Working women describe their daily lives, 1914

Testimony of working women, 1914

In 1913, the Wisconsin Legislature established a committee to investigate the causes of prostitution and other vice in Wisconsin. Chaired by Sen. Howard Teasdale (1855-1936), the committee sent questionaires to officials throughout the state and held hearings in many cities. During those hearings, senators questioned working women about their lives, asked religious and civic leaders about vice in their communities, and consulted experts about how to reduce or eliminate the suffering caused by prostitution, alcoholism, and other social problems. The committee even sent undercover investigators into brothels and taverns around the state, before it issued its final report in 1914. Teasdale's investigation produced hundreds of pages of first-hand evidence about Wisconsin women whose lives otherwise went largely undocumented. Selected photographs from the commission's files are online at Wisconsin Historical Images.

In the 1914 testimony linked below, working women from around the state answered questions at hearings held in Green Bay, La Crosse, Oshkosh, Sheboygan, and Superior. The women worked in a range of jobs from a factory worker at a paper mill, to a store clerk, a landlady and a telephone operator. Committee members asked the women questions about their wages, their working and living conditions, and why they chose to work in a given job, all in an effort to understand what "leads young girls astray," in the words of one investigator.

Related Topics: The Progressive Era
The Birth of the Labor Movement
Creator: Wisconsin. Legislature. Committee on White Slave Traffic and Kindred Subjects.
Pub Data: Unpublished manuscript in the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives: Wisconsin. Legislature. Investigations, 1837-1945. Series 173, box 19, folder: "Exhibits... Milwaukee"
Citation: "Hearings, 1914." Wisconsin. Legislature. Investigations, 1837-1945. Series 173, box 19, folder: "Exhibits... Milwaukee." Online facsimile at Online facsimile at:; Visited on: 4/17/2024