Minimum Wage for Women... in 1913

Posted by Scott on March 17, 2015

(written by Bill Petersen, Archives Staff)

On the evening of April 3, 1913 the Franklin Club, a debate society on the North Side, argued over the question of “Should the State of Wisconsin enact a minimum wage law of eight dollars a week for women?” At this time, a man working an unskilled labor job would earn about $460 a year, so this minimum wage “boost” for women would still be significantly less than what a male unskilled laborer would make.


A speaker for the affirmative argued that without the minimum wage, women would be obliged to live in poverty and seek “immoral means of getting a living.” A local business owner who employed several women in his business said that an eight dollar a week wage would force him out of business or he would have to raise the price of his product to compensate.


(Harry Spence, 1938)


Another person who spoke against the minimum wage law was Harry Spence, principal of Jefferson School on the North Side and future namesake of the South Side elementary school. He said that girls would leave school and go to work to make eight dollars a week. He also stated that by making so much money they would stop working for periods of time, causing great labor shortages at factories. He also complained that girls were not as vested in their work as men because they did not care about their workplace like men did since they would be marrying someday. Spence also questioned the ability of women to spend money wisely, saying they would not make any better use of eight dollars a week than four dollars a week.


In the end, the debate judges voted unanimously against having a minimum wage for women. By the way, the Franklin Club had a male-only membership.