The Women's Bureau was originally a government office organized in 1918 as a war agency of the Department of Labor and named the Women in Industry Service. As part of its initial mission the Women's Bureau developed the first US standards for the employment of women workers during World War I. After the war, women's organizations successfully lobbied Congress to establish the bureau permanently, and Congress established the Women's Bureau of the US Department of Labor on June 5, 1920.
Its functions, as specified in the Department of Labor act (41 Stat.L., 987), were "to formulate standards and policies which shall promote the welfare of wage-earning women, improve their working conditions, increase their efficiency, and advance their opportunities for profitable employment." Mary Anderson, a member of the Chicago boot and shoe union and a founder of the Chicago Women's Trade Union League, was the first director. Anderson's papers are held at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
Historically, the Bureau has been linked to middle-class women's organizations and working-class trade unions. These organizations were for the most part made up of white women and committed to what historians term "maternalist" policies designed to protect women workers. The Bureau had little success in lobbying for minimum-wage legislation and other protections for women throughout the 1920s and 1930s. However, it worked in collaboration with organizations such as the National Consumers League and the Women's Educational and Industrial Union to produce a large body of groundbreaking research on women wage earners and to advocate on behalf of women workers and their families. The Bureau's data on women workers aided both the National Recovery Act during the New Deal era and the National War Labor Board during World War II.
The Women's Bureau is still working today.
Browse Publications Digitized for Women Working
- Bulletins of the Women's Bureau, nos. 1–156, 1918–1938.
- Other publications by and about the Women's Bureau
- US Department of Labor, Milestones: The Women's Bureau Celebrates 70 Years of Women's Labor History.
- US Department of Labor, Women's Bureau, Mission and Vision Statements.