World War I meant that there were many occupations usually filled by men that were now left empty due to so many at war. New careers were available to women in the 1920s. What had been the few types of jobs for women in the 1920s and before opened up wildly, with lots of women eager to expand their roles in society as well as their pocketbooks. There are a few of the job options that opened up to women that weren’t thought of as pink-collar work.
Department Store Sales Clerks
Department stores were still very new in the Jazz Age and they needed lots of employees to sell all of their wares. Women were wonderfully suited to this job as it was deemed safe, with good operating hours. The expansion of the beauty market began in earnest during this decade as well, so women were needed to sell to other women. Small boutiques that created and sold dresses, hats, gloves and other clothing and accessories also brought women into the workforce.
Working on the Land
America had a far more agrarian basis in the 1920s. What had been the province of men became women’s jobs. With men away at war farms still had to produce. Farming meant cultivating the land, harvesting and finding ways to transport livestock to farms and to the end consumer. Most farms didn’t have electricity so all of the farm work had to be done by hand. Women still had to run the household by cleaning, ironing and cooking every day in addition to farm chores.
Secretarial and Office Work
When wondering what new careers were available to women in the 1920s, people often overlook secretarial work. Although it became a cliche for women to be secretaries after this time period, before the 1920s it was principally a job filled by men. As men were traditionally more educated to read and write fluently and were expected to be alone with other men a large part of the day it wasn’t thought to be women’s work.
Telephone Switchboard Operators
Also known as switchboard operators, this had been thought of as women’s work since 1878. Men had been employed as operators until a Boston entrepreneur realized that women’s voices were more soothing on the phone. Emma Nutt was the first woman to fill this role, which broke way for women in the 1920s workforce to fill this busy role in droves. As the switchboard became more sophisticated and more people had telephones, more women were hired.
1920's Jobs in Medicine
World War 1 sadly meant more injuries. This meant new jobs for women in the 1920s in the field of medicine. While female doctors were rare, female nurses were incredibly commonplace. The Red Cross quickly hired and trained thousands of young women to be nurses, often at the battlefronts.
Thankfully, there are more opportunities today than there were for women’s jobs in the 1920s. Yet the impact our foremothers had in the workforce is still felt. Without women paving the way, many career fields wouldn’t have expanded as they did and made it clear that women can work just as hard and as well as any man.
Nicky is a business writer with nearly two decades of hands-on and publishing experience. She's been published in several business publications, including The Employment Times and Business Idea Factory. She also studied business in college.