Life of a female factory worker – 1941

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In a 1941 edition of Revista da Semana, I discovered a slice of life piece on Rio’s female factory workers, which includes a short interview with one such lady. At the bottom, one can find the original. 


Between six and seven in the morning the trams arrive full into the city and the factory neighborhoods. The trains from Central Station pass by quickly, and on them thousands and thousands of people travel standing up, due to the accumulation of people who wish to get to work on time. In both primary and secondary means of transport, there are large numbers of young, Carioca female factory workers.

Early on, not long after having left behind the cheerful days of infancy and schooling, these young women start to intensely experience the fight for life, to earn one’s daily bread with the sweat of one’s own face. They aren’t familiar with the ease of life nor with the laziness of days spent reading a novel or relaxing during a walk in the forest. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and the rest of the working week are all the same for them. They leave home in a hurry, get on the tram or train, traveling almost always in discomfort and they go to the stores, the offices, the factories or to the sweet shops. They are always waiting for their Prince Charming, of the Delly or Ardel type, who never comes.

The woman today works all over. This is one of the biggest contemporary realities. The Revista da Semana wanted to focus on a quick story about the life of one of these factory workers in Rio de Janeiro. It isn’t the kind of life that differs from the others, on the contrary. It also has its bitterness and its distractions, its sadness and its happiness. And there’s a good matinee at the Encantado or Madureira cinema, in which one can see Henri Garat or Dorothy Lamour. And one day the definitive boyfriend comes along. It isn’t the Prince Charming conjured up in the calming romance novels, but rather a work colleague, a flatmate, or the brother of a female friend.

At last, this is how life is. Dreams only exist because they don’t come true, otherwise they wouldn’t be dreams.

The female characteristic which one can most easily find in the working woman is vanity. They all get dolled up, carefully brushing their hair, looking just right, never forgetting a woman’s common chores. That’s why we said just prior — the young women who work are just like other young women.

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Norma works in one of the hundreds of factories in Rio, one of the thousands of factories in Brazil.

RS – What kind of things do you like to read, Norma?

N – Romance novels and newspapers made for young people. I don’t know anything about war, I never did, nor do I want to. Besides, Yugoslavia is a difficult word and I don’t even know where Greece is. In terms of newspapers, I only like those that have stories about Zé Mulambo or Tarzan.

RS – Do you like to live in the suburbs?

N – No, and I still have yet to meet any young woman that likes living in the suburbs. It seems like romance novelists and poets go around complimenting the suburbian girl, but we would prefer to be from other places and not get those compliments. Though with the guys it’s different. Most of them really like the suburbs.

RS – And the movies, Norma?

N – Movies are the most wonderful thing in the world. We love movies above all else that exists. A lot of people would commit suicide if there were no more movies. Circuses are also good because of the orchestra at the front before the show starts.

RS – Do you date?

N – No. We talk a lot and once in a while with different guys, but we don’t date. Dating, for us, is very dangerous.

RS – Have you been to Corcovado, Sugarloaf, Copacabana or Santa Tereza?

N – No, no, no and no.

RS – And Paquetá?

N – Yes! Lots of times, for delicious picnics. Oh, how it’s nice!

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This quick talk happened at the Encantado station, while waiting for a train to arrive. All of a sudden, a tram appeared. Norma and her colleagues didn’t get on at the wagon in front of us, but they ran down to get in another that was further back.

RS – Why didn’t you get on the other, Norma?

N – Because we bought second-class tickets.

One of the girls who was in her company said, sadly, “We’re poor travel companions, aren’t we?”

For the first time we were melancholic, as those women thought that traveling second-class was a huge difference and that we took ‘notice’ of the fact. We could give them philosophic lessons to prove that these external things aren’t important. But what better response is there than the palpitable truth?

RS – Well, girls. We, too, are traveling in second-class!


10-05-41 P1                        10-05-41 P2

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