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Women’s Bureau Historic Documents: History

This guide provides an overview of historic documents from the Women's Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor and discusses terminology and language found in the documents.

Women's Labor

As women began to enter the workforce in the 20th century, there are disparities in the jobs available for women of different ages. In the documents, they are often presumed to be wives and mothers; this perspective is based on social and gender roles of the different time periods represented in the collection.


Many of the documents pertain to heterosexual women as most documents mention husbands and often refer to them as wives even in documents that are about employment. Marriage is often mentioned and assumed in documents that discuss life after high school but not as much in documents that discuss life after college. 


Some documents make the designation of assuming women are mothers or aspire to be mothers. Many documents discussing job opportunities, advertise being a mother as the primary job for women.

Working Women

Women were not expected to be the provider of their households. Many jobs that were targeted for them to have some extra income in support of their husbands income. The type of jobs advertised for young women would allow them to still have time for their children and husbands. However, young single women who attended college had much larger options.

Mature Women

This term is used to describe women over the age of 45. In some documents "mature women" is used to describe women as young as 35.and seems to have replaced "older women" at some point in the 60's. Common jobs for older women were office work, housekeeping, sewing, food service, and nursing. 


Equality and equal rights are often used in similar contexts to the modern perceptions of the terms. Depending on the date of the document publication, equality could be used to represent political and socio-economic status in comparison to men. Equal rights may also refer to women receiving the same legal protections and powers exercised by their male counterparts. An important consideration is the unequal distribution of rights and equality based on racial and ethnic identity, which is also present in the collection.

Wage Gap

While there are various documents in regards to the wage gap between men and women, few documents discuss the gap between women and non-white women. The biggest wage disparities are seen in non-white female headed households.


Many documents describe the wage gap between men and women, some stating that many of the jobs targeted for women had very low starting wages and higher unemployment rates in comparison to men. Many of the documents discussing wage discrimination inform women that there are laws in place such as The Federal Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibit wage discrimination on the basis of sex. 


Though there are not many documents referencing discrimination on the basis of race, a few documents reveal that there was a wage disparity between white women and women of color, especially in female headed households. 1 in 4 non-white women were heads of the household in comparison to 1 in 10 white women. in 1965, 30.2% of white female headed families were living in poverty in comparison to 61.8% of nonwhite female headed families.


The collection contains documents for "older" or "mature" women, often in the form of job finding advice due to older women's restriction in the workforce. Women are classified as "older workers" at a younger age than men, affecting their employment rate. Women over 65 are not represented in the collection.