundreds of women he
fired, believing that their fathers and husbands would provide for them.
"The First Line of Defense: Foremen and Assistants"
Children represented the biggest responsibility for the women of Springfield.
According to the 1920 census, out of the 9,061 foreign born women with children,
6,426 of them have children under the age of five 5.
This great responsibility put many local women in compromising positions. In
the early twentieth century, Springfield was nicknamed the “industrial beehive
of Massachusetts”, a tribute to the diverse range of industries in the
region. 6 This
volume provided more opportunities for the women of Springfield. Some of the
other factories included were the Diamond Match Company, The Rolls-Royce factory,
and Milton Bradley. 7 Many
women also worked as domestic servants or did in home piece work to sustain an
Returning soldiers did not numerously replace clerical workers at the armory,
allowing those women to keep their jobs when many women on the factory floor
received termination notices. “Clerical work held little interest for returning
soldiers or for men who had passed the last two years earning fabulous wages
in the munitions plants, and so the need for female clerks remained.” 8 Secretary
work, once a male dominated job, rapidly evolved into a female associated job
around 1914.9 Women
took on secretary work or “low level office jobs” and were rarely
promoted. Men managed women in the office to play into the same domestic role
they served at home, sometimes referring to them as “office wives.” 10 Secretary
work was seen as proper employment for women at the time, especially for the
young career girl just gaining her independence and looking for a respectable
job that earned decent wages.
1 Martin Kaufman, “Historical
Journal of Western Massachusetts,” vol. 5 no.1 10, (spring 1976)
3 “Ladies Restrooms”,
the Armorer, January 1918, Vol.1 No.2 Pg. 7.
4 “Springfield Armory
to Discharge 500 Today,” Boston Daily Globe, 14 January 1919.
5 Warren S. Thompson, “Ratio
of Children to Women. 1920 Census,” U.S Government, 1931, 204-205.
6 Donald J. D’Amato, Springfield-350
Years A Pictorial History, (Virginia: The Donning Company, 1985), 139.
7 Donald J. D’Amato, Springfield-350
Years A Pictorial History, (Virginia: The Donning Company, 1975), 140.
9 Gregory Anderson, “The
White Blouse Revolution,” (Manchester University Press, 1988), 11.
10 Gregory Anderson, “The
White Blouse Revolution,” (Manchester University Press, 1988), 16.