Working Women and the Suffrage Movement

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Minneapolis was a city of industry. Logging, garment making, and flour milling were all prominent industries in the growing city. Thanks to river boats and trains, new transit routes linked the region to the rest of the country. Supported by this infrastructure, large distributing corporations began to spring up, including Wyman, Partridge & Company, which became the largest dry goods corporation north of Chicago.

The company held two offices in downtown Minneapolis. An office located at 110 5th Street North was their factory for manufacturing garments. Another, located at 400 1st Avenue North, served as their administrative building, warehouse, and retail store.

By the early twentieth century, women were increasingly entering the workforce, finding jobs as seamstresses, stenographers, telephone operators, shop clerks, and cooks. Most were low-paying positions. It was almost impossible to support oneself, let alone a family, on the typical wages from these positions. Wyman, Partridge and Company hired women to work in their garment factories, often issuing wanted ads specifically for women. The Wyman, Partridge, and Company almost exclusively hired women to work as seamstresses, sewing machine operators, and dressmakers.

Wyman, Partridge & Company was owned and operated by some of the wealthiest families in the area, who maintained their status through investments, philanthropy, and strategic marriages. The daughters of George H. Partridge (the president of Wyman, Partridge & Company) married into the Wyman family and the equally wealthy Ordway family. His daughter, Charlotte Partridge Ordway, is the namesake of the Japanese Garden at the Como Zoo and Conservatory, a recognition of her large donation.

Factories like this one were sources of tension around both the 8-hour workday, fair wages, and fair pay for women workers. When more factories began hiring women workers to fill in when men left for World War I, a tense fight ensued at the war's end. When men returned to Minnesota, they wanted their former jobs back. Women who refused to give up their jobs to returning soldiers were deemed "unpatriotic.” Minneapolis activists decried this, arguing that the number of jobs taken was “infinitesimally small.” It was claimed that women had only taken 1 in 27 jobs, and in most cases were paid less than the men they replaced.

As a result, some suffragists continued their activism post-suffrage as labor organizers, especially around the 8 hour workday, and advocating for women in the workplace. Prominent suffragists that actively campaigned for workers rights include Gertrude S. Hunter, Myrtle Cain, and Nellie Griswold Francis.



Wyman, Patridge, and Company, 400 N 1st Street