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Cleaning Up from Womankind (1972)

(Editors Note: "Mary Blake" (her name changed for this article to avoid retaliation), talks about growing up in Chicago and facing racial and gender discrimination. She was a City Hall janitress and active in the campaign to end job discrimination there.)

Mary Blake is one or the hundreds of people who enter downtown office buildings when most of us are just leaving for home. Twenty years ago, when Kennelley was mayor, she was able to get a job as a janitress in a downtown government building without any political connections.

I don’t know if I could get my job today -- I took my civil service exam and passed, but most people today are on patronage. But my main gripe is that we women get paid so much less. Men and women here do mostly the same work - the men don’t even do it as well - and the men still get paid more. Most of them work someplace else all day, and then here in the evening, so you know they have to be tired. It’s because they’re political jobs -— private business would give them the door before they even got in good. I’m not trying to get any more than they get, just to be equal. It’s always been unequal. When I first went to work here, the difference was about $300 a year, now it’s around $900. They pushed us all up some, but pushed the men up more. The others say for me to watch my step about this, because they heard that they ‘re trying to get rid of all the women. Course, you never know who says these things. But the fact is, they hired a lot of men over the summer, but not one woman in two years.

We’ve often told our man over at our union local about this pay difference. The only answer he can give is “Well, we can’t ask a woman to go out and put the flag up”. That’s the only reason he’s come up with, he’s never said anything different. I wonder why can’t he find something else. That’s our union --it’s never been any help, and they’ve got more women members than men! Once I was asked to sign a petition for somebody to become steward of our local, and I was asked this by the management. Well, management isn ‘t suppose to select a steward, and I know it, so I refused.

Our new bosses came in as foremen, from someplace else. They didn’t work themselves up from janitors. As far as knowing about the work, I wouldn’t say they learned from doing it... they must of read a book or something. I swear they don ‘t know one end of a mop from the other -- and they ‘re telling us how to do our work!

I was the fourth black woman to work in this place. As far as I know, there was no pay difference between black and white women, but white women got to work days because they had political sponsors. I went in to ask for a transfer from the night shift to days. And all he said was “How the hell did you get in here anyway?” Black women today are wider employed, in more jobs - although we may have a little difficulty getting them. You’ll see black women working places now that wouldn’t hardly let them in the door before, like in department stores. This thing about women assuming so much initiative., some white women are just beginning to get out and get a job, work all day and then come home and work. But the black woman has always had to do that. She has always had to go to work, take care of the children , come home and cook - - take care of the children over there, feed them, clean their house, and then come home and do the same thing at home. I have had to do it.

I took exams once to transfer to be a cook and passed, but unless my boss released me from this job, I couldn’t go. He said “You don’t want that job”, and I said, “Of course I want the job —- I wouldn ‘t have taken the exams three times if I didn’t. “ He said that I make more money here, but that’s not the point. I’ll never make more money here than I do now, unless we get a raise -- some years we do, some we don’t. There I could work up from one grade to another, but here, if I stay a 1,000 years, I’m just like the person who came in yesterday. A woman starting today makes the same as I do, and I’ve been here 20 years. I’ve talked to the other women here about this, and we wrote letters to our Con-Con delegates about this pay difference. But now a lot of women are afraid. They seem to be afraid to sign anything of protest. And I say, “Well, do you realize the only way we’ve ever gotten anything was through protest? Had it not been for protest, you wouldn't have been to first base yet.” I remember when I was a little girl, with woman suffrage, my daddy used to read the paper out laid to us after dinner--so I knew what was going on. Most of them, they say “I’m already liberated” and all that kinda bunk. Half of them have husbands, not that that means so much, because I don’t think it does. But the other half, like me, this is our sole income —— that ‘s why I’m scratching so hard about it!

Most men think they ‘re superior to women, and when they ‘re not, they want no part of it. They think women are too independent if they work. Like a neighbor of mine, he said “I can ‘t handle her now, and if she gets a job, I won’t be able to do a thing with her”. See how shaky he is about it? So a lot of these husbands are telling these women to have nothing to do with this pay thing, not to sign anything.

I’ve been trying to tell them “the more you have, the stronger you are. “ I don’t want to lose my job, either, but I got something to say, and I’m telling it, right up to the mayor. He just might do something about it, because you sees if we can get enough outside interest, besides the women who work here —— well, they don’t want this showing. The women’s lib was over there about two weeks ago (Aug. 26 Women’s Day rally) to talk to him, and he didn’t want to do it

I’m not afraid, although as I say, I do need my job. I’m going to take this as far as I can.

Mary Blake is not her real name. She was not afraid to use it, but we want to make it harder for her to organize and still keep her job.

Mayor’s Recommendation
janitor $677.00
janitress $596.00
1971 1970
Dept. Request Appropriation

(Recommendations for 1971 submitted to City Council, taken from Budget Document for Year 1971, Dept. of Public Works, Bureau of Architecture and Buildings Maintenance, Positions and Salaries, page 323.)


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