Jobs for women in the 1920s

Updated March 24, 2017

When women won the right to vote in 1920, it was only the first of several big changes to take place in society during the "Roaring '20s." Women made up 22 per cent of the American labour force, and the number of working women grew throughout the decade. Although women lacked any legal protection against discrimination, they made striking gains in the workforce compared to previous generations.


Before 1920, almost all professional musicians were men, according to the University of Minnesota. The success of jazz composer Lil Hardin and singer Bessie Smith encouraged other women to pursue musical careers, which led to more women working in radio and theatre. Silent films featured a number of female actresses, including Greta Garbo, Louise Brooks and Clara Bow. Bow was famous during the decade for personifying the "flapper" -- a young, fun-loving woman of the Roaring '20s -- on film.

White Collar

As it became more acceptable for women to work, some women found office jobs as typists and file clerks. These positions, which had been career stepping stones for men, became dead ends when women took the jobs, according to the Australian and New Zealand American Studies Association. The growth in the beauty industry opened up opportunities for women as sales clerks; the cosmetics industry, for instance, used women to sell lipstick and make-up to other women and eventually grew into a multimillion-dollar industry.


America had much more of a rural, farm economy in the 1920s than it does today, and farm women worked hard. Many farm families concentrated on feeding themselves and making items they needed, rather than selling to others, according to Shirley Eagan on the West Virginia History website. Farm women washed, ironed, cleaned, made coffee and hominy, baked, and churned butter. Many farms didn't receive electricity until the 1940s, so housework had to be done by hand, and cooking required wood for fuel.


Some women worked in the same fields women had been working in for decades, such as nursing, teaching and domestic work. Other women moved into new areas of blue-collar labour, NCPedia states; North Carolina textile mills and tobacco factories began using female workers, for instance. In many cases, employers who did take women refused to hire black women, or segregated them from white workers.

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About the Author

A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.