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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

Women Retained in Furniture Factories

Women who during the war secured jobs in the furniture factories seem likely to have landed themselves in permanent berths, since with the present tremendous shortage of labor, few of the factories have found need for displacing the women they already employed. Moreover, the women have been found highly efficient in their tasks, and since they are drawing the same pay as the men and are not doing work too hard for them, there seems no reason why they should not be so employed if they desire it.

When the women were first talked of as possibilities in the furniture factories because of the men going into the army, many of the manufacturers scoffed at the idea, and some declared openly that women couldn’t make good furniture workers; making furniture was a man’s job. But they were forced to it eventually, and to the surprise of some, they discovered the women not only could do some portions of the work just as well as men, but sometimes even better.

As sanders, rubbers, finishers, etc. the women did excellent work, and at many tasks they were put opposite the men so that the men could handle the heavy work and the women the lighter end.

It was not an infrequent occurrence that women applied for jobs as cabinetmakers, and to the surprise of many a manufacturer they discovered the women were just as expert in cabinet work as the men, and moreover they were always quiet and careful and painstaking in their work.

In another branch of the work they were found especially useful. In some decorative lines some of the work is done with the brush by hand. It was found very quickly that the women had the gentle touch and the artistic eye, which made them highly successful in this work.

Of course, it was expected than when the war was over vast numbers of men would be thrown upon the market with nothing to do, and it was expected the women would have to leave to make way for them. But in the furniture business, as in all others, there are far too few workers and the result is that the women are holding their jobs, while the returning men are just as eagerly seized upon as if the women had never stepped in.

“I’m keeping all my women workers.” Said one manufacturer. “I have been unable to get enough men and the women are doing just as good, and in some cases better work than the men did. They are not doing work that is too hard for them. I shall most certainly retain them until the time comes that we have a surplus of men, and I don’t see any likelihood of that situation coming soon. The women are a big success in the furniture business so far as I can see.”

Excerpted from The Grand Rapids Herald, June 30, 1919, pg. 5

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