The following entries were retrieved from the diaries of Rebecca Williams, a 21-year-old woman who lived in New York City in 1922. The diaries show the economic developments that were experienced in the society during the time as a result of urbanization, immigration, and industrialization. The economic development helps the society get through various challenges such as shortage of housing that led to high rates of homelessness in the City.
February 23, 1922
Every time I hear the alarm clock in the morning, a cold chill runs down my spine. The thought of going to my new workplace stresses me, especially because of loneliness. I like working in an environment where I can freely talk to any of my colleagues. At times I feel like the worst decision that my parents made was relocating from Germany to New York City. I love the cool climate in the city but I dislike the fact that it is very hard to make friends here. The fact that I cannot speak fluent English makes it hard for me to socialize. I remember how badly embarrassed I was today when I tried my white workmates in English but they just laughed. I am working on perfecting my English but it feels like I am swimming upstream. The numbers of people who speak English are few, making it hard to learn the language, yet it is the official language at work. All I have about the job are bad memories in the two weeks period I have worked as a cashier. I am especially angered by today’s incident where an Iranian lady came to me complaining about something I could not understand. As much as I want o execute my duties effectively I feel that language barrier in the workplace is affecting my performance and morale for work.
Although working in the factory is not one of my best experiences, I feel grateful that my father works in the same company. Being the factory’s procurement manager, he understands the challenges that I face in the workplace. Working as a woman in a male dominated field is not easy, especially considering that I am an immigrant. My father motivates me to learn from my colleagues and embrace diversity by respecting their views. As much as I want to make the working relationships healthy, I find it hard to keep up with the behavior shown by some employees. Friedrich Hermann is one of such workmates who seems to hate me simply because I am a woman. Being a German like me, I believe that his indifferent attitude towards me is based on gender. He is just one of the many male employees who are still unable to embrace the increase in women empowerment in the society. A few years ago, the number of women working as accountants and other professional posts was few but in the recent past it is increasing but it is hard for male chauvinists to accept it.
March 17, 1922
In two weeks time I will receive my first salary in the new job after a three months probation time. I feel exited that I can now meet my personal expenses and still have enough to give my mother for house supplies. Although I have some savings from my previous employment, I feel it is inadequate to fund my expenses when I move out of my parents’ house. The cost of renting a single room is very high for my meager pay at the moment but there is hope. With the government’s commitment to increase the number of residential houses in the City, I hope to get a better house at an affordable price in future. The poor housing reminds me of the problem that my family faced ten years ago when we relocated into the City. We had to seek shelter in a church for two months but life is better now because there are houses that are more residential. It is also possible for immigrants to secure good jobs now compared to a decade ago.
I remember the nights we went without food because my parents could hardly afford it after we moved from the church shelter. Maybe this is the force that still holds me back from leaving their house and be on my own even now that I can afford. Although the cost of renting a house in New York City is high, there are many other aspects that make the City fun to live in such as shops. I have come to realize that shopping is one of the most fun activities as there are many shops and the variety of goods to choose from has also increased.
May 21, 1922
Living away from my parents has really changed my lifestyle as I have more financial responsibilities. Although I have less amount of money to save, I have more time to spend with friends shopping or even having coffee. I am grateful to my father for the encouragement he gave me regarding working relationships. My respect to other people’s customs and opinions in the workplace has made me enjoy my work more and I find that I am more productive. I have succeeded in proving to my colleagues that women can work as professionally as their male counterparts can. My performance for the few months I have worked in the factory has been increasing every month, a clear indication that my career aspirations are met.
Next weekend we hold the team building activities in the City’s Park including tag of war and other games, hopefully, the event turns out successfully just like the one we held a month ago. The story-telling session was the most interesting as it made me understand the pain that the past generation had to endure to get the City to where it is. Some years back, the City did not even have such parks where people could meet for activities such as team building but the current generation is lucky. I hope the upcoming team-building session will provide a platform for people to select teams that represent the factory in sport competitions. I can already imagine how the baseball team will benefit from the newly constructed stadium. The main challenge is with the ladies as we are very few compared to the men. Apart from the sports I hope that I will have a chance to visit a vaudeville theatre in the City to watch standup comedy and acrobatics. The last time Tom offered to take me I was unwell and I had to stay behind.
June 6th, 1922
Just a day to the official opening of the company’s second branch in the City, I still feel unprepared to deliver my speech. I feel that I have not worked in the factory long enough to have a comprehensive speech. Although the company’s expansion will increase the number of products in the market, I still feel that the decision was rushed. The manager’s proposal about the expansion of the company was not debatable, just like any other decisions he makes. As the company’s accountant, I raised concerns about the company’s inability to meet the increased expenses but nobody in the board meeting listened to my pleas. I have no objection to the expansion, but I think the company should have accumulated some more capital to finance the project. I feel bad because I am forced to write a speech that only praises the company but not one that points out its potential challenges. I like speaking my mind and giving an honest opinion but this time I have to say what I want the people to hear. If I speak anything negative about the company in the speech, I might discourage the many investors who intend to put their money in the factory. Besides, there are many other employees looking for the position of an accountant in the factory.
June 20th, 1922
Less than a fortnight after the opening of our new branch, I am pleased by the number of employees who have shown interest in working for the factory. One of the features I noted about the applicants is the fact that they come from different races. I expected to find a majority of white applicants showing interest but I realized that majority are Italians and Russians. My interaction with Isabelle after work made me realize how lucky I am to have both my parents in the country. All I can think about for now is how to help her secure a job in the factory so that she is able to pay for her housing and other expenses. A single mother at the age of 16, the Italian lady needs a job more than any other employee in the factory. She moved into New York six months ago with her child to look for greener pastures in the City. I fail to understand how the human resource manager in the factory could not listen to her plea. The Iranian gentleman feels that there are better and more qualified employees to offer the job but I am convinced that Isabella would be a perfect worker in the unskilled section. Working in the old branch is a more fun, now that the authoritative general manager spends most of his time in the new branch. I hope the new head of accounting department will not be authoritative.
I feel a bit tired walking to work every day of late and I think it is high time I rented a house outside the City. With the good road construction complete, it is possible for me to reach at work on time using the public buses. Besides, I can use a train, which is equally cheap and convenient. I know the news about my relocation to a place far away from town will not please my mother because she always insist on how I should take advantage of the developed City. I will miss the life in the City but again, I ling to live in a place where the air smells fresh and a quiet environment free of the hooting and industrial noises. I will always visit the City during the weekends to do shopping, watch a baseball match or a play in the theatre. The conversation I had today with Carrie about her intention to join the City’s drama club inspired me but I feel that I am too busy for that. I love acting but I have to go to work five days a week, which means the only time I can practice the play is on weekends. She says that I should quit my accounting job and join the drama club but I am still hesitant. I doubt whether the pay will be adequate even for my personal expenses. Although she is convinced that the entertainment industry is as well paying as the manufacturing industry, I do not want to take the risk.
I still cannot believe that William’s daughter passed on, especially because I feel that her sudden death could be avoided. I blame the public health officers for the failure to play their roles effectively. If the area in her compound was free of sewage and other untreated waste from the factories, she could still be alive. The blame game in the ministry of public works is very annoying and more children face the threat of succumbing to illnesses such as cholera that claimed Angie’s young life. The foul smell in the streets of late is an indication that the ministry of public works needs to improve sanitation. As I get ready to attend Angie’s burial, I am saddened by the fact that her death may not be the last one to be caused by the poor sanitation in the City. The poor sanitation indicates a total failure on the part of the existing legislators. I hope the people will elect their political leaders wisely this year for sanity in the City to be attained.
August 13th, 1922
Since the end of July, the factory has not paid some workers in the two branches for the last one month. I tried warning the manager about the risk of increasing the number of employees because the company is still young. Although I received my salary at the end of the month, I pity the families of the workers who have not yet been paid. Yesterday, the workers threatened to take to the streets in demonstration of the delayed wages but I managed to calm them down. I feel guilty for making false promises to the employees but I did what I had to do although I am aware that the situation may worsen. I fear that next time they might think of taking more stern measures that may threaten the security of the company. I was moved by Rachael’s story today and it made me realize the struggles that the workers go through. Working from eight in the morning to five o’clock in the evening without any lunch break is not an easy task, yet she cannot meet all her daily needs. She moved into the country with her husband and three children about eight months ago and they have been trying to look for jobs, which she says, are hard to find. Luckily, her husband secured a job as a mason two blocks away from the factory but his employment is almost over as the project is nearing completion. She thought she was lucky after securing her job in the factory but she is yet to receive her first salary. As I listen to her sad story, I hope she will not be among the employees who will be laid off next month. Rachael’s situation is not unique since there majority of the employees are faced with the same challenge of securing a job. Besides, most of the jobs that the company provides are not well paying such that they can hardly meet their basic needs.
I am facing along week already and I feel it is high time I take my annual leave but I fear that the manager might not approve of it. I hope to use my leave days in a more productive way by talking to the children who live in the slum. Although I do not have enough funds to help the children I believe that talking to them about the need to strive hard to succeed in life. I believe in their ability to succeed I life because I am a living testimony that one can succeed even if they come from poor backgrounds. Although I look forward to the activity, I fear the insecurity rates that are in the slums. Last year, my father’s friend was murdered in one of the slums as he was walking home from work. Cases of mugging in the slums have increased in the recent past, but this does not discourage me from my initiative to talk to the children. Apart from going to the slums, I hope to go to the theatre in the weekend. I look forward to watching a musical comedy like the one I watched last month by Neil Diamond. I particularly look forward to watching the Gautam Dasgupta play.
November 16th, 1922
Today was my fifth day in my new workplace and I feel more confident in my work now, compared to what I felt at my first days in my previous work. I like the new experience I have in the workplace as I am able to interact more with my workmates. Although the company has a diverse workforce, I am able to interact with my workmates better and this makes work more enjoyable. The other important aspect that has made my work more enjoyable is the increased salary. I am able to meet my expenses and I can save half my salary. The company also offers a house allowance thus, I do not strain in paying house rent. As the year ends, I see many developments in the City ranging from the clean pavements and well maintained parks. I am grateful that most of the children I mentor in the slums have improved their mean grades in the last semester. Yesterday, I visited the slums and I was excited to note the cleanliness in the area. The foul smell that was in the area is not there anymore and I am hopeful that there will be no more deaths resulting from hygiene related illnesses.
Julius Court. Inequality, growth, and poverty in an era of liberalization and globalization. Edited by Giovanni Andrea Cornia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Wimmer, Andreas, and Nina Glick Schiller. “Methodological nationalism and beyond: nation–state building, migration and the social sciences.” Global networks 2, no. 4 (2002): 301-334.
 Julius Court. Inequality, growth, and poverty in an era of liberalization and globalization. Edited by Giovanni Andrea Cornia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
 Wimmer, Andreas, and Nina Glick Schiller. “Methodological nationalism and beyond: nation–state building, migration and the social sciences.” Global networks 2, no. 4 (2002): 301-334.