You Haven’t Come a Long Way, Baby … Pay Equity since 1913

September 04, 2013
Laura Dana Morgan led the 1913 study on women in the federal workforce.

Laura Dana Morgan led the 1913 study on women in the federal workforce.

AAUW has a long history of advocating fair pay for women — dating back to 1894, in fact. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as more women entered the workforce in a wider variety of positions, Association of Collegiate Alumnae (the predecessor organization to AAUW) leaders realized that women were not being fairly compensated because of their gender. Soon after the association released its first research report on pay equity in 1894, branches became invested in examining how the issue related to women in their communities.

This year, we mark the centennial of the first equal pay study conducted by a branch. In 1913, the association’s Washington, D.C., branch published the results of their study on women in government positions. Laura Dana Morgan, branch member of the AAUW Committee on Vocational Opportunities, reported on the results in the April 1913 issue of the AAUW Journal. Morgan summarized the research and presented statistics compiled on the number of women employed by various government departments, the types of positions they held, and the salaries they earned compared to those of men.

The front cover of the Journal including the ACA logo.

The April 1913 issue of the AAUW Journal published Morgan’s report.

The branch discovered that just 29 percent of government employees were women. Women were employed in 13 departments, some of which were entirely open to women and others in which “women [were] rarely or never employed.” The report also addressed the training needed for various positions, women’s access to that training, and the issue of advancement potential.

A mixed picture was presented. Some government bureaus reported that “women are given due consideration in the question of advancement.” On the other hand, the Treasury Department admitted that women “do not stand an equal chance with men, but there is a nearer approach to equality than was formerly the case.” There was some good news: “It is now not an uncommon thing for women to reach the higher grades in the service.”

The most astonishing conclusion of the report is one that will sound strikingly familiar today: in 1913, women’s salaries in federal jobs were approximately 77.5 percent of men’s. Men on average were paid $1,079 annually and women were paid $837.

Things have improved. A 2009 report found that, among federal workers, women were paid 89 percent of what men were paid. Yet, it is remarkable that this number from 1913 — 77.5 percent — is so close to today’s national figure. It’s a reminder both of the progress we’ve made and of the reality that the journey is far from over. Here’s hoping the next 100 years will show more progress than the last.

By:   |   September 04, 2013

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