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Mrs. Clean: 1942

Mrs. Clean: 1942

August 1942. "Ella Watson, government charwoman who provides for a family of six on her salary of $1,080 per year. She has been a federal employee for 26 years." Photo by Gordon Parks for the Office of War Information. View full size.


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Adding machine?

My guess on the office machines is that they are accountant-grade adding machines. My grandmother Lee Beard Keogh had a monstrously big one, and she was an accountant for Toledo Edison for many years beginning in the 1940's. I was fascinated. The size of these covered machines looks about like I remember hers.

I am guessing the lighted "rectangle" above held some sort of paper data sheets that were then tabulated using the machines?

The census shows she worked at the "treasurer building" so this also fits.

Mobile Desktop

I've never seen a desk like that one on the right. It looks like you can lower a set of wheels for each side, to easily move it where ever you need it! Or if you need to sweep under it!

[It's an office typewriter stand. -tterrace]

1940 Census

From the entry for Ella Watson in the 1940 US Census:

Age (on April 19, 1940): 57
Marital status: widowed
Residence: 1433 Pea [sic] Street
Highest grade completed: Second grade
Occupation: Unskilled laborer
Industry: Treasurer building
Income: $1080

1433 P Street is now home to Stoney's Bar and Grill.

More than teachers were paid in my hometown

My dad was hired as a school Stationary Engineer in '41 starting at $2154 annual salary.
Recently I viewed some local newspaper microfiches for a WWII year on which I found a headline announcing a hike in teacher pay to $1043.

Times change?

$1080 per year is equivalent to about $16,000 today. That's what a low-wage worker makes in this economy. For poor people then and now, not much has changed. And Mrs. Watson was making inadequate wages after 26 years of employment. She's to be admired for raising her family of six.

American Gothic

Gordon Parks published a more famous photograph of Ms. Watson, one reminiscent of Grant Wood's "American Gothic."

What sort of office machines are those to the left of the photo?

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