MP-1985.31.181 | Women starching collars and cuffs, M. T. S., QC, about 1901
Women starching collars and cuffs, M. T. S., QC, about 1901
N. M. Hinshelwood
About 1901, 19th century or 20th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
16 x 21 cm
Gift of an anonymous donor
© McCord Museum
Keywords: architecture (335) , female (135) , figure (1849) , group (644) , industrial (22) , industry (91) , interior (40) , Occupation (1110) , Photograph (77678) , starching (3) , work (389) , work (126) , worker (11)
Keys to History
This photograph shows four women busy starching shirt collars and cuffs.
In 1901, 12.8 % of Quebec females 10 years of age or older had paying jobs, mostly as manual workers but also as maids or teachers. In the most modest city households, the father's income was often inadequate to provide for basic needs. From 1890 to 1920, most workers' salaries barely covered subsistence costs. Young boys and girls from these families were often obliged to work to help out their parents financially. Sometimes married women also had to take paying jobs, although this happened less frequently.
According to A.H. Simms, a maker of shirts and collarets questioned in 1888 by the Royal Commission on Capital and Labour, his sector of industry employed many people, most of whom were women. In his factory and in many others of its kind, employees did piecework, i.e. were paid according to the number of items produced. Simms was not in favour of uniformity of pay. "I believe," he said, "in salaries calculated in terms of what workers are capable of earning, and that is why we pay them by the piece."
This photograph was made using the technique of silver gelatin dry plate, developed in 1878. This technique led to the production of the portable camera and to the development of the photography industry as a whole.
Clothing manufacturers have often hired people to do piecework outside the factories. This type of work, which generally exploits those involved in it (most of whom are women) is know as the sweatshop system.
Employees who hired according to the piecework system did not consider all their employees' work to be of equal value. According to A.H. Simms, a maker of shirts and collarets questioned in 1888 by the Royal Commission on Capital and Labour, "We may take on half a dozen learners, and two or three of the girls in three months will be better operators, and earn more, than girls who have been there three of fours years."
In Montreal from 1901 to 1929, a third of women workers were employed in service industries, notably as servants. Another third worked in a range of sectors, while the rest was made up of factory workers.