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Women's Educational and Industrial Union

In 1877 Dr. Harriet Clisby, one of America's first women physicians, established the Women's Educational and Industrial Union (WEIU) to respond to the social problems facing Boston in the late 19th century. After the Civil War, the city had become an important point of entry for immigrants who came to work in the area's rapidly growing industries. The Union incorporated in 1880, "to increase fellowship among women and to promote the best practical methods for securing their educational, industrial, and social advancement." One of the Union's earliest projects was a quite practical step towards these goals: the Union's store helped women, whether single or married, support themselves by selling crafts and other items they produced at home. The Union also offered women workers, domestic workers in particular, information and legal advice through the Protective Committee founded in 1878.

The Committee on Hygiene, which provided health education and free medical treatment to women, later developed into the Committee on Sanitary and Industrial Conditions, which investigated working conditions in shops and industry. This committee quickly evolved into the Union's Research Department.

The Research Department offered research fellowships to young women who had recently graduated from college, among them Louise M. Bosworth, who in 1909 completed a study of the wages of working women. Other research department studies included analyses of the domestic service industry; immigrant women; opportunities for girls and women in industries such as the paper box trade, the telephone industry, and clothing manufacturing, among others; and the food of working women. The latter was published in conjunction with the Massachusetts State Department of Health as Records of the Vocational Adjustment Bureau.

The Union also provided women with practical training and vocational advice. In 1905 the Union began a retail training program that equipped women to work in department stores such as Filene's and Jordan Marsh, where they were paid $6 per week. In 1910 the WEIU founded the Appointment Bureau. The Bureau became nationally known for its advising and placement of college-educated women in fields other than teaching, and operated a placement agency that connected women seeking work as domestics with potential employers. The Appointment Bureau also worked with other vocational guidance organizations, including the Intercollegiate Bureau of Occupations (later the Bureau of Vocational Information).

Between 1911 and 1914, the Bureau published a series of vocational guidance pamphlets that outlined the necessary educational background and training and discussed average salaries and burgeoning subfields. At the end of each pamphlet a short bibliography provided a list of books and articles that could be consulted for further information. These pamphlets covered a broad range of occupations, including probation work, interior decorating, chemistry, and social work.

The WEIU remains in operation and continues to advocate on behalf of women and their families, provide job training for women making career changes and low-income women, and work towards expanding opportunities for women in general.

Digitized Archives

Institutional Records

Women's Educational and Industrial Union (Boston, Mass.) Dept. of Research. Research Department Reports and Studies, 1895–1930 (inclusive). Records, 1877–1980. Folders 46-64a.

Full Collection Citation

Women's Educational and Industrial Union (Boston, Mass.). Records, 1877–1980 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.

Electronic Finding Aid

Women's Educational and Industrial Union (Boston, Mass.). Records, 1894–1955: A Finding Aid (B-8)

Browse Publications Digitized for Women Working

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The manuscript and archival materials selected for Women Working can be used for research, for the creation of class projects, or to illustrate secondary works. In some cases the items are drawn from larger collections at Harvard. Most of the digitized selections from collections contain a range of materials providing a broader context for understanding the subject.