Women at work

By Christopher Gillett

The Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor opened a new exhibit Sept. 14. The exhibit, “Women at Work: Change and Continuity 1940s through the 2010s,” which will stay up for the rest of the school year.

The exhibit details the history of women in the workplace and was made possible through a $7,500 grant obtained in spring.

The steel museum completed approximately 60 interviews with women of different ages about their experiences working various jobs over several decades and how they dealt with issues such as childcare, discrimination, harassment and unfair pay.

Marcelle Wilson, site manager for the YHCIL, had the idea for the project after learning about the issues working women dealt with during the pandemic.

“It was based on many of the complaints that were expressed during the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown, and the fact that issues continued to come up which as a historian I saw many times in the past,” Wilson said. “We often think that these things were problems that have been dealt with and that were solved.”

The interviews were conducted by two steel museum staff members, Director of Outreach and Education Nicole Marino and Archival Assistant Susan Lowery.

Marino said she enjoyed the project and wished she could collect more interviews, even though it’s finished.

“There were so many really cool points in working on this. I loved doing the interviews. The interviews were great. I would be happy to do more to just add them to our archival collection even though we kind of completed the exhibit. It was a really fun project,” Marino said.

Marino said most of the women she talked with found camaraderie with one another.

“They were excited to have this other place where they could do something useful, earn that extra money, have other women and colleagues that they considered their friends to be around for 40 hours a week and that was a big deal,” Marino said.

Marino said this sense of belonging was important for older women.

“The earlier in time that you go, the more important [it] was because they didn’t always have that opportunity for a social structure where they could be with other women who understood their own situation,” Marino said.

Lowery said while she doesn’t think she has the qualifications to make a broad generalization, her research points toward progress for working women.

“I don’t feel I have the qualifications to make a decisive decision whether working conditions for women have improved or not, but this is what I have documented and seen,” Lowery said. “It was a little bit harsher in some respects, but as time progressed and the laws changed and people became more [adapted].”

Marino said childcare and family issues have stayed the same but the burden is shared more by both parents.

“It’s now family issues rather than women’s issues. It used to be that it was a given that anytime your children needed some kind of extra care, that it was the mother’s job,” Marino said. “The evolution of it seems to me to be that it’s now both parents are taking more of an equal role in ‘Okay, we have to go pick you up. We can both do that. We can divide our time to do that thing.’”

Most of the interviews are available to the public at the YHCIL’s top floor archive library.

The opening event was also the first in the Downtown Merchant’s Lecture Series, with more presentations coming on local and worker history topics. The next lecture will be presented by Carl Jacobson at 5:30 p.m on Sept. 28.

To learn more about the YHCIL or its lecture series, call 330-941-1314, email centerofindustryandlabor@gmail.com or visit its website.