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100 years ago in Spokane: As men leave to serve in World War I, women fill railroad jobs at home

Women were being hired by railroads to perform work previously done by men as more men joined the military to fight in World War I, The Spokesman-Review reported on May 25, 1917. (Spokesman-Review archives)
Women were being hired by railroads to perform work previously done by men as more men joined the military to fight in World War I, The Spokesman-Review reported on May 25, 1917. (Spokesman-Review archives)

The notion of “women’s work” was expanding in Spokane, due to a wartime shortage of male workers.

“Women have begun replacing men” in the Northern Pacific rail car shots in Spokane, and the Great Northern was expected to take similar steps.

Within the last week, two women car washers were put to work at the Spokane depot. Five other women were working in the storeroom at Parkwater. They were handling heavy freight.

“The wages recevied by the women are the same that men get for the same work,” said Northern Pacific Chief Master Mechanic T.J. Cutler.

Two of the women in the storeroom had adopted as their working garb “coveralls, which are a sort of union suit/overalls of brown denim, particularly affected by mechanics.”

From the war beat: The term “slacker” was being widely used for men who were trying to avoid the draft, or who were avoiding other vital war work.

“Are You A Slacker?” asked a headline for a house ad in The Spokesman-Review.

“What are you doing to help your country? Are you going to the front or going to the farm?” The ad advised those who weren’t headed for the army to check the newspaper want ads to find a piece of land and “prepare to furnish supplies for the boys on the battle line.”


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