In fact it was very difficult for most women to do anything more than survive financially. They were able to do little more than pay for board, car-fare, and food. Most all had to continue to sew their own clothes and only a small minority were able to save. In 1910, median wages for women in five Connecticut industries ranged from $5.46 to $7.20 per week with an average fifty-two to sixty hour work week, depending on the season. In 1913, median wages ranged from $7.56 in rubber to $9.57 in cotton factories. The median for munitions workers was $10.57. By 1917, many states had established an “irreducible minimum of pay for physical, mental, and moral well being.” They ranged from $8.64 to $8.90 per week.
Though the stereotype remained that many women were working only for “pin money,” interviews with workers make it obvious that most women worked then, as now, out of economic necessity. Even though it was still not accepted by white middle class society, 21.9 percent of the women working in the corset industry in 1914 were married.
The chart below confirms the fact that it was much more acceptable and necessary for immigrant married women to work than American born
(figure available in print form)
Between 1914 and 1920 prices rose sharply due to wartime scarcities. In 1920, an $8.00 per week salary, an average for a salesperson in a store, or a clerk, could purchase about $3.93 worth of 1914 goods. So, even though wages in the lower grade (under $10) rose between 200 and 250 percent, the standard of living for most did not show great improvement.
Wages for women also remained at lower rates than men.