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Alice Lord and The Eight Hour Day

Updated: Jul 28, 2019


Waitresses Union, Seattle, September 5, ca. 1905 Photo by Theodore Peiser, Washington State Historical Society (2000.50.1)


Often called the "Waitresses Bill," the eight-hour workday for women, enacted in March, 1911, honored the efforts of Alice Lord, who founded the pioneering Seattle Waitresses Union in 1900. Legislators had enacted the ten-hour day in 1901, but Lord sought a six-day workweek and eight-hour workday for women. She tirelessly lobbied Olympia for improvements for working women. After 1910 women’s clubs and former suffragists, including May Arkwright Hutton and Emma Smith DeVoe, supported the cause of the reduced workday for women, reciprocating the support given by labor and Alice Lord to the suffrage cause in 1910. Everett representative John Campbell, later dubbed "8-Hour Jack," championed the legislation, presenting a mammoth petition for the bill.(1)


However, businesses, chambers of commerce, and even some working women opposed the bill for its protectionist tone as limiting job options and pay for female employees.(2) The compromise bill finally passed, excluding women who worked for food industries dependent on timely processing of perishable foods. (3)


Lord continued to fight for a six-day workweek, which was established in Washington in 1920. When Lord died in 1940 members of Seattle’s labor movement mourned her loss. Bob Harlin, her memorialist, said, “In earlier days Seattle was a rough town. When girls came here, whether they got a job or walked the streets destitute was nobody’s business but their own. But many such one has she helped. Many of you do not appreciate the fight that had to be waged in those old days….” The minister officiating at her funeral noted, "She left the conditions for working women far better than she found them."(4)

Notes
  1. Margaret Riddle, "Washington State Senate Approves a Women’s Eight-Hour Workday on March 2, 1911," HistoryLink, http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=8315.

  2. Alice Kessler-Harris, Out to Work (Oxford University Press: New York, 1982) 188-89.

  3. Riddle.

  4. "Alice Lord" from Alice Lord Manuscript Collection, MsSC 198, Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma.


Read More on Alice Lord and the Waitress Union:

- History Link: Lord, Alice (1877-1940)

- History Link: Alice Lord sparks Seattle waitresses to organize on March 23, 1900

- Crosscut: True Grit Alice Lord demanded respect for working women — and won


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Elisa Law

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elisa.law@wshs.wa.gov

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