Women and Work


“War Time/ New Janitors,” Crapsey Clothing Company, Rochester, New York, ca. 1915.

Women’s labor, paid and unpaid, has driven Rochester’s economy for the past 200 years. Women have managed households--their own and others’--and have worked outside their homes in a wide range of occupations. They have faced a similar set of challenges historically and today: how to balance domestic responsibilities with outside work, unequal pay, and discrimination in the workplace. They have also tackled these challenges through legislation, education, and labor activism.


A page from Nellie McElroy’s Police Ledger, Rochester, New York, 1913-1916.

Nellie McElroy was Rochester’s first female police officer. This journal records herdaily patrols of streets and places of entertainment, accounts of girls and women paroled to her, oftenat the behest of their fathers, anddescribes encounters with delinquent girls and prostitutes.

The Great Migration (1916-1970), World War I, and World War II had a particularly strong impact on the Rochester economy as they took large numbers of men out of the workforce, and introduced new job-seeking women to Rochester. To meet the escalating demand for workers, women increasingly joined businesses such as Eastman Kodak Company, Bausch and Lomb, and Rochester’s robust garment industry, sometimes performing duties traditionally considered to be “men’s work."

Eastman Kodak Employee, Lucille Marx.jpg

Photograph of Eastman Kodak Ordering Department Employee, Lucille Marx at her decorated office desk, before leaving employment to be married, Rochester, New York, 1931.


Today, women are less likely to be forced out of their careers once they marry. Their career options are far more varied, encompassing traditionally male-occupied fields such as science, engineering, finance, construction, and medicine. Rochester is home to thousands of women with PhDs, MDs, and MBAs. However, women’s compensation continues to be lower than men’s for similar work, women are overrepresented in low-paying sectors, and balancing domestic and professional responsibilities continues to be challenging. 


Women's Business and Service Directory, National Organization for Women Rochester Chapter, 1991.