Women Workers in Late Imperial Russian Industry: Hiring Policy and Employer Attitudes on the Railways to 1914

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By taking a broad definition of worker that includes low-paid white-collar as well as blue-collar workers, and likewise a broad definition of industry, this article reveals a complex situation with women’s employment on the late Imperial Russian railways that differs considerably from the traditional understanding of the female workforce in manufacturing industry. Whereas factory managers were increasingly inclined to hire blue-collar women workers during roughly 1895–1914, the policy for the railway network was grudging tolerance on a very limited basis. Consequently, the number of employed women remained relatively low, dominated by literate women in certain low paid jobs for which men could be hard to recruit, and the phenomenon evident in other industries of large-scale resistance by male staff never became an issue. The railway policy-makers were influenced by not just enduring patriarchal attitudes, but also by military demands and financial concerns associated with pension rights and retrospective wage increases. At the same time, local labour shortages increasingly forced managers to seek exemptions to the hiring policy or even ignore the restrictions, especially in regions like Central Asia where qualified people of both genders
were relatively scarce. The article concludes with some general questions. How typical by that time were the MPS as an employing ministry and state-owned railways as industrial employers? Did hiring policy in state-owned industrial enterprises differ significantly from the private industrial sector? What is or should be understood by the term “skilled worker”? And how important are white-collar workers as a category for analysing women’s employment in late Tsarist Russia’s industrial economy?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)196-218
Number of pages3
JournalRevolutionary Russia
Early online date30 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by awards from the School of Divinity, History, Philosophy and Art History, University of Aberdeen.

Many colleagues helped with the preparation of this article. The author is especially grateful to Adele Lindenmeyr, Vladimir Serdiuk, Melissa Stockdale and the two anonymous reviewers for their advice and encouragement.


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