Women Enter Skilled Trades
Women faced especially strong opposition when it came to entering jobs in skilled trades. The primary process of learning a trade was through apprenticeships. In an apprenticeship, a skilled tradesman takes on the role of training an apprentice while on the job. Apprenticeships were organized by companies, usually in cooperation with the union. To prevent women from taking skilled jobs, unions did not offer apprenticeships to women. This practice gradually ended as women found alternate ways to gain skills and earn respect in shops and unions.
Mollie Enters the Printing Trade
When Mollie decided to begin a new career that would allow her to comfortably support her family, a friend suggested she consider the printing trade. Soon after, she was hired as a proofreader at Farmer’s Clearing House. Mollie was lucky enough to get into the company’s unionized proofreading room, where the union ensured workers higher wages than the non-union proofreading room. However, women in that shop were not allowed to join the union. Later, Mollie earned a job at the unionized shop of Central Type, where she immediately became involved in the union. Mollie felt immensely proud when she was admitted into the Chicago Typographical Union (Local 16), a chapter of the International Typographical Union (ITU).
Because women were not allowed to be apprentices, Mollie looked for other ways to learn the printing trade and further her career. She took night classes after work at the Washburne Trade School to learn type setting. She also took English classes at the YMCA in order to perfect her grammar and spelling, necessary skills when working in print.
The techniques of linotype and monotype were only allowed to be taught in apprenticeships, so Mollie had to try to learn them while working in the shop. Eventually, she was able to become a journeyman and a member of the union.
Building a career while raising a young son was not easy. Mollie worked night shifts for several years, as print shops worked around the clock. Mollie was able to continue in this difficult time thanks to support from a friend who helped care for Steve. With help from fellow union members who saw her determination, she was able to get a good job at the Daily Racing Form.
Header image: Mollie West at her desk