Eloquent testimony from an unknown woman  

At the Minimum Wage Conferences, only the three girls officially chosen as delegates spoke out. On May 20, 1914, it became known announced that one girl had been fired for speaking in public.

The next day the Seattle Star published this letter, with a promise to keep its author's name secret.


"I am a laundry girl. I have worked four years in a Seattle Laundry and know quite well the life of a girl in my position. I am not railing because I do this sort of work, but have often thought if the owners really knew just how hard the work gets sometimes, they wouldn't quibble so much about a few cents extra wages a day.

I manage to exist somehow. I have few friends. The boys do not notice me now, or try to flirt with me as they did when I first started in.

When a girl gets a job in a laundry she is told to dress neatly. The command is posted on signs about the workroom. It's not so hard for a stenographer or a shop girl to keep neat, but when your clothes are wringing wet after half a days' work in a laundry, it's another matter.

The shop girl or the stenographer doesn't have to bend in a thousand unnatural ways every day. She doesn't ruin a corset every two or three months. A laundry girl does.

A young girl comes into the laundry with pink rosy cheeks. If she works at the mangle it is in a temperature of 100 to 125 degrees. She is "green" when she starts and burns her fingers on the hot surface of the rollers. Her fingers crack and then they bleed. Even the old timers cannot escape sore fingers. It is a part of the work.

The heat makes her pink cheeks fade and she becomes pale and unhappy. She loses flesh as the work goes on. I have known girls to lose from 16 to 20 pound during the heavy working season.

Some have to keep at it the year round. They must do something to "keep up". They learn to take "health tablets" of various sorts and finally become habitual users of some stimulant. It's not a very pretty picture, but it's the truth.

In work such as the laundry girl does you want to eat a big meal when the day's rush is over.

These ten-cent meals the investigators are talking about don't go very far toward satisfying a girl who has stood in miserable heat all day and worked just as hard and as fast as she could. I know, because I have tried it.

In addition to the low wages in Seattle laundries, there are a lot of things that don't look right. There is one place which manages to keep the girls 10 minutes over time every night. One morning a girl was fired for being four minutes late. All the girls walked out. I guess they patched the trouble up after a while.

In another place the foreman swears at the girls all day long. The work is fearfully disagreeable just because of him. They can't complain. If they did they would be fired.

In some of the places a girl must stand in water while she works and in all the laundries, the work is in a hot room. The girls go home every night with their clothes wringing wet with perspiration. The chances are they have to stand up in a draft in the streetcar. Sickness sooner or later is the result. And there's not much of an allowance in our wages for doctor bills.

The average mangle turns out 4,000 pieces a day, at a fair profit of $200. It takes four girls to run through this amount.

The work is hard. You cry a lot of times when you get home at night and then go back in the morning because you have to. I sometimes think the owners don't know just what we girls are up against.

If they really understood, I don't believe they'd kick on wages that would let us live respectably and in comfort."

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