|The Ladies and the Ceramic Industry by Joan Witt. There is a version of this article in the 1981 TRI-STATE POTTERY FESTIVAL, by Joan under the title of Early Women Workers.|
Few women worked outside of the home during the early part of the 1800's. The majority of the women stayed at home and handled the household chores. When the pottery industry first started here a few women were listed as working with their husbands. Esther Smith Goodwin during the 1840's was listed as the Co -owner of the John Goodwin Pottery. In an article written by Lucille Thomas Cox, reference is made to the fact that Esther and John actually had an agreement drawn up that Esther was to be listed as co-owner of the pottery.
During that decade of the 1840's Mrs. Martha Salt was also listed as a pottery sales lady with her husband as part of the Salt and Mears Pottery on 2nd at Washington Street. Local legend also tells of a fire which occurred July of 1849 at the Ball and Morris Pottery on Cherry Alley. Supposedly the fire was started by a female employee who was shunned she said by the women in the town because she was "doing a man's work".
In the census of 1850 there were only two females listed as working in the local potteries but there were no other females listed anywhere in the township as employed. By 1870 17 girls from East Liverpool were listed as employed in the potteries. However, many men brought their entire family to help them in their work, so whether those 17 listed were part of family units or not is not known at this time. Women earned 75 cents per day while the unskilled men earned $1.29.
A notice did appear in the Potters Gazette on January 17, 1877," Notice is hereby given that the Co-partnership heretofore existing between Rachel Harker and Benjamin Harker, Sr. under the firm name of Geo. S. Harker & Company is this day dissolved by mutual consent, Benja.. Harker Sr. is retiring from said firm. The business will be continued by Mrs. Rachel Harker and all debts due, or owing to said firm will be settled by her. Signed Rachel Harker and Benja. Harker, Sr. She then retired in 1880.
In 1882 there was a big lock-out in the potteries which lasted six months. The Potters were trying to organize under the Knights of Labor. Women mostly assisted the jiggermen and turners or were employed as decorators.
By 1886 a new look to the business department of the potteries was beginning. Homer Laughlin hired the first female typewriter for the industry. Previous to that time, men wrote all correspondence by hand for the office orders in the potteries. Luella or Lu Lu Cawood was a Graduate of the Duff's Business School in Pittsburgh and came to town. Homer Laughlin purchased the newest and best equipment for his office. The typing machines of that day were difficult to operate. They did not have standard keyboards and had two sets of keys - one for small letters and one for the capital letters. Miss Cawood's first paycheck was for $12.00 for a 60 hour work week. Of course when she married George Wilhelm she had to resign her position. Nora Stevenson replaced her and continued to work in the pottery office until 1947. By the turn of the century more and more women were being hired for the office work. They were no longer called "typewriters" -but were referred to as "stenographers.
In 1886 27% of the total pottery labor force were made up of women. At Homer Laughlin, at that time the labor force was 45% women. In 1888 there were 500 women working in the potteries but none earned enough to live independently. They averaged about a dollar per day in wages. By 1891 there were 577 women and 650 children working in all of the potteries in the area. That was about 30% of the total work force.
In the years of 1893-94 difficulties hit the pottery industry. The depression and proposed reduction of tariffs caused some potteries to close and other to lay off workers. The owners talked of reducing wages from 10 to 20 percent. The men went on strike. The final settlement was for a 12 percent reduction for some workers. The reduction for the women workers was not listed. The bisque warehouse girls were talking strike because of a 12 112 per cent reduction. They demanded that wages at least remain at 75 cents a day. That situation was settled but again in 1899 the bisque girls from many potteries walked off of their jobs. When that strike was finally settled, women began to organize into their own union.
By 1900 women made up about 24% of the work force and in 1910 that number was up to 36% of the workforce. In 1910 the women again went on strike demanding a raise from 96 cents a day to $1.10 per day plus a 15 minute lunch hour! Over 600 women were on strike. The settlement was a 10% increase with a lunchtime compromise.
By 1924 the warehouse women earned an average of $12.24 per week, the decal girls and liners were paid more. But still the women were paid considerably less than the men In 1933 the hourly rate for potters was 40 cents for the men and 32 cents for the women. During the war years, women held almost 50 % of the jobs in the plants but they knew that their jobs would end when the men came home from the service.
Many women held jobs in the decorating and decal departments, Also there were several women hired as artists This was the time of the very artistic and highly decorated ware which was so popular The decals became much finer in detail - The process was known as decalcomania. Many of the finer vases and some of the platters in particular were designed by hand. As you read through the old city directories you will see many women listed as decorators, stampers, and brushers. One of the higher paying positions in the potteries then was that of liner and particularly that of gilder - one who did the gold lining in the industry. This writer had the opportunity to talk often with Edith Harker Goodwin and hear of her work as a liner in several of the potteries.
From about 1890 - 1915 women were also portrayed on ceramics. The process of refining the images of the decals as such that the female poses and particularly the female faces began to appear on the most popular plates and trays. Many decals reflected the images of the heroines from popular writings of the day. There were many decorated plates in honor of the leaders of the country such as Washington and Lincoln. KT&K produced as series of the Knights for the Masonic organization. In the late 1890's, the Victorian art form of the lovely females began to appear. Calendar plates often depicted the women as they branched out into more leisurely activities. Thus it would be possible to see a decal of a woman dressed for traveling in the fancy automobiles of a the day.
Now you can find women in most of the occupations and work areas that the men work. Hall China Company, has a factory work force of 439 workers of which 109 are women. They are in most of the job classifications particularly as decorators, liners, inspectors, dippers and back stampers. Our hats are off now to not only those first women in the industry but all the women in the industry and of course the many women consumers of the products of the pottery industry.
If you would come to East Liverpool today --- 38 miles from here, you might like to visit our Museum of Ceramics to view the history of the industry. On display there is some of the finest ware ever produced.You might even see the only bottle or upright kiln in the city and see a building that at one time John and Esther Goodwin worked in.