Lucky to have a Job

The Carnegie Library, built in 1909 located in what is know present-day as Lincoln Park on the corner of Broadway St. & Pacific Ave.

By Claudine Burnett, local historian

On Flag Day, June 14, 1909, beneath the drooping eucalyptus trees of Pacific Park, the new Carnegie Library was dedicated. Two thousand people listened to music and speeches and were finally invited inside the city’s new library. They were greeted by the library staff, all dressed in white gowns, and by the yellow blossoms of Scotch broom which decorated the interior.

Besides books and magazines, the library included an art gallery conceded to be the finest in Southern California with various paintings on special loan, from renowned artists. Also on exhibit was a display of rare old books, showing examples of 400-year-old monastery bookbinding of oaken boards and pig skins. Included in another display were magazines and textbooks for the blind along with material and equipment which could teach the visually impaired how to write.

All in attendance agreed—the library was the cultural center of the city and a fine example of what Long Beach had to offer. But some didn’t like the extra work needed to keep the new library clean.

Janitor Bevins refused to work a twelve-hour day, six days a week for $50 ($1480 in 2021 money) a month. When his complaints fell on deaf ears he quit and went to work at a local hotel for more money and fewer hours. The library then hired a custodian who was Japanese, but city folks were outraged that a minority, who was not an American citizen, would be paid from taxpayers funds. He was released and an African American hired in his place, however the new custodian soon found a better paying job and a woman was appointed to the position.

The new library janitor, Mrs. Lynn, had only gotten the job because males refused to work the long hours for limited pay.

At that time about 20% of American women had employment outside their home, according to Judy Crichton in her book America 1900. Most went to work because they had no choice, working until they found a husband who could support them. For centuries women were led to believe that marriage was their ultimate goal; they were raised to be dependent. They gave up their previous identity, Miss Susan Snider becoming Mrs. John Johnson in correspondence and society circles.

Screenwriter Olga Printzlau, one of the film industry’s leading screenwriters. Printzlau had written 352 produced screenplays by 1920 since her career began back in Long Beach in 1913.

Some Long Beach women of the time did find success on their own such as Nellie Campbell, known as the “Potato Chip Queen,” and screenwriter Olga Printzlau. Others, though wealthy, were also enterprising, such as Adelaide Tichenor who besides being the driving force behind the public library, the Ebell Club, and later donating money for an orthopedic clinic, was the first person in California to grow bananas!

Subservience was the mark of a well-trained woman and marriage the primary means of livelihood for most. But what if you married a poor provider or worse were left in dire straits by a deceased husband? Few realize that following the Dec. 7, 1942 attack on Pearl Harbor many of the 160 widows of Navy men killed were left with a family and no financial support. The women needed to find a way to earn money while still grieving for the loss of their loved one.

As they had in World War I, women stepped in to fill the jobs that men had previously held, but were told to leave when servicemen returned home—the men needed the jobs. To allow for this the Veterans Administration in December 1944, granted widows access to their husband’s military pensions. A woman’s place was in the home! This mentality remained true up to the 1970s. When I was growing up in the 1960s the only jobs open to women with a college education were nurse, teacher or librarian. Many women I went to school with were just looking for a husband with “potential.” Since then the world has changed, marriage is no longer a goal for many women, cohabitation has become more and more common and “single moms” a growing reality.

Since 1970 out-of-wedlock birth rates have soared, according to U.S. Census reports. In 1970, 37.6% of Black infants and 5.7 % of white infants were born to single mothers (births to Hispanics and Asians were not reported). By 2018 the rates had risen to 69.4% for Black infants (7 out of 10 births), 28.2% for whites (3 out of 10 births), Hispanics 51.8% (5 out of 10 births) and Asian Americans 11.7% (1 out of 10 births). Though many fathers contribute financially to support their children and significant others, many do not. With the onslaught of COVID-19, both men and women have lost their jobs. As these statistics show, more needs to be done to achieve equality in pay and employment, especially for women, many of whom are raising children on their own.

Claudine Burnett is a local historian and author. To read more blogs by Claudine Burnett on Women’s History visit her official website at claudineburnettbooks.com

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