Treasury Notes

 Women’s History Month: Treasury spearheads hiring initiatives during the Civil War

By: Guy Munsch
3/23/2015

Women’s History Month is the perfect moment to reflect upon the role of the Treasury in bringing women into the government workforce and hiring some of the earliest female employees of the federal government. The Civil War contributed to dramatic societal shifts across the country. Mobilization and extended fighting over the years of the Civil War (1861-1865) diminished the male labor force which in turn spearheaded the hiring of women by the Treasury Department.
 

Women became a significant segment of the workforce at Treasury due to the initiatives undertaken by Treasurer Frances E. Spinner who served from 1861-1875 across the terms of Presidents Lincoln, Johnson and Grant. The first woman hired by Treasurer Spinner was Jennie Douglas of Ilion, New York in 1862 who was hired to cut and trim new “greenback” currency. This type of manual finishing of the printing operations had previously been performed entirely by men.

Spinner, pleased with Douglas’ performance after her first day on the job, remarked, “[Douglas] settled the matter in her behalf and in woman’s favor.” [1] Subsequently, he appointed many other women to positions within Treasury, and by the end of the year, 70 women were employed within the Treasury building.

Treasurer Spinner is credited to have been one of the first senior U.S. government officials to address the federal government’s wartime problem of increasing workload and labor shortages by hiring women. In 1909, the efforts of Spinner were memorialized with a statue erected in his honor in his hometown of Herkimer, New York.  Funds for the statue by sculptor Henry J. Ellicott were raised by female Treasury employees.  Inscribed into the base of the pedestal is a quote by Skinner [1]:

“The fact that I was instrumental in introducing women to employment in the government gives me more satisfaction than all the other deeds of my life” – Francis E. Spinner

Recently, the Office of the Curator has been hard at work putting together an exhibition at the Treasury building in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the death of President Abraham Lincoln. Following are several period prints of women working in the Treasury building during the Civil War era and soon after. For additional information on scheduling a tour by appointment of the Treasury building or the Bureau of Engraving & Printing building in Washington, D.C., please follow this link and contact your Congressional office for a reservation.

Guy Munsch is Assistant Curator of the U.S. Department of the Treasury


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During the Civil War and continuing through the last half of the 19th century, increasing numbers of women began to be employed at the Treasury building in Washington, DC. The illustration, “Lady Clerks Leaving the Treasury Department at Washington,” was published February 18, 1865, in “Harper’s Weekly”.

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As the Civil War continued over four years, women were hired to assist in the production of currency and in a variety of clerical positions. At the time, male clerks had a salary of $1,200 annually while women were paid $900 for doing the same work.[2]


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The prevailing attitude among many government officials was that the Government could save money by hiring women and paying them lower salaries. The implementation of such a philosophy was at the discretion of the agency. The Division of Printing at Treasury was the only agency to come close to applying an equal pay principle in a Congressional report in 1869 [1].

 

[1] , Women in the Federal Service, U.S. Civil Service Commission, Washington, D.C., 1938, p.9.


[2] Women in the Federal Service, U.S. Civil Service Commission, Washington, D.C., 1938, p.5.  

Posted in:  Women's History Month, Office of the Curator
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