Women Wage Workers

Women working outside the home for wages were a small minority of the wage-working class at least until the post World War I era. There were virtually no women employed in the brewing industry until the 1930’s. Industries that employed a substantial number of women in St Paul around the turn of the last century were garment manufacturers, especially producers of men’s work clothing, and the printing industry, which employed women as bindery workers. There were a few predominantly female unions, notably the United Garment Workers and the Bindery Girls (sic) Union. These industries were located in the downtown manufacturing district.

One business enterprise that employed women almost entirely was the laundry industry. Men were employed as delivery drivers, but women were the inside workers, doing hot and heavy labor. There were scores of laundries throughout the city, including some substantial ones on West Seventh Street. Records of the women working in these places are hard to find, however, Mattie Dahl, a Swedish immigrant, was employed in 1890 by the Globe Laundry, and lived at 412 Smith Avenue, a residence long since displaced by United Hospital. Lizzie Mara worked at the Minnesota Steam Laundry and lived, probably boarded, at 117 Smith Avenue, likewise long gone.

In this bygone era, there were probably at least 20 Chinese owned, operated and staffed laundries. Unlike the big steam laundries owned by Caucasians, Chinese laundries catered to individuals, especially single men who did not have access to laundromats, or unpaid female labor.