Rose Cohen

Rose Cohen Recalls Her First Day on the Job in a Piecework Shop (Modified)

Background: At the time described in this excerpt, Rose Cohen was 12 or 13, living with her family and working in a garment factory. In this passage Rose discusses what it is like to work 12–hour days in the shop where she was employed.

The next morning when I came into the shop at 7 am, I saw at once that all the people were there and working steadily…when the boss shouted gruffly, “Look here, girl, if you want to work here you better come in early [before 7 am]…”

From this … point forward, my life become very hard. … He paid me three dollars a week and for this he hurried me from early morning until late at night … I understood that he was taking advantage of me because I was a child…

I said to my father, “But if I did piece work, I would not have to hurry so. And I could go home earlier when the other people go.”

Father explained further, “It pays him better to employ you by the week. Don’t you see if you did piecework he would have to pay you as much as he pays a woman piece worker? But this way he gets almost as much work out of you for half the amount a woman is paid.”

piecework: When workers are paid by each garment or piece of a garment they complete. The quicker and longer they work, the more the money they can earn.

Source: Rose Cohen, Out of the Shadow: A Russian Jewish Girlhood on the Lower East Side (New York: George H. Doran, 1918), 110–113. Reprinted by Cornell University Press, 1995.

Discussion Questions for Rose Cohen’s Recollections about Her First Day on the Job in a Piecework Shop

  1. What was working in the factory like for Rose Cohen?
  2. How was Rose Cohen’s experience different from the other workers in the factory? Why was her experience different?
  3. Why do you think Rose Cohen continued to work in the factory?
  4. How was her experience different from the experiences of 12- or 13-year-olds living in the United States today?

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Rose Cohen." (Viewed on May 29, 2023) <https://jwa.org/node/22132>.

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