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MC 339

Lamont, Corliss, 1902-1995. Papers of Corliss Lamont, 1929-1932: A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: MC 339
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Corliss Lamont, 1902-1995
Title: Papers of Corliss Lamont, 1929-1932
Date(s): 1929-1932
Quantity: .83 linear feet (2 file boxes)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Correspondence and clippings of Corliss Lamont documenting his support of scrubwomen at Harvard University during the 1930s.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession number: 76-165
These papers of Corliss Lamont about the Harvard scrubwomen matter were given to the Schlesinger Library in May 1976 by Corliss Lamont.

Processing Information:

Processed: May 1982
By: Elisabeth Elkind

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Corliss Lamont as well as copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Preferred Citation:

Corliss Lamont Papers, 1929-1932; item description, dates. MC 339, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


The "Harvard scrubwomen" of this collection were women who cleaned Widener Library and were caught in the university's struggle with the Minimum Wage Commission of Massachusetts. In December 1920 representatives of Harvard testified against the proposed 37c an hour minimum wage on the grounds that Harvard had always paid more than the minimum and that, with its budget adopted, the University could go no higher. Early in 1922, an inspector from the commission visited the University and was assured that the wages were satisfactory; he left without seeing the payroll. In 1925, four "scrubwomen" appeared before the Minimum Wage Commission to complain of Harvard's wage scale. It took until November 1927 to determine that the Widener cleaning women did indeed come within the provisions of the minimum wage decree for "Office and Building Cleaners." (Chambermaids, or parlor maids as the University called them, were not covered.) In March 1928 the commission accepted the University's explanation that the scrubwomen's twenty-minute rest period, when deducted from hours worked, brought their wages up to the minimum. However, Harvard failed to supply the required written statement of this situation, and therefore, late in 1929, the commission threatened to publish a notice of the University's non-compliance with the minimum wage laws. Harvard responded by firing the nineteen scrubwomen, and in January 1930 the case appeared in the Boston newspapers.
Corliss Lamont, a Harvard alumnus of the Class of '24, initiated a protest of the underpayment of the women. As secretary of the alumni committee concerned with the matter, he was largely responsible for raising the money needed to pay the women what Harvard owed them under the minimum wage law. Lamont was then an instructor of philosophy and Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University. He has written on humanism, civil liberties, Soviet society, and related issues. (See Who's Who in America, 1980-1981.)


As much of the campaign was conducted by letter, the bulk of the collection consists of correspondence. In 1930 and 1931 Lamont wrote to other alumni, to students, professors, the press, and to members of the Harvard corporation. Their responses, positive and negative, are included in this collection. Initially, Lamont wanted signers of an open letter to the corporation and the press expressing moral outrage. When this letter did not achieve results, he sought contributions; alumni would repay the scrubwomen. Fundraising was called off in May 1930 when the university promised there would be an investigation of employment and the general wage scale at Harvard. But this investigation did not cover scrubwomen, and fundraising efforts were renewed in October. On December 24, 1930, $3,880 was distributed to the nineteen women.
Also included in the collection is the correspondence of Gardner Jackson of Boston, a writer for the Nation, who had attended Harvard, and who took an active interest in the case beginning in January 1930. He kept informed of activities at the State House pertaining to the dispute, and it was he who advised Lamont to contact Margaret Wiesman, executive secretary of the Consumers' League of Massachusetts. Wiesman interviewed the fired scrubwomen (see #25). A few letters to or from the scrubwomen themselves are in #25 and #28. There are also numerous clippings and a small amount of financial information. Headings in quotation marks are those of C.L.
The Schlesinger Library's Consumers' League of Massachusetts collection (B-24) includes three folders on the Harvard scrub-women, including correspondence with Corliss Lamont.


Container List

Additional Index Terms

Harvard scrubwomen
Minimum wage
Strikes and lockouts--Building cleaning industry
Women cleaning personnel--Massachusetts
Working class--Massachusetts
Working class women
Anderson, Mary, 1872-1964
Consumers' League of Massachusetts
Harvard University--Alumni and alumnae
Harvard University--Employees
Jackson, Gardner, 1896-1965
Lowell, A. Lawrence (Abbott Lawrence), 1856-1943
Thompson, Mary Gordon, 1885-1973
Wiesman, Margaret, 1898-1953