top of page

Picking (a Winner) not Harvesting Beans

“An urge for the clubwoman of the city to use their voting privilege with the most intelligence possible when the questions are put to them on laws that might have an effect on the working conditions of the woman in industry’ was made by Mrs. John G. Schroeder in an address on ‘Our Responsibilities to the Women in Industry’ given before the Woman’s club Tuesday afternoon at the Hoyt library.”

“Mrs. Schroeder cited as examples the beet welders, bean pickers, and those who work in silk factories and those who stand machines all day. ‘Their jobs are tiresome and monotonous.’ she said ‘and it is our duty to see that the sanitary conditions, living conditions and working conditions are such that they will be of the most possible benefit for them.”

-The Saginaw Daily News, January 4, 1928, p. 9.

When one purchases a bag of navy beans, one expects only beans – no stones, twigs or pieces of dirt. Simply beans. It is unlikely that you have given much thought to how the processor is able to deliver a clean bag of beans. You simply open a bag and start the arduous task of soaking, boiling and transforming them.

The Saginaw News Courier, February 16, 1922

Today, the process of cleaning beans once they have been delivered to the factory is automated. However, once it was labor intensive. When the Saginaw Milling Company’s elevator on Niagara Street was completed, it was advertised as one of the most modern in the country. However, beans still had to be sorted by hand and teams of women were employed to pick out the stones, pieces of dirt and sticks – descriptively they were called “Bean Pickers.” An expert picker could collect 40 – 50 pounds of material in an 8-hour day. And yes, they were paid by the amount of waste they gathered.

The Saginaw News Courier, November 8, 1922.

Above we have employed a Castle Test Kitchen staffer to sort our beans. You can see just how difficult it would be to make a living at bean picking.

If you have visited the Made in Saginaw exhibit at the museum, you are aware that “A.T. Ferrell” was a leader in producing equipment used in the elevators. Although they had a national reputation for their Clipper bean sorters, they found a ready market in Saginaw.

The Saginaw Evening News, October 6, 1909.

This 1937 ad reminds us of the labor that went into preparing beans for the consumer:

A verbal agreement was reported reached today by Hart Brothers and about 30 women bean pickers who staged a sit-down strike last Monday and were ejected from the plant after 10 hours. Michael J. Hart, manager, said the plant would resume Monday and that no pay increases had been granted pickers. He said the strike was the result of a disagreement with a forewoman over the method of picking beans, pickers contending that they could not make sufficient wages due to the method of picking. Mr. Hart said no men employes [sic.] were involved in the strike. An injunction against picketing the Hart establishment was granted Thursday by Circuit Judge O'Neill. The picketers Ignored the court order until settlement was reached today.

-The Saginaw News, July 16, 1937.

The Recipe: Curried Beans (1921)

Boil 1 cup navy beans until soft (about an hour and a half), chop 1 onion, 1 apple and a

carrot very fine; fry them in butter. Dredge over them 1 tsp. flour and curry powder

mixed, and a seasoning of pepper and salt; add beans; mix well together; put them in a

casserole; garnish top with strips of bacon. Bake in slow oven (300° for about an hour

and 40 minutes. I just watched it until the edges were browned and bubbly and the

bacon was cooked to my preferred doneness), and serve hot. 

And the Winner Is...

We'll let you know next week!


bottom of page