Shirley Chisholm

Congressional Address and Debate - June 12, 1918

Shirley Chisholm
June 12, 1918
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Opening statement

Miss Rankin: Mr. Chairman, I offer the following ammendment.

The Clerk read as follows: Pag 19, line s, after the word "assistants," strike out the figures "$1,781,600" and insert "$2,039,118."

Miss Rankin: Mr. Chairman, this appropriation has to do with the men and women working in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. When I came to Washington I heard many rumors about the unwholesome and unfair conditions in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Just about a year ago I was requestd to make an investigation of conditions in that bureau. After thoroughly investigating those conditions I brought the facts before the Secretary of the Treasurery, Mr. McAdoo. He appointed a committee to further investigate the conditions of the girls' work in the Bureau of Engraving and Printint and after a hearing which lasted less than three hours the committee made a supplementary report to Mr. McAdoo declaring that all workers in the bureau should be put on an eight-house basis. This was done. We found from a report made to me by Mr. Raplh, Director of the Bureau, that there were over 400 girls in the bureau whose time he was going to shroten from 13 hours to 12 hours a day. We found that he had working over 400 women on night during on a 12-hour shift.

He offered to reduce the hours of 18 women from 15 to 14 hours a day. We found that this work had continued for several months before war was declared. These conditions, humanity decided, should not continue. We also found many other conditions that had to be changed. For instance, Mr. Ralph had taken away from the girls their annual leave. He had also refused to give them permission to be transferred to other departments. These conditions were changed, but there was nothing we could do about the pay that these girls were receiving. Two dollars and twenghty-four cents a day, or $700 a year, was the highest wage that the girls could attain except when they were put in charge of a division. We found many girls who had been working in the bureau 15 to 20 years and were receiving only $700 a year. These girls are employed as common laborers. I think that is the head under which their work is done, but as a matter of fact it is very skilled labor and very hard on those who are performing the work. For instance, in the examining room they have to examine every bill and know whether it is perfect. Every bit of work that is done in the bureau is counted. The mental strain of counting continually for 8 hours a day, and at times 12 hours a day, is more than most of the girls can stand.

In the numbering and examining division the women have to have their eyes examined very often, because of the strain upon them. This work can not be done by unskilled labor. It takes many years of training to work up to the positions which those girls occupied when they were receiving $700 a year, and this appropriation will simply increase the amount which the director of the bureau may give to these women, who are now receiving, some of them, $1.92 a day, and a great majority $2.24 a day.

Closing statement

Miss Rankin: This increase I am asking for is not for the assistants of th eplate printers, but for women working in the other departments of the bureau. As you know, this appropriation is a lump sum, and we will have to trust to the director to divide the money among the employees in an equitable manner. That can not be done by legislation by this body. I am asking only for a $25,000 increase over what the committee made, which, I believe, is an increase of $100,000. This will not all go toward increased wages, but, no doubt, a large part will be used for additional employees. New women can not be obtained unless they are offered a reasonable wage. There are many women still working in this dpeartment of the bureau receiving only $1.92 a day. Now, we know that is not what the women in the bureau should receive. There may be some depratments of the Government where the employees do not work very hard, but no one can say that about the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, for there they are forced to work at a pace set by machines, and then those who do the continual counting from morning until night, constantly counting large sums of money, are given set tasks to perform. This work requires women of capacity and moral courage. If this Congress wishes the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to continue the splendid output they have been making, we must recognize the necessities of the workers.

People can work under a stress in time of peace, which, in many instances, can not be endure din time of war. We know that the work of this department is very important. If the new director is not performing his work in the way that it should be performed, we should change the director again; but that the director is not doing his duty is no reason for Congress to continue making appropriations that will necessitate underpay for the women.

Source: "Congressional Record." June 12, 1918.