Gap and Gown: An AAUW Issue since 1894

October 16, 2012

AAUW has been at the forefront of advocacy for fair pay for women for more than 100 years.

In 1894, the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, the precursor to AAUW, partnered with the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor to examine the pay of college-educated women by collecting employment and salary information from ACA members. The bureau analyzed the data, and ACA published the results in the 1896 report Compensation in Certain Occupations of Women Who Have Received College or Other Special Training.

The report is fascinating. It is the testimony of the women themselves that proves most interesting. These rare, first-person accounts of women’s work experiences at that time are not often found in archival collections — or anywhere, for that matter.

Here are a few quotes from the report. As you read them, remember that they were written in 1894!

The woman in industry who finds herself employed in the occupations which are open to men and who frequently performs identical work for a salary or for wages much below those paid her co-workers of the opposite sex is naturally apt to inquire what reason, economic or other, justifies this inequality.

Men oftener than women have to support others. In spite of this, I cannot see why a man should be paid $200 more than I am paid to do the same work when he does it no better.

I know that my work here is appreciated and is paid because of its worth. I think many women are helping to keep down the rate of women’s wages by consenting to work for less compensation than would be given to a man for the same grade.

When I was doing office work, I received $6 a week and kept the books and was a typewriter, too. If a man had been employed for this work, his pay would have been $15 a week, and he would not have been required to perform the general office work. He would have been a professional bookkeeper, however, which I was not.

Women are fearful of asserting their inherent rights, standing as they now do on the verge of freedom. The time, however, is not far off when women will have a voice in making just laws for themselves and others, and this will no doubt have an effect in securing equal remuneration for equal services to both sexes.

Today we call “equal remuneration for equal service” by its simpler title: equal pay for equal work. On October 24, AAUW will release its latest equal pay report, Graduating to a Pay Gap, which builds on the shoulders of these women who worked on the issue more than a century ago.

Suzanne Gould By:   |   October 16, 2012

2 Comments

  1. erinprangley erinprangley says:

    Thanks Suzanne! This is amazing. Women’s voices on pay equity from the turn of the LAST century sound so much like those today. Thanks for reminding us that we stand on the shoulders of past AAUW members as our work continues.

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