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A Hotel Worker Requests Labor Laws for Women

In this letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, an aging Southern hotel worker describes long hours and hard working conditions. Advocating on behalf of women hotel laborers, she requests a six day, 48 hour work week, and an improved pension for older workers. Her letter refers to two popular critics of the New Deal, Charles E. Coughlin and Dr. Francis Townsend. "Father" Coughlin was a Catholic priest who argued for stronger government control and social legislation to combat the evils of industrialism. Dr. Townsend, a California physician, proposed that every citizen over sixty who was not working should receive $200 a month from the government "on the condition that they spend the money as they get it." Both Townsend and Coughlin attacked the unequal distribution of wealth and power, but fell short of advocating socialism. Their popularity with Americans during the Depression impacted FDR's Second New Deal by emboldening the President to pass stronger relief measures.

Atlanta, Georgia, February 19, 1937

Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:

Since Congress is in session again, and our wonderful President is also again on the job, I am begging you to help assist the women working in hotels in this country, especially in the South. I have been in the work since I was 32 years of age, and I am near 61 now, and on a hard job in one of our best hotels here in Atlanta, in the salad department.

I leave home at 10:30 A.M. to be on the job at 12 o'clock. I work like fighting fire, until 10 at night, and more than that....

Well...what do I get per month for this fast hard work seven days per week and overtime and to 12:30 on Saturday nights. I get $35 per month, and 60 cents out of that on the Old Age Pension. So you see they rate me at $60. I wear some old ragged uniforms that the coffee shop girls have discarded and an average of three per week are run though their house laundry.

I am an old experienced worker, and fast and clean and give full satisfaction, but that is the life of a Southern hotel woman worker. Young men soon get better pay while the poor women are made the goat on and on. Me and the colored help scrub at night. Me in my dept., and the negros for the cooks and cold meat counters. The men smoke cigarettes and laugh and talk.

Mrs. Roosevelt, is this fair to women in any section of the country, and can you not influence the President to make laws that will stop it. Laws—with six days and 48 hours per week....

We are not fighting for a 30 hour week, we are breaking in health under 10 to 12 hours a day of fast hard work in a hot hot kitchen (will not let cold air in during serving hours) and only beg for 8 hours in a straight watch (not a split watch) and one day to lie in bed, and rest....

I am so old that you cannot do me much good, but for the younger ones it can be a blessing in the coming years. What do I get out of life, and on pay day what do I have, and we all give to Red Cross also.

I am hoping that Dr. Townsend will sometime bring a better pension than we have so far. Capital will not pay us a living wage, so it must come some other route. I am opposed to Coughlin and all those crokers, but I believe that Townsend himself means well.

Thanking you for reading this petition, and hope you may see just what we live under while men are fighting for six hours and more pay. Give the forgotten women in Southern Hotels a chance to eat, and a day to lie in bed and rest from the hard work.

Yes I am in favor of enlarging the Supreme Court, and I know that all that President Roosevelt advocates is right, or he would not advocate it to start with, and I know you are extremely proud of such a husband for he is even greater than any that has ever been in our country. We love him, and know he is for the working man and woman.

M.W.

Source | Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner, "Slaves of the Depression": Workers' Letters about Life on the Job (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1987), 155-7.
Creator | Anonymous
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Anonymous, “A Hotel Worker Requests Labor Laws for Women,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 10, 2018, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/688.

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