Women Working: Pioneers in Carpentry

Jobs in construction carpentry and cabinet making, and the good pay derived them, traditionally have been the domain of men. This video gives a first-hand look at carpentry apprenticeship as experienced by some of the first women to enter these trades in the 1970's. The camera follows women carpenters at work on job sites including a high-rise under construction, a carpentry shop at a sewer project and in a production cabinet shop. They talk about the training they receive, the working conditions, the kinds of responses they get from male co-workers and the benefits derived from their support-group, Chicago Women Carpenters. Produced by Audrey Denecke for the Women’s Pre-Apprenticeship Project, Midwest Women’s Center, Chicago. Certificate of Merit, Chicago International Film Festival, 1981.

00:00Copy video clip URL Onscreen text: “As female-headed households increased in the 1970s and 1980s, women sought access to higher-paying jobs traditionally reserved for men. Chicago’s Midwest Women’s Center offered programs that introduced women to the building trades and the opportunities for union apprenticeships.” 

00:15Copy video clip URL A woman discusses her need to learn a trade to support her family. 

00:35Copy video clip URL Voiceover narration about the difficulty of women acquiring high-skill jobs, over footage of women carpenters. The effectiveness of a union-sponsored apprenticeship program for women. 

00:58Copy video clip URL Title cards, followed by an interview with Karen Lynn Hill, Apprentice Construction Carpenter: “Are you the only woman working on this job site?” “Yes, the only one.” 

01:40Copy video clip URL Footage of women working on a construction site. Hill explains their work and what they’ll do next.

03:22Copy video clip URL Deborah Conlon, Apprentice Construction Carpenter, of the differences between residential and commercial carpentry and her experiences in the apprenticeship program. 

04:38Copy video clip URL Helen Hudspeth, Apprentice Construction Carpenter, talks about her daily routine on the job site. Footage of her working in the Deep Tunnel Project carpentry shop. She discusses the range of attitudes of men towards her while she’s working. 

05:40Copy video clip URL Discussion of the unique challenges of the job and its differences from working indoors. 

06:24Copy video clip URL Hill talks about her first job, including the assumptions that her male co-workers made about her.

08:03Copy video clip URL Twila Hayes, Journey Level Cabinetmaker, talks about men who “want to keep their sexist ideas about women” and think that women won’t last on the job or try to push them towards less demanding tasks. 

09:00Copy video clip URL Hudspeth discusses learning on the job from her partner. 

09:43Copy video clip URL The production cabinet shop. Discussion of learning cabinetmaking and what it means to be a cabinetmaker, from Deborah Adams, Apprentice Cabinetmaker. 

12:08Copy video clip URL Carolyn Stevens, Apprentice Cabinetmaker, discusses working in a big shop

12:56Copy video clip URL Hayes talks about beginning in a cabinet shop. The need for apprentices to ask to learn more. 

14:02Copy video clip URL Stevens talks about getting past her nervousness to do something new or ask for help. 

14:38Copy video clip URL Susan Miner, Apprentice Construction Carpenter, talks about the things that she can do that “the big guys” can’t do. 

15:03Copy video clip URL Martha Frank, Apprentice Construction Carpenter, talks about realizing that she can do most things that men do. Being proud of all she can do. 

16:12Copy video clip URL Conlon talks about learning to refuse the same kinds of tasks that men also refuse. Not needing to prove herself. 

17:12Copy video clip URL Hayes discusses learning to use a table saw to cut metal. The need to ask for help and instruction.

18:00Copy video clip URL Conlon talks about the importance of union supervision. Hayes talks about the benefits of union membership. 

19:16Copy video clip URL Coral Norris, Apprentice Construction Carpenter, talks about the difficulties of the job. Conlon points out that as one builds physical strength, mental strength is also built. It all comes gradually, though, everyone agrees. 

20:23Copy video clip URL Hayes discusses the formation of the group Chicago Women Carpenters and the need for women doing something new to learn from and support each other.

21:20Copy video clip URL Milner talks about the satisfaction of being a carpenter. 

21:52Copy video clip URL Hill talks about enjoying her work. Followed by a montage of still photographs of women carpenters. 

22:32Copy video clip URL End credits: “Directed and edited by Eleanor Boyer. Produced by Audrey Denecke. for the Women’s Pre-Apprenticeship Project Midwest Women’s Center, Chicago, Illinois, with the cooperation of Chicago Women Carpenters. Videotaped by Eleanor Boyer, Karen Peugh. Still photographs by Joanna Brown, Twila Hayes, Robin Kaplan, Karen Peugh. Interviews by Audrey Denecke, Twila Hayes. ‘Women in Work Clothes’ by Van Rozay, performed by Claudia Schmidt. Title graphic with permission of Chicago Women’s Graphic Collective. Special thanks to Chicago Women Carpenters: Deborah Adams, Deborah Conlon, Martha Frank, Twila Hayes, Karen Lynn Hill, Helen Hudspeth, Susan Miner, Jackie Negrette, Coral Norris, Wendy Schoenburg, Carolyn Stevens. Special thanks to Rebecca Sive-Tomashefsky, Patricia Erens, Antoinette Lynch, Michael Powers, Margaret Powers, Jane Addams Bookstore, Women in Music/Chicago, WFMT Radio. The project was conducted with funds provided by the Department of Commerce and Community Affairs under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1978, as Amended, and does not necessarily represent, in whole or in part, the viewpoint of the Department of Commerce and Community Affairs. Copyright 1981, Midwest Women’s Center, Chicago. Edited at the Chicago Editing Center.”



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