Amy Hewes.

Women as munition makers; a study of conditions in Bridgeport, Connecticut online

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LIST OF TABLES . . . . . . v


I. Bridgeport and the War Boom . . 10
II. The Women at Work . . . .18

III. Cartridge Making and Its Dangers . . 29

IV. Hours of Labor and Night Work . . 39
V. Wages 55

VI. The Women at Home .... 63

VII. Programs of City and State ... 82


Hours of Labor 103

Health and Hygiene 114

General Welfare Provision . . . .126

Employment of Women ..... 129

Juvenile Employment ..... 132

Summary of Recommendations . . . 135

Subsequent Conditions ..... 137


Organization of Munition Industry . . . 147

Industrial Relations ..... 148

Hours of Work 149

The Women Workers 152

Technical Instruction of Workers . . . 154

Cause of Increased Production . . . 154






1. Last occupation before entering the munition indus-

try, for 73 women munition workers interviewed . . 22

2. Nativity of women munition workers interviewed

and of their fathers 24

3. Ages of women munition workers interviewed 26

4. Conjugal condition of women munition workers in-

terviewed 27

5. Occupations of women munition workers included in

the investigation 32

6. Daily hours of labor for women workers included in

the investigation 41

7. Length of lunch period for women munition work-

ers included in the investigation 43

8. Weekly hours of labor of women munition workers

included in the investigation 44

9. Hour of beginning work for women munition

workers included in the investigation 45

10. Weekly earnings of women munition workers in-

cluded in the investigation 58

11. Total weekly income in families of women muni-

tion workers interviewed, by number of contribu-
tors 64

12. Proportion of weekly earnings given to the home by

women munition workers interviewed who were
living with their families 65

13. Persons gainfully employed among members of 100

families of women munition workers interviewed,
by age and sex 68

14. Monthly rents paid by families of women munition

workers interviewed, by number of rooms occu-
pied 73

15. Persons per room in families of women munition

workers interviewed , 75

Worker living with family
Worker living alone

1 Plant of Union Metallic Cartridge Company

2 Plant of Remington Arms Company







DURING the early months of 1915 the world
of industry was stirred by rumors of un-
heard of rewards for work in munition
shops in the United States. Women, it was said,
were in as great demand as men and other occu-
pations were suffering from the competition of
high wages paid for work on war materials. The
first commercial depression following the out-
break of the war in Europe had passed and the
business of supplying materials of all kinds to the
warring countries had begun.

With this harvest of war orders had come in
several localities a rapid increase in population,
pressing municipal problems, and the dangers of
overstrain in industry itself through the intense
effort to secure maximum output. What effect
would this sudden expansion of a war trade have
upon women workers ? Could they stand the race
for speed? Overtime, night work, and Sunday
work might be insisted upon as in England.
Would our labor laws prevent overstrain?

Throughout the east munition companies had
constructed huge plants and begun manufacturing
on an enormous scale before 1915 was half over.
At Eddystone, Pennsylvania, two large factories
were built, each with about 15 acres of floor



space;* one, a branch of a company whose con-
tracts from the Allies were said to amount to al-
most $200,000,000, manufactured shrapnel; the
other, a branch of the largest munition factory in
Bridgeport, had a capacity of 1,500,000 rifles a
year. In Delaware and Pennsylvania another
huge company had been operating great plants to
fill orders running into the millions of dollars.
Within ten months during 1915 and 1916 this com-
pany declared dividends amounting to 104 per cent
on its common stock. The middle west had also
had its share in the munition business; the great
steel companies had been turning out order after
order, with others on hand and deliveries running
more than a year ahead. The record of war ma-
terial sent out of the port of New York in one
week in August, 1916, included $20,000,000 worth
of explosives, $10,000,000 worth of shells and shell
materials, and nearly $1,000,000 worth of fire-

To this large production, the city of Bridgeport,
Connecticut, was an important contributor, and
here women were employed in large numbers in
munition making. For the women and girls in
this New England town, as well as for those in
other such centers, obvious dangers were ahead.
The necessity to recruit new workers had already
drawn into the industry Bridgeport women un-

*On April 10, 1917, an explosion completely destroyed the
loading and inspecting buildings of the Eddystone Ammuni-
tion Company at Eddystone, Pa., resulting in the death of 122
workers, more than half of whom were women, and the seri-
ous injury of over 50 more.



accustomed to factory work, and had brought
girls from other places, setting them adrift with-
out homes in a community quite unprepared to
protect their health, give them wholesome recrea-
tion, sufficient transit facilities or even proper

In the autumn of 1915 the Department of Sur-
veys and Exhibits of the Kussell Sage Founda-
tion, in co-operation with The Survey magazine,
had sent Mr. Zenas L. Potter to Bridgeport to
make a brief study of the social effects of the war
boom. His report was published in The Survey in
December.* It indicated the need for further ob-
servation, especially for a study of the women who
were making munitions. In the summer of 1916
the Foundation, through its Division of Indus-
trial Studies, undertook, therefore, a brief investi-
gation of the women employed in the largest muni-
tion plant in Bridgeport, the cartridge shops of
the Remington Arms-Union Metallic Cartridge
Company,f for the purpose of discovering the ef-
fect upon them of the changed living and working

* Potter, Zenas L. : War Boom Towns, Bridgeport. The
Survey, pp. 237-242, December 4, 1915.

t This company, the union of two firms that have long been
famous in the manufacture of firearms and shells, employed
at the time of the investigation 8,000 men and 4,000 women in
the cartridge shops. Information is lacking as to the number
of men in the rifle factory. Towards the close of the year
1916, the company began the experiment of employing women
in the plant of the Remington Arms, where rifles are manu-
factured, but this was subsequent to the investigation, so that
the work of these women is not included in the inquiry. Of
four other Bridgeport munition firms, two employed no
women, and two a relatively small number.



conditions.* Such an inquiry, it was ex-
pected, would reveal in miniature the results of
this sudden war trade expansion on wom-
en's work, not only as it affected women in
Bridgeport, but as it might be expected to affect
them in whatever part of the country they are
employed in making shells, arms, or other war

Information on the processes in which women
were employed, on their pay and hours of work, on
the danger of accidents, and the other conditions
of their employment was obtained chiefly through
interviews with a group of munition workers in
their own homes. Supplementary data on living
conditions and health were also obtained from
members of their families and from social and
civic agencies in Bridgeport.!

The industrial situation was discussed with a
number of manufacturers in Bridgeport who made
valuable comments concerning the production side
of the munition industry and with officials of the

* The inquiry was conducted by Miss Amy Hewes, professor
of Economics in Mt. Holypke College, and formerly secretary
of the Massachusetts Minimum Wage Commission. Miss
Henriette R. Walter, of the staff of the Division of Industrial
Studies of the Russell Sage Foundation, assisted in the field
survey and in the preparation of the statistical tables.

t Valuable supplementary material concerning the social and
civic activities by which Bridgeport is endeavoring to deal
with its multiplying problems was given by Mr. George Gove,
secretary of the Chamber of Commerce; Mr. George L.
Warren, secretary of the Charity Organization Society; Miss
Cynthia Moore, secretary of the East Side Young Women's
Christian Association ; Mr. Spencer R. Gordon, superintendent
of charities, and others, to all of whom hearty thanks are
due for their cordial co-operation.



machinists' union, who presented the situation
from the point of view of labor.

Had the Foundation been given permission to
make an exhaustive study of the plant it would
have reported on wages as revealed on the pay-
roll, hours of labor and the effect of overtime on
output; night work and its productivity as com-
pared with that of day work; health and safety
and the methods of guarding against industrial
accident and disease ; and the regularity of attend-
ance of the men and women employed. But this
permission was refused. It is in the homes of the
workers, however, that the social effects of an in-
dustry can best be studied, and in this inquiry, as
in several others conducted by the Foundation, re-
liance was placed upon the method of securing
facts from the workers themselves in their own

The names of most of the women interviewed
were taken at random from the 1916 Bridgeport
directory. This list was supplemented by names
suggested by fellow-workers and others. The wide
diversity in the location of their homes and in
their nationalities, incomes, and characteristics, to
be described later, vouches for the representative
character of the group. A copy of the record card
used in making the investigation is appended to
this report.* The information was secured in per-
son and the schedules filled out by the investiga-
tors. The questions covered working conditions,
hours, wages, and home conditions. One hundred

*See page 93.


and eighteen girls and women were interviewed.
Of these, 18 were away from home, boarding or
living in furnished rooms. Exactly 100 others
were living with their own families, and in these
cases information was added about the family in-
come and the family expenditures, particularly the
item of rent. The girls living at home gave also
the essential facts about earnings, processes, and
hours of work for 47 other women in their families
who were employed in the munition industry, so
that some information was obtained for 165 work-
ers in all.

Two articles giving the main results of the in-
quiry have already been published in advance of
this report,* in the hope that prompt dissemina-
tion of the facts discovered might help Connecti-
cut citizens to strengthen their labor laws. The
second of these articles, that dealing with the mu-
nition industry, was submitted in manuscript, in
advance of publication, to officials of the Reming-
ton Arms-Union Metallic Cartridge Company for
their criticism. This procedure, customary in in-
dustrial investigations made by the Russell Sage
Foundation, was the more necessary in this case,
because of the previous refusal of the company
to give the Foundation the desired information.
In the conferences which followed the reading
of the manuscript, some statements were chal-
lenged, others verified, and additional material

* Hewes, Amy : Bridgeport on the Rebound. The Survey,
pp. 49-51, October 14, 1916.

Hewes, Amy: Women as Munition Makers. The Survey,
pp. 379-385, January 6, 1917.



was obtained, especially regarding changes made
after the field work of the investigation was com-
pleted. In response to the suggestion of the com-
pany that no study could be accurate which was
not based on data obtained in the plant itself, the
Foundation offered to make such a supplementary
inquiry before publishing the report. This offer
was refused.

Since the declaration of war by the United
States against the Imperial Government of Ger-
many, in April, 1917, the findings of the study are
of even greater importance than when it was made
during the summer of 1916. The employment of
women in the manufacture of war materials is
bound to increase. Early in 1917, the War
Department, as a preparation for what had long
seemed inevitable, had already called upon the
Department of Labor for 1,000 workers, both men
and women, for the making of munitions in fed-
eral plants.* Now that we are in a state of actual
war and will be obliged to make shells and guns
not only for the countries whose ally we have be-
come, but also for ourselves, we must needs take
intelligent counsel of whatever experience we can
lay hands on.

England, in her effort to manufacture huge
quantities of munitions in a short time, in order
to supply her army and navy at the front, went

*This call was made in February, 1917, for workers in the
Dover (N. J.) and Philadelphia arsenals, to be filled through
the employment exchanges of the Labor Department. Some
protest was aroused because lower wage rates were offered
to women than to men for similar processes of work.



through a bitter industrial experience. She wore
out her workers, created industrial confusion, lost
the labor gains of years, and raised the unjust cry
that British workmen were "slackers."

Finally, a Health of Munition Workers Com-
mittee, headed by Sir George Newman, was ap-
pointed by the Ministry of Munitions to investi-
gate ills and abuses in munition plants, and to
make recommendations to insure increased pro-
duction. The second part of this study gives a
detailed summary of the findings of this commit-
tee. They dealt particularly with the conditions
affecting output, including overtime, seven-day
labor, night work, danger of accident and disease
from fatigue, lack of proper food and housing con-
ditions, welfare supervision, and the employment
of children. An important memorandum was is-
sued on women's work, with definite recommenda-
tions for safeguarding the health of English

Evidence shows that the working conditions of
the women interviewed in Bridgeport during the
summer of 1916 were similar in many respects to
those under which English women worked for the
first year or more of the war with such bad effects
upon themselves and upon efficiency of production.
Night work and overtime in Bridgeport were al-
ready found while yet the pressure of a war of
our own was remote and production unstimulated
by any call of patriotism. Even the crowded living
conditions had begun to approach those in English



But Bridgeport is only one illustration of sud-
den expansion due to the demand for speedy pro-
duction of munitions of war. Its industrial and
civic questions are of local importance in many
other towns. The interest of the report here pre-
sented thus transcends that attaching to the record
of any one plant or any one place. As a matter
of fact, the working conditions in munition fac-
tories as well as the living conditions in munition
centers have now become of vital importance to
the whole nation. It is in the hope that this coun-
try may avoid a breakdown in the health of its
women workers and a sacrifice of hard-gained la-
bor laws to protect them, as well as the results
to health and morals of congested living, that this
study is offered.



THE European War, with its unprecedented
demand for munitions has metamorphosed
Bridgeport, Connecticut, from a conserva-
tive municipality into a turbulent, congested com-
munity. This city on Long Island Sound has a
long and varied manufacturing history ; for years
it has held an important place as the home of
diversified industry in a part of the country in
which factory towns have tended to become spe-
cialized. Fall River, Lawrence, and Lowell are
known as textile cities, Holyoke and Dalton as
paper towns, Lynn and Brockton as shoe manu-
facturing centers, but Bridgeport's manufactures
range from submarines to graphophones, and in-
clude automobiles, electrical goods, corsets, and
sewing machines, as well as a variety of foundry
and machine-shop products. It is only recently
that the expansion of the military arms and am-
munition business has made Bridgeport known
throughout the country as a city pre-eminent in
the manufacture of munitions.

For the first few months of the war the city had
apparently no inkling of the great change which
was to come about. In common with other Ameri-
can cities it suffered during the winter of 1914-15
from the most serious shock to industry and trade
that the country has had since the hard times fol-
lowing the panic of 1907. The daily papers tell



the story of unemployment and distress, of the
efforts of the hard-pressed Department of Chari-
ties and the philanthropic associations to give re-
lief, of the appointment of a special committee to
solve the problem of unemployment, and of the
difficulty of obtaining appropriations for any
large-scale constructive measures. Except for the
depression which such a period brings to any city,
Bridgeport was progressing in an orderly and con-
ventional manner. It had a population of some-
thing over 100,000, a transportation system which
met its needs, a conservative city government, and
was extending its suburbs and caring for its large
foreign population by building new schoolhouses
and taking steps towards revising its tenement
house laws.

As early as March, 1915, however, the numbers
of its unemployed had materially decreased and
a few days later came a foreshadowing of the
dramatic change that was to take place in the for-
tunes of the city. Large new factory buildings
costing, it was said, $12,000,000, were under con-
struction on the outskirts of the city and rumor
had it that these were designed for the manufac-
ture of munitions. Since 1867 Bridgeport had
been the established home of the Union Metallic
Cartridge Company, which had developed a sport-
ing trade in addition to supplying cartridges to
European governments and to the United States.
In 1888 the owner of this company, Marcellus
Hartley, acquired the Remington Arms Company,
of Ilion, New York, and the two plants thus be-


came affiliated. Late in the spring of 1915 it be-
came generally known that the new factories on
the outskirts of the city were being built by the
Remington Arms Company whose plant in Ilion
was also at work on war orders, and that the new
business in Bridgeport would afford opportunities
for work to thousands of people in the making of
guns. This announcement brought large numbers
of men in search of work. There were jobs for all
who came and before many months had passed the
demand for labor outran the supply. The prob-
lem of unemployment was entirely forgotten.
Each unit of the great factory was put into opera-
tion as soon as it was completed and machinery
could be installed. The Union Metallic Cartridge
Company also enlarged its plant, increasing its
floor space by 700,000 square feet, and took on
many additional employes. Other munition com-
panies were formed, and concerns engaged in al-
lied lines of business turned over large parts of
their plants to the manufacture of war supplies.

In January, 1916, it was announced that the
arms company and the cartridge company, both
controlled by Mr. Marcellus Hartley Dodge, had
been merged into the Remington Arms-Union
Metallic Cartridge Company. The company was
incorporated in Connecticut, with a capital stock
of $60,000,000, all except a few shares of which
were held by its president and chief owner.

During the summer of 1915, when the business
boom had been growing daily and rumors of fabu-
lous war profits had begun to spread, dissatisfac-



tion fermented in the labor world in Bridgeport
and the city entered upon a three months' era of
strikes. The expansion had found a nine or ten-
hour day in nearly all factories. Labor was for
the most part unorganized, but a shortage in the
supply of workers, despite the rush of men to the
city, and a rapid increase in rents, and the abnor-
mal living conditions due to this rush made an un-
settled situation in which labor difficulties rapidly
developed. The real trouble began in a jurisdic-
tional dispute in the construction of the arms fac-
tory, when the iron workers, who claimed that the
millwrights should be affiliated with their own
union, struck because the millwrights were classed
and paid as carpenters. The millwrights joined
the iron workers. Later the machinists in both
the Remington Arms and the Union Metallic Car-
tridge Company factories struck for an eight-hour
day, increased pay, time and one-half pay for over-
time, and double pay for Sundays and holidays.
Within two weeks the company granted increased
pay and a forty-eight-hour week with a three-shift
schedule, and the strike ended. With the eight-
hour day and higher wages granted in one quarter,
it was inevitable that dissatisfaction should spread
to other factories. In spite of strong opposition
by the Manufacturers' Association of Bridgeport,
which continued to stand for a fifty-four-hour
week, strike after strike, with the eight-hour day
and increased pay as the principal issues, was
brought to a successful or partially successful con-
clusion in favor of the workers.



A company manufacturing automobiles made an
effort to avert trouble by introducing a profit-shar-
ing plan; this the men rejected, and a strike was
declared. The company then offered a choice be-
tween a bonus system and the eight-hour day. The
employes voted for the latter and returned to work
with the new system of hours but with the pay on
a ten-hour basis. Strikes among the hundreds of
women in the corset factories produced an eight-
hour day and substantial increase in wages. From
laundry workers to window cleaners, through the
list of more than 50 strikes carried on in Bridge-
port during the summer of 1915, the story is the
same. At the end of the summer Bridgeport was
practically an eight-hour city, with the prevailing
rates of wages fully equivalent to those on the old
basis. As an offset to these gains, however, night
work, for both men and women, was on the in-
crease, and the unions, although stronger than at
the beginning of the struggle, were not in a posi-
tion to enforce a closed shop policy.

With the cessation of labor troubles in the au-
tumn of 1915, the city had settled into an accept-
ance of the new industrial order and the rapid
changes which were following unavoidably upon
it. Construction of the arms and cartridge facto-
ries proceeded rapidly, and the working force, in-
creasing as one department after another was
opened, was rated within a few months at a figure
between 20,000 and 30,000. Other factories, of
various types, continued to spring up in the out-
skirts of the city, bringing new suburban devel-



opments. Population increased at an unprece-
dented rate. The lowest estimate made at the time
of the publication of the 1916 city directory placed
the total population at 140,000, an increase of 37
per cent since 1910. The contagion of prosperity
was everywhere evident. The shopping district
of the city boasted the "seventh busiest corner in
the world" (Main Street and Fairfield Avenue),
and in the rush of business the narrow, crooked
streets became wholly inadequate to accommodate

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Online LibraryAmy HewesWomen as munition makers; a study of conditions in Bridgeport, Connecticut → online text (page 1 of 10)