White Girls Complain

December 30, 1899


White women complain after the jobs that promised to pay well and provide them stable work leave them with "great dissatisfaction and discontent."


Much Work and Very Little Pay. Country Lasses Quit Work.
All Money Goes to Board Mistresses- Gloomy Times Ahead.
The tobacco and shirt factories of Richmond and vicinity have had much trouble in the matter of obtaining white girls. They finally concluded to try colored ones. This raised a commotion among certain white men of limited means and the Young Business Men’s Association is reported to have gone down in an effort to bring white girls here from the country districts.
They made all kinds of promises it seems, and their efforts were rewarded with only partial success. The following from the Richmond News of Friday, Dec. 8th explains itself:
“Great dissatisfaction and discontent is manifested by the country girls employed in some of the factories in the city.
They feel and say that they have been deceived and unjustly treated. Sixty-five of them employed at the Allen & Ginter Branch of the American Tobacco Company are on a strike, on account of their wages being reduced from 8 cents a hundred to 6 cents a hundred for rolling cigarettes.

The girls only want what was promised them, and say that if they are paid the regular price of 8 cents a hundred they are willing to go back to work.
The promise of the manufacturers to the girls, the girls say, was that when they came to work in their factories, they would be paid in the beginning $2 a week for two weeks, and after that time they would be paid for the work done. It developed, after the girls came down from their homes in the country, to a strange city to work, that out of the first week’s salary of $2 the sum of $1.80 was taken for the so-called tools, which the girls say, is only a plank on which the cigarettes are rolled.

Two fresh, young girls, who were sisters, from one of the counties, nothing more than mere children, came to work in one of the factores and after the two weeks expired, they were left to make the fortune that awaited any industrious employee. These inexperienced children, away from all home ties, family and friends, found that by constant and arduous work they could turn out in a day 200 cigarettes, yielding them the pitiful sum of 16 cents for their daily labors, At the present rate of payment the amount would only be 12 center’s a’day.
The kind lady, with whom these young girls boarded, advised them to leave the factory, and seek some other employment. This they determined to do, and went to the manager of the factory and stated their case, telling him it was impossible for them to exist on the wages paid them, and asking as a favor that their $1.30 tools, or board, be given them, or would the manager be so kind as to sell the tools for them, to the girls who would come to take their places. They were willing to take $1 for their boards rather than lose the whole amount.

They say they were told that the tools belonged to the factory, and not to them, and received nothing.
All of their first weeks’ wages except 70 cents, was taken by the factory as payment for the tools.

The sisters finally succeeded in obtaining employment on Church Hill under more favorable conditions.
The factory will have to get a new supply of girls or agree to pay the girls here the 8 cents a hundred for the cigarettes, as promise. Some of the girls formerly employed have gone to work during the Christmas rush, at one of the large department stores at an advance salary.

It is their intention to remain at the store if they are able to secure permanent employment.
When seen this morning the manager of the cigarette factory of the Allen & Ginter Branch of the American Tobacco Company, made the following statement:
“Heretofore the girls have been paid at the rate of 8 cents a hundred, and when the work was imperfect and was rejected the girls would have to do the work a second time, receiving no pay for doing the work over.”

“ This was changed, and instead of the rejected work being done a second time, the rollers were paid at the rate of 6 ½ cents a hundred for the rejected work.”
The manager of the factory stated to-day that this was fully explained to the girls yesterday, and when it was made clear to them they accepted the terms. It is really an increase in the pay, inasmuch as imperfect work is paid for.” continued the manager. “The girls were laid off on yesterday because the packers did not have boxes in which to pack the cigarettes.”

It was also stated that the boys, who several days ago inaugurated a strike, had all returned to work and were making from $4 to $6 a week and had been paid $2.50 a week while learning.
The girls, according to the statement of Manager Schultz, make anywhere from $5 to $10 a week. One of the rollers had made in a single week as much as $13. The average was thought to be about $1.25 a day.”
It seems that the manager has taken an expert as an example of what can be made while these girls have taken themselves.
It was evident at first that the wages would range from $1.50 upwards.
Some of the white citizens in Manchester filed a petition with the city council asking it to force the factory to discharge its colored help. This body was not slow to state that it possessed no much power.
About this article

Location on Page

Upper Left Quadrant


Contributed By

Elias Sturim


“White Girls Complain,” Black Virginia: The Richmond Planet, 1894-1909, accessed February 20, 2024, https://blackvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/1765.