The Jobless White-Collar Woman
The stenographer, the teacher, the salesgirl, the professional woman— where does she turn when the cupboard is bare?
ONE OF THEM
THE stenographer, governess, nurse, teacher, salesgirl, the trained worker in business and professional walks of life, the “white-collar” woman—where does she turn to when the cupboard is bare?
Of all problems of unemployment, that of the “white-collar" woman is the most baffling. Women’s clubs and societies in various towns and cities throughout Canada are continually trying to grapple with this enigma. They have discussed it and have propounded ideas for relief, have put notices in the papers offering help and inviting the confidence of these jobless women but how many have they been able to reach?
In some cases these would-be helpers have come to the conclusion that the white-collar woman is t<x> proud to make her plight known. She would rather starve in her room than accept charity.
I am one of these unemployed women.
Would I accept charity? Yes, I have arrived at that point. I became hungry enough to pocket my pride. For several days I lived off charity funds and "Y” cafeteria meal tickets. I am grateful for the kindness and tact shown by my benefactors, but I have decided that my action was a mistake.
It breaks the spirit. Let me tell you briefly my exjjerience.
About a year ago I held a well-paid executive's job. My salary had reached a figure as high as most Canadian women attain. I thought I was an exceptionally resourceful person, and had several bright ideas of how to keep the home fires burning if 1 lost my job.
When the thing happened, my brilliant ideas seemed to go up in smoke. I had to take back what I preached on the subject; eat my words, with often little else for a meal.
Naturally, there are several stages between the last pay cheque and the shadow of the gaunt wolf on the doormat. For a time you live as before, exacting to find another job lx*fore your money runs out.
Comes a day. however, when you stare tragically at an empty cupboard.
Hunting the Elusive Meal
AT SUCH times a woman will do one of two things, sit down and weep, or get on her mettle. It is like the story of the two frogs that fell into a pan of milk. One drowned from the shock, but the other rustled around so lively that the morning found him ensconced on a pat of butter.
I seem to lx* of the tvjx* that prefers to rustle. I began to think fast. It struck me that the quickest way to eat was to get a waitress’s job. Anyone who knows how to serve meals can be a waitress.
Don't think it was easy to start out and search. I passed several restaurants, but could I force myself inside? I w'ould walk bravely up to the door, then my courage waned. Naturally I shunned those in the business district where my friends take lunch.
Eventually I came to a clean, homey-looking café. In the window was spread an array of appetizing fixxi. An empty stomach is an implacable urge. Tempted by the smell of steak and coffee. 1 found myself inside.
It took all my grit to ask for the manager.
He was standing Ixffore me an old-country man and quite human looking.
“I wonder,” I began apologetically, “if you need a waitress?”
He glanced at me curiously. I became conscious that I was wearing quite a good-looking coat and a modish hat. Clothes are the last to show the state of one’s finances.
He half guessed the truth and seemed reluctant to confess that he didn’t need help.
Perhaps I cast a longing look at the nicely set-up tables. Certainly I didn’t tell him I was hungry. But before I realized it, he was leading me to an empty table in a comer.
He seemed more embarrassed than I, as he handed me a menu and told me in an undertone to order what I wished.
I ate a hearty dinner. The waiter handed me a check for seventy-five cents. I presented it to the cashier, and she nodded, smiling. But as I passed out at the door, I felt that every eye in the place was boring a hole through my back.
“Never again,” I decided. “I’d rather go to the Salvation Army.”
On the City
T HAD rustled around. I had got a good meal. But the * next day I was again faced with the same problem— where to eat? Then it began to dawn upon me that handing out meals merely evades the question.
I recollected a report I had read, wherein certain women's friendly societies had stated that the jobless woman of my type refused aid. that they would rather starve. Very well; I would see what they could do for me.
I hunted out the Women's Welfare Society. The secretary referred me to the Y.W.C.A. She rang them up and made an appointment for that afternoon.
"Didn’t you notice their advertisement in the papers?” she asked me.
She produced a clipping which read:
“Are you away from home and out of a job? Would you like to talk things over with a friend who understands? The Social Service Secretary of the Y. W. C. A. will welcome you and help you to meet your difficulties. You may be assured of a private interview*. Your information will be regarded as confidential.”
It was then half-past one. I still had an hour before my appointment. I was desperately hungry. Someone had mentioned that a certain institute served free meals. I decided to eat there.
I doubt if I should have run the gauntlet, but as I paused before a rather grim building where several men were loitering, a policeman made a gangway, kindly opening the door for me. I was inside, asking for the women’s dining room.
An attendant hastened forward and showed me in.
Fortunately, the other "guests” had already dined and the room was practically empty. I dropped into a vacant chair at a long table.
Tw*o women, sitting at another table, were watching me. They looked like down-and-outers. One nudged the other, and they snickered.
“She s never been here before,” I heard one exclaim.
“Come over and sit here,” called the other in a loud whisper.
I went to their table.
“This is your first visit?” said the original speaker dryly.
“Well, you’ll not want to come again,” with a wry grin.
The dinner was boiled beef, potatoes, bread and rolls. Tea was served in a cup without a saucer. One sip of it was enough.
The meat and potatoes w*ere hot. I ate them hungrily. In a saucer before me was a redoubtable looking concoction resembling glue paste. Curiosity caused me to dip in my spoon. Honey, in its most pessimistic mood. I spread a little on a roll.
One of the women rose with a grunt, and the other followed. Soon I, too, got up from the table. Two derelicts and myself. All had partaken of a meal together, off the city.
An Open Door
TWO-THIRTY o’clock found me relaxing in a big easy chair in the comfortable lounge of the “Y”. One glance told me I w*as among my own kind. There were about tw*enty women w*aiting and more arriving—the whitecollar jobless, aged from the ’teens to forty
Each of us lounged on superpadded chairs, as splendidly isolated from one another as the North and South poles. All seemed guarding a secret lest the others should suspect why they were there.
Eventually I found myself in a private office of the secretary.
“What other kind of w*ork could you do?” she asked. “Suppose you don’t find a job in your own line, would you take housework?”
“Is your rent paid to date?”
I was glad to reply in the affirmative. Owing for rent is a jobless woman’s worst nightmare.
"Perhaps I can find work for you in a home. I’ll keep in touch with you. Meantime, this will tide you over the week-end.”
She handed me six tickets for meals at the “Y” cafeteria and a tw*o-dollar bill.
The next day at noon I handed in one of the tickets. On my tray was hot shepherd’s pie, string beans, pudding and tea. Everything attractive, clean and wholesome.
But has it solved my problem? Should I care to call again at the “Y” to go through another investigation of my personal affairs, tactfully though it may be handled?
I'll leave it to any woman in a job today. How would you like to have your personal affairs continually investigated? Believe me, being out of work doesn’t change your psychology.
Charity, no matter how graciously offered, is galling. What Is the Solution?
IS IT possible to have a problem with no solution? Certainly that of unemployment is baffling the greatest minds of this age. Minds that have grappled with world wars are perplexed, seeking to solve the enigma. There is, however, a new element that has entered into the question of unemployment. Heretofore, when one was out of a job, nobody understood. One was branded as a failure. Nobody believed you could make good. Hence
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The Jobless White-Collar Womanir
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nobody cared or did anything about it.
Now the whole country is aroused. There is scarcely a town or city where an active public effort is not being made to relieve the jobless. To quote one of the outstanding writers on the subject: “The world has had a tremendous spiritual awakening to this duty of relieving human suffering.”
A plan which has been proposed by this same writer is, to my mind, the most practical and constructive that has yet been brought forward. He says in part:
“While we may not be able to discover one vast, miraculous formula which will put every unemployed man and woman back to work at once, if we set ourselves faithfully to the task of making the most of what we have we shall find we have powers that we did not know we possessed.”
Making the most of what we have ! This is the most optimistic note I have heard for a long time. It is a song in the night, a rousing call for us jobless women to get back to work. Surely, when from all sides helping hands are held out, this is the moment for us to rise out of our ashes and help ourselves.
How many talents have we hidden in a napkin !
Almost every one of us office workers, teachers, nurses, professional women—have one or more talents and hobbies, a natural gift which we usé with greater ease than we learned to typewrite, teach, or whatever our job demands. Let us bring out our talents and take stock of them.
It is true that, for the aid of all business women, we need more clubs and hostels. The women now in jobs should get together and organize these—clubs such as they have in London, where a working girl may live at moderate rates; where, even if she loses her position, she may still retain her room until she is on her feet again.
One woman with wide experience in this line has suggested hostels that would take care of unemployed girls while they are preparing for a new field of work. There, certain subjects might be taught, such as domestic science.
Plenty of women are willing to take domestic jobs if they could get this training; and if the work were put on the same basis as office positions. Call them visiting housekeepers, if you will, with office privileges —a reasonable salary and certain stated hours, after which they could return to the freedom of their own rooms at the hostel.
There is a hue and cry from hundreds of homes lor more intelligent help If domestic work were given the dignity of an office job, the standard of efficiency would be raised.
A Market For Talents
A CONSTRUCTIVE plan which was carried out by several unemployed women in a large city might be adopted right in our own home town. It would give work to quite a number of girls, and serve as an outlet for talents now idle.
These women started a sort of community tea room, giving meals to employed business girls, shoppers and men who like homecooked food.
The jobless girls cooked, waited on table, took the cash; in fact, managed and ran the whole affair on a community basis. It gave several unemployed girls permanent, and others part time work.
For their plan, they chose a house centrally located. The rooms upstairs were fitted up as beauty parlors. The scheme proved a success.
Suppose the jobless women in each town and city chose a central marketing place fortalents such as the above. Instead of the beauty parlors, we might have a sort of Women’s Exchange. Women with a gift for making jams and jellies, or candy, pies, cakes and cookies, might bring their wares where they could be sold on order. She who is clever with her needle or crochet hook
could also find there a market for her knitted jumpers, baby wear, lingerie, hooked rugs and so forth.
We might even broaden our scheme to include a Personal Service; the latter to give employment to other women whose talents may not come under any of the above headings. Or it might serve as a market for , hobbies.
For instance, one woman may be clever at I ironing lingerie and summer frocks. Another may take pride in her neat darning of silk I stockings or mending fine laces. Maybe a ■ third has a flair for shopping. And some women have a positive charm for children; they can amuse them for hours.
Our Personal Service could thus include every type of helper. It could be similar to one in London, called The Aunts.
The Aunts take care of every kind of service, from chaperoning young girls to finding apartments for those too busy to j hunt. Maybe a woman requires someone to amuse her children for a day, or wishes a manicurist to come to her home, or wants a girl to shop for her. The Aunts fill such commissions and many more.
Suppose we call ours the Ten Talents ! Service !
There are perhaps thousands of hours of work of various kinds going begging for want of a central place where efficient help could be obtained under an organized plan.
Each week the Personal Service should insert an advertisement in the papers, informing the public what workers were available. Women requiring help should telephone early in the week, so that each worker could fill her list of appointments ! for the week. Besides those above mentioned, the following suggestions are offered :
1. Women for mending and keeping the wardrobe fit. To wash and iron those things too delicate to send to the laundry—fine lingerie, silk stockings, blouses, etc. Also to press out dresses and rejuvenate the wardrobe.
2. Shoppers for business women, and for those who live in apartments and cook their own meals. Make out your grocery list the ¡ night before, so that the shopper may have it early. One shopper could attend to the commissions of a dozen apartments in a day !
—at perhaps a dollar a week from each.
3. Typewriting manuscripts and docuj ments at forty-five cents a thousand words. This would be a convenience for offices requiring extra help, for authors, etc.
5. Gardening. To assist in market gardens, or in the home garden where no j outside help is kept. Might be of great service to the mistress of a country estate. :
6. Golf caddies. Why not? Women golfers who use caddies would doubtless be glad to employ an unemployed girl.
7. Chaperons. To accompany children or very young girls on jaunts, trips, parties and entertainments. This should be a boon these days, when there are so may demands on a mother’s time.
8. Chauffeuse. The jobless girl who can drive a car might find her time well filled, especially in summer with tourists who may prefer to do their sight-seeing in a leisurely way rather than by bus or taxi.
9. Teacup readers. This has almost become a profession, there being such a demand for cup readers at popular tea rooms and women’s clubs. With tips as well as salary, there is a good living in it.
Creating a Job
O MUCH for our Personal Service. Prob* ably more ideas for service could be added as the women take stock of their talents. And now there is the woman who. given an idea, prefers to carry it out on her own initiative. Perhaps she is more fortunately situated, and can afford to hew out a career for herself. For such the following are suggested •
1. Writing sales letters. The girl who wields a pithy pen, who has a talent for writing letters with a punch, may find a l_
career in salesmanship. A writer of this type is often considered a find by mail order firms or advertising agencies. But it is up to her to sell herself.
Incidentally, in the matter of sales letters, a new idea was adopted by a girl in a large city. In addition to an original style of expressing herself, her penmanship was distinguished. She sold an idea to a decorator— that of sending out handwritten weekly letters to wealthy clients, inviting them to come in and see certain new designs in wall papers, chintzes and other decorative themes.
These letters pulled so well that the writer was taken into the firm at a large salary. Any girl wishing to use this idea could propose it to almost any shop with an exclusive trade.
2. Supplying flowers to offices, tea rooms, beauty parlors, dentists and doctors. This would take two or three women working in conjunction with a market gardener or a firm that could supply flowers at a reasonable price. The plan can be worked out in various ways, but it would be necessary to solicit the offices, etc., early, taking orders for the entire summer season.
3. Organizing entertainments, dances, bridge parties, recitals, etc., for hotels and clubs. In most towns and cities, hotels and clubs have ballrœms or halls for social affairs. Offer to arrange for entertainments on a commission. This work, however, is more for the woman who comes in contact with club members or who is well known socially. It has been done with marked success.
4. Managing a community summer home for business girls. A summer domicile is often the business girl’s real problem. To find quiet, good f<x>d and congenial surroundings at the average country boarding house is almost impossible. Why shouldn’t several girls take a couple of cottages, choosing a capable unemployed woman as manager-housekeeper?
5. Market Gardening. Sometimes one finds a vacant piece of land that the owner might be willing to lend for the summer. 1 f near a summer resort or hotel, so much the better. Raising vegetables and flowers to sell direct to hotels, clubs, restaurants, etc., should be profitable. As in the case of No. 2, the orders should be solicited for the entire season.