Abstract: "Give the single girls a chance!" Employees' Views on Preference for Service and Layoffs at Western Electric in the Depression

Evan Roberts


The Western Electric studies found that employees' opinions about work were related to experiences outside work. Home situations and social relationships had a powerful effect on workplace disaffection and productivity. This paper explores another part of the relationship between employees' social situation and their attitudes to work: views on married women working during the Depression. Before the Depression, interviews turned up little evidence that men or women cared much about married women at work. During 1930 and 1931, interviews reveal mounting concern about the company's policy of retaining long-serving married women. Single women especially expressed hostility to the continued employment of married women. Facing financial pressures of their own, and feeling their own married life was delayed by the Depression, many single women argued the Company should lay off all married women. This contradicted the company's long-standing policy of furloughing the most junior workers first. The company could not reconcile two conflicting notions of fairness: the first that long-service employees be retained during layoffs, and the second that the company account for inequity in household incomes when some families had two adult incomes while others had none.