AT&T Tech Channel

About this video

This film uses the story of Miss Sarah Adlum, who started work at Western Electric in 1873, to talk about women working at Western Electric in 1969.

Sarah Adlum's first assignment at Western Electric was winding wire onto electromagnets. She initially worked at the Kinzie Street W.E. shop in Chicago, but then moved into insulator manufacturing. Western Electric at this point was primarily making alarms and telegraph supplies; involvement with the telephone would be cemented a few years later. By 1880, Western Electric employed 25 women and 105 men, and the shop had moved. And all of the women were unmarried.

According to the book Manufacturing the Future, by the 1890s, many women worked on shop floors but hardly any in administration or office jobs. For instance, by the time New York manager Harry Bates Thayer employed a woman as a stenographer in 1888, the woman in question, Florence Trigge, was only the second woman to work in the NY office. From an office of 75 women in 1897, the number had risen to more than 2,000 by 1915.

WWI made a change on the workplace landscape at W.E. By 1918, the company employed over 8300 women, and because so many men were called to war, the women filled men's shoes in accounting, sales, mailing, advertising, statistics, and messenger service, not to mention factory floor work. And married women were allowed to work.

One thing about Western Electric--women were always a major part of factory work from WWI on. By the 1920s, famously, a group of six women formed the test subjects of the Hawthorne experiments, and were studied closely from 1927 to 1932.

Footage Courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ

Release date: 09/19/2012