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In 1902 William Walling, a member of the American Socialist Partyand former resident of the Hull House Settlement in Chicago, visited England where he met Mary MacArthur, head of Women's Protective and Provident League (WPPL).
In November, 1903, Walling attended the American Federation of Labour (AFL) annual convention in Boston. Samuel Gompers introduced Walling to Mary Kenny O'Sullivan, who told her about Britain's Women's Protective and Provident League. Walling invited her to Hull House where she met other women interested in trade unionism. This included Jane Addams, Mary McDowell, Alice Hamilton, Florence Kelley and Sophonisba Breckinridge.
Together the group established the Women's Trade Union League. The main objective of the organization was to educate women about the advantages of trade union membership. It also support women's demands for better working conditions and helped to raise awareness about the exploitation of women workers.
The Women's Trade Union League received support from the American Federation of Labour and attracted women concerned with women's suffrage as well as industrial workers wanting to improve their pay and conditions. Early members included Jane Addams, Lillian Wald, Margaret Robins, Leonora O'Reilly, Ida Rauh, Mary McDowell, Margaret Haley, Helen Marot, Mary Ritter Beard, Rose Schneiderman, Alice Hamilton, Agnes Nestor, Eleanor Roosevelt, Florence Kelley and Sophonisba Breckinridge.
Let us put ourselves in the position of the striking men who have fallen upon workmen who have taken their places. The strikers have for years belonged to an organization devoted to securing better wages and a higher standard of living, not only for themselves, but for all men in their trade. They honestly believe, whether they are right or wrong, that their position is exactly the same which a nation, in time of war, takes towards a traitor who has deserted his country's camp for the enemy. We regard the treatment accorded to the deserter with much less horror than the same treatment when it is accorded to the 'scab', largely because in one instance we are citizens are participants, and in the other we allow ourselves to stand aside.
How would you like to iron a shirt a minute? Think of standing at a mangle just above the washroom with the hot steam pouring up through the floor for 10, 12, 14 and sometimes 17 hours a day! Sometimes the floors are made of cement and then it seems as though one were standing on hot coals, and the workers are dripping with perspiration. They are breathing air laden with particles of soda, ammonia, and other chemicals! The Laundry Workers Union in one city reduced this long day to 9 hours, and has increased the wages 50 percent.
William English Walling - a longtime friend - came to the Boston convention full of enthusiasm for a league of women workers. Mary Kenny O'Sullivan's quick mind caught the possibilities of the suggestion. When they submitted to me a proposal, I gave it most hearty approval and participated in the necessary conferences. Under the leadership of Jane Addams and Mary McDowell, the movement became of national importance. In more recent years, Mrs. Raymond Robins, as president of the league, exercised good influence in promoting the organization of women workers into trade unions.
Today in labor history: U.S. women organize trade union league
On Nov. 14, 1903, working-class and wealthier women gathered in Boston to found the Women’s Trade Union League to support the efforts of women to organize labor unions and to eliminate sweatshop conditions. The WTUL played an important role in supporting the massive strikes in the first two decades of the twentieth century that established the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and in campaigning for women’s suffrage among men and women workers. The Women’s Trade Union League, nearly forgotten in much of the mainstream, feminist and labor history written in the mid-20th century, was a key institution in reforming women’s working conditions in the early 20th century.
Also founded today in 1938 was the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which changed the U.S. labor movement forever with its approach to organizing mass production and industrial workers, a section of the working class the American Federation of Labor failed to address. However, eight AFL unions were at the CIO’s founding. The two federations merged in 1955.
Before the CIO’s official founding, rank and file workers, including Communists and other left-wingers, began organizing unions at their industrial workplace. One such place was the industrial laundries of New York City. In 1936, early CIO activists (at that time called the Committee for Industrial Organization) and rank and file laundry workers forged new ground by organizing a predominantly Black and female workforce. The WTUL supported the laundry workers efforts and their strike. (To read more, see Laundry strike: Everybody goes out.)
Photo: Members of the Women’s Trade Union League of New York pose with a banner calling for the 8-hour day. (Kheel Center, Cornell University/CC)
WOMEN'S TRADE UNION LEAGUE
WOMEN'S TRADE UNION LEAGUE, an organization of working-class and middle-class women (1903– 1950) dedicated to improving the lives of America's working women. The Women's Trade Union League (WTUL) was founded in Boston in 1903 at a meeting of the American Federation of Labor, when it became clear that American labor had no intention of organizing America's women into trade unions. A British version of the organization had been in existence since 1873. The American group was the brainchild of labor organizer Mary Kenny O'Sullivan. It combined middle-class reformers and social workers such as Lillian Wald and Jane Addams, called "allies," and working-class activists such as Leonora O'Reilly. While national, it was active in key urban areas such as New York, Boston, and Chicago.
The organization's twin focus was on (1) aiding trade unions and striking women workers and (2) lobbying for "protective labor legislation." It was at its height from 1907 to 1922 under the direction of Margaret Dreier Robins. During the bitter New York garment worker strikes of 1909 through 1913, the WTUL proved to be a major source of support for the strikers. WTUL members walked picket lines, organized support rallies, provided much needed public relations, raised strike funds and bail, and helped shape public opinion in the strikers' favor. In 1911, after the terrible Triangle Shirtwaist Fire killed 146 garment workers, the WTUL was at the forefront of reformers demanding stepped-up governmental responsibility over the workplace. When New York State created the Factory Investigating Committee in 1912, WTUL representative Mary Dreier was one of the commissioners.
After 1912, the WTUL branched out to Iowa, New Jersey, and Ohio to aid women strikers and investigate working conditions. The thrust of their attention after the garment strikes, however, was on legislation: an eight-hour workday, workplace safety, and minimum wages for women workers. Their success in fourteen states won them many supporters among women workers and reform circles but caused concern for the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Samuel Gompers, the AFL president, saw legislation as a threat to the core of labor: collective bargaining. Gompers saw politics as a blind alley for labor. This conflict can be seen in the uneasy relationship between trade union women and the WTUL. Labor leaders such as Rose Schneiderman and Pauline Newman spent years with the WTUL, the former as N.Y. President, but they never felt completely at home among the reformers.
Just prior to World War I, the WTUL began to actively campaign for woman's suffrage in the belief that if working women had the vote they could demand laws to protect them. During World War I the WTUL worked with the Department of Labor as more and more women joined the workforce. After the war, as returning soldiers replaced the women workers and the AFL returned to its "family wage" philosophy (husbands need to earn enough to keep their wives at home), the relationship between the WTUL and the AFL was strained.
Starting in the 1920s, the WTUL began an educational effort that had profound effects. Starting with the summer school for women workers at Bryn Mawr (and spreading to other women's colleges), the WTUL educated and trained a whole generation of women union activists.
During the New Deal years, with WTUL member Eleanor Roosevelt, the league focused its attention on retaining the gains they had made and aiding women during the depression. They slowly became less involved with organizing and more focused on legislation. They were active in the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act and Social Security. But they were never able to repair their relationship with organized labor. They remained neutral during the bitter labor rivalry between the AFL and the newly formed industrial unions of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). After World War II they drifted and, lacking resources and active members, closed their doors in 1950.
National Women's Trade Union League of America
The National Women's Trade Union League was founded in Boston, Mass., in 1903 to organize women workers into trade unions. The league also held training programs for workers, conducted research re: working conditions, and supported strikes.
From the description of Records, 1914-1942 (inclusive). (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 232007821
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Union Feminism: Sisterhood is Powerful
Throughout the 20th century, women have worked tirelessly to make gender equality central to the union movement. After losing high-paying union jobs after World War II, millions of women sought new opportunities in the female-dominated sectors: retail, health, education, and service. In these areas, hours were long, wages low, benefits few, and union organization weak. These conditions, along with persistent patriarchal views on women in the workforce, gave rise to a second wave of feminism which had a profound impact on labor.
When federal anti-discrimination laws were introduced in the early 1960s, organized labor, under pressure from the emerging feminist movement, supported sex discrimination prohibitions in both the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In 1974, the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) united members across all unions and sought to increase female membership and representation in leadership. CLUW also advocated for union contracts, laws, and enforcement efforts that address a broad range of issues:
- nondiscriminatory hiring and promotion
- equal pay
- paid family leave
- sexual harassment and violence
- reproductive rights
- child care
Despite significant progress, the struggle for equality continues for the over six million women who make up almost half of all union membership.
Teachers on strike for better schools, American Federation of Teachers Local 860, Yonkers, New York, 1970s. AFL-CIO Photographic Prints Collection.
Strikers picketing in shorts to bring attention to their demand for shorter hours, United Telegraph Workers Local 48, Western Union Company, Los Angeles, 1960s. AFL-CIO Photographic Prints Collection.
Picketing strikers protest low wages and the gendered irony of their employer’s “Nude Look” advertising brand of hosiery, Textile Workers Union of America, Hanes Corporation, Toronto, 1969. AFL-CIO Photographic Prints Collection.
In the history of the Labour movement, there are shining stars and hard grafters. Mary MacArthur (1880-1921) was both. By the time of her premature death, she had organised more than 300,000 women into the trade union movement stood as a Labour candidate for parliament produced groundbreaking reports that forced the government to implement welfare measures and inspired the most important generation of female politicians in the Labour movement’s history. The scope of her achievements supports Margaret Bondfield’s impression, on meeting Mary for the first time, that she was a person of genius.
Born into a middle-class Glaswegian family, at first Mary followed the Conservative politics of her family. Living a comfortable existence and working as the company book-keeper for her father’s business, she found no reason to challenge his lifelong hatred of socialism. Her chance attendance at a political meeting, aged 21, turned that worldview on its head. That night, she heard several socialist speakers explain the dire conditions of workers in low-paid employment. Their impassioned plans to establish a local branch of the Shop Assistant’s Union prompted Mary’s Damascene conversion to the cause. The conversion was so startling that within months Mary was Chair of the Union’s new branch in Ayr.
From that time on, Mary became a regular face at local left-wing meetings. On one such occasion she encountered a young man, William Crawford (“W.C.”) Anderson, a self-educated, working-class journalist, who was then becoming heavily involved in the Independent Labour Party (“ILP”). It was a classic (and severe) case of love at first sight. Yet Mary remained determined to proceed with caution. She was grateful for W.C.’s contacts in the ILP and she was keen to learn from his friends, notably fellow Scots Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald. But she had no intention of compromising her personal freedom by agreeing to marriage. As much as W.C. pursued her, Mary was adamant. For the time being, work would come first.
That work was focused increasingly on the position of working-class women. By the early 1900s, Mary had become convinced that – valuable as existing trade unionism was – there was an overwhelming need to organise women. The scale of the task was enormous. To even suggest the idea of unionisation, Mary had to overcome immense resistance among women themselves. Scattered and isolated in home industries, many received low rates of pay yet were suspicious of trade unionism. The few union organisers who had tackled the issue previously had been disheartened by the lack of progress. As one noted in his union branch minutes:
“Trade unionism means rebellion and the orthodox teaching for women is submission. The political world preaches to women submission just…as it refuses them the parliamentary franchise, and therefore ignores them as human beings.”
Mary’s approach was to keep things simple. She rejected the idea that there was any inherent feminine incapacity to ‘recognise the necessity for corporate action’, or that marriage was an insurmountable obstacle to trade union membership. Rather, the basic reason for women’s unwillingness to join a trade union was economic. Balancing home and work, they barely had the resources to get through a normal day, let alone to plan grander ambitions:
“While women are badly paid because of their unorganised condition, they remain unorganised mainly because they are badly paid.”
Mary dedicated her life to breaking that cycle. Rising rapidly through the ranks of her union, by 1903 she was the first woman on its national executive. As well as her trade union activities, she worked closely with Keir Hardie to raise the profile of women’s trade unionism within the ILP. Her work on the Exhibition of Sweated Industries in 1905 and her central role in founding the Anti-Sweating League in 1906 brought national attention to the scandal of unorganised female labour.
Though important, the scattered nature of Mary’s early work highlighted an abiding problem. Women had no dedicated voice within trade unionism as such, they lacked a focal point around which to build their power. While the existing Women’s Trade Union League united women-only unions from different trades, it did not provide a united platform for all women. By its very nature, the WTUL excluded the thousands of women who were refused admission to their appropriate trade unions because of male opposition. To address these problems, in 1906 Mary founded the National Federation of Women Workers. It was to be a general union open to “all women” from whatever branch of industry they came.
Initially, the Federation met with widespread resistance within the traditional trade union movement. The idea of ‘organised women’ was viewed, at best, as an annoyance and, at worst, as a threat to the status of all trade unions. Most union men were appalled at the idea of women invading ‘their’ territory. As the feminist campaigner Ethel Snowden noted, most men viewed women trade unionists as a dilution of their brand. She recorded the conclusion of one male colleague:
“the status of his Union would suffer in the eyes of politicians if it were known that it contained a large percentage of non-political, non-voting members…”
Notwithstanding these objections, Mary persisted. At the heart of her leadership of the Federation was the campaign for a ‘legal minimum wage’. Mary pioneered this concept as the most critical step for addressing women’s economic helplessness. The idea – and Mary’s repetition of it on platforms across the country – hit a nerve. By the end of its first year the Federation boasted seventeen branches in Scotland and England and about two thousand members. By encouraging trade unions with women members to affiliate to the Federation, she drastically increased its membership over the following two years.
As her political confidence grew, Mary sought new ways to put her unionist values into action. In 1910, after months of work at Cradley Heath (in the Black Country), she succeeded in co-ordinating a ten-week strike there among women chainmakers. The strike was a notable success, establishing the women’s right to fairer pay and changing the lives of thousands of workers who were earning little more than starvation wages. Sensing the need to keep momentum, Mary then took a daring decision. Unmarried, and therefore without the traditional support mechanisms of a normal middle-class woman, she moved to London and began to agitate among women factory-hands in Bermondsey. When Mary arrived in 1910, the average wage of Bermondsey women factory-hands was 7s to 9s a week and 3s for girls, compared with the average male workers’ £75 per year. In the summer of 1911 she co-ordinated a series of spontaneous strikes that erupted in Bermondsey, involving an estimated 2,000 women. Her successful leadership of various marches and rallies pressurised the employers into granting the strikers’ wage demands.
Mary’s magic lay in her skills as a communicator. In later life both Margaret Bondfield andBeatrice Webb noted that Mary could speak to women workers as if she was ‘one of them’. She knew how to ignite the self-interest of her listeners. In this way, she inspired some of the most important female activists of the next generation. Writing after Mary’s death, the Labour politician Ellen Wilkinson remembered how, in her youth, she had heard Mary speak at a recruiting meeting:
“[With the male speakers] the girls were frankly bored. When, however, Miss McArthur demanded a wage that would provide pretty frocks and holidays the girls began to realise that there was something in trade unions…to the young priggish economics student it was all very shocking but I have realised the value of her methods at many a work gate since.”
Through such tactics, by the time war broke out in 1914 the Federation had organised more than 300,000 women out of a total female workforce of 5,000,000. It was a staggering achievement, yet more was to come. The war provided a once-in-a-generation opportunity. As men marched off to the trenches and women began to take their place, the numbers working in factories and therefore eligible to join a trade union exploded. Under Mary’s leadership, the increasingly confident women’s trade union movement pushed home the advantage amid a mass recruitment drive. At the same time, Mary worked to ensure that more lasting political changes would follow. From 1916, she served on the government’s Reconstruction Committee, which had been established to advise the government about the conditions of women’s employment after the war. Largely thanks to Mary’s insistence, the committee’s 1919 Report recommended that women should have a properly paid and organised training for industry a minimum wage a forty-hour week and a fortnight’s annual holiday. The status of women workers was planted firmly on the national political agenda.
But Mary’s work is only one part of her story, for W.C. Anderson proved to be a persistent young man. In a move of grand romance, he had followed Mary down to London in 1910 and stayed by her side ever since. Their marriage, in September 1911, was to be one of singular happiness and painful tragedy. Mary was left devastated by the loss of their first child at birth in 1913. The pain lessened only with the arrival of their daughter, Anne Elizabeth, two years later. By that time, W.C. had won a great election victory for Labour in Sheffield and the family juggled personal responsibilities with his busy parliamentary life.
With the enfranchisement of women in 1918 and the concession that women could stand for parliament, Mary’s political ambitions burst free. By then, she was the foremost woman within the national Labour movement and an obvious choice for selection. In 1918, amid great anticipation, she stood as the Labour candidate in Stourbridge…and lost. Some attributed this to the fact that, although she had campaigned as “Mary MacArthur”, the returning officer had insisted on describing her on the polling card as “Mrs W.C. Anderson”. In any event, like other pacifist candidates who refused to applaud the war, she suffered a fatal electoral backlash at a time of post-war euphoria. Her recompense was a seat on the executive of the Labour Party the following year. There seemed little doubt that Mary would stand for parliament again at the earliest opportunity.
It was not to be. The great influenza pandemic which swept the world between 1918 and 1921 killed an estimated fifty million people, far more than the war itself. Among its victims was W.C. Anderson, mourned by the Labour movement as a most-loved ‘future leader’. Mary was inconsolable. Their life together had provided a mere glimpse of happiness, but it was so short-lived. Barely a year later, she discovered that she was dying. It was cancer, aggressive and seemingly unstoppable. After two unsuccessful operations, Mary died at home on New Year’s Day, 1921. She was only 40 years old.
Mary MacArthur dedicated her life to women’s trade unionism. In doing so, she provided critical inspiration to the most influential generation of women in the Labour Party’s history, from Susan Lawrence and Dorothy Jewson to Margaret Bondfield and Ellen Wilkinson. Simply put, she empowered others a rare skill. She was, in Beatrice Webb’s neat words, ‘the axle round which the machinery moved’.
Women's Trade Union League in the U.S.A. - History
The first decade of the 20th century saw the beginnings of involvement by Irish women on a wide range of issues &ndash campaigning for women&rsquos education, forming organisations to fight for women&rsquos suffrage, encouraging women into trade unions, and organising for and against home rule for Ireland. Many of the women who became activists in these years would continue their work in the following decade, some serving prison sentences for their suffrage activities, others helping the war effort during the First World War or participating in the Easter Rising.
The movement for votes for women had begun in Ireland with the formation of the North of Ireland Society for Women&rsquos Suffrage by Isabella Tod in Belfast in 1871. It later became known as the Irish Women&rsquos Suffrage Society. The Irishwomen&rsquos Suffrage and Local Government Association was formed by Thomas and Anna Haslam in Dublin in 1876. The passing of the Poor Law Guardian (Ireland) (Women) Act of 1896 facilitated women&rsquos formal participation in important aspects of the administration of indoor relief in their localities. The Boards of Guardians onto which they were elected were responsible for workhouses, fever hospitals and infirmaries, and provided valuable experience in civic responsibilities formerly confined to philanthropic endeavours. The first woman guardian, Miss E.Martin, was co-opted in Lisnaskea in 1896. Between then and 1940, a total of 173 women were elected to serve in this capacity, constituting 67% of women&rsquos total municipal representation. Few were feminists, but in 1908 Ethel Macnaghten, founder of Bushmills Suffrage Society, was co-opted onto the Belfast board and two members of the Irish Women&rsquos Suffrage Society, Frances Reid and Annie Entrican, became poor law guardians in Belfast.
The Local Government (Ireland) Act of 1898 opened up local government to women, although they were not able to stand for county borough councils until 1911. In the 1902 local government elections, four women were elected but women&rsquos representation on local government bodies remained very small, averaging just 1.4% of the total council positions in Ulster between 1898 and1940.
In 1859, Margaret Byers established The Ladies Collegiate School, which was the first academic school for girls in the north. In 1887, the year of Queen Victoria&rsquos Royal Jubilee, it was renamed Victoria College. In 1869, Byers successfully petitioned Queen&rsquos College to allow her pupils to take their exams and in 1908, women were finally able to attend what had become Queen&rsquos University of Belfast on the same basis as men. That year Byers was appointed to the senate of Queen&rsquos in recognition of her work for women&rsquos education.
Mary Galway, from Springfield Road Belfast, was appointed organising secretary for the Irish Textile Operative&rsquos Union in 1897, the first woman to hold such a position in the Irish trade union movement. She addressed rallies and collected funds during the Belfast dockers&rsquo and carters&rsquo strike of 1907. She was an active member of the executive of the Belfast Trades Council and was elected Vice President of the Irish Trade Union Congress in 1910.
Nationalist women in the north had been active in a number of initiatives in the late 19th century, in the Irishwomen&rsquos Centenary Union commemorating the centenary of the 1798 United Irish rising and in the Gaelic League. Anna Johnson and Alice Milligan were editors of the nationalist journal Shan Van Vocht, which was produced in Belfast between 1896-1899 and both women were strong supporters of Maud Gonne and the Inghinidhe na hEireann. The Gaelic League attracted large numbers of young men and women to its ranks, many of whom would go on to become active in nationalist organisations when the home rule crisis began.
The textile industry was a major employer of women, with the linen industry in the north being the largest in the world at this time. In 1901, there were 188,000 females and 162,000 males employed in the textile industry and allied trades in Belfast. Children were also employed, with more than 3,000 half-timers in Belfast (beginning work at the age of 13) employed in 1907. In addition to factory work, many were employed as outworkers. Hilda Martindale, &lsquolady factory inspector&rsquo, in England was appointed full-time factory inspector for Ireland in 1905, based in Belfast with an office in Donegall Street and travelling 10,000 miles a year around the country. She stayed until 1912. Child employment was one issue she reported on: &lsquoIn the counties of Antrim and Down out of 50,686 persons employed in textile factories, practically all in flax spinning and weaving, 13,691 were under 18 years of age and out of this number 4,144 were half-timers from 12-14 years&hellipIn Belfast the half-timers were usually employed on the alternate day system, the hours being 6.30 am to 6pm&hellipaccording to the census of 1901 in Belfast, out of 63,879 children 11,037 children were entered as unable to read or write.&rsquo In the Lurgan area she reported on boys and girls employed in their own homes, preparing handkerchiefs for hem stitching, &lsquoin some streets one could hardly enter a house without seeing 2, 3, 4 or more children, varying in age from 6 to 12 years, sitting around a table all intensely busy trying to earn a miserable pittance.&rsquo Most were working 4-5 hours a day, if not longer. One problem was the low rate of pay for women, which meant they had no choice but to send their children out to work.
- Inghinidhe na hEireann (Daughters of Ireland), a nationalist-feminist group has its inaugural meeting in Dublin in October. Maud Gonne is President and Anna Johnson from Belfast, who together with Alice Milligan had edited the Belfast nationalist paper Shan Van Vocht (1896-1899), was one of the vice-presidents. A short-lived Belfast branch was formed in 1903.
- Hilda Martindale comes to Ireland as the first woman inspector of factories.Florence Hobson (sister of Bulmer Hobson, northern organiser for the Irish Republican Brotherhood) becomes the first woman architect in Ireland and is appointed to assist the Royal Commission on the City of Belfast&rsquos Health and Housing.
- University Act 1908 gives women the right to full attendance at university. Margaret Byers is elected to the Senate of Queen&rsquos College in recognition of her campaigning work for women&rsquos right to university education.Old Age Pensions Act: means-tested, non-contributory pensions are introduced for people over 70.
- Irish Women&rsquos Suffrage Society, based in Donegall Place, forms branches in Whitehead, Derry and Bangor.
- Emmeline Pankhurst speaks at suffrage meetings in Dundalk, Belfast, Derry, Cork and Dublin.
Mary Galway of the Irish Textile Operative&rsquos Union elected vice-president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.Lilian Bland, journalist and aviator, becomes the first woman to design, build and fly an aircraft in Ireland by flying a glider (the Mayfly) on Carnmoney Hill.
At an International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen with 100 women representing 17 countries, Clara Zetkin proposes the idea of an International Women Day. As a result, International Women&rsquos Day celebrations begin in 1911.
Angela Bourke (ed), The Field Day Anthology of Irish Literature: Irish Women's Writing and Traditions: Vol V (Cork: Cork University Press, 2002).
Myrtle Hill, Women in Ireland: a century of change (Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 2003).
Hilda Martindale, From One Generation to Another 1839-1944 (London, Allen and Unwin, 1944).
&lsquoTheresa Moriarty, &lsquoMary Galway&rsquo in Female Activists &ndash Irish Women and Change (1900-1960), Mary Cullen and Maria Luddy (eds) (Dublin: the Woodfield Press, 2001).
Sheila Johnston, Alice &ndash A Life of Alice Milligan (Belfast: Counterpoint Books, 1994).
Catherine Morris, Alice Milligan and the Irish Cultural Revival (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2012).
Henry Patterson, &lsquoIndustrial Labour and the Labour Movement, 1820-1914&rsquo, in Liam Kennedy, Philip Ollerenshaw (eds), An Economic History of Ulster 1920-1939 (Manchester 1985), pp. 158-183.
Diane Urquhart, Women in Ulster Politics 1890-1940 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2000).
Margaret Ward, Unmanageable Revolutionaries: women and Irish nationalism (London: Pluto Press, 1983).
Helga Woggon, Ellen Grimley (Nellie Gordon) &ndash Reminiscences of her work with James Connolly in Belfast, (Dublin: SIPTU, 2000).
The Eight-Hour Day for Women. Pamphlet by the National Women's Trade Union League
The Eight-Hour Day for Women. Pamphlet by the National Women's Trade Union League petitioning for an eight-hour bill to be passed.
"National Women's Trade Union League: The Eight-Hour Day. A Living Wage. To Guard the Home."
The organization that has made the Item available believes that the Item is in the Public Domain under the laws of the United States, but a determination was not made as to its copyright status under the copyright laws of other countries. The Item may not be in the Public Domain under the laws of other countries. Please refer to the organization that has made the Item available for more information.
Acknowledgement of the Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries as a source is requested.
Introduction: Mary Anderson was born in Lidköping, in Skaraborg County, Sweden. She emigrated to the United States in 1888 at the age of sixteen. She began her working career as a domestic worker, became a factory employee and later a trade union leader. She was a member of the Boot and Shoe Workers’ Union and a founder of the Women’s Trade Union League in Chicago, Illinois. Anderson’s keen negotiating skills and labor activism, especially on behalf of working women, won her an appointment in 1920 as the first director of the Women’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor. The first “up from the ranks” labor woman to head an executive department of the Federal Government, Mary Anderson directed the Women’s Bureau for nearly 25 years, leading efforts to win better wages, hours and working condition for women. She served for five presidents and, during her tenure, saw the ranks of women workers more than double. After retiring in 1944, Anderson continued to advocate on behalf of working women.
Anderson’s Association with the Women’s Trade Union League (Excerpt from Mary Anderson’s autobiography, Woman at work: The autobiography of Mary Anderson as told to Mary N. Winslow.)
“…After I joined the union I began to know Jane Addams and Hull House. We had meetings at Hull House, where Miss Addams would speak to us, and sometimes I would meet her at trade union meetings and in other places. It was always interesting to go to Hull House. Sometimes Miss Addams would ask us to come for tea on Sunday afternoons and we would meet prominent people from other parts of the country and from abroad. Among many others I remember especially meeting Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald. I can see Miss Addams now, as she turned from person to person at these informal meetings, with her wonderful tact and understanding, her deep-set eyes soft and shining with interest, making everyone feel at home and bringing out the best in all of us. It was a splendid opportunity for us, who knew so little outside of our own work, to find out what other people were doing and thinking. We began to feel that we were part of something that was more important than just our own problems. For me, and I think for many others too, Hull House and Jane Addams opened a door to a larger life.
“When I got back from Lynn and was working again in Chicago, I made my first contact with the Womens Trade Union League. I had been in Boston attending the conferences of the American Federation of Labor at the time the league was organized there in 1903, but I did not have any part in it at the beginning.
“Emma Steghagen first told me about the league and asked me to join it. Emma had been a fellow worker in Schwab’s factory. Her machine had been in front of mine. She was older than I and was already in the trade union movement, acting as secretary of her local. When it came to any trade union activities she was the first person I turned to. In the Women’s Trade Union League she was always called “Sister Emma” and that is what she seemed like to me. At that time Jane Addams was president of the Chicago league. I was glad to join because I knew that an organization of this sort would be a great help to all working women.
“The league was founded as a result of the suggestions of a few trade unionists and people interested in the organization of women. They thought it would help the organization of women and would give an opportunity to people who were sympathetic to unions, but were not actually workers, to join as “allies” and work together with the trade unionists. The first constitution of the league stated that membership was open to “any person—who will declare himself or herself willing to assist those trade unions already existing, which have women members, and to aid in the formation of new unions of women wage workers.” The membership consisted of individual working women, some of whom were trade union members, men and women “allies,” and a number of affiliated unions.
“There was a great field of work for the league in Chicago (and everywhere else too). Working conditions for women workers were very poor, as I knew from my own experience and very few women were organized. In fact, the men did not seem anxious to get women organized because they had all they could do to attend to their own grievances. Trade union organization at that time was in the pioneer stage. Except for the building trades, organization was very spotty, there were locals only here and there, and the men said, “Let us organize the men first and then the women.” When it was organized, therefore, the league had a unique position. It could take into its membership both men and women workers and others who were not actually factory workers but were sympathetic to the purpose of the league. The members of the league united because they understood that the union was at that time the only agency through which the workers could defend their rights and that women workers had to take their places along with the men. The trade union men accepted that idea reluctantly, but they used the league whenever they found they could be helped by it. From its earliest days the league always tried to help the unions and thus established a relationship that it was to carry on in the future. When there were strikes and the strikers could not get a place to meet they were always allowed to use Hull House and were encouraged in every way. When there was picketing and picketers were arrested, Miss Addams would go to the employers and plead for them. Miss Addams was the first president of the Chicago league. She was followed by Mary McDowell who was president until 1907. Miss McDowell was head of the University Settlement and had been a leader in the organization of the women in the stockyards in 1902 and 1903 before the Women’s Trade Union League was founded. She lived in the stockyards district and was close to the workers as a friend and support. She was a heroic figure, tall and beautiful to look at, with a vigorous, amusing, and friendly personality. The stockyards workers had such admiration for her that they called her the “Angel of the Stockyards.” She was very fond of parties and whenever we girls who were her friends wanted a party we used to celebrate Mary McDowell’s birthday—sometimes three or four times a year. It was around Miss McDowell and Miss Addams, in the early days, that the whole movement for the organization of women and the improvement of their working conditions centered.
“As soon as I joined the league I began to spend more and more of my free time at its meetings and parties. I will never forget my first speech shortly after I joined the league. The General Federation of Women’s Clubs had a meeting at Hull House and Agnes Nestor, a glove worker, Josephine Casey, ticket seller on the elevated railways, and I were scheduled to make speeches. I had never made one before and while waiting to be called on I must have looked ghastly. My knees shook so I was afraid I could not stand up. Josephine took a look at me and said, “Are you nervous?” I replied that I was just about dying but she said not to worry because the audience would not understand what I was saying anyway.
“I spoke for about five minutes on hazards in industry and the lack of guards on machinery. I made the headlines in the papers because it was a very touchy subject and one that was to the fore at the time.
“I knew of the hazards from experience in my own wor1 as well as from what I was told by others. In our shop, the belting came up from the floor without much guarding and some belts came from overhead with no guards at all. The button machine and the eyelet machine were both dangerous too. Fingers were often caught in them. Besides, I had heard about dangers in other industries at the meetings of the Trade Union League.
“It was at these meetings that I began to make the friendships that have lasted throughout the years. I will never forget them and the work and fun we had together. Among my earliest friends were Emma Steghagen and Agnes Johnson. They were both shoe workers. Then there was Agnes Nestor. She was a short, frail girl with great organizing and administrative ability she was also a fine speaker. I got to know her soon after I joined the league. She was a glove worker and the glove workers and shoe workers were among the staunchest friends of the league throughout the years. Agnes was eventually elected president of the Chicago league after ME Robins (who had succeeded Miss McDowell in 1907) resigned in 1913, and she was a lifelong leader in working for legislation for women workers in Illinois….
“…In the autumn of 1910 I was still working at Smith’s and spending my free time mostly on Women’s Trade Union League activities, the great strike of the Chicago garment workers began. The strike started with a handful of girls walking out from one of the shops in the Hart, Schaffner, and Marx factory, the biggest clothing factory in town. Very soon the workers in the clothing industry all over town were out, until within a few weeks more than forty thousand were on strike. They were not organized, they just walked out because of accumulated grievances through the years.
“Conditions in the industry were really bad. Piece rates were so low that the workers earned at best only a starvation wage and even this wage was often reduced by a system of unjust fines, as in one plant where any worker who damaged a pair of pants was made to buy them at the regular wholesale price. The story of one group of workers that was reported to the league illustrates the plight of most of them: “We started to work at seven thirty and worked until six with three quarters of an hour for lunch. Our wages were seven cents for a pair of pants, or one dollar for fourteen pairs. For that we made four pockets and one watch pocket, but they were always changing the style of the stitching and until we got the swing of the new style, we would lose time and money and we felt sore about it. One day the foreman told us the wages were cut to six cents a pair of pants and the new style had two watch pockets. We would not stand for that, so we got up and left.”
“After they had been out for a very short time the workers turned to the United Garment Workers Union for help. This union found that the strike was so large that they could not cope with it alone, and they turned to the Chicago Federation of Labor and to the Women’s Trade Union League to come in and help. A joint strike conference was organized and everyone pitched an.
“Those were busy days for the members of the league. We organized a strike committee and set up all kinds of subcommittees to take care of the different problems. There was a committee on grievances a picket committee of which Emma Steghagen was chairman an organization committee under Agnes Nestor, who later took on the job of representing the league on the committee that paid out the commissary relief a committee on publicity headed by Stella Franklin and so on. We had strike headquarters at 275 La Salle Street, where we were close to the headquarters of many of the other labor organizations. Our biggest job was trying to relieve the distress of the strikers and their families. All the workers were so poor and had been able to save so little that they were continually in difficulties when they were out of work. Food, clothing, and coal had to be given to them. The gas company threatened to turn off the gas because the bills were not paid. Medical attention had to be secured for those who were ill. Then there was the problem of trying to keep up the morale of the strikers, many of whom were suffering terribly despite our efforts to help them.
“There were dozens of meeting halls all over the city. Many different languages were used because the strikers were of different nationalities and often did not speak English. The biggest meetings were in Hodcarriers’ Hall on the West Side. These meetings were always in an uproar. It was never possible to get order until one day a young man walked on the platform, rapped the gavel for order, and got it. He was Sidney Hillman, a cutter at Hart, Schaffner, and Marx. From that day on Hillman was chairman of the meetings at Hodcarriers’ Hall and there was order. His talent for leadership asserted itself then and continued in the future. I saw much of him during the years immediately following the strike. We had many differences of opinion and at one time he was so angry with me he would not speak to me for three months, but our differences were always settled, and we remained good friends until his death.
“We got very helpful publicity in most of the newspapers. I remember that Carl Sandburg, who was working for the Daily News, was one of the most helpful of the labor reporters. I knew him well in those days. He wrote splendid stories about the strike and the strikers. Sometimes we used to see him at small gatherings when he would play his banjo and sing and occasionally read his poetry. I always remember him as a friendly, understanding man and an accurate reporter who did not depend on sensational methods to get attention.
“Finally, after the United Garment Workers had signed one agreement which was repudiated by the workers because it was just an agreement to go back to work, with no concessions and no hope for the future, an agreement for two years with the Hart, Schaffner, and Marx people was reached on January 14, 1910, by the United Garment Workers, the Chicago Federation of Labor, and the Chicago Women’s Trade Union League. The most important feature of this agreement was that it recognized the right of the workers to strike and set up an arbitration committee with representatives of the employers and the workers to consider grievances.
“After the Hart, Schaffner, and Marx agreement was reached the strike dragged on for another few weeks, during which time a number of other plants signed agreements and it looked as though victory was in sight. But suddenly on February 3 the strike was called off by the officials of the United Garment Workers without notifying John Fitzpatrick or Mrs. Robins. This action resulted in much hard feeling between. Mrs. Robins and the officials of the union. We were all disappointed and shocked. It was a “hunger bargain” for hundreds of workers who had suffered deeply during the strike and gained little when it was over.
But for many thousands it was a great victory. The right of collective bargaining had been recognized by the largest employer in the clothing industry and the machinery for arbitration was set up. For the Hart, Schaffner, and Marx Company an arbitration committee was appointed to adjust all grievances, with Carl Meyer representing the firm and W. O. Thompson representing the workers. The work of this committee was a practical and successful experiment in collective bargaining. It continued throughout the years ahead and became a model for the whole industry.
“Another thing the workers gained from this strike was a feeling of solidarity. They realized after their experience that they must stand together if they were to get the things they needed.
“I remember Mrs. Robins telling the story of the wife of a striker whom she visited. The woman was sick in bed, with several little children to take care of. Her husband had been asked three times by the firm to come back to work, but he had refused to desert the union. When Mrs. Robins asked how she could bear the hardships for her children, she replied: “We do not live only on bread. If I cannot give my children bread, I can give them liberty.”
“This is the spirit that is back of all the great struggles of the workers to improve their working conditions. Liberty and freedom for collective bargaining is what they want and what they must have….”
Eleanor Roosevelt and Women's Rights
Eleanor Roosevelt voting in 1936, less than twenty years after the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteed women the right to vote.
Looking back on her political development, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote that she had her “first contact with the suffrage movement rather late.” In fact, she did not consider herself a suffragists until 1911, when her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt, then a state assemblyman in New York, came out for women’s right to vote. “I realized that if my husband were a suffragist I probably must be, too.”
It was only in the 1920s that Eleanor Roosevelt became fully involved in the women’s rights movement. Soon after moving back to New York City after the the 1920 presidential election, Roosevelt became a board member of the New York State League of Women Voters and began to direct the League of Women Voters’ national-legislation committee. By mid-decade Roosevelt played a central role in a network of women who led New York’s most influential organizations including the League of Women Voters, the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL), the Women’s Division of the New York State Democratic Committee, and the Women’s City Club. She was particularly drawn to the social feminists of the League of Women Voters and the labor feminism of the Women’s Trade Union League. These alliances led to Roosevelt's interest in the poor and working class women, and legislation designed specifically to protect women in the workplace.
As a social feminist and supporter of legislative protections for women, Roosevelt did not endorse the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The ERA, a product of Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party, was an amendment that if ratified would “erase all the laws that discriminated against women.” Roosevelt and her allies believed that an amendment that got rid of all the protective legislation for women in the workplace would do more harm than good. The ERA, she argued, was impractical and ignored political and social realities of sexism and, particularly, the everyday experience of working women. Roosevelt's position on the ERA began to waver in the late thirties, as she felt labor unions and the right to collective bargaining negated the need for protective legislation. However, because of her connections with the WTUL and her friendship with Rose Schneiderman, a leader in the WTUL, Roosevelt did not publicly withdraw her opposition to the ERA until 1946. Even then she held reservations because she believed that there was still a need for protective legislation.
With her move to the White House as first lady in 1932, Roosevelt found she had new sources of power to push for improvements for women’s rights. She worked tirelessly to improve the access women had to New Deal legislation, notably by creating what were known as “she-she-she camps,” or women's organizations of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Eleanor also held press conferences in which only female journalists could attend—a way she could subtly encourage women to maintain prominent careers.
In the postwar years, Roosevelt continued her advocacy for women’s rights at home and abroad. She continued to support the advancement of women in professional and political positions, and supported the rights of working-class women, through labor unions and other organizations. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy asked Eleanor Roosevelt, who took the Kennedy administration to task for its lack of women in federal appointments, to chair his Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. Eleanor was able to secure the appointment of Pauli Murray, a seasoned activist in the movements for both women’s and African-American rights, to draft the report. Unfortunately, Roosevelt died before the committee’s findings could be reported.