A Look Back: Ball-Band factory of Mishawaka made early room for women in the workforce – South Bend Tribune

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The rapid development of industries in the South Bend/Mishawaka area made finding enough workers an important concern. However, beginning in 1900, an untapped population of workers — female residents — began to expand their interests into the industrial world.

In Mishawaka, the workforce of Mishawaka Rubber and Woolen Company (renamed Ball-Band Rubber and, later, Uniroyal) was 5 to 30 percent women at any given time from 1900 to the 1950s. As business fluctuated at Mishawaka Rubber, so did the female workforce. Women employees as young as 16 worked there, though the majority were adults.

When the company was actively recruiting workers from other countries, many of the female workforce consisted of Belgians, Italians and Germans. Most of the work tasks done by women at Mishawaka Rubber centered around the knitting and spinning machines, or clerical duties inside the factory office. Some women knitted at home for the company and were paid on a commission basis.

By World War II, women had expanded their duties to include sewing, packaging and tennis shoe and boot assembly. During the war, women filled those spots temporarily vacated by servicemen. After the war, many female employees were employed in the resealable aviation fuel cell division and the foam rubber department.

Between 1900 and 1920, women employees made $15 a week. By the 1940s, their wages increased to $40 a week. When U.S. Rubber purchased the company in 1931, all salaried employees, including women, could invest in the company’s saving plan and stock options.

Starting in 1900, Mishawaka Rubber organized many social and athletic pursuits for its employees to help make the workforce seem more like family. The company always had men’s and women’s basketball teams and formed softball teams that competed with other local factory-sponsored athletic leagues. Ball-Band Rubber sponsored annual picnics, barbecues, employee talent shows and dances. The company also had men’s and women’s choirs that were active throughout the plant, and also performed at community gatherings and events.

An active female workforce was essential to the industrial growth of the South Bend/Mishawaka community.