The past century has been a remarkable one for women in the workplace. Today their presence is generally unquestioned and, at least before the pandemic, women outnumbered men. As of December 2020, women held 50.04% of the jobs in the United States, not counting farm workers and the self-employed, according to the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In the 1920s, more than 8 million women, or 1 in 5, were earning salaries, typically as clerks, waitresses, teachers, and telephone operators, laboring amid attitudes that women should not work outside the home if their husbands were employed and that working women were taking jobs away from men who needed them more. Plenty of high-paying, powerful jobs were kept out of women’s reach, and women often were expected to quit their paying jobs if they got married.
Women only got the right to vote in 1920, and the Fair Labor Standards Act, signed into law by President Frankin D. Roosevelt, established a minimum wage, standardized work week, a requirement to pay overtime, and child labor bans in 1938. Not until 1963 did the Equal Pay Act formally forbid paying men and women different wages for the same work.