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1908: Women at Johnson & Johnson

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By Margaret Gurowitz
Nov 21, 2008

1907 Johnson & Johnson women's basketball team

The 1907 Laurel Club women's basketball team at Johnson & Johnson

I wrote an earlier post about the celebration to commemorate the opening of the addition to the Red Cross Cotton Mill in 1908.  It was a Company tradition to hold receptions for employees to dedicate new buildings, after the building was complete but before the machinery was installed, so there would be room for employees and management to gather and celebrate.

1908 Mill Reception Souvenir Program Booklet

In 1908, a commemorative booklet was given out to employees as a souvenir of the occasion.  Inside the booklet was a list of Johnson & Johnson management and department supervisors.  (With several thousand employees, there probably wasn’t room to list every single employee.) One of the most interesting things about that 1908 booklet was that it showed that 100 years ago, out of 36 department supervisors, eight of them were women.  That’s a quarter of the department supervisors.  In addition to the supervisors, there were many, many more women employees who worked doing a variety of jobs throughout the various departments.  Women had been an integral part of Johnson & Johnson since 1886, when half of our first 14 employees were women.

1908 Cotton Mill Reception

Some Women Employees at the Cotton Mill Reception in 1908

The female department supervisors in 1908 were in charge of some key areas of manufacturing:  the Cotton Mill’s Finishing Department, the Jar Finishing Department, the crucial Aseptic Department, which was at the heart of the Company’s sterile surgical products.  (With its germ-free environments, constant hand-washing with antibacterial soap and sterile, frequently washed employee uniforms, the Aseptic Department at Johnson & Johnson had more rigorous standards than hospitals of the day.)

 Aseptic Room with Employees

The Aseptic Department circa 1900-1905 guessed it:  women employees

Women also supervised the Sanitary Napkin Department (seems logical), the Plaster Finishing Department and the Lister Fumigator Department.  (Fumigators were disease prevention products that eliminated the insects or germs that spread illness.  In the days before vaccines and antibiotics, they were an important line of defense in keeping people healthy.)

Johnson & Johnson Foreladies Outing, 1932

A no-nonsense group of female foreladies in 1932

And here’s another interesting fact:  Out of the three scientists in our 1908 Scientific Department, headed by Fred Kilmer, one was female.  Our scientists in 1908 were listed with their degrees, and our female scientist had a Bs.C. in science.  So a century ago, when it was much more difficult for women to attend college, and when many colleges and universities didn’t even admit women, Johnson & Johnson had a female college-educated scientist on its payroll.

Corner of the Lab at Johnson & Johnson, 1906

A Corner of the Scientific Laboratory in 1906

The Scientific laboratory at Johnson & Johnson had an important role.  The scientists were part of the manufacturing process in that they tested and checked products and verified that they were of the highest quality before they could be sent out to hospitals and retail drugstores.  Their supervision started with testing the raw materials, continued through the manufacturing process and ended with an examination of samples from all finished products.  This let surgeons and the public have confidence in the unchanging quality and reliability of the early sterile medical products and the consumer products, and it was part of the Company’s manufacturing philosophy.   So our early scientists, including our female scientist, were central to the Company’s business. Interestingly enough, The New York Times lists a marriage announcement for August 26, 1909 (you have to scroll down a bit; it’s the third item on the page) for our scientist and one of the Mill supervisors at Johnson & Johnson.  The announcement is from the year after the souvenir booklet that lists her as a member of the Scientific Department…so she and her husband must have met at work!

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