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Equal Pay for Equal Work

April 27, 1962 — Hearings Before US House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on Labor of the Committee on Education and Labor, Room 129, US Courthouse, Foley Square, New York City


It is an honor to appear before this distinguished body and a privilege to have a chance to speak in favor of H.R. 10226, the Equal Pay Act of 1962.

While preparing my remarks for today, I came upon an interesting statement attributed to the late author, William Beletha. Contrary to male sentimentality and psychology, he wrote, the confrontation of a hostile crowd to a woman is like a tonic. I might add this is the history of my life.

This is certainly not to suggest that I consider this august body to be in any way hostile, but the subject, itself, affects me as a tonic would, for I believe very firmly in the principle of equal pay for equal work without discrimination as to the sex of the person involved.

The only hostility I feel is toward the fact that such a principle is not an accepted part of our daily living. I regard the fact that anyone should find it necessary to plead the principle of equal pay for equal work a matter of profound wonder.

Three or four decades ago, perhaps, but not today in the year 1962. I suppose that when one discusses such a subject, one inevitably finds oneself arguing the place of women in modern day society, and those who deny the principle of equal pay for equal work, their fathers no doubt stood in solemn opposition to women’s suffrage, the tag-end regiment which suggested with Sophocles that a woman should be seen and not heard.

In the social history of the American family we are told that gentlemen of the old regime in the South used to say a woman’s name should appear in print but twice, when she marries and when she dies.

If that principle were the practice today, you can imagine how one in my position would be affected. That antiquated philosophy from which stems inequality of pay for the same work performed by male and female was by Mary Carol Davies, in a poem called, appropriately enough, “Doormats.”

Women are doormats and have been
The years those mats applaud —
They keep their man from going in
With muddy feet to God.

Gentlemen, you all know full well such days are gone, and the working men and women in our land today who are charged with the full or partial support of their families have all they can do to mind their own muddied feet, muddied, I might add, in carrying out the same responsibilities as any man.

Today, as you are better aware than I, one-third of our Nation’s work force is composed of women. No more are they a marginal and relatively small segment of those who work for a living, but rather an important and permanent part of that group and, as such, fully entitled to equal treatment with their male partners, in my opinion.

I am certainly no authority on this subject, but it is quite obvious that with the increasing participation of women in the work force, they are spreading into an evergrowing number of industries and occupations. And because of this, old distinctions between men’s and women’s work should be a thing of the past.

It is a sad fact that unequal pay between men and women employed by the same employer on the same or comparable job exists at this very minute at almost every occupational level in our modern-day land.

Wage discriminations exist for factory workers and for highly trained professional women and business executives as well. Perhaps I should point out that one of the few professions where such discrimination does not exist is my own, the theater, so I feel I can speak on this subject freely and without self-interest.

In my line of endeavor, a person is paid for the job he or she performs, and the matter of the performer’s sex does not enter into it.

In other words, it is value paid for value received.

This is precisely the formula which should be followed in all other lines of endeavor. I appear before you in support of such legislation as will most effectively cause such a formula to be incorporated into the wage structures of American business and industry.

It is my feeling that H.R. 10226 does just this.

I do not intend to produce a lot of facts and figures in support of my position, because I am sure you gentlemen are thoroughly informed of numbers and percentages.

The commonsense arguments for equal pay speak with resounding eloquence. Employers who operate on a fair and equitable basis would be protected from the unfair competition of those who seek to undercut wage standards by using women as a cheap source of labor, by employing them at lower wage rates than men.

The public would benefit in that greater economic security for every one would be from the protection granted by equal pay for all workers. Men workers would be the recipients of considerable benefits because equal pay helps to stabilize wage rates, increase job security, by discouraging the replacement of men with women at lower rates.

To me the simple moral argument speaks loudest of all for the injustice of unequal pay for similar or comparable work performed based on the sex of the person doing the work is a black and shameful mark on our traditional American sense of fairplay.

I do not believe that labor laws of the protective type are necessary for a great number of employers, but there are always with us individuals who are slow to catch up with the times.

I see no reason why we should be forced to wait for their hopefully eventual conversion to more progressive ways. It is my feeling that if we are to achieve equal pay in every State in the Union, even though a number of our States already provide for it, we must have Federal legislation to insure it.

When H.R. 10226 is enacted as the law of the land, the immediate effect will be the establishment of a national standard calling for equal pay for comparable work irrespective of sex.

The incorporation of this principle into the law will make it the established public policy. We are in the latter half of the 20th century. We are engaged in our most serious contest for survival since 1776. Major weapons in this contest include standards of work as well as standards of living.

How can we in all candor hold ourselves up as prime example of equitable conditions of work and pay when we still allow discriminatory rates of wages to exist between the sexes?

No longer is it merely a problem of two people of opposite sexes who receive different pay for the same work. Whether we like it or not, the whole world now looks on and with measuring gaze peers into our Nation’s pay envelopes. No longer can we afford the luxury of this or any discrimination of this or any other kind.

Democracy, I believe, bleeds a little each time when those who champion it stand idly by in the face of discrimination. The problem is one we all face in common, whatever our role in the fabric of American life. The solution to the problem is to be found only by the establishment by the Congress of the United States of firm standards of equal pay for equal work for all persons regardless of Sex.

I appear before you to plead for the passage of H.R. 10226, and I thank you very much for the privilege of being allowed to present these views to you today.



Source:  Equal Pay for Equal Work, Hearings Before the Select Subcommittee on Labor, House of Representatives, Eighty-seventh Congress, Second Session, on H. R. 8898; H.R. 10226, and Various Bills to Prohibit Discrimination on Account of Sex in the Payment of Wages by Employers Engaged in Commerce Or in the Production of Goods for Commerce and to Provide for the Restitution of Wages Lost by Employees by Reason of Any Such Discrimination (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office), 1962, pp. 238-244.