Saturday, April 20, 2013

34. Coffee Cup: Not My Job Description

Coffee Cup
By Becky Brown
A fondu or rainbow print is always good
 for getting a dimensional look,
a lesson from Baltimore Album quilts.
As we consider women's history this year we should remember that some of us have personal memories we need to record before younger generations completely forget the historical context. For example: The Chicago Coffee Cup Protest of 1977.

Producer Mary Richards refused to make coffee
 for the men in the office on the Mary Tyler Moore show.

The background: Jobs for women were opening up. One could be a television producer, a college professor, a legal secretary. Most of these jobs for women had one thing in common. The women made the coffee.

Iris Rivera

Iris Rivera was a legal secretary at the Illinois Appellate Defender's Office who received a memo from her boss outlining rules for women in the office, which included coffee making as a duty. Iris refused. She didn't drink coffee and beverage preparation was not in her job description. She was fired. The attorney's reasoning: Since the men were paid more than the women their time was too valuable to make coffee (circular reasoning, perhaps? Or just adding insult to injury?)

Women's rights group Women Employed (W.E.) focused national attention on the issue by staging  a protest, handing out packets of used coffee grounds with instructions for coffee making to men entering Rivera's building. She filed a suit with the Illinois Fair Employment Practice Commission but was apparently rehired without a legal decision.

Making coffee as a default duty was a minor factor in the inequalities of the era. Women Employed calculated that women, 45% of the downtown Chicago work force, earned 25% of the salaries. As a woman who worked in the Loop in those years I remember it well. What we call sexual harassment was a problem we hadn't even defined yet.

Coffee Cup
By Dustin Cecil

 But a symbol is a symbol and I think we won the coffee pot war---a small victory.

BlockBase #941
Coffee Cups was printed in the Kansas City Star in 1935.

Cutting an 8" Block
12" Cutting in Red

A - Cut 2 rectangles 8-1/2" x 1-7/8" (12-1/2" x 2-1/2").
B - Cut 2 rectangles 3-7/8" x 2-1/8" (5-1/2" x 3").
C  - Cut 1 rectangle 3-7/8" x 5-1/8" (5-1/2" x 7-1/2")

Use the templates to cut the rest of the pieces. D,E. F & G are cut from 1-1/2" strips. (2")

Coffee Cup
By Becky Brown

If you don't want to applique the handle find a fabric with rings, something like this Hometown from Sweetwater. See if you can find a large ring and fussy cut the rectangle B.

 Or if you like to applique you can applique the cup and saucer to a background cut to 8-1/2" square.

The Palm Beach Post, February 21, 1977

Making coffee wasn't the most demeaning thing secretaries had to do. For several years the woman's group Nine to Five sponsored a Petty Office Procedure contest. Read about the 1988 winners here in an article by Kirsten Lee Swartz:
"Secretaries Urged To Say 'No' Office Workers Honored At Allentown Program."  

When I ask my young friends with high-tone jobs if they are expected to make the coffee they look confused. I explain it---they tell me the office machines for coffee now are so simple that anybody can operate them.

Connie's William Morris Coffee Cup

For a history of the time see Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History.
Here's a preview at Google Books.


  1. I'm so glad younger generations of females don't know what we're talking about.

  2. This hit a nerve. I had a boss who ordered me to make coffee. I told him no in no uncertain terms. I didn't drink it and I wasn't going to make it. What he didn't understand was that I probably would have made coffee if he had asked nicely. Of course he never would have asked me to make coffee again because I would have made it like my Dad liked his coffee - VERY strong.

  3. As late as the 1990's n rural Tennessee, paralegals were expected to brew and serve coffee. That information from a female professor caused me to change in majors to teaching. Cleaning after children seemed more desirable than the demeaning task of serving attorneys.

  4. Interestingly, I was never asked to make coffee, and I entered the office work force in 1965. Maybe they could tell by looking at me that I wouldn't be any good at making something I didn't drink.

  5. Interesting how Boycott is right on topic for this blog. Women stepping up and the attitudes they must confront. I don't think Boycott will find it the least bit challenging to turn away all the women who want to be Mrs. Boycott.

  6. when thinking of the womens of that time it was a very power pack performance and got to win the hearts of many.
    Glan Deas
    Kopi Luwak

  7. Hi, I realize I am a few years late on this, but the link doesnt go to a pdf...any way of getting the pdf still?

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  12. Iris Rivera was my mom. I'm glad she stuck up for herself. I remember those days. I was the 10yr old in the story. I'm trying to get footage of her appearance on the Phil Donahue show. With no luck so far. But very happy for all the support back then. Hector Rivera!