Asheville Junction: A Blog by David E. Whisnant

Women’s History Month: Pictorial Preview of Upcoming Post on Women Workers at Enka

These images suggest some of the key topics and issues addressed in my upcoming post on the thousands of women who worked at American Enka from the 1930s onward: recruitment and hiring, narrow range of jobs offered, design and marketing of rayon clothing to women, representation of women in The Enka Voice employees’ magazine, relegation of working women to conventional domestic roles, women’s industrial league basketball, and aspects of women’s culture within the plant.

Asheville Sunday Citizen, Sept. 23, 1928, B1

Asheville Sunday Citizen, September 23, 1928, p. 25.


Enka job ad

1929 Help Wanted ad from American Enka. Mashburn, Hominy Valley: the Golden Years (2008). Click to enlarge.

Asheville Citizen-Times, Sept. 23, 1928. Click to enlarge.

Enka Voice, April 1930, cover of first issue. Plant opened July 1929.



Enka Voice, February 1931 cover. Approximately 1200 women; 65% of total workforce. Resolution insufficient to enlarge.



We regret to inform you that available issues of the Enka Voice (1930-1950)

do not contain photographs of any of these 1200 working women at their actual work stations,

although there are many scores of photographs and articles about working men.

Instead, each of the production departments (where the great majority of women worked) was allocated a page,

with photographs and texts the editors judged to be more typical of (and appropriate for) women’s interests and activities:

getting engaged and married, having and raising children, vacationing, enjoying the outdoors, going to lunch,

reading or writing mediocre poetry, and providing punchlines for “Little Wifey” jokes.

The following page is a representative example. Click to enlarge.


Enka Voice, July 1932, p.12. Note gender hierarchy.

Rhododendron Festival parade. Accompanying text gave names of the “girls,” their departments (Spinnerette, Coning, Cone Packing, Reeling, Spool Winding, Twisting) and descriptions of  the rayon outfits they wore (street dress, sport dress, afternoon dress, cocktail gown, evening gown, bathing suit). Click to enlarge.


2 thoughts on “Women’s History Month: Pictorial Preview of Upcoming Post on Women Workers at Enka

  1. Marie Tedesco

    How interesting, but typical, unfortunately. (Oh, note “girls'” basketball team!) The Elizabethton rayon plants’ publication followed the same pattern as did Enka’s. The only image I recall of a woman worker is the one from ETSU’s Archives of Appalachia that appears in the Encyclopedia of Appalachia, of an American Bemberg woman at a carding machine for rayon staple. I do not recall which collection contains that image; it is not the corporate records
    collection, though.

  2. Marie Tedesco

    On a somewhat related note: the fashion ads reminded me of a very interesting article on rayon and its links to fashion and cultural values of “purity” in Weimar Germany. The article is: Yvette Florio Lane, “No Fertile Soil for Pathogens: Rayon Advertising in Weimar Germany,” Journal of Social History 44, no. 2 (Winter 2010): 545-62, on JSTOR database.

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