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Women in transportation in the early 1940s: Keep ’em happy with tidy hair and lipstick

While going through old files last week, I came across excerpts from a July 1943 issue of Transportation magazine, which dealt with the hiring of women. Full of outrageously sexist assumptions, it was written for male supervisors during the Second World War; since men were away fighting, the public transportation industry let women get a variety of jobs such as “conductorettes.” Once the men returned from the war, most of these women lost their positions. (In the next decade, some females got hired as bus drivers. I interviewed a few of them for the employee newsletter when I worked at BC Transit.)

Here is some of the content from “Eleven Tips on Getting More Efficiency Out of Women Employees”:

  • “Pick young married women. They usually have more of a sense of responsibility than their unmarried sisters, they’re less likely to be flirtatious, they need the work or they wouldn’t be doing it, they still have the pep and interest to work hard and to deal with the public efficiently”;
  • “Older women [Does that mean fortyish?] who have never contacted the public have a hard time adapting themselves and are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy”;
  • “General experience indicates that ‘husky’ girls — those who are just a little on the heavy side — are more even tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters”[Gee, I didn’t know that physique and temperament were so closely linked];
  • “Retain a physician to give each woman you hire a special physical examination . . . [this] reveals whether the employee-to-be has any female weaknesses which would make her mentally or physically unfit for the job”;
  • “Numerous properties say that women make excellent workers when they have their jobs cut out for them, but that they lack initiative in finding work themselves” [Yes, we’re all so helpless without direction — as if]
  • “Women are inclined to be less nervous and happier with change”;
  • “You have to make some allowances for feminine psychology. A girl has more confidence and is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day”;
  • “Women are often sensitive; they can’t shrug off harsh words the way men do. Never ridicule a woman — it breaks her spirit and cuts off her efficiency”;
  • “Even though a girl’s husband or father may swear vociferously, she’ll grow to dislike a place of business where she hears too much of this” [obviously, they never listened too closely to some women]
  • “Get enough size variety in operator’s uniforms so that each girl can have a proper fit. This point can’t be stressed too much in keeping women happy.”

Regardless of laws or legislation, attitudes are often slow to change. But I’m pleased that today, we see far more women working in transportation, and most receive equal pay and respect and have equal rights to their male counterparts. Kudos to those who endured the early days and helped drive a new path forward, to make it easier for subsequent generations.

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August 19, 2011 at 9:12 am
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