papers closely reported on the 1914 Laundry
Minimum Wage Conferences, especially the wranglings
over what it cost a laundry girl to live.
the delegates were willing to speak as laundry girls,
yet many laundry owners attended as lobbyists. (From
Seattle, Pacific Laundryman listed representatives
of the Troy, Model, Model Electric, Rainier, Cascade,
Washington, American, Nelson, New Method, Metropolitan
and Peerless Laundries). "Some 25 to 30 laundrymen,"
wrote the Seattle Star, "came to caucus..and
with them the minimum wage law was interpreted to
mean WHAT IS THE IRREDUCIBLE MINIMUM UPON WHICH A
GIRL CAN EXIST?"
argued over the necessity of petticoats, the quality
of hats and shoes a laundry girl deserved - even the
amount of handkerchiefs needed per year.
passionate testimony of Seattle laundry girls Joanna
Hilts and Hilda O'Connor captured public imagination.
Owners rebuked O'Connor, whose husband was a laundry
driver, for requiring a "higher standard of living
than a single girl".
when O'Connor was asked how much girls required for
shoes, "she said the laundry girls required three
pairs per year, at $3 a pair for shop use and one
pair at $3 for 'dress'." When an owner asked
if one pair of $4 shoes might not do, the Star reported
O'Connor smiled as she replied, "I cannot answer...I
never had a pair of $4 shoes in my life." She
had worked as a laundry girl, the paper noted, for
Hilts,' they wrote, "knows the laundry business
from top to bottom, having worked in all departments.
Her description of the effects of operating the different
kinds of machines in the laundries and how the strain
and jar of this work crippled and otherwise broke
down the women...until serious operations and long
periods of sickness were of frequent occurrence."
also told of the effect of the hot stench that came
from the dirty clothes" and the "temperature
that frequently ran to 100 degrees". One paper
described it as a "bombshell" thrown "into
the camp of the laundry-owners".
owner Frank Nixon opposed the girls' every plea, eventually
provoking O'Connor to demand, "Do you know what
it means to eat on $2 a week...It means less than
ten cents a meal. Have you ever eaten a ten-cent meal?"
When Nixon replied that he had, the hearing adjourned
and O'Connor trailed Nixon to Doan's restaurant -
and secretly pocketed the receipt for his lunch. How
she used it made Hilts
a public heroine.
the stand that afternoon, she addressed Nixon directly,
saying, "It's easy enough for you to say that
girls can eat at ten cents a meal. Talking that way
doesn't hurt your stomach and it doesn't make your
heart faint and your head swim as you slave, slave,
slave. What do you know about ten-cent meals, Mr.
Nixon? Your meal at noon today - here in Olympia -
cost $2.40 all for yourself. You've allowed yourself
at one sitting more than you would give a laundry
girls for all week!"