45 Jobs in 45 States

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
  • Georgia: cafeteria
  • 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!
     Posted By: Alex - Sun Jan 23, 2022
     Category: Jobs and Occupations | Travel | Tourists and Tourism | 1930s

Some years later, a man named Pete Jordan went on a quest to wash dishes (for a living) in all 50 states. He wrote an interesting book about his adventures: https://www.amazon.com/Dishwasher-Quest-Dishes-Fifty-States/dp/0060896426/ref=sr_1_14?crid=1AXYJIUPPAB0F&keywords=Dishwasher&qid=1642939407&s=books&sprefix=dishwasher%2Cstripbooks%2C206&sr=1-14

He ends the book by moving to Europe and getting married.
Posted by Patrick on 01/23/22 at 06:06 AM
Um . . . "She obviously really liked to travel!" might be a little off.

Have you ever been to Missouri? It's understandable some people will do anything to get out of there.
Posted by Phideaux on 01/23/22 at 09:14 AM
West Virginia is omitted.
Posted by Dr. Fian on 01/23/22 at 09:46 AM
Sorry, just read closer.
Posted by Dr. Fian on 01/23/22 at 09:47 AM
Found her job in Colorado:


She worked in Denver "...at an adult blind workshop, developing an advertising campaign..."
Posted by Fritz on 01/23/22 at 12:25 PM
In case "served as attendant in an insane asylum" really is a job representative of Massachusetts, I'll be sure not to move there.

Sounds like everybody was getting out of Oklahoma, as well as Missouri, since she worked "wiping windshields at a gas station." Or maybe they were coming in there.

Posted by Virtual in Carnate on 01/23/22 at 12:32 PM
As a New Englander, I can vouch for most of these as representative work. RI, VT, and CT are very accurate (there was an Underwood typewriter factory in Hartford until the 1980s, only changed in the 40s when they made the most popular weapon of WWII America, the M1 carbine).
Maybe New Hampshire and Maine wouldn't let her be a granite quarry worker or lobsterman. The Mass thing--not sure where that came from. Maybe Boston didn't need bean bakers, and it drove them mad, mad I tell you, MAD!
The most telling mention is "Who says jobs are scarce?" She had a mission, and signed up for whatever job they had that week. At the tail end of the Depression, this would be inspiring.
Posted by Bill the Splut on 01/23/22 at 11:07 PM
Nebraska was far and away her best gig. As for Delaware, Wilmington was once known for its tanneries.
Posted by Brian on 01/25/22 at 01:29 PM
All I can say is: well done! Obviously she didn't have any dependants or anything else to worry about (which woudl keep most of us from trying a lark like this), but still, she went for it and she did it. Well done.
Posted by Richard Bos on 01/29/22 at 03:34 PM
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