Women in Logging
Condensed from Nuggets, the Siskiyou County Historical Society newsletter, March 2006. The author completed her research paper for the U.S. Forest Service in November 1982.
Logging was the industry of Siskiyou County for many years after the Gold Rush. Women started working in the Pacific Northwest during the World War 1 years, 1917-1918.
These women were very capable and lived under some very difficult conditions. Some of them were wives of loggers and did the men’s laundry. Some were hired to keep the loggers’ beds and cabins neat and tidy and did mending for the workers. This was added income for these working gals.
Cookhouse duty was the primary job for the women of these times. The men demanded great food in large quantities, and a well-run cookhouse kept the loggers happy and their morale high.
Working conditions were demanding and rough for the women. They lived together in what was called the “Flunkies Shack.” It was sparsely furnished with cots, orange crates for cupboards and stands, and nails on the walls for hanging up clothes. It had wood heat.
Each kitchen staff worked 12 days straight, with every other weekend off. Work began at 5 a.m. There was a midday break, and many women used this for a quick nap or relaxation before preparing for the evening meal at 3 p.m.
During the driest part of the season, the camp went on a special schedule called “Hoot Owl,” which meant the loggers would rise at 2 a.m. to put in work before humidity dropped below the danger point. This put great pressure on the kitchen staff. During “Hoot Owl,” loggers ate throughout the day, with the staff catching a break whenever they could.
In most logging camps, the women who worked there were officially called “Dining Room Girls” but were known as flunkies. A woman started early and she worked hard. She set the tables with milk, butter, fruits, and plates of doughnuts and pastries. Each woman had her own table that seated 30 to 40 loggers per meal. She served them bacon, hash-brown potatoes, eggs, toast, hotcakes and gallons of coffee. On average, 60 loggers ate 300 hotcakes, many pounds of bacon, 200 eggs, 100 pieces of toast, and bowls of hash-brown potatoes- and all in 10 minutes! A flunkie had to be nimble and quick. After the loggers left, the cookhouse was cleaned and tidied up for the next meal, and then it was time to peel pounds and pounds of potatoes, allowing one pound per logger.
In some camps, lunch material for sandwiches was laid out on a table where a logger made his own lunch, but the women had to have these items ready for the men when they came through. Baking pies, cakes and cookies was another chore for the cooks and their flunkies. Twenty pies, cakes and dozens of cookies were just part of a day’s baking; not counting the bread that was needed.
Not many women were “head” cooks. That position was mostly for the men. Women working in the camps were expected to maintain their femininity. They could not wear pants or tight-fitting sweaters around the cookhouse. They wore starchy cotton dresses in hues of pink, blue and yellow.
Women never went close to a man’s bunkhouse when the men were in camp, unless they were ill. On rare occasions the women were allowed to go out into the workplace to see where the men had been working.
On their free time the women strolled through the woods close to camp. Many had favorite spots where they would read, taking a lunch with them and relaxing away from the cookhouse. In the evening there was often a social time in the cookhouse, where coffee was always available and conversation was the recreation. At times some would go into local towns for dancing and fun.
Women were allowed to work in the camps as long as they were not a challenge to the loggers, and many married loggers they had met during their time in logging camps.