Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Workplace Poetry, 1920

You think fax machines are obsolete? Check out this comptometer, a machine popular in business offices roughly 100 years ago and mentioned in the first poem below.
Back in 1970 when my first-grade teacher asked us to go around our classroom, telling what our fathers did for a living (can you imagine that happening today without myriad phone calls to the principal?), I was the only one who spoke up to say what my father and mother did. In fact, my mother was a writer, working in her home office, and even as a child, I understood that her job was important. What a role model she was for me.

Today I'm hopeful that the value women bring to home and the workplace are understood to be equally important. But you might be surprised how long the debate has gone on.

In 1920, sociologist Annie Marion MacLean published work-related poems in the Y.W.C.A.'s  Association Monthly. A sociologist and also a professor at the University of Chicago, MacLean focused her work on advocating for women's workplace rights. Two of her poems (below) address each side of the work-at-home and work-outside-the-home debate.

The Comptometer Operator
Alice is happy as can be.
She runs an adding machine
In an office downtown
At seventy-five dollars a month,
With a chance for promotion. 
And is infinitely happier
Than when she was nursing children 
At sixty a month and home.
"Silly," you say.
"Girls don't know when they are well off."
"Don't they?" sings Alice. 
"I have a key to the front door
Where I live, and no one reproves me."
"Stuff!" say you.
"Stuff of life," says she.

One of the Idle Rich
She was only a lady of leisure.
Yet she kept regular office hours
Like a paid worker,
For a philanthropic organization.
And superintended a household
Besides. She served on committees
To the number of ten, and
Kept her eye on the health 
Of her family.
People knew she would do
What she promised to do,
And urged work upon her. . . 
When the census taker came around,
He listed her as 
"A woman without occupation."

No comments:

Post a Comment