History of Fighting the Gender Wage Gap (6/10)

Source: National War Labor Board Press Release, No. B 693, June 4, 1943, in “Chapter 24: Equal Pay for Women,” The Termination Report of the National War Labor Board: Industrial Disputes and Wage Stabilization in Wartime, January 12, 1942-December 31, 1945, vol. I, 290–291.

Thus far in our study of the Gender Wage Gap, we have discussed the development of the issue of the wage gap. We have not, however, discussed the history of those who have fought against the wage gap. Using the understanding gained from secondary research, history’s struggles and developments are easier to analyze.

The first time the gender wage gap was acknowledged on a national level was in 1942. During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt requested that the National War Labor Board issue a statement on equality of women’s wages. The National War Labor Board issued a statement that asked employers to make “adjustments which equalize wage or salary rates paid to females with the rates paid to males of comparable quality and quantity of work on the same or similar operations.” However, this was a voluntary request, not a national requirement.

The lack of forceful measures meant that women’s wages were largely unaffected. As we have seen in previous blog posts, WWII is known for its inequality in women’s wages. Admittedly, part of the original wage gap may be caused by the large numbers of women entering the work force for the first time (see blog post 5). In an effort to assist these women, supporting themselves while their husbands were off fighting the war, President Roosevelt requested the statement. Unfortunately, the voluntary quality of the National War Labor Board’s statement led to a loss of reaching influence. This ineffective request, however, teaches two things about the development of the fight against the gender wage gap.

First, the very request shows the national government’s awareness of the issue. The fact that President Roosevelt even commissioned this statement to be issued provides evidence of his awareness of the issue. Women’s wages were central to the President’s administration, as he had to keep women in the work place. In an effort to keep them there, his vision included equalizing pay to assist women in providing for their families. His awareness eventually involved the National War Labor Board.

Under its mandate, the “National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency that protects the rights of private sector employees to join together, with or without a union, to improve their wages and working conditions.” (Note the National War Labor Board would be reorganized into the National Labor Relations Board after WWII.) This national board, created to study the issues that employees faced, wrote legislation to protect them during WWII. The ‘equalizing pay statement’ issued by the Board, acknowledged the fact that women faced work place discrimination, especially in pay on a national level. Mere acknowledgement gave light to the issue and would be the first step in fighting against the gender wage gap.

Second, this historic statement also taught reformers that the fight against unequal gender pay would take more than a simple request. After national recognition, the movement received attention, but the attention was not enough to solve the problem. Though this statemetn marked the beginning of action against the gender wage gap, activists then took a different approach and sought for legal action. The request issued by the National War Labor Board set the stage for future legislation. (In future posts, some of those legislative acts will be reviewed.)

This first publication from the National War Labor Board gives us insight into the start of fighting the gender wage gap. This one statement that was issued at the request of President Roosevelt drew attention to the issue and started the fight for equal pay for women across the nation.

References:
Rowen, Beth. The Equal Pay Act: A History of Pay Inequity in the U.S. n.p. Internet-online. Accessed 17 Nov 2016. Read it online.
History Matters: Read it online.
National Labor Relations Board Website: To visit this website, click here

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4 thoughts on “History of Fighting the Gender Wage Gap (6/10)

  1. Although President Roosevelt advocated for equal pay for women, this was done during the WWII era where women did not need to compete with men and vice-versa. Would he have advocated for women if the men were still at home? I don’t think so. Not only would the issue of equal pay probably not come up, women also probably wouldn’t have been working either. If anything, I think he might have advocated for it in 1942 because women were providing for themselves and men weren’t around. However, knowing Eleanor Roosevelt and her policies, I wouldn’t be surprised if she had been pushing equal pay with her husband for years prior to WWII.

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  2. I think it’s interesting how even though the government addressed the issue, it didn’t solve it necessarily because it’s a huge problem, and I find this to be a running theme with FDR. It’s great that it’s addressed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is going to be resolved.

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