Industrial Work

In addition, women filled positions previously held by men in factories, government posts, and other jobs. In return, women received desperately needed wages, although their wages were not as high as those given to men doing the same work. With few male breadwinners left on the home front and with prices rapidly increasing, many women had to find ways to bring in money to support their households. In the North, hundreds of ''Government Girls'' met the labor shortage created by the widespread enlistment of clerks in the Union Army. These women worked in the Treasury, Patent Office, War Department, Quartermaster's General Office, and elsewhere. Similarly, several hundred women—from middle- and upper-class Southern families—worked for the Confederate Treasury in Columbia, South Carolina, and Richmond, Virginia. Although there was resistance to hiring women to work as clerks, the absence of qualified men led to women signing treasury notes and performing other clerking tasks. In addition to government work, women filled in wherever their labor was needed—at textile mills, shoe-making factories, iron works, and telegraph offices. At the war's end, many of these workers were forced to relinquish their positions, even though they had more than proved their proficiency.

Industrial work was remarkably dangerous during the Civil War— especially in the munitions plants. Although cartridge making was naturally hazardous, the clothes worn by female workers exacerbated the risks. Women's long dresses not only caught fire easily, but also helped spread fire as they caught upon each other when female workers crowded together to flee danger. Explosions in several munitions factories in the Confederacy and Union—including those in Richmond, Virginia; Washington, D.C.; Jackson, Mississippi; Allegheny, Pennsylvania; and Waterbury, Connecticut—turned deadly. For example, in September 1862, the explosion at the Allegheny Arsenal killed 78 workers, most of whom were young women. Sparks from wagon wheels ignited the loose gunpowder on the stone road within the compound and then ignited the arsenal's main supply of gunpowder. The ensuing explosion could be heard for miles. Employees rushed to the doors to escape, but got trapped by the inward opening doors. Some were blown apart while others caught fire. The bodies of 54 of the dead employees were unidentifiable. Although the explosion was undoubtedly caused by avoidable dangerous conditions, the commanders of the factory received no punishment.

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