Previously published in examiner
Part 2 of the Forgotten Women of the depression series
It took great effort for Montreal women and Women all over the United States and Canada to keep their families together during the great depression.
Women were supposed to be the homemakers waiting for their husband’s to come home from work and not the other way around. However, what happened to women whose husband’s did not work? What happened to women who were single, divorced, separated or widowed? No one seemed to care about that and that made the plight of these women even harder. American and Canadian society were still holding on to old world values that had nothing to do with the stark economic reality they were facing.
Thankfully as we have seen in the Jane Addams article that there were women who were concerned with the plight of women especially immigrant women and children who needed help.
Sex and race descrimination
While the US was reluctant to accept the reality of “working women” they were more reluctant to accept the plight of the women of colour or ethnic women. As they say, “some things never chance” and sexual and racial stereotyping ran rampant in those days just as they do in ours.
Over 49 percent of Black women were unemployed in the northern states as compared to 23 percent of their Caucasian counterparts (1937 census report). However in the southern states the unemployment rate for Caucasian and black women were roughly the same (26%).
Because the jobs were given to men over women, the male unemployment rate of course was lower everywhere in the country.
Economically depressed areas in the North such as New York’s Harlem hit the black workers even harder with massive layoffs than other northern areas at the time.
Middle class white women would take work like waitressing, even domestic work, cooking, nursing, cleaning (laundry); something they would never do before the depression. They were desperate for these lower wages in order to survive. Unfortunately this act of desperation had a ripple effect and it cut out the work that used to be available to black women.
Concordia University University has a wonderful women’s studies program for Montrealers