Saturday, October 9, 2010

So you think YOUR job sucks?

This photograph has a place in one of my family's photo albums, and I think it's a fascinating window into the past, one that gives us both historical information and reasons to be thankful for the relatively luxurious workplaces of the present day.

The picture shows my great-grandmother, Louise Parrott, who is the second person from the left, laboring at (according to the wording on the back, in my grandfather's hand-writing) the Strout and Stritter Shoe Company on Willow Street in Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1917. What her task is, exactly, is unclear, as her hands do not show in the picture, but it must have involved some step in the shoe-making process.

I observe that these folks are working standing up, with nowhere to rest their feet or legs, on a hard wooden floor. The lighting doesn't look great; at least they are near windows, but I see only one bulb of electric light and it isn't lighting anyone's work station directly. The "Boss" (as he is identified in the photograph) is stationed nearby, where he can keep a close eye and ear on his employees. (Hopefully he was a nice guy, but if he wasn't and he didn't like the way you were doing your job, he would likely make that clear.)

There don't seem to be any fans or ventilation, and I can see whirring belts on a machine in the foreground, so likely it was noisy as well as stuffy in there.

The large rack behind my great-grandmother, which is not the only one in this workroom, reveals the kind of pace these workers were expected to keep: lots of shoes on there for such a small staff to be making.

So whenever you think your job sucks, remember this picture. It could be worse!

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