JUNE 26, 1961
HYDE PARK—The position of working women today as compared to 50 years ago was the subject of a lively discussion at my home last Thursday, when I held a party for the six young working women who were awarded scholarships by the Women's Trade Union League Fund so that they could continue their education. Former scholarship winners were also invited, and the discussion almost at once turned to the question of whether married women should work, how much, and at what period.
There seemed to be general agreement that young women who had good educations found it almost impossible to become just housewives and mothers. They need some outside interest. If one looks back 50 years or more, it is easy to see that homemaking is no longer the science it was when the home was a real factory, with a woman of executive ability very much needed to run the varied occupations that had to be learned and practiced there. The care of children, however, has changed in detail but not in real substance; and I could not help thinking that, until a child is old enough to go to nursery school, a mother who is able to stay at home, and does so, reaps great benefits for future years.
The thing which amused me most was the expression on the young people's faces when one of the older working women, at my request, told of conditions when she first went to work. She spoke of a 10-hour day, six days a week for a child of 13, with $2 a week as pay. The young things could hardly believe it—but of course $2 could buy more then than it does now. On the whole, however, young women are better off today.
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A group of eminent religious leaders have made a joint statement on Public Law 78 and submitted it to the Senate Committee on Farm Labor in connection with hearings on the Mexican migratory farm labor program. Although the House voted 231 to 157 to extend the importation program with no reform, it was encouraging that for the first time a roll call vote was taken and that 157 Congressmen went on record as opposed to extending the law unless reforms were enacted to prevent Public Law 78 from further displacing domestic farm workers and depressing their wages.
If the public takes an interest and writes to their Senators, there is a possibility that reform amendments will be adopted in the Senate. In their joint statement, the Protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders said:
"A cardinal fact of our democratic system is that government seldom originates social and economic progress, but rather responds to the expression of its people. It follows that when any definable segment of our population is inarticulate, it draws to itself little public attention and in consequence remains outside the range of most progressive actions. Such is the case with the migratory farm workers of America, who, to this day, remain bereft of the benefits of most labor and social legislation enacted in recent years.
"Expressly excluded from the nation's minimum wage law, many of these farm workers labor for 35 to 50 cents an hour and earn an average of less than $1,000 a year. With longer and more frequent layoff periods than other workers, they do not enjoy the benefits of the unemployment insurance system, and so must carry the burden of their own joblessness. Should they be hurt or otherwise become physically impaired while working in the fields, extremely few of them are covered under state workmen's compensation laws.
"Perhaps the most harmful of all is the categorical exclusion of farm workers from legislation that protects the right of other workers to organize into unions and bargain with their employers. Had farm workers been given this protection under the National Labor Relations Act, it is reasonable to conclude they would have acquired for themselves a far more equitable position in our economy than they now occupy. In our way of life there is no substitute for properly constituted representation."
Let us hope that the Senate committee will give real thought to the statement of the religious leaders and that many other people will communicate their views on this very important question.