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The Trade Union Woman by Alice Henry

Part 2 out of 6

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twelve years since the Steam Laundry Workers' Union was first formed
at about thirty per cent. With the exception of the head marker, and
the head washer at the one end, each at twenty-two dollars and fifty
cents per week, and the little shaker girl on the mangle at seven
dollars per week at the other, wages range from eighteen dollars down
to eight dollars, more than the scale, however, being paid, it is
said, to every worker with some skill and experience. Apprentices are
allowed for in the union agreement.

The union does not permit its members to work at unguarded machinery,
hence accidents are rare, and for such as do happen, usually slight
ones, like burns, the union officials are inclined to hold the workers
themselves responsible.

All of the steam laundries in San Francisco, now thirty-two in number,
are unionized, including the laundries operated in one of the largest
hotels. The union regards with just pride and satisfaction the fine
conditions, short hours and comparatively high wages which its trade
enjoys, as well as the improved social standards and the spirit of
independence and cooeperation which are the fruit of these many years
of union activity.

But outside the labor organization, and at once a sad contrast and a
possible menace, lie two groups of businesses, the French laundries
and the Japanese laundries. The former are mostly conducted on the
old, out-of-date lines of a passing domestic industry, housed in
made-over washrooms and ironing rooms, equipped with little modern
machinery, most of the work being done by hand, and the employes being
often the family or at least the relatives of the proprietor. In their
present stage it is quite difficult to unionize these establishments
and they do cut prices for the proprietors of the steam laundries.

But both steam laundries and French laundries, both employers and
workers, both unionists and non-unionists are at least found in
agreement in their united opposition to the Japanese laundries, from
whose competition all parties suffer, and in this they are backed
by the whole of organized labor. The possibility of unionizing the
Japanese laundries is not even considered.

The story of the Steam Laundry Workers' Union of San Francisco is an
encouraging lesson to those toilers in any craft who go on strike. But
it also holds for them a warning. A successful strike is a good thing,
for the most part, but its gains can be made permanent only if, when
the excitement of the strike is over, the workers act up to their
principles and keep their union together. The leaders must remember
that numbers alone do not make strength, that most of the rank and
file, and not unfrequently the leaders too, need the apprenticeship
of long experience before any union can be a strong organization. The
union's choicest gift to its membership lies in the opportunity
thus offered to the whole of the members to grow into the spirit of

A few words should be said here of another strike among
laundry-workers, this time almost entirely women, which although as
bravely contested, ended in complete failure. This was the strike of
the starchers in the Troy, New York, shirt and collar trade. In the
Federal Report on the Condition of Women and Child Wage Earners, Mr.
W.P.D. Bliss gives a brief account of it. In 1905 the starchers
had their wages cut, and at the same time some heavy machinery was
introduced. The starchers went out, and organized a union, which over
one thousand women joined. They kept up the struggle from June, 1905,
throughout a whole summer, autumn and winter till March, 1906. It was
up till that time, probably the largest women's strike that had
ever taken place in this country and was conducted with uncommon
persistence and steadiness of purpose. They were backed by the
international union, and appointing a committee visited various
cities, and obtained, it is said, about twenty-five thousand dollars
in this way for the support of their members. Many meetings and street
demonstrations were held in Troy, and much bitter feeling existed
between the strikers and the non-union help brought in. The strike at
length collapsed; the firms continued to introduce more machinery,
and the girls had to submit. Mr. Bliss concludes: "The Troy union
was broken up and since then has had little more than a nominal

During the nineties there were a number of efforts made to organize
working-women in Chicago. Some unions were organized at Hull House,
where Mrs. Alzina P. Stevens and Mrs. Florence Kelley were then
residents. Mrs. George Rodgers (K. of L.), Mrs. Robert Howe, Dr.
Fannie Dickenson, Mrs. Corinne Brown, Mrs. T.J. Morgan, Mrs. Frank
J. Pearson, Mrs. Fannie Kavanagh and Miss Lizzie Ford were active
workers. Miss Mary E. Kenney (Mrs. O'Sullivan), afterwards the first
woman organizer under the American Federation of Labor, was
another. She was successful in reaching the girls in her own trade
(book-binding), besides those in the garment trades and in the shoe
factories, also in bringing the need for collective bargaining
strongly before social and settlement workers.

Chicago has long been the largest and the most important among the
centers of the meat-packing industry. None of the food trades have
received more investigation and publicity, and the need for yet
more publicity, and for stricter and yet stricter supervision is
perpetually being emphasized. But most of the efforts that have
been made to awake and keep alive a sense of public rights and
responsibility in the conducting of huge institutions like the Chicago
packing-plants, have centered on the danger to the health of the
consumer through eating diseased or decomposed meat. The public cares
little, and has not troubled to learn much about the conditions of the
workers, without whom there could be no stockyards and no meat-packing
industry. Not that some of the investigators have not tried to bring
this point forward. It was the chief aim of Upton Sinclair, when he
wrote "The Jungle," and yet even he discovered to his dismay that, as
he bitterly phrased it, he had hoped to strike at the heart of the
American people, and he had only hit them in their stomach.

But that is a story by itself. Let us go back to the brave struggle
begun by the women in the packing-plants in the year 1902 to improve
their conditions by organizing.

For a great many years prior to this, women had been employed in
certain branches of the work, such as painting cans and pasting on
labels. But towards the close of the nineties the packers began to put
women into departments that had always been staffed by men. So it was
when girls began to wield the knife that the men workers first began
to fear the competition of the "petticoat butchers." The idea of
organizing the girls, were they painters or butchers, as a way of
meeting this new menace, did not occur to them.

At this time, in the fall of 1902, the oldest and best workers were
Irish girls, with all the wit and quickness of their race. Especially
was Maggie Condon a favorite and a leader. She was an extremely quick
worker. With the temperament of an idealist, she took a pride in her
work, liked to do it well, and was especially successful in turning
out a great amount of work. Quicker and quicker she became till, on
the basis of the good wages she was making, she built up dreams of
comfort for herself and her family. One of her choicest ambitions was
to be able to afford a room of her own. But just so surely as she
reached the point where such a luxury would be possible, just so
surely would come the cut in wages, and she had to begin this driving
of herself all over again. Three times this happened. When her well
and hardly earned twenty-two dollars was cut the third time Maggie
realized that this was no way to mend matters. The harder she worked,
the worse she was paid! And not only was she paid worse, she who as
one of the best workers could stand a reduction better than most, but
the cut went all down the line, and affected the poorest paid and the
slowest workers as well.

Hannah O'Day was not one of the quick ones. Her strength had been too
early sapped. There was no child-labor law in Illinois when she should
have been at school, and at eleven she was already a wage-earner.
Along with the rest she also had suffered from the repeated cuts that
the pace-making of the ones at the top had brought about. It was
evident that something must be done. Maggie Condon, Hannah O'Day and
some of the others, began, first to think, and then to talk over the
matter with one another. They knew about the Haymarket trouble. There
were rumors of a strike the men had once had. They had heard of the
Knights of Labor, and wrote to someone, but nothing came of it. So
one day, when there was more than usual cause for irritation
and discouragement, what did Hannah O'Day do but tie a red silk
handkerchief to the end of a stick. With this for their banner and the
two leaders at their head, a whole troop of girls marched out into

The strike ended as most such strikes of the unorganized, unprepared
for, and unfinanced sort, must end, in failure, in the return to work
on no better terms of the rank and file, and in the black-listing of
the leaders. But the idea of organization had taken root, and this
group of Irish girls still clung together. "We can't have a union,"
said one, "but we must have something. Let us have a club, and we'll
call it the Maud Gonne Club." This is touching remembrance of the
Irish woman patriot.

Time passed on, and one evening during the winter of 1903 Miss Mary
McDowell, of the University of Chicago Settlement, was talking at a
Union Label League meeting, and she brought out some facts from what
she knew of the condition of the women workers in the packing-houses,
showing what a menace to the whole of the working world was the
underpaid woman. This got into the papers, and Maggie Condon and her
sister read it, and felt that here was a woman who understood. And she
was in their own district, too.

So it came about that the Maud Gonne Club became slowly transformed
into a real union. This took quite a while. The girls interested used
to come over once a week to the Settlement, where Michael Donnelly
was their tutor and helper. Miss McDowell carefully absented herself,
feeling that she wanted the girls to manage their own affairs, until
it transpired that they wished her to be there, and thought it strange
that she should be so punctilious. After that she attended almost
every meeting. When they felt ready, they obtained the charter with
eight charter members and were known as Local 183 of the Amalgamated
Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America. Little by little
the local grew in numbers. One July night the meeting was particularly
well attended and particularly lively, none the less so that
the discussion was carried on to the accompaniment of a violent
thunderstorm, the remarks of the excitable speakers being punctuated
by flashes of lightning and crashes of thunder. The matter under
consideration was to parade or not to parade on the coming Labor Day.
The anxious question to decide was whether they could by their
numbers make an impression great enough to balance the dangers of the
individual and risky publicity.

The vote was cast in favor of parading. When the day came the affair
was an entire success. Two wagons gaily trimmed were filled with girls
in white dresses, carrying banners and singing labor songs. The happy
results were seen at subsequent meetings of the union, for after that
other girls from other than the Irish group came in fast, peasant
girls, wearing their shawls, and colored girls, till, when the union
was six months old, it had five hundred members. The initiation of
the first colored girl was a touching occasion. Hannah O'Day had been
present at one of the men's meetings, on an evening when it had been
a colored man who at the ceremony of initiation had presented white
candidates for membership, and the sense of universal brotherhood had
then come over her as a sort of revelation. And there were others who
felt with her. One night, Hannah being doorkeeper at her own union
meeting, a colored girl applied to be admitted. Hannah called out:
"A colored sister is at the door; what'll I do with her." It was the
young president herself, Mollie Daley, though she had been brought up
to think of colored folks as "trash," who, with a disregard of strict
parliamentary law, but with a beautiful cordiality, broke in with: "I
say, admit her at once, and let yez give her a hearty welcome." The
girl who was very dark, but extremely handsome, had been not a little
nervous over the reception that might await her. She was quite
overcome when she found herself greeted with hearty applause.

On another occasion, on the question being asked from the ritual: "Any
grievances?" a sensitive colored girl arose, and said a Polish girl
had called her names. The Polish girl defended herself by saying:
"Well, she called me Polak, and I won't stand for that." The president
summoned them both to the front. "Ain't you ashamed of yourselves?"
She proceeded: "Now shake and make up, and don't bring your grievances
here, unless they're from the whole shop."

The girls had good training in union principles from the first, so
that if their phrases were sometimes a trifle crude, they were none
the less the expression of genuine good sense. For instance, some
complaint would be brought forward, and in the early days the question
would come: "Is this your own kick, or is it all of our kick?" A sound
distinction to make, quite as sound as when later on, the officers
having learned the formal phrases, they would put it in another
way, and say: "Is this a private grievance or is it a collective

Instead of the old hysterical getting mad, and laying down their tools
and walking out, when things did not go right, grievances were now
taken to the union, and discussed, and if supported by the body, taken
to the foreman and managers by the business agent, Maud Sutter.

From the beginning the women delegates from Local 183 to the Packing
Trades Council of Chicago were on an equality with the men, and girl
delegates attended the convention of the National Association at
Cincinnati and also at St. Louis.

It is sad to record that through no fault of their own, the girls'
organization met an early downfall. It passed out of existence after
the stockyards' strike of 1904, being inevitably involved in the
defeat of the men, and going down with them to disaster.

The Irish leadership that produced such splendid results, is now, in
any case, not there to be called upon, as the girls now employed in
the packing-plants of Chicago are practically all immigrant girls from
eastern Europe. When the present system of unorganized labor in the
trade is abolished, as some day it must be, it will only be through a
fresh beginning among an altogether different group, that it will be
possible to reach the women.

But the spirit that permeated Local 183 has never wholly died in the
hearts of those who belonged to it, and it springs up now and then
in quarters little expected, calling to remembrance Maggie Condon's
reason for pushing the union of which she was a charter member and the
first vice-president. "Girls, we ought to organize for them that comes
after us."



One of the least encouraging features of trade unionism among women
in the United States has been the small need of success which has
attended efforts after organization in the past, especially the lack
of permanence in such organizations as have been formed. In the brief
historical review it has been shown how fitful were women's first
attempts in this direction, how limited the success, and how temporary
the organizations themselves.

It is true there is an essential difference between the loose and
momentary cooeperation of unorganized workers aiming at the remedying
of special grievances, and disbanding their association whenever that
particular struggle is over, and a permanent organization representing
the workers' side all the time and holding them in a bond of mutual
helpfulness. Most of the strikes of women during the first half of the
last century, like many today, sprang from impatience with intolerable
burdens, and the "temporary union," often led by some men's
organization, merely dissolved away with the ending of the strike,
whether successful or not. But altogether apart from such sporadic
risings as these, there were, as we have seen, from a very early
period, genuine trade unions composed of working-women.

The Women's Trade Union League is the first organization which has
attempted to deal with the whole of the problems of the woman in
industry on a national scale. As we have seen, there have been,
besides the many women's unions, and the men's unions to which women
have been and are admitted, the large body, the Women's National Union
Label League, and a number of women's auxiliaries in connection with
such unions as the Switchmen, the Machinists, and the Typographical
Union. The Women's Union Label League has, however, devoted most
of its energies to encouraging the purchase and use of union-made
products. The women's auxiliaries have been formed from the wives of
men from that particular union. They have often maintained a fund for
sick and out-of-work members and their families, and have besides
furnished a social environment in which all could become better
acquainted, and they would besides take an active part in the
entertainment of a national convention, whenever it came to their
city. But except indirectly, none of these associations have aided in
the organization of women wage-earners, still less have taken it for
their allotted task. Perhaps earlier, the formation of such a body
as the National Women's Trade would have been impracticable. But it
certainly responds to the urgent needs of today, and is, after all,
but a natural development of the trade-union movement, with especial
reference to the crying needs of women and children in the highly
specialized industries.

The individual worker, restless under the miseries of her lot, and
awakening also, it may be, to a sense of the meaning of our industrial
system, learns to see the need of the union of her trade. When she
does so, she has taken a distinct step forward. If an extensive trade,
the local is affiliated with the international, but neither local nor
international, as we shall see, as yet grant to the woman worker the
same attention as they give to the man, because to men trade unionists
the men's problems are the chief and most absorbing. So what more
natural than that women belonging to various unions should come
together to discuss the problems that are common to them all as
women workers, whatever their trade, and aid one another in their
difficulties, cooeperate in their various activities, and thus, also,
be able to present to their brothers the collective expression of
their needs? Upon this simple basis is the local Women's Trade Union
League formed. Linking together the organized women of the same
city, it brings them, through the National League, into touch and
communication with the trade-union women in other cities.

While it is true that organization can neither be imposed nor forced
upon any group, it is no less true that when girls are ready such a
compact body, founded upon so broad a basis, can bring about results
both in the line of education and organization which no other branch
of the labor movement is equipped or fitted to do. And many labor
leaders, who have sadly enough acknowledged that the labor movement
that did not embrace women was like a giant carrying one arm in a
sling, have already gratefully admitted that such a league of women's
unions can produce results under circumstances where men, unaided,
would have been helpless.

For the origin of the Women's Trade Union League, we must go back to
1874, when Mrs. Emma Patterson, the wife of an English trade unionist
and herself deeply impressed with the deplorable condition of women
wage-earners everywhere, was on a visit to the United States. The
importance of combination as a remedy was freshly brought home to her
through what she saw of the women's organizations then most prominent
and flourishing in New York, the Parasol and Umbrella Makers' Union,
the Women's Typographical Union, and the Women's Protective Union.
She returned to England with a plan for helping women workers to help
themselves. Shortly afterwards she and others whom she interested
formed the Women's Protective and Provident League, the title later
on being changed to the bolder and more radical British Women's Trade
Union League, a federation of women's unions, with an individual
membership as well. It is known to the public on this side of the
water through the visits of Mary Macarthur, its very able secretary.

This body had been in existence nearly thirty years before the
corresponding organization was formed in this country. About 1902 Mr.
William English Walling had his attention drawn to what the British
Women's Trade Union League was accomplishing among some of the poorest
working-women in England.

He mentioned what he had learned to others. Among the earliest to
welcome the idea of forming such a league was Mrs. Mary Kenney
O'Sullivan, a bindery-worker of Boston, long in touch with the labor
movement. In the fall of 1903 the American Federation of Labor was
holding its annual convention in that city. The presence of so many
labor leaders seemed to make the moment a favorable one. A meeting of
those interested was called in Faneuil Hall on November 14. Mr. John
O'Brien, president of the Retail Clerks' International Protective
Union, presided. Among the trades represented were the Ladies' Garment
Workers, the United Garment Workers, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters
and Butcher Workmen, Clerks, Shoe Workers and Textile Workers. The
National Women's Trade Union League was organized and the following
officers elected: president, Mrs. Mary Morton Kehew, Boston;
vice-president, Miss Jane Addams, Chicago; secretary, Mrs. Mary Kenney
O'Sullivan, Boston; treasurer, Miss Mary Donovan, Boot and Shoe
Workers; board members, Miss Mary McDowell, Chicago; Miss Lillian D.
Wald, New York; Miss Ellen Lindstrom, United Garment Workers; Miss
Mary Trites, Textile Workers; Miss Leonora O'Reilly, Ladies' Garment

The one main purpose of the new league, as of its British prototype,
was from the first the organization of women into trade unions, to
be affiliated with the regular labor movement, in this case with
the American Federation of Labor, and the strengthening of all such
organizations as already existed. While, as in England, the backbone
of the League was to consist of a federation of women's unions,
provision was made for taking into individual membership not only
trade unionists, but those women, and men too, who, although not
wage-earners themselves, believed that the workers should be organized
and were unwilling that those who toil should suffer from unjust

A branch of the National Women's Trade Union League was formed in
Chicago in January, 1904; another in New York in March of the same
year, and a third in Boston in June of the same year. With these three
industrial centers in line, the new campaign was fairly begun.

The first three years were occupied mainly with preparatory work,
becoming known to the unions and the workers, and developing
activities both through the office and in the field.

Early in 1907 Mrs. Raymond Robins, of Chicago, became National
President, a position which she has held ever since. To the tremendous
task of aiding the young organization till it was at least out of its
swaddling clothes she brought boundless energy and a single-minded
devotion which admitted of attention to no rival cause. Being a woman
of independent means, she was able to give her time entirely to the
work of the League. She would be on the road for weeks at a time,
speaking, interviewing working-women, manufacturers or legislators,
all the while holding the threads, organization here, legislation

But the first opportunity for the Women's Trade Union League to do
work on a large scale, work truly national in its results, came
with the huge strikes in the sewing trades of 1909-1911. To these a
separate chapter is devoted. It is sufficient here to say that the
backing given by the National League and its branches in New York, in
Philadelphia and in Chicago was in great part responsible for the very
considerable measure of success which has been the outcome of these
fierce industrial struggles. On the whole, the strikers gained much
better terms than they could possibly have done unassisted. Almost
entirely foreigners, they had no adequate means of reaching with their
story the English-speaking and reading public of their city. The
Leagues made it their particular business to see that the strikers'
side of the dispute was brought out in the press and in meetings and
gatherings of different groups. It is related of one manufacturer,
whose house was strike-bound, that he was heard one day expressing
to a friend in their club his bewilderment over the never-ending
publicity given to this strike in the daily newspapers, adding that it
was a pity; these affairs were always better settled quietly.

To win even from failure success, to win for success permanence, was
the next aim of the League, and nowhere has this constructive policy
of theirs brought about more significant results than in the aid which
they were able to give to the workers in the sewing trades. In New
York it was the League which made possible the large organizations
which exist today among the cloak-makers, the waist-makers and other
white-goods-workers. The League support during the great strikes, and
its continued quiet work after the strikes were over, first showed the
public that there was power and meaning in this new development, this
new spirit among the most oppressed women workers. The attitude of the
League also convinced labor men that this was no dilettante welfare
society, but absolutely fair and square with the labor movement. The
Chicago League, after helping in the same way in the garment-workers'
strike which is now in its fifth year, contributed towards bringing
about the agreement between the firm of Hart, Schaffner and Marx,
Chicago, and their employes, an agreement controlling the wages and
the working conditions of between 7,000 and 10,000 men and women, the
number varying with the season and the state of trade. The plan of
preference to unionists, which gives to this form of contract the name
of the "Preferential Shop," had its origin in Australia, where it is
embodied in arbitration acts, but in no single trade there had it been
applied on such a huge scale. The Protocol of Peace, which is a trade
agreement similar to that of the Hart, Schaffner and Marx employes,
and which came into force first in the cloak and suit industry in New
York after the strike of 1913, affects, it is stated, the enormous
number of 300,000 workers.[A]

[Footnote A: In May, 1915, the Protocol was set aside by the cloak and
suit manufacturers. A strike impended. Mayor Mitchel called a Council
of Conciliation, Dr. Felix Adler as chairman. Their report was
accepted by the union and finally by the employers, and industrial
peace was restored.]

Just as sound and important work is being done all the time with many
smaller groups. For instance, the straw-and panama-hat-makers of New
York tried to organize and were met by a number of the manufacturers
with a black list. A general strike was declared on February 14, 1913.
The League members were able to give very valuable aid to the strikers
by assisting in picketing and by attending the courts when the pickets
were arrested. This strike had to be called off, and was apparently
lost, but the union remains and is far stronger than before the strike
took place.

But better results even than this were gained in the strike in the
potteries in Trenton, New Jersey. The Central Labor Union of Trenton
and all the trade-union men in the city gave splendid cooeperation to
the strikers. They handed over the girls to the care of Miss
Melinda Scott, the League organizer, and under her directions the
inexperienced unionists did fine work and helped to bring about a
satisfactory settlement. This success gave heart of grace to the
girls in certain woolen and silk mills of Trenton. Wages there were
appalling. They varied from two dollars and fifty cents to eleven
dollars. Many children, nominally fourteen, but looking very young,
were employed. The owner of the factory at length consented to meet
the workers with the League organizer in conference at the New York
headquarters, and after several weeks the strike was settled on the
workers' terms.

The New York organizer also helped the Boston League in the strike of
the paper factories of Holyoke, Massachusetts. The cause of the strike
here was an arrangement under which eight girls could be got to do the
work of twelve. Here the workers actually stood up for a share of the
profits under the new arrangement, or else that the discharged girls
should be reinstated. The manufacturers chose the latter alternative.

The Candy Workers' Union in Boston was also formed through the Women's
Trade Union League. The girls had walked all over Boston for two days
asking policemen, carmen and anyone else who would listen to them how
to form a union. They had no umbrellas, and their shoes were dripping
with the wet. They were Jewish, Italian and American girls. As a
result of the organization formed they obtained a very material raise
in wages, the better allotment of work in the slack season and the
taking up of all disputed questions between the manufacturers and the

From experience gained during these gigantic industrial wars, the
National League has laid down definite conditions under which its
locals may cooeperate with unions in time of strike. These take part
only in strikes in which women are involved, and then only after
having been formally invited to assist, and on the understanding that
two League representatives may attend all executive meetings of the
strikers' union. It has been found that the lines in which the aid of
the Women's Trade Union League is of most value to any exploited group
are these: (1) organization and direction of public opinion; (2)
patrolling the streets; (3) fair play in the courts; (4) help in the
raising of funds through unions and allies; (5) where workers are
unorganized, help in the formation of trade-union organization.

The League workers thus make it their business to open up channels of
publicity, at least giving the papers something to talk about, and
reaching with the strikers' side of the story, churches, clubs, and
other associations of well-meaning citizens, who are not at all in
touch with organized labor. Allies, in particular, can do much to
preserve traditions of fair play, in regard to the use of the streets
for peaceful picketing. By providing bonds for girls arrested,
lawfully or unlawfully, and by attending in person such cases when
these come up in court, they are standing for the principles of

In addition, the local leagues are willing to take charge of the
arrangements under which girls are sent to other unions, asking for
moral and financial aid. Men trade unionists long ago discovered how
irresistible a pleader the young girl can be, but they are not always
equally impressed with the need of safeguarding the girls, often
little more than children, chosen for these trying expeditions, and
sent off alone, or at best, two together, to distant industrial
centers. The working-girl needs no chaperon, but equally with her
wealthier sister, she does require and ought to receive motherly care
and oversight. She is perhaps leaving home for the first time, and
there should be someone to see to it that when she arrives in a
strange city a comfortable and convenient lodging-place has been found
for her. She should be shown how to conserve her strength in finding
her way from one locality to another in following up the evening
meetings of unions, and she should have some woman to turn to if she
should become sick. Points, all of these, the busy secretaries of
central labor bodies may very easily overlook, accustomed as they are
to deal with mature men, in the habit of traveling about the country,
who may surely be left to take care of themselves.

The activities of the local leagues vary in detail in the different
cities. In all there are monthly business meetings, the business
run by the girls, with perhaps a speaker to follow, and sometimes
a program of entertainment. Lectures on week evenings, classes and
amusements are provided as far as workers and funds permit. The first
important work among newly arrived women immigrants in the Middle West
was done by the Chicago League, and this laid the groundwork for the
present Immigrants' Protective League. Headquarters are a center for
organizing, open all the time to receive word of struggling unions,
helping out in difficulties, counseling the impulsive, and encouraging
the timid. When a group of workers see for themselves the need of
organization, a body of experienced women standing ready to mother a
new little union, the hospitable room standing open, literally night
and day, can afford the most powerful aid in extending organization
among timid girls. If courage and daring are needed in this work,
courage to stand by the weak, daring to go out and picket in freezing
weather with unfriendly policemen around, patience is if possible more
essential in the organizer's make-up. It often takes months of
gentle persistence before the girls, be they human-hair-workers or
cracker-packers, or domestic workers or stenographers, see how greatly
it is to their own interest to join or to form a labor organization.
Many locals formed with so much thought and after so much pains, drop
to pieces after a few months or a year or two. That is a universal
experience in the labor movement everywhere. But it does not therefore
follow that nothing has been gained. Even a group so loosely held
together that it melts away after the first impulse of indignation
has died out is often successful in procuring shorter hours or better
wages or improved conditions for the trade or shops of their city.
Besides each individual girl has had a little bit of education in what
cooeperation means, and what collective bargaining can do. The League
itself is a reminder, too, that all working-girls have many interests
in common, whatever their trade.

But besides aiding in the forming of new locals, the Women's Trade
Union League can be a force strengthening the unions already
established. Each of the leagues has an organization committee, whose
meetings are attended by delegates from the different women's trades.
These begin mostly as experience meetings, but end generally in either
massing the effort of all on one particular union's struggle, or
in planning legislative action by which all women workers can be

In New York and Boston, Chicago and St. Louis and Kansas City the
local leagues have in every case had a marked effect upon industrial
legislation for women. They have been prime movers in the campaigns
for better fire protection in the factories in both New York and
Chicago, and for the limitation of hours of working-women in the
states of New York, Massachusetts, Illinois and Missouri, and for
minimum-wage legislation in Massachusetts and Illinois.

In every one of these states the Women's Trade Union League has first
of all provided an opportunity for the organized women of different
trades to come together and decide upon a common policy; next, to
cooeperate with other bodies, such as the State Federation of Labor,
and the city centrals, the Consumers' League, the American Association
for Labor Legislation, and the women's clubs, in support of such
humane legislation. Much of the actual lobbying necessary has been
done by the girls themselves, and they have exercised a power out
of all proportion to their numbers or the tiny treasury at their
disposal. No arguments of sociologists were half so convincing to
legislators or so enlightening to the public as those of the girls who
had themselves been through the mill. "Every hour I carry my trays I
walk a mile," said Elizabeth Maloney of the Waitresses' Union. "Don't
you think that eight hours a day is enough for any girl to walk?"

When we turn to the National League itself, if there is less to record
of actual achievement, there are possibilities untold. Never before
have all the work of this country had an organization, open to all,
with which to express themselves on a national scale.

Early in 1905 the Executive Board of the League appointed a committee
with Mary McDowell chairman to secure the cooeperation of all
organizations interested in the welfare of woman in demanding a
federal investigation and report upon the conditions of working-women
and girls in all the principal industrial centers. Miss McDowell
called to her aid all the forces of organized labor, the General
Federation of Women's Clubs and other women's associations, the social
settlements and church workers. So strengthened and supported, the
committee then went to Washington, and consulted with President
Roosevelt and the then Commissioner of Labor, Dr. Charles P. Neill.

Miss McDowell, more than any other one person, was responsible for the
passing in 1907 of the measure which authorized and the appropriation
which made possible the investigation which during the next four
years the Department of Commerce and Labor made. The result of that
investigation is contained in the nineteen volumes of the report.

The first gatherings of any size at which League members met
and conferred together were the interstate conferences, held
simultaneously in Boston, New York and Chicago, the first in the
summer of 1907 and the second in 1908. The former was the first
interstate conference of women unionists ever held in the United
States, and it was therefore a most notable event. Especially was it
interesting because of the number of women delegates who came from
other states, and from quite distant points, Boston drawing them from
the New England states, New York from its own extensive industrial
territory, and Chicago from the Middle West. Inspired by what she
heard in Chicago, Hannah Hennessy went back to found the St. Louis
Women's Trade Union League. It was at the first interstate conference,
also, that a committee was appointed to wait upon the American
Federation of Labor Executive Board, during the Norfolk Convention
in November, 1907. The Illinois State Committee of the Women's Trade
Union League, whose fine legislative work helped to secure the passage
of the present ten-hour law for women, also grew out of the discussion
which came up in the Chicago conference.

The lines on which the League is developing can be observed through
the work done and reported upon at the biennial conventions of which
five have been held. The first, at Norfolk, Virginia, in 1907, was
an informal gathering of but seven delegates, women who had been
attending the convention of the American Federation of Labor of that
year. Subsequent conventions have taken place every two years since
then. These have been held in Chicago, Boston and St. Louis and New
York respectively. On each occasion about seventy delegates have
reported. They are certainly a picked lot of girls. They are trained,
trained not in fancy debate, but in practical discussion. They have
met with employers in trade conferences where an error in statement or
a hasty word might mean a cut in wages or an increase in hours for
two years to come. They have met with their fellow-workers in union
meetings, where, if a girl aspires to lead her sisters or brothers,
she has to show both readiness of wit and good-humored patience in
differing from the others.

These women are growing too, as all must grow who live on life's
firing line, and shrink not from meeting the very hardest problems of
today. The working-woman, in her daily struggle comes up against every
one of them, and not one can be evaded.

Industrial legislation, judicial decisions, the right to organize, the
power to vote, are to the awakened working-woman not just academic
questions, but something that affects her wages, her hours. They may
mean enough to eat, time to rest, and beyond these home happiness and
social freedom.

In two directions especially can the growing importance of the women's
trade-union movement be observed: on the one hand in the incessant
appeals, coming from all over the continent, to the National League,
for advice and assistance in organizing women into the local unions
of their trade; on the other in the degree in which it is gradually
coming to be recognized by public men, by politicians, by business
men, as well as by students and thinkers, that it is to organized
women they must turn, whenever they want an authoritative expression
as to the working-women's needs and desires.

Two sets of resolutions discussed and passed by the fourth biennial
convention of the National Women's Trade Union League, held in 1913,
were afterwards published broadcast over the country, and have been
of marked educational value. The one pleaded for the speedy
enfranchisement of women for these reasons: because the most costly
production and the most valuable asset of any nation is its output of
men and women; because the industrial conditions under which more than
six million girls and women are forced to work is an individual and
social menace; and because working-women as an unenfranchised class
are continually used to lower the standards of men. The League
in particular protested against the ill-judged activities of the
anti-suffrage women, "a group of women of leisure, who by accident of
birth have led sheltered and protected lives, and who never through
experience have had to face the misery that low wages and long hours

This stirring, appeal made a profound impression on suffragists and
anti-suffragists alike, in the labor world, and amid the general
public. It was of course hotly resented by that small group of women
of privilege, who think they know better than working-women what are
the needs of working-women. Its deep significance lay in that it was
a voice from the voiceless millions. It gave many pause to think and
catch, as they had never caught before, the vital meaning underlying
the demand for the vote.

The other series of resolutions expressed no less forcefully the
women's consciousness of the intimate connection between education and
labor, and pressed home the fact that organized laboring-women are
watchful of the work being done in our public schools, and are anxious
that it should be brought and kept up to the level of present-day
needs. As is mentioned elsewhere, these resolutions laid special
stress upon the necessity of making all courses of industrial training
coeducational, of including in them the history of the evolution of
industry, and the philosophy of collective bargaining, and of insuring
that all boys and girls, before they leave school to go to work,
have a knowledge of the state and federal laws that exist for their
protection. These resolutions were sent to 1,075 boards of education
in the United States. Replies have been received from twenty-six
boards in fifteen states. Of these fourteen already have vocational
training in their schools, two are planning such training, and six
referred the resolutions to committees. Of those having training in
the schools, thirteen have courses open to both boys and girls, and
one has courses for girls exclusively, but is planning to open a
school for boys.

The National League for four years published its own magazine, _Life
and Labor_, with a double function; on the one hand as the organ of
the League activities, and the expression of the members' views; on
the other as a running diary of what was happening in the world of
working-women, for the information of students and of all interested
in sociological matters.

In the chapter on The Woman Organizer allusion is made to the efforts
of the League to train women as trade-union organizers. Miss Louisa
Mittelstadt, of Kansas City, and Miss Myrtle Whitehead, of Baltimore,
belonging to different branches of the Brewery Workers, came to
Chicago to be trained in office and field work, and are now making
good use of their experience. One was sent by the central labor body,
and the other by the local league. Miss Fannie Colin was a third
pupil, a member of the International Ladies' Garment Workers, from New
York City.

A word in conclusion regarding some of the typical leaders who are
largely responsible for the policy of the League, and are to be
credited in no small measure with its successes.

After Mrs. Raymond Robins, the national president, already spoken of,
and standing beside her as a national figure comes Agnes Nestor, of
Irish descent, and a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, upon whose
slight shoulders rest alike burdens and honors. Both she bears
calmly. She is a glove-worker, and the only woman president of an
international union. She is both a member of the National Executive
Board of the Women's Trade Union League, and the president of the
Chicago League, and she has served as one of the two women members of
the Federal Commission on Industrial Education. She has done fine work
as a leader in her own city of Chicago, but neither Chicago, nor even
Illinois, can claim her when the nation calls.

Melinda Scott is English by birth, belongs to New York, and has
achieved remarkable results in her own union of the hat-trimmers. It
is not during the exciting stage of a perhaps spectacular strike that
Miss Scott shines; it is during the weary time when only patience and
endurance can hold the girls together, and afterwards, when, whether
the strike is lost or won, enthusiasm is apt to flag, and when
disputes bid fair to break down the hardly won agreement.

Initiated at sixteen into the Knights of Labor, Leonora O'Reilly took
the vows that she has ever since kept in the spirit and in the letter.
After many years spent as a garment-worker, she became a teacher in
the Manhattan Trade School for Girls. She was one of the charter
members of the New York Women's Trade Union League and has always been
one of its most effective speakers. Leonora and her Celtic idealism
have made many converts.

Russia in America is embodied in Rose Schneidermann. She is the living
representative of the gifts that the Slavic races, and especially
the Russian Jew, have contributed to American life. Coming here in
childhood, her life has been spent in New York.

As an example of her achievements, for four years she worked
untiringly among the white-goods-workers of New York, until they
were strong enough to call a general strike, a strike which was so
successful that they won a great part of their demands, and ever since
have held their union together, seven thousand strong. Penetrated with
the profound sadness of her people, and passionately alive to the
workers' wrongs, Rose Schneidermann can stir immense audiences, and
move them to tears as readily as to indignation. For her all the hope
of the world's future is embodied in two movements, trade unionism on
the one hand and socialism on the other.


Women picking rags collected from households. These rags have neither
been cleaned nor disinfected and give off dust at every handling.]


The New York League owes much of its success to Mary Dreier, the
sister of Mrs. Raymond Robins. She was its president for several
years, and by her perseverance and devotion, did much to build up the
organization in its early days.

The rest of the League leaders must be summed up even more briefly.
Mary Anderson, a member of the Boot and Shoe Workers' International
Board, is of Scandinavian origin, and has all the steadfastness of the
Swedes. Another very excellent organizer and much-loved trade unionist
is Emma Steghagen, also of the Boot and Shoe Workers, and for seven
years secretary of the Chicago League. She may be called the League
veteran, for her association with trade unionism began with the
Knights of Labor. Others are Mary McEnerney, Mary Haney, Hilda

Elizabeth Maloney, she of the snapping eyes and fervent heart,
marshals her waitresses through strike after strike against grinding
employers, or she eloquently pleads their cause, whether in the state
legislature, or with her own International, at the convention of
the Hotel and Restaurant Employes, if the men show themselves a bit
forgetful, as they sometimes do, of the girls' interest.

Nelle Quick, bindery woman, has been transferred from her trade-union
activities in St. Louis to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the state
of Missouri.

From among clerical workers came into the League women who have
left their mark, Helen Marot and Alice Bean, of New York, and Mabel
Gillespie, of Boston, while Stella Franklin, the Australian, for long
held the reins of the national office in Chicago.

Gertrude Barnum, who graduated into trade unionism from settlement
work, and Josephine Casey, of the Elevated Railroad Clerks, are two
who were long actively associated with the Woman's Trade Union League,
but of late years both have been organizers under the International of
the Ladies' Garment Workers.

Among the allies, the non-wage-earners, are Mary Dreier, president of
the New York League, who was also the only woman member of the New
York State Factory Investigating Commission; Mrs. Glendower Evans,
notable for her service in advancing legislation for the minimum wage;
Mary McDowell, of the University of Chicago Settlement, mother of
the stockyards folk, beloved of the Poles and the Bohemians and the
Ruthenians, who cross the ocean to settle on the desolate banks of
Bubbly Creek. Mrs. D.W. Knefler, of St. Louis, did pioneering work for
girlish trade unionism in that conservative city.

Miss Gillespie, the Secretary of the Boston Women's Trade Union
League, has been for years its main standby. Working in cooeperation
with the young president, Miss Julia O'Connor, of the Telephone
Operators, her influence in the labor movement is an important factor
in the Massachusetts situation. She is a member of the State Minimum
Wage Commission.

Young as is the League, some most heroic members have already passed
into the unseen. Adelaide Samuels was a teacher in the public schools
who, in the day of very small things for the New York League, acted as
treasurer and chairman of the label committee. In her scant leisure
she worked patiently towards the end that girls in the poorest trades
should win for themselves the power of making the collective bargain.
She died before she could have seen any tangible results from her

Hannah Hennessy, who carried away from the first interstate conference
in Chicago a vision in her heart of a Women's Trade Union League in
every large city, a few years later laid down her life as the result
of the hardships endured while picketing on behalf of the Marx and
Haas strikers. Her youth had slipped away, and her strength had been
sapped by weary years as an ill-paid garment-worker, so that exposure
to cold and wet found her power of resistance gone, and a few weeks
later she was no more.

At the other end of the social scale, but thrilled with the same
unselfish desire to better the conditions of the girl toilers, stood
Carola Woerishofer, the rich college girl, who, once she was committed
to the cause, never spared herself, picketing today, giving bonds
tomorrow for the latest prisoner of the strike, spending a whole hot
summer in a laundry, that she might know first-hand what the toiler
pays that we may wear clean clothes. And so on, until the last
sad scene of all, when on duty as inspector of the New York State
Immigration Bureau, her car capsized, and Carola Woerishofer's brief,
strenuous service to humanity was ended.

From yet another group came Frances Squire Potter, formerly professor
of English Literature in the University of Minnesota, who a few
years ago became profoundly impressed with the unfair and oppressive
conditions under which working-women live and toil. Thus was she led
far away from academic fields, first into suffrage work, and later
into the National Women's Trade Union League. Until her health gave
way, about a year before her death, she acted as official lecturer for
the League. Through her unique gifts as a speaker, and her beautiful
personality, she interpreted the cause of the working-woman to many
thousands of hearers. She was also departmental editor of _Life and
Labor_, the League's magazine.

Great have been the vicissitudes of the labor movement among men, but
for many years now, the tendency towards national cohesion has been
growing. This tendency has been greatly strengthened by the rapid
development, and at the same time, the cheapening of the means of
transport and communication between distant regions of the country.

In the advantages arising from this general growth of the labor
movement, both in its local activities and on its national side, women
workers have indeed shared. This is true, both on account of the
direct benefits accruing to them through joining mixed organizations,
or being aided by men to form separate organizations of their own,
and also through the vast assistance rendered by organized labor in
obtaining protective legislation for the most utterly helpless and
exploited toilers, for example, the child-labor laws which state after
state has placed upon the statute book, sanitary regulations, and laws
for the safeguarding of machinery dangerous to workers.

Still, compared with the extensive movement among men, in which the
women have been more or less a side issue, feminine trade unionism has
been but fitful in its manifestations, and far indeed from keeping
pace with the rate at which women have poured into the industrial
field. The youth of a large number of the girl workers, and the fact
that, as they grow up, so many of them pass out of the wage-earning
occupations, marriage, and the expectation of marriage, the main
obstacles that stand in the way today in getting women to organize and
to hold their unions together, furnish also the underlying causes of
the want of continuity of the trade-union movement among women since
it first began in the United States in the early part of the last
century. The too frequent change in the personnel of the members, and
therefore in the composition of the union itself, means an absence
of the permanence of spirit which is an essential condition for the
handing on in unbroken succession of standards of loyalty and esprit
de corps.

It is continuity that has rendered possible all human progress,
through the passing on from all of us to our successors, of each
small acquirement, of each elevation of standard. Where, but for
such continuity would be the college spirit, that descends upon and
baptizes the newcomer as he enters the college gates? Where, but for
continuity would be the constantly rising standards of morality and
social responsibility? Where, but for continuity would be national
life and all that makes patriotism worthy? Where, indeed, would be
humanity itself?

The average man is a wage-earner, and as such a fit subject for
organization. If extensive groups of men remain unorganized, the
responsibility lies partly on the trade unions, and is partly
conditioned by our social and political environment. But either way, a
man is a trade unionist or he is not. The line is clear cut, and trade
unions therefore admit no one not actually a worker in their own

But it is not so with women. Outside the wage-earning groups there
is the great bulk of married women, and a still considerable, though
ever-lessening number of single women, who, although productive
laborers, are yet, owing to the primitive and antiquated status of
home industry, not acknowledged as such in the labor market. Not
being remunerated in money, they are not considered as wage-earners.
(Witness the census report, which, in omitting those performing unpaid
domestic duties from the statistics of gainful occupations, does but
reflect the tragic fact that woman's home work has no money value and
confirms the popular impression that "mother doesn't work.")

Yet another force to be reckoned with in estimating the difficulties
which stand in the way of unionizing women is the widespread hostility
to trade unionism, as expressed through newspaper and magazine
articles, and through public speakers, both religious and secular. The
average girl, even more than the average man, is sensitive to public
opinion, as expressed through such accepted channels of authority. The
standards of public opinion have been her safeguard in the past, and
she still looks to them for guidance, not realizing how often such
commonly accepted views are misinterpretations of the problems she
herself has to face today. In the middle of the last century, a period
that was most critical for men's unions in England, a number of
leaders of public thought, men of influence and standing in the
community, such as Charles Kingsley, Frederick Denison Maurice and
others, came to the help of the men by maintaining their right to
organize. In the United States, during the corresponding stage of
extreme unpopularity, Horace Greeley, Charles A. Dana and Wendell
Phillips extended similar support to workingmen. We today are apt
to forget that women's unions with us are just now in the very same
immature stage of development, as men's unions passed through half a
century ago. The labor men of that day had their position immensely
strengthened by just such help afforded from outside their immediate
circle. It is therefore not strange that women's unions, at their
present stage of growth, should be in need of just such help.

To sum up, in addition to all the difficulties which have to be met
by men in the labor movement, women are at a disadvantage through the
comparative youth and inexperience of many female workers, through
their want of trade training, through the assumption, almost universal
among young girls, that they will one day marry and leave the trade,
and through their unconscious response to the public opinion which
disapproves of women joining trade unions.

It is then the lack of permanence, of continuity in spirit and in
concerted action, produced by all these causes, working together, and
the difficulties in the way of remedying this lack of permanence,
which this young organization, the National Women's Trade Union League
of America, has fully and fairly recognized, and which, with a courage
matched to its high purpose, it is facing and trying to conquer.

The Women's Trade Union League, while essentially a part of the labor
movement, has yet its own definite role to play, and at this point it
is well to note the response made by organized labor in supporting the
League's efforts. It works under the endorsement of both the American
Federation of Labor and the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada, and
has received in its undertakings the practical support, besides,
of many of the most influential of the international unions, in
occupations as different as those of the shoe-workers, the carpenters
and the miners. The rank and file of the local organizations, in city
after city, have given the same hearty and unqualified approval to the
League's pioneering work, in bringing the unorganized women and girls
into the unions, and in carrying on a constant educative work among
those already organized. As an instance of this openly expressed
approval, take the cordial cooeperation which the Chicago League has
ever received from the Chicago Federation of Labor and its allied
locals. But, owing to the complexity of women's lives, the varied
and inconsistent demands that are made upon their energies, the
organization of the League has to be somewhat different from that of
any body which labor men would have formed for themselves.

Locally the relationship varies. In St. Louis the League has never
been represented in the central body by its own delegates, but by
members representing primarily their own organizations, such as
Bindery Women and Boot and Shoe Workers. In Boston, New York and
Chicago each League is represented by its own delegates. In Kansas
City, Missouri, again, not only are the delegates of the League seated
in the central body, but every union of men in it pays a per capita
tax into the funds of the Kansas City Women's Trade Union League.

The National League receives a certain amount of financial support
from the American Federation of Labor, and from a number of the
international unions, several of the latter being affiliated with the
League. State federations, city central bodies, and local unions in
different parts of the country give similar cooeperation and money

As the labor movement is organized, it collects into suitable groups
the different classes of wage-earners. But the average housekeeping,
married woman, although both worker and producer, is not a
wage-earner, although more and more, as the home industries become
specialized is she becoming a wage-earner for at least part of her
time. But, as our lives are arranged at present the largest proportion
of married women and a considerable number of single women are
ineligible for admission as members of any trade union. Are
they therefore to be shut out from the labor movement, and from
participation in its activities, no matter how closely their own
interests are bound up with it, no matter how intensely they are in
sympathy with its aims, no matter though as single girls they may have
been members of a union?

We have noted already how much stronger the labor movement would be
if the women and girls engaged in the trades were brought in through
organization. Still further would organized men be advantaged if their
movement were reinforced by this great body of home-keeping women,
vast in numbers, and with their untouched reserves of energy and

Again, it is only by making room for such women within the labor
movement that women can be represented in sufficient numbers in the
councils of labor. As long as there was no recognized way of admitting
the home woman to even a tiny corner of the labor field, as long as
entry was restricted solely to the wage-earning woman, there seemed
no chance of women being ever in anything but a hopeless minority in
either local or international union, and that minority, too, composed
so largely of young and inexperienced girls. Is it any wonder, then,
that the interests of the working-girls have suffered, and that, as a
ready consequence, workingmen's interests have suffered, too.

The Women's Trade Union League is also bringing into touch with the
labor movement other women's organizations, and especially winning
their increased cooeperation in the campaigns for legislation. It is
largely through the ally[A] membership that the Women's Trade Union
League has been able to reach the public ear as well as to attract
assistance and cooeperation, especially from the suffragists and the
women's clubs. The suffragists have always been more or less in
sympathy with labor organizations, while outside labor circles, the
largest body to second the efforts of organized labor in the direction
of humanity has been the women's clubs, whether expressing themselves
through the General Federation, or through local activity in their
home towns. An immense group of women thus early became committed
to an active opposition to the employment of children either in
factories, or under the even more dangerous and demoralizing
conditions which await mere babies in the street or in tenement homes.

[Footnote A: An ally is a man or a woman of any class not a worker
in any organized trade who believes in the organization of women and
subscribes to the following League platform.

1. Organization of all workers into trade unions.
2. Equal pay for equal work.
3. Eight-hour day.
4. A living wage.
5. Full citizenship for women.]

There is a similar movement going on within the National Young Women's
Christian Association. The reason for this stand being taken by
women's organizations was characteristic. The impelling force that
urged those women on was something far deeper than mere philanthropy.
It was the acceptance by a whole group of women of the old
responsibilities of motherhood, in the new form that these must take
on if new conditions are to be met. It was as if the motherhood of the
country had said in so many words: "Social conditions are changing,
but we are still the mothers of the new generation. Society is
threatened with this calamity, that they will pass beyond our care
before the needs and claims of childhood have been satisfied. As
individuals we are now powerless. Let us see what cooeperation will do
to right conditions that are fast slipping beyond our control."

But how unconscious the vast number of women of this type were, either
of the true nature of the force they were obeying or the point whither
they were tending, was graphically illustrated at the Biennial
Federation of Women's Clubs in St. Paul, in 1906, when a woman
protested from the floor against the appointment of a committee to
deal with industrial conditions. She added that she was all in favor
of the Federation working against child labor, but they had no call to
interfere in industrial questions.

This is an illustration of how the rank and file of the clubwomen
became committed to industrial reform as part of their program, and
incidentally, although there were those among their leaders who well
knew whither the movement was tending. The Women's Trade Union League
represents one of the forces that is leading on the most conservative
among them to stand forth for industrial justice consciously and
deliberately, while the League's special aims are brought the nearer
to accomplishment by the support of this other group of women.

The Women's Trade Union League is, and as long as it fulfills its
present function, will surely remain, a federation of trade unions
with women members, but it finds a niche and provides an honorable and
useful function for the wives of workingmen, for ex-trade-union women,
and for others who endorse trade unionism and gladly give their
support to a constructive work, aiming at strengthening the weakest
wing of labor, the unorganized, down-driven, underpaid working-girls.

If the League is to be an organization open to, and aiming at
including eventually the great majority of working-women, it must be
so flexible as to admit the woman who works in the home without formal
wages, as well as the woman who works for an employer for wages. Both
are in many respects upon the same footing in relation to society.
Both are earners and producers. Both require the help of organization.
Both should be an integral part of the labor movement. Both therefore
may be consistently received as dues-paying members into Women's Trade
Union Leagues, even although we are still too confused and puzzled
to permit of housewives forming their own unions, and therefore such
members have to be received as allies.

In thus leaving open a door, however, through which all working-women
may enter the League, the founders were mindful of the fact, and have
it embodied in the constitution, that the main strength must lie in
the increasing number of wage-earning girls and women who are socially
developed up to the point of being themselves organized into trade
unions. The League has so far grown, and can in the future grow
normally, only so far as it is the highest organized expression of the
ideals, the wishes and the needs of the wage-earning girl.

As for the woman of wealth, I should be the last to question her right
to opportunities for self-development, or to deny her the joy of
assisting her sorely driven sisters to rise out of the industrial
mire, and stand erect in self-reliant independence. But if the League
is to grow until it becomes the universal expression of the woman's
part in organized labor, then the privilege of assisting with
financial help the ordinary activities of the League can be hers only
during the infancy of the body. No organization can draw its nurture
permanently from sources outside of itself, although many a movement
has been nursed through its early stages of uncertainty and struggle
by the aid of the sympathetic and understanding outsider.



In September, 1909, the name of the Triangle Shirt Waist Company,
which has since become a word of such ill omen, was known to few
outside the trade. The factory had not then been wrapped in the flames
and smoke of the Asch fire, that was to cut short the lives of one
hundred and forty-three workers, and to blight the existence and mar
the happiness of many more.

But by a not altogether inexplicable coincidence, it had been among
the employes of this very firm that the smoldering flames of human
discontent broke out, that were to grow into the "Strike of the Forty
Thousand," a strike that proved to be but the first of a long series
of revolts among the foreign garment-workers of the largest cities in
the East and the Middle West.

It is true that in such an extensive trade as that of making
ready-made clothes, with its low wages and its speeding-up, its
sweating and its uncertainty of employment, there is always a strike
on somewhere. At that very time, there were in progress two strikes of
quite respectable size: one in Boston, under the Ladies' Tailors'
and Dressmakers' Union, and the other in St. Louis, where the
long-drawn-out Marx and Haas strike involving the makers of men's
ready-made clothing, was in its first stage.

But outside of labor circles, these strikes were attracting no
particular attention. The public were not even aware of what was
happening, and would have been entirely indifferent if they had known.

The turning out of ladies' ready-made waists is an immense business in
New York. The trade, like other branches of garment-making, is largely
in the hands of Jewish employers. The workers are principally recently
arrived foreigners, Russian and other Slavic Jews, Italians and other
immigrants from eastern Europe. They are in an overwhelming majority
women, or, to be more accurate, girls.

During all the earlier part of the year 1909 the Ladies' Waist Makers'
Union No. 25 had been showing quite undue activity and unwelcome
persistence in preaching unionism and its advantages among all and
sundry of these foreign girls, and with quite unusual success. The
managers of the Triangle Shirt Waist Company awoke one morning to a
sense of what was happening. To quote from a writer in _The Outlook_:

One of the firm appeared before the girls and told them in kind
phrases that the company was friendly to the union, and that
they desired to encourage it, and that they might better give
assistance, they would like to know what girls belonged to it. The
girls, taken in by this speech, acknowledged their membership;
only, instead of a few that the company had thought to discover
and weed out, it developed that one hundred and fifty girls were
members. That evening they were told, in the same kind way, that,
because of a lull in the trade, due to an uncertainty as to
fashions in sleeves, there was for the time being no more work.
The girls took their discharge without suspicion; but the next
morning they saw in the newspaper advertisements of the company
asking for shirt-waist operators at once. Their eyes opened by
this, the girls picketed the shop, and told the girls who answered
the advertisement that the shop was on strike. The company
retaliated by hiring thugs to intimidate the girls, and for
several weeks the picketing girls were being constantly attacked
and beaten. These melees were followed by wholesale arrests of
strikers, from a dozen to twenty girls being arrested daily.

Out of ninety-eight arrested all but nineteen were fined in sums of
from one to ten dollars.

With the aid of the police and a complaisant bench the Triangle
Company had been successful in its attempt to empty the young union's
treasury, and had likewise intimidated the workers till their courage
and spirit were failing them. The manufacturers had accomplished their

At this stage the New York Women's Trade Union League took up the
battle of the girls. Every morning they stationed allies in front
of the factory, to act as witnesses against illegal arrest, and to
prevent interference with lawful picketing. The wrath of the police
was then turned upon the League. First one and then another ally was
arrested, this performance culminating in the unlawful arrest of Mary
Dreier, president of the League. The police were sadly fooled upon
this occasion, and their position was not in any degree strengthened,
when they angrily, and just as unreasonably freed their prisoner, as
soon as they discovered her identity. "Why didn't you tell me you was
a rich lady? I'd never have arrested you in the world."

This was good copy for the newspapers, and the whole story of wrongful
discharge, unlawful arrest and insulting treatment of the strikers by
the police began to filter into the public mind through the columns of
the daily press. It was shown that what had happened in the case of
the Triangle employes had been repeated, with variations, in the case
of many other shops. Respectable and conservative citizens began to
wonder if there might not be two sides to the story. They learned,
for instance, of the unjust "bundle" system, under which the employer
gives out a bundle of work to a girl, and when she returns the
completed work, gives her a ticket which she can convert into cash on
pay day. If the ticket, a tiny scrap of paper, should be lost, the
girl had no claim on the firm for the work she had actually done.
Again, some employers had insisted that they paid good wages, showing
books revealing the astonishing fact that girls were receiving thirty
dollars, thirty-five dollars, and even forty dollars per week. Small
reason to strike here, said the credulous reader, as he or she perused
the morning paper. But the protest of the libelled manufacturer lost
much of its force, when it was explained that these large sums were
not the wage of one individual girl, but were group earnings, paid to
one girl, and receipted for by her, but having to be shared with two,
three or four others, who had worked with and under the girl whose
name appeared on the payroll.

Monday, November 22, was a memorable day. A mass meeting had been
called in Cooper Union to consider the situation. Mr. Gompers was one
of the speakers. At the far end of the hall rose a little Jewish girl,
and asked to be heard. Once on the platform, she began speaking in
Yiddish, fast and earnestly. She concluded by saying she was tired of
talking, and so would put the motion for a general strike of the whole
trade. One who was present, describing the tense dramatic moment that
followed, writes: "The audience unanimously endorsed it. 'Do you mean
faith?' said the chairman. 'Will you take the old Jewish oath,' And
up came 2,000 Jewish hands with the prayer, 'If I turn traitor to the
cause I now pledge, may this hand wither and drop off at the wrist
from this arm I now raise.'" The girl was Clara Lemlich, from the
Leiserson factory. She did not complain for herself, for she was a
fairly well-paid worker, making up to fifteen dollars in the rush
season, but for her much poorer sisters.

The response within that hall typified the response next day outside.
I quote the words of an onlooker:

From every waist-making factory in New York and Brooklyn, the
girls poured forth, filling the narrow streets of the East Side,
crowding the headquarters at Clinton Hall, and overflowing into
twenty-four smaller halls in the vicinity. It was like a mighty
army, rising in the night, and demanding to be heard. But it was
an undisciplined army. Without previous knowledge of organization,
without means of expression, these young workers, mostly under
twenty, poured into the Union. For the first two weeks from 1,000
to 1,500 joined each day. The clerical work alone, involved in,
registering and placing recruits was almost overwhelming. Then
halls had to be rented and managed, and speakers to be procured.
And not for one nationality alone. Each hall, and there were
twenty-four, had to have speakers in Yiddish, Italian and English.
Every member of the League was pressed into service. Still small
halls were not enough. Lipzin's Theatre was offered to the
strikers, and mass meetings were held there five afternoons a

Meanwhile committees were appointed from each shop to settle upon
a price list. As the quality of work differed in different shops,
a uniform wage was impossible and had to be settled by each shop
individually. When the hundreds of price lists were at last
complete, meetings were arranged for each shop committee and their
employers. Again the price list was discussed, and a compromise
usually effected. In almost every shop, however, an increase of
from 15 to 20 per cent. was granted.

Apart from wages, the contract insured significant improvements.
Besides calling for recognition of the union it demanded full pay for
legal holidays, limited night work during the rush season to eight
P.M., abolished all Sunday work, did away with the inside contracting
system, under which one girl took out work for several, and provided
for a fair allotment of work in slack seasons.

After one hundred and ninety firms had signed up, and the majority
of the strikers had returned to their shops, an attempt was made to
settle with the still obdurate employers through arbitration, at the
suggestion of the National Civic Federation.

Meanwhile picketing was going on; the pickets were being punished, not
only with heavy fines, thus depleting the union's treasury, but with
terms in the workhouse. Some of these criminals for principle were
little girls in short skirts, and no attempt was made to separate
them when in confinement from disorderly characters. But what was the
result? The leaders saw to it that a photograph was taken of such a
group, with "Workhouse Prisoners" pinned across the breast of each,
and worn as a badge of honor, a diploma of achievement, and the
newspapers were but too glad to print the picture. When that spirit
of irrepressible energy and revolt once possesses men or women,
punishment is converted into reward, disgrace transmuted into honor.

This it was, more even than the story of the wrongs endured, which had
its effect on the public. In the rebound of feeling the illegality of
the police behavior was admitted. The difficulties put in the way of
the courageous little pickets led to the forming of parades, and
the holding of meetings even in a class of society where no one had
counted on receiving sympathy. The ladies of the rich and exclusive
Colony Club learned from the girls themselves of the many
disadvantages connected with waist-making. For instance that in the
off season there was little regular work at all; and that all the time
there were the fines and breakages. One girl told how she had been
docked for a tucking foot, which, as she said, just wore out on her,
"It wasn't really my fault," she concluded, "and I think the boss
should look out for his own foots."

Said another: "When a girl comes five minutes late at my shop, she is
compelled to go home. She may live outside of the city, it does not
matter, she must go home and lose a day.

"We work eight days in the week. This may seem strange to you who know
that there are only seven days in the week. But we work from seven
in the morning till very late at night, when there's a rush, and
sometimes we work a week and a half in one week."

The socialist women did yeoman service, protecting the pickets,
attending the trials, speaking at meetings and taking a full share of
the hard work. The organized suffragists and clubwomen were drawn into
the thick of the fight. They spread the girls' story far and wide,
raised money, helped to find bonds, and were rewarded by increased
inspiration for their own propaganda.

The enormous extent of the strike, being, as it was, by far the
largest uprising of women that has ever taken place upon this
continent, while adding proportionately to the difficulties of
conducting it to a successful issue, yet in the end deepened and
intensified the lesson it conveyed.

In the end about three hundred shops signed up, but of these at least
a hundred were lost during the first year. This was due, the workers
say, partly to the terrible dullness in the trade following the
strike, and partly to the fact that they were not entirely closed

Since then, however, the organization has grown in strength. It was
one of these coming under the protocol, covering the Ladies' Garment
Workers, in so many branches, which was agreed to after the strikes
in the needle trades of the winter of 1913. The name was changed from
Ladies' Waist Makers, to Ladies' Waist and Dress Makers.

But the waist-makers' strike was not confined to New York. With
the opening of their busy season, the New York manufacturers found
themselves hard pressed to fill their orders, and they were making
efforts to have the work done in other cities, not strike-bound. One
of the cities in which they placed their orders was Philadelphia.
It was with small success, however, for the spirit of unrest was
spreading, and before many weeks were over, most of the Philadelphia
waist-makers had followed the example of their New York sisters.

The girls were in many respects worse off in Philadelphia than in New
York itself. Unions in the sewing trades were largely down and out
there, and public opinion was opposed to organized labor.

When the disturbance did come, it was not so much the result of any
clever policy deliberately thought out, as it was the sudden uprising
and revolt of exasperated girls against a system of persistent cutting
down extending over about four years. A cent would be taken off here,
and a half-cent there, or two operations would be run into one, and
the combined piece of work under one, and that a new, name would bring
a lower rate of pay. The practice of paying for oil needles, cotton
and silk had been introduced, a practice most irritating with its
paltry deduction from a girl's weekly wage. Next there was a system of
fines for what was called "mussing" work. Every one of these so-called
improvements in discipline was deftly utilized as an excuse for taking
so much off the girls' pay.

Patience became exhausted and the girls just walked out. Two-thirds of
the waist-makers in the city walked out. Of these about eighty-five
per cent., it is believed, were Jewish girls, the rest made up of
Italians with a few Poles. The girls who did not go out were mostly
Americans. One observer estimated at the time that about forty per
cent. of those in the trade were under twenty years of age, running
down to children of twelve.

When the workers, with no sort of warning or explanation, or making
any regular preliminary demands, just quit, it upset matters
considerably. A little girl waist-maker may appear to be a very
insignificant member of the community, but if you multiply her by
four thousand, her absence makes an appreciable gap in the industrial
machine, and its cogs fail to catch as accurately as heretofore. So
that even the decent manufacturers felt pretty badly, not so much
about the strike itself, as its, to them, inexplicable suddenness.
Such men were suffering, of course, largely for the deeds of their
more unscrupulous fellow-employers.

One manufacturer, for instance, had gained quite a reputation for
his donations to certain orphanages. These were to him a profitable
investment, seeing that the institutions served to provide him with a
supply of cheap labor. He had in his shop many orphans, who for two
reasons could hardly leave his employ. They had no friends to whom to
go, and they were also supposed to be under obligations of gratitude
to their benefactor-employer. One of his girl employes, to whom he
paid seven dollars a week, turned out for that wage twelve dollars'
worth of work. This fact the employer admitted, justifying himself by
saying that he was supporting her brother in an orphanage.

It was a hard winter, and the first week of the strike wore away
without a sign of hope. Public opinion was slow to rouse, and the
newspapers were definitely adverse. The general view seemed to be that
such a strike was an intolerable nuisance, if not something worse. At
length the conservative _Ledger_ came out with a two-column editorial,
outlining the situation, and from then on news of the various
happenings, as they occurred, could be found in all the papers. But
the girls were unorganized. There was no money, and they faced
the first days of the new year in a mood of utter discouragement.
Organizers from the International of the Ladies' Garment Workers had,
however, come on from New York to take charge. The strikers were
supported by the Central Labor Union of Philadelphia, under the
leadership of the capable John J. Murphy, and representatives of the
National Women's Trade Union League, in the persons of Mrs. Raymond
Robins and Miss Agnes Nestor, were already on the scene.

In the struggle itself, the New York experiences were repeated. The
fight went on slowly and stubbornly. Arrests occurred daily and still
more arrests. Money was the pressing need, not only for food and rent,
but to pay fines and to arrange for the constantly needed bonds to
bail out arrested pickets. At length a group of prominent Philadelphia
women headed by Mrs. George Biddle, enlisted the help of some leading
lawyers, and an advisory council was formed for the protection of
legal rights, and even for directing a backfire on lawbreaking
employers by filing suits for damages. With such interest and
such help money, too, was obtained. The residents of the College
Settlement, especially Miss Anna Davies, the head resident, and Miss
Anne Young, the members of the Consumers' League, the suffragists and
the clubwomen all gave their help.

These women were moved to action by stories such as those of the
little girl, whom her late employer had been begging to return to his
deserted factory. "The boss, he say to me, 'You can't live if you not
work.' And I say to the boss, 'I live not much on forty-nine cents a

As in New York, the police here overreached themselves in their zeal,
and arrested a well-known society girl, whom they caught walking
arm-in-arm with a striking waist-maker. Result, the utter discomfiture
of the Director of Public Safety, and triumph for the fortunate
reporters who got the good story.

An investigation into the price of food, made just then by one of the
evening newspapers came in quite opportunely, forcing the public to
wonder whether, after all, the girls were asking for any really higher
wage, or whether they were not merely struggling to hold on to such
a wage as would keep pace with the increasing prices of all sorts of
food, fuel, lighting, the commonest clothing and the humblest shelter.

The strike had gone on for some weeks, when an effort was made to
obtain an injunction forbidding the picketing of the Haber factory.
This was finally to crush the strike and down the strikers. But
in pressing for an injunction the manufacturers came up against a
difficulty of their own making. The plea that had all along been urged
upon the union had been the futility of trying to continue a strike
that was not injuring the employers. "For," they had many times said,
"we have plenty of workers, our factories are going full blast."
Whereas the Haber witnesses in the injunction suit were bringing proof
of how seriously the business was being injured through the success of
the girl pickets in maintaining the strike, and, the money loss, they
assured the court was to be reckoned up in thousands of dollars. This
inconsistency impressed the judge, and the strikers had the chance
of telling their story in open court. "Strikers' Day" was a public
hearing of the whole story of the strike.

That night both sides got together, and began to discuss a
working agreement. After twenty-five hours of conference between
representatives of the Shirt Waist Makers' Union and of the
Manufacturers' Association, an agreement was arrived at, giving the
workers substantial gains; employment of all union workers in the
shops without discrimination; a fifty-two-and-a-half-hour week and
no work on Saturday afternoon; no charges for water, oil, needles or
ordinary wear and tear on machinery; wages to be decided with the
union for each particular shop, and all future grievances to be
settled by a permanent Board of Arbitration; the agreement to run till
May 1, 1911.

The workers' success was, unfortunately, not lasting. Owing to the
want of efficient local leadership, the organization soon dropped to
pieces. That gone, there was nothing left to stand between the toilers
and the old relentless pressure of the competitive struggle,
ever driving the employers to ask more, and ever compelling the
wage-earners to yield more. The Philadelphia shirt-waist strike of
1910 furnishes a sad and convincing proof of how little is gained
by the mere winning of a strike, however bravely fought, unless the
strikers are able to keep a live organization together, the members
cooeperating patiently and steadily, so as to handle the fresh shop
difficulties which every week brings, in the spirit of mutual help as
well as self-help.

These first Eastern strikes in the garment trades, although local in
their incidence, were national in their effects. There had been so
much that was dramatic and unusual in the rebellion of the workers,
and it had been so effectively played up in the press of the entire
country that by the time spring arrived and the strikes were really
ended, and ended in both cities with very tangible benefits for the
workers, there was hardly anyone who had not heard something about the
great strikes, and who had not had their most deeply rooted opinions
modified. It was an educational lesson on the grand scale. But the
effects did not stop here. The impression upon the workers themselves
everywhere was wholly unexpected. They had been encouraged and
heartened to combine and thus help one another to obtain some measure
of control over workshop and wages.

The echoes of the shirt-waist strikes had hardly died away, when there
arose from another group of dissatisfied workers, the self-same cry
for industrial justice.

There is no doubt that the Chicago strike which began among the makers
of ready-made men's clothing in September, 1910, was the direct
outcome of the strikes in New York and Philadelphia. While the Western
uprising had many features in common with these, yet it presented
difficulties all its own, and in its outcome won a unique success.
Not only was the number of workers taking part greater than in the
previous struggles, but, owing to the fact of a large number of the
strikers being men, and a big proportion of these heads of families,
the poverty and intense suffering resulting from months of
unemployment extended over a far larger area. Also the variety
of nationalities among the strikers added to the difficulties of
conducting negotiations. Every bit of literature put out had to be
printed in nine languages. And lastly, the want of harmony between
certain of the national leaders of the union involved, and the deep
distrust felt by some of the local workers and the strikers for a
section of them provided a situation which for complexity it would be
hard to match. That the long-continued struggle ended with so large
a measure of success for the workers was in part owing to the
extraordinary skill and unwearied patience displayed in its handling,
and in part to the close and intimate cooeperation between the local
strike leaders, both men and women, the Chicago Federation of Labor
and the Chicago Women's Trade Union League. Much also had been learned
from recent experience in the strikes immediately preceding.

The immediate cause of the first striker going out was a cut in the
price of making pockets, of a quarter of a cent. That was on September
22 in Shop 21, in the Hart, Schaffner and Marx factories. Three weeks
later the strike had assumed such proportions that the officers of the
United Garment Workers' District Council No. 6 were asking the Women's
Trade Union League for speakers. The League organized its own Strike
Committee to collect money, assist the pickets and secure publicity.
At the instance of the League also an independent Citizens' Committee
was formed.

In time of sorest need was found efficient leadership. The
garment-workers of Chicago, in their earlier struggles with the
manufacturers, had had no such powerful combination to assist them as
came to their aid now, when a Joint Strike Conference controlled
the situation, with representatives upon it from the United Garment
Workers of America International Executive Board, from the Chicago
District Council of the same organization, from the Special Order
Garment Workers, the Ready Made Garment Workers, the Chicago
Federation of Labor and the Women's Trade Union League. The American
Federation of Labor sent their organizer, Emmett Flood, the untiringly
courageous and the ever hopeful.

The first step to be taken was to place before the public in clear and
simple form the heterogeneous mass of grievances complained of. The
Women's Trade Union League invited about a dozen of the girls to tell
their story over a simple little breakfast. Within a week the story
told to a handful was printed and distributed broadcast, prefaced, as
it was, by an admirable introduction by the late Miss Katharine Coman,
of Wellesley College, who happened to be in Chicago, and who was
acting as chairman of the grievance committee. The Citizens'
Committee, headed by Professor George Mead, followed with a statement,
admitting the grievances and justifying the strike.

From then on the story lived on the front page of all the newspapers,
and speakers to address unions, meetings of strikers, women's clubs
and churches were in constant demand. Here again, the suffragist and
the socialist women showed where their sympathies lay and of what
mettle they were made. Visiting speakers, such as Miss Margaret
Bondfield and Mrs. Philip Snowden, took their turn also. The socialist
women of Chicago issued a special strike edition of the _Daily
Socialist_. With the help of the striking girls as "newsies" they
gathered in the city on one Saturday the handsome sum of $3,345.
Another group of very poor Poles sent in regularly about two hundred
dollars per week, sometimes the bulk of it in nickels and dimes. A
sewing gathering composed of old ladies in one of the suburbs sewed
industriously for weeks on quilts and coverings for the strikers. Some
small children in a Wisconsin village were to have had a goose for
their Christmas dinner, but hearing of little children who might have
no dinner, sent the price of the bird, one dollar and sixty-five
cents, into the strikers' treasury.

At first strike pay was handed out every Friday from out of the funds
of the United Garment Workers. But on Friday, November 11, the number
of applicants for strike pay was far beyond what it was possible to
handle in the cramped office quarters. Through some misunderstanding,
which has to this day never been explained, the crowd, many thousands
of men, women and children, were denied admittance to the large wheat
pit of the Open Board of Trade, which, it was understood, had been
reserved for their use. It was a heart-rending sight, as from early
morning till late afternoon they waited in the halls and corridors and
outside in the streets. At first in dumb patience and afterwards in
bewilderment, but all along with unexampled gentleness and quietness.

At this point, Mr. John Fitzpatrick, president of the Chicago
Federation of Labor, took hold of a situation already difficult, and
which might soon have become dangerous. He explained to the crowd that
everyone would be attended to in their various district halls, and
that all vouchers already out would be redeemed. This relieved the
tension, but the Joint Strike Committee were driven to take over at
once the question of relief, so that none should be reduced to accept
that hunger bargain, which, as Mrs. Robins put it, meant the surrender
of civilization.

With such an immense number of strike-bound families to support,
the utmost economy of resources was necessary, and it was resolved
hereafter to give out as little cash as possible, but to follow the
example of the United Mine Workers and others and open commissary
stations. This plan was carried out, and more than any other one plan,
saved the day. Benefits were handed over, in the form of groceries on
a fixed ration scale. As far as we know, such a plan had never before
been adapted to the needs of women and children, nor carried out by
organized labor for the benefit of a large unorganized group. Of
the economy of the system there is no question, seeing that a
well-organized committee can always purchase supplies in quantities at
wholesale price, sometimes at cost price, and frequently can, as was
done in this instance, draw upon the good feeling of merchants and
dealers, and receive large contributions of bread, flour, coal and
other commodities. Commissary stations were established in different
localities. Here is a sample ration as furnished at one of the stores,
although, thanks to the kindness of friends, the allowance actually
supplied was of a much more varied character:

Bread 18 loaves
Coffee 1 lb.
Sugar 5 lbs.
Beans 5 lbs.
Oatmeal 2 pkgs. (large)
Ham 10 lbs.

For Italians, oatmeal was replaced by spaghetti, and Kosher food for
those of the orthodox Jewish faith was arranged for through orders
upon local grocery stores and kosher butchers in the Jewish quarter.
The tickets entitling to supplies were issued through the shop
chairman at the local halls to those strikers known to be in greatest

The commissary plan, however, still left untouched such matters as
rent, fuel, gas, and likewise the necessities of the single young men
and girls. Also the little babies and the nursing mothers, who needed
fresh milk, had to be thought of and provided for. There were certain
strictly brought up, self-respecting little foreign girls who
explained with tears that they could not take an order on a restaurant
where there were strange people about, because "it would not be
decent," a terrible criticism on so many of our public eating places.
So a small separate fund was collected which gave two dollars a week
per head, to tide over the time of trouble for some of these sorely
pressed ones. There was a committee on milk for babies, and another on
rent, and the League handled the question of coal.

With these necessities provided for, the strikers settled down to a
test of slow endurance. Picketing went on as before, and although
arrests were numerous, and fines followed in the train of arrests, the
police and the court situation was at no time so acute as it had been
in either New York or Philadelphia.

The heroism shown by many of the strikers and their families it would
be hard to overestimate. Small inconveniences were made light of.
Families on strike themselves, or the friends of strikers would crush
into yet tighter quarters so that a couple of boys or two or three
girls out of work might crowd into the vacated room, and so have a
shelter over their heads "till the strike was over." A League member
found her way one bitter afternoon in December to one home where lay
an Italian woman in bed with a new-born baby and three other children,
aged three, four and five years respectively, surrounding her. There
was neither food nor fuel in the house. On the bed were three letters
from the husband's employer, offering to raise his old pay from
fifteen to thirty dollars per week, if he would go back to work and so
help to break the strike. The wife spoke with pride of the husband's
refusal to be a traitor. "It is not only bread we give the children.
We live not by bread alone. We live by freedom, and I will fight for
it though I die to give it to my children." And this woman's baby was
one of 1,250 babies born into strikers' homes that winter.

To me those long months were like nothing so much as like living in a
besieged city. There was the same planning for the obtaining of food,
and making it last as long as possible, the same pinched, wan faces,
the same hunger illnesses, the same laying of little ones into baby
graves. And again, besides the home problems, there was the same
difficulty of getting at the real news, knowing the meaning of what
was going on, the same heart-wearing alternations of hope and dread.

Through it all, moreover, persisted the sense that this was something
more than an industrial rising, although it was mainly so. It was
likewise the uprising of a foreign people, oppressed and despised.
It was the tragedy of the immigrant, his high hopes of liberty and
prosperity in the new land blighted, finding himself in America, but
not of America.

By the end of November the manufacturers were beginning to tire of
watching their idle machinery, and the tale of unfilled orders grew
monotonous. There began to be grumbles from the public against the
disastrous effects upon business of the long-continued struggle.
Alderman Merriam succeeded in having the City Council bring about a
conference of the parties to the strike "to the end that a just and
lasting settlement of the points in controversy may be made."

Messrs Hart, Schaffner and Marx, a firm employing in forty-eight shops
between eight and nine thousand workers, agreed to meet with the
committee and the labor leaders. After long hours of conferring
a tentative agreement was at length arrived at, signed by the
representatives of all parties, approved by the Chicago Federation
of Labor, and, when referred to the army of strikers for their
confirmation, was by them _rejected_. Indeed the great majority
refused even to vote upon it at all. This was indeed a body blow to
the hopes of peace. For the unfavorable attitude of the strikers there
were, however, several reasons. The agreement, such as it was, did not
affect quite a fourth of the whole number of workers who were out, and
a regular stampede back to work of the rest, with no guarantee at all,
was greatly to be dreaded. Again, a clause discriminating against
all who it should be decided had been guilty of violence during the
strike, gave deep offense. It was felt to be adding insult to injury,
to allude to violence during a struggle conducted so quietly and with
such dignity and self-restraint. But a further explanation lay in the
attitude of mind of the strikers themselves. The idea of compromise
was new to them, and the acceptance of any compromise was a way out of
the difficulty, that was not for one moment to be considered. Thus it
came about that a settlement that many an old experienced organization
would have accepted was ruled quite out of court by these new and
ardent converts to trade unionism, who were prepared to go on, facing
destitution, rather than yield a jot of what seemed to them an
essential principle.

Organized labor, indeed, realized fully the seriousness of the
situation. The leaders had used their utmost influence to have the
agreement accepted, and their advice had been set aside.

What view, then, was taken of this development of these central
bodies and by the affiliated trades of the city, who were all taxing
themselves severely both in time and money for the support of the

The democracy of labor was on this occasion indeed justified of its
children, and the supreme right of the strikers to make the final
decision on their own affairs and abide by the consequences was
maintained. Plans were laid for continuing the commissary stores, and
just at this stage there was received from the United Garment Workers
the sum of $4,000 for the support of the stores. The strikers were
also encouraged to hold out when on January 9 the firm of Sturm-Mayer
signed up and took back about five hundred workers. Also, a committee
of the state Senate began an inquiry into the strike, thus further
educating the public into an understanding of the causes lying back of
all the discontent, and accounting for much of the determination not
to give in.

All the same, the prospects seemed very dark, and the strikers and
their leaders had settled down to a steady, dogged resistance. It was
like nothing in the world so much as holding a besieged city, and
the outcome was as uncertain, and depended upon the possibility
of obtaining for the beleaguered ones supplies of the primitive
necessaries of life, food and fuel. And the fort was held until about
the middle of January came the news that Hart, Schaffner and Marx had
opened up negotiations, and presently an agreement was signed, and
their thousands of employes were back at work.

They were back at work under an agreement, which, while it did not,
strictly speaking, recognize the union, did not discriminate against
members of the union. Nay, as the workers had to have representation
and representatives, it was soon found that in practice it was only
through their organization that the workers could express themselves
at all.

This is not the place in which to enlarge upon the remarkable success
which has attended the working out of this memorable agreement. It is
enough to say that ever since all dealings between the firm and
their employes have been conducted upon the principle of collective

The agreement with Messrs. Hart, Schaffner and Marx was signed on
January 14, 1911, and the Joint Conference Board then bent all
its efforts towards some settlement with houses of the Wholesale
Clothiers' Association and the National Tailors' Association for the
twenty or thirty thousand strikers still out.

Suddenly, without any warning the strike was terminated. How and why
it has never been explained, even to those most interested in its
support. All that is known is that on February 3 the strike was called
off at a meeting of the Strikers' Executive Committee, at which Mr.
T.A. Rickert, president of the United Garment Workers of America, and
his organizers, were present. This was done, without consulting the
Joint Conference Board, which for fourteen weeks had had charge of
the strike, and which was composed of representatives from the United
Garment Workers of America, the Garment Workers' local District
Council, the strikers' own Executive Committee, the Chicago Federation
of Labor, and the Women's Trade Union League.

This meant the close of the struggle. Three out of the four commissary
stations were closed the following day, and the fourth a week later.

As regards the great mass of strikers then left, it was but a hunger
bargain. They had to return to work without any guarantee for fair
treatment, without any agency through which grievances could be dealt
with, or even brought before the employers. And hundreds of the
workers had not even the poor comfort that they could go back.
Business was disorganized, work was slack, and the Association houses
would not even try to make room for their rebellious employes. The
refusal of work would be made more bitter by the manner of its
refusal. Several were met with the gibe, "You're a good speaker,
go down to your halls, they want you there." One employer actually
invited a returned striker into his private office, shook hands with
him as if in welcome, and then told him it was his last visit, he
might go!

The beginning of the present stage of the industrial rebellion among
working-women in the United States may be said to have been made with
the immense garment-workers' strikes. All have been strikes of the
unorganized, the common theory that strikes must have their origin in
the mischief-breeding activities of the walking delegate finding no
confirmation here. They were strikes of people who knew not what
a union was, making protest in the only way known to them against
intolerable conditions, and the strikers were mostly very young women.
One most significant fact was that they had the support of a national
body of trade-union women, banded together in a federation, working
on the one hand with organized labor, and on the other bringing in as
helpers large groups of outside women. Such measure of success as came
to the strikers, and the indirect strengthening of the woman's cause,
which has since borne such fruit, was in great part due to the
splendid reinforcement of organized labor, through the efforts of this
league of women's unions.

I need touch but lightly on the strikes in other branches of the
sewing trades, where the history of the uprising was very similar.

In July, 1910, 70,000 cloak-makers of New York were out on strike
for nine weeks asking shorter hours, increase of wages; and sanitary
conditions in their workshops. All these and some minor demands were
in the end granted by the Manufacturers' Association, who controlled
the trade, but the settlement nearly went to pieces on the rock of
union recognition. An arrangement was eventually arrived at, on the
suggestion of Mr. Louis Brandeis, that the principle of preference
to unionists, first enforced in Australia, should be embodied in the
agreement. Under this plan, union standards as to hours of labor,
rates of wages and working conditions prevail, and, when hiring help,
union men of the necessary qualifications and degree of skill must
have precedence over non-union men. With the signing of the agreement
the strike ended.

January, 1913, saw another group of garment-workers on strike in New
York. This time there were included men and women in the men's garment
trades, also the white-goods-workers, the wrapper and kimono-makers,
and the ladies' waist-and dress-makers. There is no means of knowing
how many workers were out at any one time, but the number was
estimated at over 100,000. The white-goods-workers embraced the
very youngest girls, raw immigrants from Italy and Russia, whom the
manufacturers set to work as soon as they were able to put plain seams
through the machine, and this was all the skill they ever attained.
These children from their extreme youth and inexperience were
peculiarly exposed to danger from the approaches of cadets of the
underworld, and an appeal went out for a large number of women to
patrol the streets, and see that the girls at least had the protection
of their presence.

The employers belonging to the Dress and Waist Manufacturers'
Association made terms with their people, after a struggle, under an
agreement very similar to that described above in connection with the

One of the most satisfactory results of the strikes among the
garment-workers has been the standardizing of the trade wherever an
agreement has been procured and steadily adhered to. It is not only
that hours are shorter and wages improved, and the health and safety
of the worker guarded, and work spread more evenly over the entire
year, but the harassing dread of the cut without notice, and of
wholesale, uncalled-for dismissals is removed. Thus is an element
of certainty and a sense of method and order introduced. Above all,
home-work is abolished.

In an unstandardized trade there can be no certainty as to wages and
hours, while there is a constant tendency to level down under the
pressure of unchecked competition from both above and below. There is
too frequent breaking of factory laws and ignoring of the city's fire
and health ordinances, because the unorganized workers dare not, on
peril of losing their jobs, insist that laws and ordinances were made
to be kept and not broken. Also, in any trade where a profit can be
made by giving out work, as in the sewing trades, we find, unless this
is prevented by organization or legislation, an enormous amount of
home-work, ill-paid and injurious to all, cutting down the wages
of the factory hands, and involving the wholesale exploitation of

Home-work the unions will have none of, and therefore, wherever the
collective bargain has been struck and kept, there we find the giving
out of work from the factory absolutely forbidden, the home guarded
from the entrance of the contractor, motherhood respected, babyhood
defended from the outrage of child labor, and a higher standard of
living secured for the family by the higher and securer earnings of
the normal breadwinners.

Everywhere on the continent the results of these strikes have been
felt, women's strikes as they have been for the most part. The trade
unionists of this generation have been encouraged in realizing
how much fight there was in these young girls. All labor has been
inspired. In trade after trade unorganized workers have learned the
meaning of the words "the solidarity of labor," and it has become
to them an article of faith. Whether it has been button-workers in
Muscatine, or corset-workers in Kalamazoo, shoe-workers in St. Louis,
or textile-workers in Lawrence, whether the struggle has been crowned
with success or crushed into the dust of failure, the workers have
been heartened to fight the more bravely because of the thrilling
example set them by the garment-workers, and have thus brought the day
of deliverance for all a little nearer hand.

Again, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the public has been taught
many lessons. The immense newspaper publicity, which could never have
been obtained except for a struggle on a stupendous scale, has proved
a campaign of education for young and old, for business man and
farmer, for lawyer and politician, for housewife and for student.
It has left the manufacturer less cocksure of the soundness of his
individualist philosophy. More often is he found explaining and even
apologizing for industrial conditions, which of yore he would have
ignored as non-existent. He can no longer claim from the public his
aforetime undisputed privilege of running his own business as he
pleases, without concern for either the wishes or the welfare of
employes and community.

The results are also seen in the fact that it is now so much easier
to get the workers' story across the footlights in smaller local
struggles, such as those of the porcelain-workers in Trenton and! the
waitresses in Chicago; in the increasing success in putting through
legislation for the limitation of hours and the regulation of wages
for the poorest paid in state after state. By state or by nation
one body after another is set the task of doing something towards
accounting for the unceasing industrial unrest, towards solving the
general industrial problem. Even if to some of us the remedial
plans outlined seem to fall far short of the mark, they still are a
beginning and are a foretaste of better things ahead.

The conferences and discussions on unemployment are an admission,
however belated, that a society which has, in the interests of the
privileged classes, permitted the exploitation of the worker, must

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