Sunday, September 27, 2015

Stitching lives together

Young women sew by hand and at sewing machines in 1899 classroom
This 1899 image from the Library of Congress shows young
women in a sewing class at the Agricultural and Mechanical
College in Greensboro, N.C. The scene was similar at Florida 
schools. Women predominated in the needle trades in that era. 
Part 2 of 2

In my first post about the 1890 U.S. Census, I reviewed the primary fields of employment nationally and for Floridians. This second post addresses some of the other jobs held by Florida pioneers that year.

Because I come from a long line of women skilled in the needle arts, I'm especially interested in that line of work. My ancestors were plying the trade in Central and Southern Europe in 1890, and in New York City sweatshops and garment factories in the early 1900s. My grandmothers and great-grandmothers were tailors, seamstresses, and milliners. Not sure what the difference is between tailor and seamstress, but the former was a label held by my maternal great-grandmother in Sicily. From what I understand, it was a title of honor. She was specifically known as a tailor and not a tailoress. She was said to create fitted garments for clients without needing a pattern.

No matter where the trade was practiced, its elements and processes were similar. Women bent over needles in Florida the same time my ancestors did elsewhere, in much the same way. The heroine of my second novel, Stitching a Life in Persimmon Hollow, is a seamstress who works by hand and on a treadle sewing machine in late 1880s Florida. In the novel, she apprentices with the town dressmaker. Most towns had a dressmaker, sometimes known as a mantua maker in the earlier years of the 19th century. Many tradespeople took in apprentices.

No one reported being a milliner or dressmaker apprentice in 1890 Florida, although two men were tailor apprentices.  No one in the state was employed as a corset-maker, glove-maker, umbrella- and parasol-maker, or shirt-, collar- and cuff-maker. Instead, people in the Florida needle trades were doing the following:
  • Hat- and cap-makers:  8 men, 4 women
  • Embroiderers and lace-makers: 3 women, 0 men
  • Milliners: 109 women, 0 men
  • Dressmakers: Either 604 or 654 women (chart numbers are hard to read), 0 men
  • Seamstresses: 924 women, 0 men
  • Tailors and tailoresses: 130 men, 80 women
Women predominated in the industry, as it was one of the few respectable trades for women in that era. What about some of the less common jobs held by Floridians in 1890? A sampling of what people reported to the census-takers:
  • Actors: 2 men, 2 women
  • Authors, and literary and scientific persons: 18 men, 7 women
  • Journalists: 108 men, 7 women
  • Musicians and teachers of music: 138 women, 56 men
  • Theatrical managers, showmen: 30 men, 1 woman
  • Bartenders: 188 men, 0 women
  • Auctioneers: 14 men, 0 women
  • Hucksters and peddlers: 145 men, 5 women
  • Bakers: 178 men, 10 women
  • Bookbinders: 15 men, 4 women
  • Confectioners: 48 men, 8 women
  • Photographers: 90 men, 4 women
Knowing a little something about how people passed their days brings their lives into sharper focus for me. When I pick up a needle and thread, select fabric for a jacket or quilt, brush up on my crochet skills, or stitch a seam on my sewing machine, I feel a sense of kinship with past practitioners. And that's a good feeling to have.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Off to work we go

Colored period postcard shows workers in a celery field in Sanford.
Celery farming was a major occupation in frontier Florida.
This postcard is owned by the Sanford Museum and displayed
on the Central Florida Memory website.
Part 1 of 2

Each September, we observe Labor Day. A lot of interesting facts about how Floridians labored in the late 19th century are in the 1890s U.S. Census records. Some highlights:
  • A huge chunk - 76.4% - of the farms in Florida were cultivated by owners in 1890.  In 1880, the percentage had been 69.1%
  • Manufacturing and other industry more than tripled over the same decade.  In Florida, products had a gross value of $18.2 million, compared to $5.5 million in 1880. 
  • 13,927 Floridians were employed in manufacturing and industry in 1890, compared to 5,504 in 1880. 
Women predominated within certain fields, primarily in the needle trades. On the national level, women made up:
  • 81.4% of the workforce making corsets
  • 78.8% of the employees making shirts
  • 73.4% of the employees producing millinery and lace goods
Nationally, men made up more than 95% of the workforce in each of the following industries: agricultural implements, brick and tile, cooperage, cutlery and edge tools, flouring and grist mill products, foundry and machine shop products,  leather, painting and paper hanging, and saddlery and harness.

Depressingly, 13.7% of tobacco-industry employees were children, as was 10.6% of the cotton-goods workforce. I was somewhat heartened to see that children made up only 2.7% of the workforce, overall, in 1890, compared to 5.6% in 1880.

Also depressing was the wage disparity between men and women. The following Florida examples are illustrative of how workers fared in other parts of the nation. Per job classification, average annual earnings in 1890 in Florida were:
  • Officers, firm members, clerks: men, $762; women, $443 ($11,200 in 2014 dollars)
  • Operatives, skilled and unskilled: men, $419; women, $304; children, $114
  • Pieceworkers: men, $626; women, $347; children, $120
Women did earn more than men in a few industries. These examples are from a national perspective. Women earned $720 a year in the "safes and vaults" industry, while men got only $566. And a job called "oilcloth, enameled," paid women $643 a year, and men $536. By the way, the $720 was the highest pay I saw for a woman, and it equates to about $18,200 in modern dollars.

Neither of those jobs appears to have been a mainstay in Florida in 1890. Of women 10 and older in Florida who listed jobs in the 1890 census:
  • 47.3% were in domestic and personal service
  • 37.0% worked in agriculture, fishing, and mining
  • 4.5% were in professional service
  • 1.5% were in trade and transportation
Of working men ages 10 and older in Florida in 1890:
  • 51.1% worked in agriculture, fishing, and mining
  • 17.0% were in domestic or personal service
  • 13.2% were in trade and transportation
  • 13.2% were in manufacturing and mechanical industries
  • 3.8% were in professional service
In Part 2, we'll take a look at some of the specific jobs that occupied Floridians in 1890, and at the number of people who worked at them. Then, as now, construction industries boomed, but there were some niche fields. For example, 11 people reported jobs as piano and organ makers and tuners.