In January 1939, Lyra Ferguson of Missouri left her job as a church secretary and took off on a tour of the United States. Her goal was to spend a week working in all 48 states. Alaska and Hawaii weren't yet states, so she didn't have to worry about those. She was equipped with only "a new automobile, a small wardrobe, a little pistol and $200." I'm not sure of her exact age, but news reports said she was "over 40."
She made advance plans to secure a job in a handful of states, but mostly she just arrived and tried to find employment. She also tried to find jobs in industries that seemed representative of each state.
Ultimately she managed to find one-week jobs in 45 states but failed to get work in New York, Nevada, or Arizona.
Her plan had been to write a book about her adventures, but in a later interview she said her attempt at a book was "terrible." So that plan fell through.
However, she did take film footage of her entire journey and later edited this together into a movie which she showed to various groups. Unfortunately I can't find any evidence that this movie still exists.
Below is a list of her jobs in 42 states. I couldn't find any info about her jobs in Arkansas, Colorado, or West Virginia.
Alabama: performed at the assembly exercises of the Tuskegee Institute
California: worked for an overall company at the San Francisco fair
Connecticut: typewriter factory
Delaware: tanned kid skins in a tannery
Florida: packed oranges
Idaho: dug potatoes
Illinois: made wax fruits and flowers
Indiana: manufactured refrigerators
Iowa: pen factory
Kansas: packed dog food
Kentucky: ironed shirts in a laundromat
Louisiana: packed shrimp
Maine: helped out in a lighthouse
Maryland: tea packing factory
Massachusetts: served as attendant in an insane asylum
Michigan: maid on a Great Lakes steamer during tulip festival
Minnesota: sewed buttons on suits
Mississippi: shucked oysters
Missouri: social hostess at a hotel
Montana: cooked on a dude ranch
Nebraska: booked well-known artists for an agency
New Hampshire: paper factory
New Jersey: cosmetics factory
New Mexico: sewed labels on ties made by Native Americans
North Carolina: weaved homespun suiting
North Dakota: picked chickens
Ohio: worked in the printing room of a newspaper
Oklahoma: wiped windshields at a gas station
Oregon: packed salmon
Pennsylvania: made chocolate candy at Hersheys
Rhode Island: baking powder factory
South Carolina: textile industry
South Dakota: took pictures of the Black Hills for the association of commerce
Tennessee: washed turnip greens
Texas: delivered packages during the Christmas holidays
Utah: wove blankets in a woolen mill
Vermont: helped make maple syrup
Virginia: weighed peanuts
Washington: worked at a general store in a logging camp
Wisconsin: milked cows for a dairy
Wyoming: worked at Yellowstone
Pittsburgh Press - Dec 24, 1939
Weekly Kansas City Star - May 8, 1940
Sedalia Democrat - Sep 23, 1941
The only follow-up info I can find about her was that in 1956 she had just returned home from a world tour during which she collected souvenirs from the countries she visited. She obviously really liked to travel!
2013: Paul Chulhie Kim filed suit against the IRS for $20 million in damages, alleging that he had been waiting 24 years for them to get back to him about his job application. On account of this long wait, he said, he had suffered various health problems including "starvation, heart attacks, heart failure, kidney failure, liver failure, pneumonia, seizures, cancer [and] mental illness." It seems that he never bothered to try to get a different job. He wanted the $20 million to "restore [his] trust in the American people and restore confidence in [his] natural United States citizenship."
The judge noted that Kim appeared to be hinting that some kind of employment discrimination had occurred, without stating this explicitly. But even so, because Kim had waited so long to file his case, the statute of limitations had long since expired. So the judge dismissed the case.
Kim appealed the decision, but the appeals court affirmed the District Court's decision.
Odd job: the FDA employs people to smell fish in order to determine if it's decomposed. They refer to this as "organoleptic analysis".
There are four categories with fish. "The first is fresh. That's the way fish are right after they are caught. Then there is number one. That's the commercial grade. Most seafood should be number one. It may not smell fresh, but it's not decomposed.
"The next is number two. That means slight decomposition. Whether the fish is all right depends on the product. The criteria are based on percentages. And last is number three, the really bad ones. Definitely decomposed. Number three is so putrid and stinky you wouldn't want to eat it."
The article I'm getting the info from was published in 1978, but I'm assuming the FDA must still employ people to smell fish. Unless they've got a fancy gadget to do it now.
What better way to spend this annual celebration of work than by reading Paul Lafargue's 1883 treatise The Right To Be Lazy, in which he made a case for the virtues of idleness.
Some info about Lafargue and The Right To Be Lazy from RightNow.org:
A lifelong revolutionary, Lafargue was husband to Laura Marx (Karl’s daughter) and friend to Friedrich Engels. He founded the French Workers Party; he was the first socialist elected to a French parliament. He was, in other words, a serious figure, not some louche provocateur or drawing room contrarian, and while there’s an undeniably utopian element to his work, The Right to be Lazy is written as an immediate political intervention, not an exercise in whimsy.
Much of the book consists of a contrast between ideas about work in Lafargue’s day and the very different attitudes held in earlier societies, particularly in classical antiquity. Ancient Greek philosophers regarded work as an activity fit only for slaves. So where others hailed the arrival of modern industry as progress, Lafargue saw regression.
Longtime WU readers might remember that we've posted about Lafargue before. He made headlines back in 1911 for his unique retirement plan, which consisted of divvying up all he had for ten years of good living and then killing himself when the money ran out.
The year 1850 was also a time when one large life insurance company's records showed its first policy issued to a female, reports the American Council of Life Insurance. She was one Caroline Ingraham, 36, of Madison, N.J. The policy register of November 19th, which contains the entry of Miss Ingraham's policy, lists her occupation as "Woman."
In 1973, entrepreneurs Richard and Christine Braunlich launched a business called Conversation. The idea was that it would allow people to pay to have a conversation with an expert "conversationalist." $5 for the first half-hour, and $3 for each additional half-hour. Some details from the SF Examiner (Feb 11, 1973):
The couple rented space in a commercial building at 445 Colusa Ave. in October, invested their entire savings, and spent hours redecorating and rebuilding the interior...
So far, however, the talkers have been few and far between — only about 40 customers have dropped in since Conversation opened.
About 60 percent of the customers have been women, the Braunliches report, and they talk about subjects ranging from poetry to small family problems.
Sitting in one of 14 tiny booths, customers can talk to one of 20 employees, who are called, appropriately enough, conversationalists.
And more details from the Moline Dispatch (Feb 13, 1973):
The conversationalists, who work part-time, collect half of a client's fee. The other half of the fee goes to the business. One of the first customers was a lonely divorcee new to the area, according to Engel Devendorf, a marketing executive now working at Conversation.
"She left her two kids at a movie and was here when the door opened," he said. "She just wanted to chat with somebody alive, warm and wiggling. Boy, did she want to talk."
Another woman explained that her husband was a nice guy but boring, and she needed to converse with somebody else once in a while...
"Lots of people with problems don't need professional help, but they do need to talk them over," Devendorf said. "They can go to the hairdresser, a bar or a coffee shop, but some are too shy."
At Conversation, persons with serious psychological difficulties are referred to professionals.
When San Diego performance artist Claudio Cano does her act, much of the audience isn’t aware that she’s actually performing, because her performance consists of dressing up as a Latina maid (whom she calls Rosa Hernandez) and sweeping or mopping the floor of art galleries. She notes that people in the galleries will often complain to the front desk about the maid cleaning while they're trying to look at the art, unaware that the "maid" is part of the art.
Cano also sometimes performs outside, where, in her maid outfit, she does stand out more. But even then, she notes, people rarely pay much heed to her, seeming to go out of their way to avoid her.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.