California State University, Long Beach
 

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dc.contributor.author McDonald, Grace ( - 6/6/1905)
dc.contributor.author Berger Gluck, Sherna, interviewer
dc.date.accessioned 2021-02-03T02:45:24Z
dc.date.available 2021-02-03T02:45:24Z
dc.date.issued 2021-02-02
dc.identifier.uri http://hdl.handle.net/10211.3/218493
dc.description SUBJECT BIO - Grace Burnham McDonald was one of the founders of the Workers Health Bureau in early 1920s. The bureau, which lasted until 1929, worked with the labor movement to research occupational hazards and develop recommendations for standards to be negotiated between labor and management. Born in New Haven, McDonald was greatly inspired and influenced by her father. Max Mailhouse, who was a neurologist. Initially, however, she started to study art. After her marriage in 1910, she moved to Louisville with her husband, where he taught sociology. Since there was no art department there, she switched her focus to economic and social issues. After the family moved to New York in 1918, she attended Columbia and the New School for Social Research, following which she was hired in 1920, by the Education Department of the Joint Board of Sanitary Control (a body established following the Triangle Shirtwaist fire). Her work there became the model for the Workers Health Bureau, which she founded with Harriet Silverman. They were later joined by Charlotte Todes Stern (whose oral history can be found here). The bureau was dissolved in 1929 when funding from the union dried up in the throes of the Depression. When her husband died in 1923, she inherited a fortune, which she used to advance social causes. Following her second marriage, McDonald moved to Chicago and then to California, where she continued to work on occupational health and safety issue and farm labor issues. According to her obituary, she was appointed to the state Board of Agriculture and helped to form the California Farm Research and Legislative Committee. McDonald was referred to the Feminist History Research Project by ROHO (the Regional Oral History Office of the Bancroft Library). TOPICS - family background; role models; education; training course on industrial conditions; job in the Educational Department of the Joint Board of Sanitary Control; safety conditions in the garment industry; Harriet Silverman; Charlotte Stern; formation of advisory committee/Workers Health Bureau; Alice Hamilton, Joint Board of Sanitary Control and Workers Health Bureau studies; collaboration work with labor unions; Frances Perkins; National Industrial Health Conference; relationship of Workers Health Bureau and AFL; dissolution of Workers Health Bureau; workmen's compensation cases; marriage to railroad dispatcher; work with Railroad Unity movement; and California Research and Legislative Committee efforts to establish occupational safety and disease laws;family background; family history; suffrage movement; social reformers; International Cooperative League; college education; job in amalgamated clothing shop; working conditions; Joint Board of Sanitary Control studies; structure and function of Workers Health Bureau; coordination with labor unions; National Industrial Health Conference; and impact of Depression on the relationship between the AFL and the Workers Health Bureau; en_US
dc.description.abstract INTERVIEW DESCRIPTION - This is the first of two interviews with Grace Burnham McDonald, conducted at the dining table in her home in the San Jose area. The table, and practically all the other available surfaces in the house, was piled high with papers. In a small cottage outside, several people were working on her newsletter. Additionally, Irving Tabeshaw. MD was visiting at the time and going through some of McDonald's papers. He can be heard on the tape periodically. It was difficult to establish rapport with McDonald, who seemed to be determined to present a sanitized version of the history of the Workers Health Bureau. (See also the interview with Charlotte Todes Stern, who was one of the three staff in the organization.) She was also resistant to participating in an oral history project, as she explicitly states in the second interview, that delved into her personal life. To make matters worse, and perhaps because of the problematic nature of the relationship we had, one side of the tape was inadvertently taped over. Despite these difficulties, there is valuable information about the working of the bureau, and a few glimpses into her personal background. The interview was conducted as part of the labor history work of the Feminist History Research Project. A separate lengthy series of interviews conducted by Ros Baxandall with Charlotte Stern includes discussion of the Workers Health Bureau. en_US
dc.description.tableofcontents *** File: refgmcdonald1.mp3 Audio Segments and Topics: (0:00-2:16)... Introduction by interviewer (2:16-6:13)... McDonald was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1889. Her father graduated from Yale University in 1876 and later established the Department of Neurology at Yale Medical School. His work as a neurologist greatly influenced McDonald's future aspirations. When she was eight years old, he started taking her on his hospital rounds through the terminal ward of neurological disorders. She also accompanied him to the jail where he evaluated patients for mental instability. (6:13-12:15)... McDonald moved to New York in 1918 and attended Columbia University; then the New School of Social Research. She also took a six-week training course dedicated to evaluating the conditions in industrial factories. In 1920, she was hired in the Educational Department of the Joint Board of Sanitary Control, which had been established after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. In addition to offering classes to garment workers, a health clinic was set up where workers were given complete medical and dental examinations. The other vital function of the board was to investigate possible health standard violations in the garment factories. All of the sfaff on the board were women and she was one of six in the inspection department. The board was jointly financed by the ILGWU and employers. (12:15-13:31)... All of the inspectors on the Joint Board of Sanitary Control were women and all of them had a background in social work. (13:31-18:29)... The head of the Educational Department of the Joint Board of Sanitary Control was Harriet Silverman who, like McDonald, thought they should expand their work into other industries and investigate occupational diseases. An advisory committee was organized on which Dr. Alice Hamilton, among others, served. The advisory committee investigated the conditions in various industries on behalf of the unions and was the forerunner to the Workers Health Bureau. Although their first investigation involved the painting industry of New York, their work eventually covered a multitude of industries throughout the country, including mining, hat making, pottery, and the building trades. (18:29-22:05)... The advisory committee of the Joint Board of Sanitary Conditions initiated its research on the painting industry by conducting physical examinations on 400 painters. The results were analyzed by a team that included Dr. Alice Hamilton, and their findings were presented to a mass meeting organized by the Painters Joint Council in 1923-24. Hamilton proposed a five-day work week based on the theory that less exposure to paint toxins would reduce potential health problems and provide workers an opportunity to build up their bodies for two days. The committee also recommended that painters abandon the use of sprayers until appropriate protection measures were developed to reduce the exposure to lead and petroleum derivatives used in quick-drying paints. The union and the employers negotiated these issues following the committee's report. (22:05-23:32)... The advisory committee (which later became the Workers Health Bureau) was developed and operated by McDonald, Harriet Silverman and Charlotte Todes (Stern). Once data came to them from a specialist investigating a particular industry, the committee set up the applicable health codes that were expected to be adopted by employers in each industry. (23:32-25:49)... Following C.E.A. Winslow's investigation of the fur hat industry in Danbury, Connecticut, an occupational disease law was adopted, making Connecticut only the second state to enact such a law. Winslow's findings revealed that workers were being exposed to high levels of mercury, which was used to keep the fibers of the fur together in order to make felt hats. As a result, many workers were incapacitated with mental disorders and denied compensation from their employers. The Workers Health Bureau took 100 of these cases to the Occupational Disease Commission and won the case, at which time protective codes were introduced into the fur industry. (25:49-26:47)... McDonald references paperwork that reveals the research and recommendations she made to control health hazards in automobile repair shops. Her study was prepared for the Automobile Repair Mechanics, Local 1528 in Chicago and printed in the Journal of Industrial Hygiene. (26:47-28:55)... The Workers Health Bureau was approached by the unions to investigate health standards. The unions paid a fee for an inspector to do research and make recommendations to improve conditions in their particular industry. In order to enforce health codes, the bureau prepared material for the state legislature. For instance, Frances Perkins was the head of the Industrial Union of New York and they worked with her to get codes and changes in the law. All the advisors in the bureau traveled around the country meeting with union representatives, investigating conditions, and discussing the appropriate health codes for these industries. (28:55-32:34)... McDonald and several members of the Workers Health Bureau attended the first National Industrial Health Conference in the late 1920s where committee members and heads of AFL locals outlined the improvements made in industrial health standards. Although the conference highlighted the bureau's accomplishments, it also marked the beginning of the end for the organization. As mass unemployment set in, the priorities of workers and labor unions changed and it became increasingly difficult for the bureau to negotiate health codes with employers. Consequently, the bureau's funding dwindled and they turned their office over to the Labor Research Association in 1929. (32:34-34:26)... When the work of the Workers Health Bureau ended, the occupational disease departments in the universities were dissolved as well. Subsequently, health and safety cases were handled by attorneys and the "work of research in the field of occupational disease... was subordinated to the actual workmen's compensation decisions." (34:26-36:18)... McDonald remarried a railroad dispatcher in 1933 and moved to Chicago. At that time, she became involved with "Railroad Unity," an organization dedicated to getting pensions for railroad workers. Her responsibilities included editing the newspaper for that group. When that organization dissolved in 1936, she and her husband moved to California. (36:18-39:53)... After McDonald moved to California, she organized the California Research and Legislative Committee in order to lobby for a health and safety bill, which became law in 1970. At that time, their efforts concentrated on how to implement the law in the workplace. [Editor's note: Irving Tabeshaw, MD was visiting McDonald at the time the interview was conducted and added information regarding these efforts and the history of the Workers Health Bureau.] (39:53-44:06)... As states enacted disease and safety laws, worker compensation cases were settled by attorneys and the "adversary approach [took] the place of the scientific approach for the benefit of the people." [Editor's note: Irving Tabeshaw, MD, was visiting McDonald at the time of the interview and contributed to the discussion, noting that there is no longer an advisory group that confers on cases dealing with health and safety matters.] McDonald's organization, the California Research and Legislative Committee, is a nationwide group that consults on health and safety issues as far as Canada and Mexico. (44:06-46:07)... Much of the research McDonald and her colleagues conducted on industrial conditions is not readily available to the public. She frequently receives requests to conduct studies, but does not have the staff to assist her with this research. End of tape. *** File: refgmcdonald2.mp3 (0:00-3:30)... McDonald describes her family as nonconformists rather than radicals. Her grandfather was a tobacco grower and alderman in Connecticut.; she had an aunt who was active in the suffrage movement and marched in processions with Anna Howard Shaw. McDonald was too young to participate in those demonstrations and by the time she moved to New York, the movement was over. When she studied in New York, she worked with reformers like Lillian Wald, Frances Perkins and Eleanor Roosevelt. She also joined the International Cooperative League. (3:30-7:01)... McDonald moved to New York in 1918 and did her graduate work at Columbia University, after which she took a six-week training course on industrial conditions. After finishing this work, she went to the New School for Social Research. In order to experience the working conditions in the clothing industry, she got a job turning vests. She put her industrial efficiency training to use in the shop and was resented by her co-workers for speeding up production. Because she was fast, the foreman gave her more bundles of work at the end of the day. Even though he offered her a raise, she quit after about two months in the shop. Based on her experience and observations of the clothing industry, the conditions in ACWA shops were far better than conditions in ILGWU shops. (7:01-9:31)... The Joint Board of Sanitary Control was extremely effective in improving the working conditions in the ladies garment industry. It was jointly financed by the unions and the employers and there was no intervention by state or city agencies. The board provided a model for the Workers Health Bureau, which sought to investigate the health and safety standards in other industries and explore occupational diseases. Two of their early studies involved clock workers who contracted cancer as a result of the chemicals they used to paint on watch dials and the effects of automobile emissions on traffic officers. (9:31-11:19)... After the Workers Health Bureau was established, McDonald and her partners approached the unions and discussed the working conditions affecting their members and proposed that an investigation be conducted in their particular industry. The unions paid a fee for the research and the physical examinations based on the number of members in their local. The bureau's work eventually reached unions nationwide and a Trade Union Council was established to work with the bureau. (11:19-15:12)... The factional disputes that occurred in the trade unions had no impact on the work of the Workers Health Bureau. It was not until the National Industrial Health Conference in the late 1920s that the AFL expressed concern over the bureau's power and its potential for influencing union policies. When the AFL distanced itself from the bureau and began pulling locals out, the bureau lost its funding and ultimately dissolved. The economic pressures of the Depression contributed to the bureau's demise. People were trying to survive amongst unemployment and homelessness so "the question of whether they were exposed to lead was nothing because they had no job to begin with." (15:12-17:41)... McDonald's stepmother was a volunteer at Hull House and worked with Jane Addams on social reform. She introduced McDonald and her father to sociological issues by hosting meetings with intellectuals and social reformers. During one of these meetings, her stepmother showed slides of the photographs taken by Jacob Riis while he was doing research for his book, How the Other Half Lives. They also socialized with liberals like Lincoln Steffens and Norman Thomas. (17:41-21:01)... McDonald never joined the SP, stating, "I was interested in issues rather than political affiliations." When she later established the Research and Legislative Committee, she maintained this policy and conducted her work in a nonpartisan manner. She does not "believe in the building up of an individual... whatever we did we were submerged in the organization." She expressed her hesitancy in getting involved with the women's oral history project because of its emphasis on what she did as an individual, stating that she could never have accomplished anything without the help of others. End of tape. en_US
dc.language.iso en_US en_US
dc.rights This repository item may be used for classroom presentations, unpublished papers, and other educational, research, or scholarly use. Other uses, especially publication in any form, such as in dissertations, theses, articles, or web pages are not permitted without the express written permission of the individual collection's copyright holder(s). Please contact the CSULB Library Administration should you require permission to publish or distribute any content from this collection or if you need additional information or assistance in using these materials: https://www.csulb.edu/university-library/form/questionssuggestions-the-digital-repository-group en_US
dc.subject Reformers and Radicals en_US
dc.subject Women's History en_US
dc.title McDonald, Grace (audio interview #1 of 2) en_US
dc.type Recording, oral en_US


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