Women’s Trade Union League and Its Leaders
About this Collection
Introduction: Papers of the Womens Trade Union League and Its Principal Leaders
The Womens Trade Union League grew out of a commingling of three social currents of early twentieth century America: the labor movement, the womens movement, and the urge for social reform that flourished in the Progressive Era before World War I. It was founded in Boston in 1903 during the annual convention of the American Federation of Labor. The founders came from two groups which had met in the settlement house movement: middle-class advocates of social justice who had seen at first hand the need for labor organization, and working women, led by Mary Kenney OSullivan of Boston, who were themselves active in unions. Within a year, local branches of the WTUL had been established in Boston, Chicago, and New York. By 1907 Margaret Dreier Robins, the well-to-do daughter of a Brooklyn businessman, had emerged as the Leagues national leader; as president from 1907 to 1922 she guided it through the period of its most active work. Among her close associates were several working-class women who served as officers of the national or local Leagues, including the eloquent Leonora OReilly of New York and Agnes Nestor and Mary Anderson of Chicago. After 1922, working women took over the leadership; Rose Schneiderman, a veteran leader of strikes in the needle trades, served as national president from 1926 to 1950.
This dual membership of working and middle-class women made the WTUL unique among social reform organizations of its day. Most middle-class reformers sought to "uplift" the poor, to inculcate their own middle-class values. Those in the WTUL, by contrast, put themselves at the service of the labor movement, giving full loyalty to its principles and methods and to the leadership of the American Federation of Labor. The Leagues constitution specified that the majority of the officers and executive board members be trade unionists. Union members were the norm; middle-class members from the start were known as "allies."
The basic bond between the two groups was their womanhood: the WTUL was an effort by women to aid women. In the early twentieth century, when most workers lived precariously, and when even the skilled craft unions found their bargaining power uncertain, women workers were the weakest of the lot. Many came from immigrant families living on the edge of subsistence. Economic necessity drove them into the work force at twelve or thirteen. Lacking skills, they found low-paying jobs in crowded, unsanitary factories, with long working hours and often, as in the garment trades, seasonal layoffs.
The WTUL sought to counter the exploitation of working women by a twofold program: to organize women into trade unions, and to secure the passage of protective legislation regulating their hours and working conditions and setting minimum wage standards. The first goal for a time received greater emphasis. Spontaneous strikes among unorganized women offered the best opportunities for League organizers, as in the citywide strike of shirtwaist makers in New York in 1909-10 (the "uprising of the 20,000") or the mass walkout in the mens clothing industry of Chicago in 1910-11. In these and other conflicts, WTUL officers and organizers walked in picket lines, helped with strike strategy, and, through their middle-class membership, raised funds, gained favorable publicity, and helped win community support. This work reached its peak in the decade before Americas entry into World War I.
But organizing women into unions proved more difficult than the WTUL had anticipated. The turnover of workers, as young women dropped out to get married, the irregularity of employment in the seasonal trades, and the resistance of many male unionists made it difficult to keep a newly organized union alive. Appeals to Samuel Gompers and the AF of L brought little assistance, either in appointing women organizers or in pressing national unions to admit women. Thus a basic tension grew up between the WTULs two loyalties, to the labor movement and to feminism, a tension never wholly resolved. One result was that the League, after World War I, increasingly turned away from union organizing in favor of its second goal, the passage of protective legislation.
The records of the WTUL and its leaders that have been microfilmed are of immediate interest to students of womens history and labor history, but they throw light as well on other aspects of the times during which the League was active. From the start the WTUL supported the suffrage movement. During the final stage of the suffrage drive the League helped bring working women into the movement and helped win the support of male unionists. Other developments touched upon include the role of women in government agencies during World War I; the founding and work of the federal Womens Bureau, headed by a veteran WTUL member, Mary Anderson; and the split within the womens movement over the Equal Rights Amendment, which the WTUL and many other womens groups opposed as a threat to protective legislation.
The microfilmed papers also document the particular lives and interests of several WTUL leaders. Margaret Dreier Robins, besides her labor work, took part in the Progressive party campaign of 1912 and the Republican campaigns of 1916, 1920, and 1928, and in the postwar movements for the outlawry of war and the defense of prohibition. The papers of Leonora OReilly, the daughter of Irish immigrants, trace her continuing education and the application of her keen and original mind to such topics as vocational education and the search for a mediated end to World War I, as well as her primary loyalties to the labor movement and feminism.
The Womens Trade Union League papers thus illuminate a number of aspects of twentieth century history, but their relevance is by no means confined to the past. Women in the American labor movement still have special concerns, as witness the present-day Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW). And only since the recent death of George Meany has the AFL-CIO placed a woman unionist on its executive council, a goal sought half a century ago by the WTUL.
When the project to microfilm the WTUL papers was launched by Radcliffe College in the spring of 1975 it broke new ground in the field of documentary editing. Most previous microfilm editions had consisted of a single manuscript collection. A few, inspired by the letterpress editions of papers of the Founding Fathers, had sought to assemble on microfilm all known letters of a particular individual, gathering for this purpose photocopies from a wide variety of libraries. The present project, which received major funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and subsidiary funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, was the first multilibrary edition to center on a particular topic, in this case the Womens Trade Union League. With the cooperation of seven different repositories, it has assembled in one edition the principal manuscript collections pertaining to the League.
The collections vary in size and in scope. Two represent the surviving files of the National WTUL. When the League disbanded in 1950, the main portion of its files went to the Library of Congress and a smaller segment to the Schlesinger Library. The edition also includes the only other substantial body of official records still extant, those of the New York WTUL.
Fortunately for the history of the WTUL, these institutional records could be supplemented and fleshed out by substantial collections of personal papers. Foremost among them is the large and comprehensive collection of the papers of Margaret Dreier Robins, the guiding force of the League during its formative and peak years. Of considerable depth and richness also are the papers of Leonora OReilly, which illuminate both the Leagues New York activities and OReillys own special intensity and inspiration. The Rose Schneiderman Papers, though relatively sparse, further document the New York scene; the Agnes Nestor Papers do the same for League activities in Chicago. Mary Andersons papers, although confined to her years as head of the federal Womens Bureau, thus omitting her earlier experience as an organizer for the Chicago and National WTUL, record her continuing participation in the League and some of its inner concerns. Smaller collections give glimpses into the history of the Boston and Chicago Leagues and into the life of Mary Kenney OSullivan, co-founder of the National WTUL. As a further resource for study of the League, composite files have been assembled of the surviving serial publications of the National WTUL and of its local branches.
The contents of the various collections supplement and reinforce each other, sometimes in unexpected ways. The National WTUL collection in the Library of Congress contains the most complete set of executive board records: minutes of boarding meetings, official communications sent to board members. Yet a few additional items turn up in the relevant portions of the Robins and OReilly subject files. Personal correspondence between the president and the secretary seems to have been retained in the national office files only for two or three years; but substantial segments of that correspondence during the presidencies of Maud Swartz and Rose Schneiderman may be found in the New York WTUL records, interfiled with their local correspondence.
These and other points about the content of the various collections are spelled out in detail in the present guide. The introductory matter for each collection includes the following elements, either separately or in combination: a biographical sketch or institutional history (for the papers of individuals or of local Leagues), a bibliographical note about related sources, some account of the history of the collection, an overall description and assessment of the collection, and detailed notes on the material within each reel.
The guide begins with a section of background material on the League as a whole, including a historical essay and an annotated bibliography. It ends with an index, which will facilitate locating material about a particular individual, topic, or organization.
Some comments about the editorial procedures and technical aspects of this edition may be helpful. The Library of Congress chose to have its own staff process, film, and distribute its collection of National WTUL records. All other collections have been prepared for microfilming by members of the editorial staff. The preparatory work included some rearrangement of material, mostly minor but occasionally substantial, to make the groupings more logical or coherent and more readily usable in microfilmed form. For the microfilm user, who works with a fixed sequence of images rather than a folder of individual documents, the precise order of documents assumes greater importance than for the library researcher. In this edition, both in correspondence files and to a large degree also in subject groups, items have been arranged in exact chronological sequence. Where more than one letter exists for a given day, the letters for that day are arranged alphabetically by the name of the writer. If enclosures accompany a letter, they are filmed immediately following the letter, even though they bear an earlier date.
Handwritten letters on folded sheets occur frequently in these collections. The pages have normally been filmed individually in the order in which they were written, except when two inner pages fall side by side in the proper sequence and alignment. (In a few cases, two pages not in sequence but readily distinguishable have also been filmed together.) For the most part, however, no attempt has been made to film separately the closing lines of a handwritten letter that carry over into the margins of the first page, a possibility that should be kept in mind when a letter appears to end uncompleted.
Envelopes are occasionally found in manuscript collections. With a few inadvertent exceptions, these have not been filmed unless they provide significant information, such as providing the date of a letter or recording a temporary address.
Some variations in editorial usage occur among the various collections. These result from differences in the collections themselves and from the fact that preparatory processing took place over a period of several years and was done by different persons. Throughout, however, the effort has been made to anticipate ambiguities that might confront the researcher using the microfilmed images and to clarify them by notes on the documents themselves or by "targets" inserted above or below particular documents. Thus when a letter or other document is incomplete in the original manuscript collection, that fact is noted. In some collections, but not others, when the text of a letter mentions an enclosure that is not present in the collection, a target to that effect has been inserted.
The researcher can in any case rest assured that any apparent gap is in the original manuscript collection and is not an error of filming. All microfilm reels were carefully checked against the original documents, and errors of omission were corrected by the splicing in of new film. A few errors of placement or sequence of items have been noted in Errata on the relevant reels, placed after the reel note. Since, however, microfilm is much less readily corrected than printed matter, it is not practical to impose upon microfilmed matter a comparable level of tidiness. Minor flaws, such as the occasional repetition of an item, either inadvertently or through correcting an error, or small discrepancies in the frame numbers, have therefore been let stand without comment.
The project has been carried through by a small staff: the editor, working full time, and two assistant editors who found time in their teaching careers for particular assignments. Robin Miller Jacoby and Nancy Schrom Dye brought to the project their special knowledge of the WTUL, respectively at the national and New York level. Each has contributed significant material to the guide, Jacoby the historical essay and annotated bibliography on the WTUL and Dye the biographical sketch of Rose Schneiderman and the essay on the New York WTUL. Each also assumed primary responsibility for the microfilming of two collections, Jacoby in Chicago, Dye in New York, and each found a well-qualified assistant. Nancy Dye prepared the Rose Schneiderman Papers for microfilming and, with Esther Katz, the New York WTUL records. Robin Jacoby and Sarah H. Gordon prepared the Agnes Nestor Papers, and Gordon prepared the Chicago WTUL collection. The Library of Congress collection, as indicated, was processed and filmed by that librarys staff. All other collections were prepared by the editor. Clerical assistance was provided by the Schlesinger Library. The selection of filming laboratories in various cities and the setting of specifications was also the responsibility of the editor. In the case of the Robins Papers at the University of Florida, where no commercial filming service was available, the editor hired and supervised a series of camera operators who shared the use of the universitys microfilm camera.
The filming of collections by several different laboratories has resulted in some variations in format and exposure. A standard reduction ratio of either 14 of 15 to 1 has been used, with only minor exceptions.
Any list of acknowledgments must begin with the librarians who gave permission for their collections to be reviewed and filmed and whose helpfulness greatly facilitated that process: Gustave A. Harrer, director of libraries, and Laura V. Monti, chairwoman of the rare books and manuscripts department, at the University of Florida Libraries; Robert L. Brubaker, chief librarian, and Archie Motley, curator of manuscripts, at the Chicago Historical Society; Dorothy Swanson, Tamiment librarian (now head of special collections) at the New York University Library; Gloria Weinrich, senior librarian of the Division of Research and Statistics, New York State Department of Labor; Mary Lynn McCree, editor of the Jane Addams Papers, and Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, assistant manuscript librarian, of the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle; and, at the Library of Congress, John C. Broderick, chief of the Manuscript Division, and Charles G. LaHood, chief of the Photoduplication Service. Simone Reagor of the National Endowment for the Humanities helped the project take shape in the application stage. Fred Shelley of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission gave sage advice and warm support in the planing and early work of the project. His successor, Roger A. Bruns, and Mary A. Giunta of the Commission staff have given timely aid.
Some assistance has been of a more personal character. The hospitality of Laura Monti and of Professor David M. Chalmers added much to the editors sojourn in Florida. Two other members of the library staff there, Howard Huseman, associate librarian, and Robert Senesac, microfilmer, went out of their way to help solve technical problems connected with microfilming the Robins Papers. Lisa von Borowsky, the Robinses heir, provided a guided tour of the former Robins estate, Chinsegut Hill, and she and Theodore Dreier gave their consent for microfilming the Robins collection. Elizabeth Payne Moore, while working on her doctoral dissertation, sent abstracts of Margaret Robins material from the Raymond Robins Papers at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin; her research also afforded an enjoyable opportunity to compare notes about the Dreier-Robins circle.
Special mention should be made of Andrea Hindings Womens History Sources (1979). This incomparable director of manuscript holdings has enriched at several points the bibliographical portions of this guide.
It is a particular pleasure to acknowledge the assistance of Radcliffe College and its Schlesinger Library. They sponsored and guided the original grant application; they have provided office space and a wide variety of supporting services; and the college has, through cost-sharing, contributed a portion of the projects budget. Special thanks go to President Matina S. Horner of Radcliffe, Louise Donovan, secretary of the college, and Charlotte McGhee, budgetmaker extraordinary, and to the knowledgeable staff of the Schlesinger Library, particularly Patricia Miller King, director, Elizabeth Owen Shenton, assistant to the director, Eva Moseley, curator of manuscripts, and Katherine Kraft, archivist.
The editorial staff of Research Publications, Inc. (now Primary Source Microfilm, an imprint of Gale) has directed the sometimes complicated processes of splicing corrections and introductory matter into the microfilm negatives and designing and composing the guide.
Edward T. James
Introduction: The Womens Trade Union League
By Robin Miller Jacoby
A concern with the woman worker, a mixed-class membership, and a dual commitment to feminism and trade unionism combined to give the Womens Trade Union League (WTUL) a distinct identity among the social reform organizations of the Progressive era. Founded in 1903, the WTUL remained in existence until 1950, but the steady decline in its membership and financial base that began in the mid-1920s make the organizations first two decades the most interesting and important of its forty-seven-year history. In accord with the feminist vision of bringing together women of different social classes, it included from the start both middle-class women (known in the League as "allies") and working-class women. They shared the goal of improving the position of women workers, the vast majority of whom were unskilled, poorly paid, and unorganized.
The WTUL responded to the problems of women in the industrial labor force through three different but overlapping sets of activities. It sought to organize them into trade unions; it lobbied for legislation that would regulate their hours, wages, and working conditions; and it developed educational programs, aimed at women workers, trade union men, and non-working women, to spread knowledge of the special problems of women workers and of the value of organization and legislation on their behalf.
The WTULs class composition made it unique among social reform and feminist organizations of the early twentieth century. It alone reflected in its membership an actual as well as a theoretical commitment to a female solidarity transcending class lines. This feminist ideology also underlay the WTULs unceasing efforts to persuade other womens organizations to give attention in their programs to the needs and problems of women workers.
Feminism, however, also calls for equal rights and opportunities for women within class-based, sexually mixed settings. It was this dimension of feminism that motivated the WTULs attempts to increase the number of women in the predominantly male labor movement, both in the rank and file and in the leadership. Within the labor movement, sympathy for or interest in the feminist goals of equal rights and sexual integration was superficial at best, but the WTUL never doubted that unionization and collective action were ultimately the most effective methods of improving the condition of workers.
The founding of the WTUL reflected both its cross-class nature and a transatlantic inspiration. The idea originated with William English Walling, a wealthy young socialist whose experiences as a factory inspector and settlement-house resident had interested him in the problems of women workers and made him a strong supporter of the labor movement. While on a visit to England in 1902, he sought out the leaders of the British Womens Trade Union League, which had been established in 1874 (originally as the Womens Protective and Provident League) by a coalition of trade unionists and social reformers. Walling was impressed by the philosophy and work of the British League and upon his return began exploring the possibility of creating an American counterpart.1
One of the most enthusiastic supporters of Wallings idea was Mary Kenney OSullivan, a bookbinder by trade who had been briefly, in 1892, employed as an organizer by the American Federation of Labor (AF of L) and who had long had a special interest in the problems of women workers. Married to a Boston trade unionist, she was involved in both the labor and settlement-house movements. A series of positive experiences with female social reformers, beginning at Hull House in Chicago, had convinced her that women outside the working class were capable of caring deeply about and working effectively for the unionization of women. She therefore welcomed Wallings proposal and suggested that a special meeting be called in conjunction with the 1903 AF of L convention in Boston to discuss plans for an American WTUL. She and Walling made the necessary arrangements and invited members of the AF of L executive council, convention delegates from trades employing large numbers of women, and a number of Boston-area social reformers and settlement residents. Not many AF of L officers or delegates attended the three meetings, held on November 14, 17, and 19, but most of the social reformers and settlement workers who had been invited were present.
By the end of the third session, the Womens Trade Union League of America had been officially formed, officers elected, and a constitution adopted. The founders had decided that it would be in the best interest of the new organization to have nationally known women among the first slate of officers. Mary Morton Kehew, a prominent Boston social reformer, was elected president; Jane Addams, founder and head of Hull House, vice president; Mary Kenney OSullivan, secretary; and Mary Donovan, secretary of the Lynn (Massachusetts) Central Labor Union, treasurer. The first executive board consisted of two social reformers and three trade unionists: Mary McDowell of the University of Chicago Settlement, who had been active in organizing women in the Chicago meat packing industry; Lillian Wald, head of the Nurses Settlement on Henry Street in New York, which had organized some small womens unions in New York in the 1890s; Mary Freitas, a textile worker from Lowell, Massachusetts; Leonora OReilly of New York, who after many years as a shirtwaist maker and labor advocate had become a vocational educator; and Ellen Lindstrom, a garment workers organizer from Chicago. Yet the intent from the start was to have working women centrally involved. The Leagues constitution stipulated that a majority of the members of both national and local executive boards must be trade unionists. Apart from Mary McDowell, the social reformers among the initial officers took little active role in the League and soon gave way to other leaders. Increasingly, these leaders were trade union women, and most of the reformers who remained, like Margaret Dreier Robins, had a primary commitment to the League and the labor movement.
The structure and procedures of the WTUL developed in response to the ideas and experiences of its early members and by 1909 had taken a relatively clear shape. National headquarters were established in Chicago (and remained there until moved in 1930 to Washington, D.C.), and considerable energy was devoted to creating and sustaining local branches in various cities. The number of local leagues fluctuated over the years, but they were consistently concentrated in the East and Midwest. The New York, Chicago, and Boston Leagues, all established in 1904, were the earliest ones and were the strongest and most active locals throughout the WTULs existence.2 For two summers (1907 and 1908) the National WTUL sponsored simultaneous Interstate Conferences of women trade unionists in Chicago, New York, and Boston.
The focus of authority within the WTUL was at first a somewhat informal body called the national conference, made up of the officers and executive board and such other members as might attend. It met once or twice a year to consider policy questions and elect officers for the coming year. Beginning in 1908, the meetings narrowed to the executive board alone (including the officers). Not until 1909 did the League inaugurate what became its most visible activity, the biennial national convention.3 Each local League sent representatives, and various feminist labor organizations were invited to send fraternal delegates--a term used in the labor movement for representatives of sympathetic organizations who do not have a the right to vote but are allowed to participate in convention discussions. It was the convention thereafter which elected the national officers and executive board.
Although there were a number of women--allies and trade unionists--who essentially devoted their lives to the WTUL, the individual most responsible for developing it into a nationally known organization was Margaret Dreier Robins. The daughter of a wealthy German immigrant to New York, Robins came to her interest in industrial conditions through involvement in a variety of local charity and social reform organizations. She joined the New York WTUL during its first year, became its president in 1905, moved to Chicago later that year after her marriage to Raymond Robins, a prominent and well-to-do social activist, and in 1907 was elected president of both the Chicago WTUL and the National WTUL. She left the latter post in 1922, when at the age of fifty-three she retired to a home in Florida, but retained interest in the League and kept in close touch with her former colleagues until her death in 1945. A sister of Margaret Robins, Mary Dreier, was a mainstay of the New York WTUL throughout its history.
Robins was pleased and proud that after her retirement women with trade union backgrounds took over the leadership of the WTUL. This group, whose leadership skills had been developed primarily through their association with the League, included Mary Anderson, a Chicago shoe worker who became the first head of the federal Womens Bureau, and Agnes Nestor, a glove worker who was for many years president of the Chicago WTUL. The two most important figures of the group, however, were Rose Schneiderman and Elisabeth Christman. Schneiderman, the national president from 1926 to 1950, had joined the New York WTUL in 1905 when she was twenty-three. Her experiences as a lining stitcher in a cap factory where the men were organized but the women were not had made her a strong advocate of female unionization; it was she and a friend who first organized the women. Within a few years the contribution of a wealthy ally enabled her to leave her factory job for a salaried position as an organizer for the New York WTUL. She became president of that League in 1918 and was for many years also a member of the national executive board. Christman, a glove worker from Chicago, was active in both the Chicago WTUL and the International Glove Workers Union and served the National WTUL with extraordinary loyalty and dedication as executive secretary from 1921 to 1950. Energetic and extremely conscientious, she bore the major responsibility for keeping the League alive and active in its declining years.
The work of the WTUL, when its history is viewed as a whole, falls into three main categories: unionization, education, and legislation. These three approaches to the problems of women workers will be discussed in sequence, but it is important to keep in mind that they were closely linked and occurred more or less simultaneously, especially during the WTULs first two decades.
Of the three approaches, the WTUL considered organizing women into trade unions primary--the only ultimately effective way to change their long hours, low pay, and miserable working conditions. Once women were organized, the WTUL assumed, they could act collectively to make and sustain improvements. Furthermore, it was only as union members that women could become involved and respected members of the labor movement. WTUL ally members saw organizing campaigns as a way of helping women workers to help themselves; they prided themselves on attacking what they perceived as the root of the problems of women workers, rather than occupying themselves with more socially conventional charitable palliatives.4
WTUL members discovered, however, that despite the commitment, enthusiasm, and energy they brought to the task, organizing women into strong and stable trade unions and increasing their participation in the labor movement were far more difficult than they had anticipated. In contrast to men, women workers were characteristically young and single and tended to think of themselves, and to be regarded by others, as only temporary members of the labor force. As both cause and effect of this pattern, women were overwhelmingly clustered in the least skilled, lowest paying jobs, often in industries with highly seasonal production schedules.
The problem was compounded by the labor movements acceptance of prevailing middle-class attitudes regarding the social roles and behavior appropriate to women. Despite certain rhetorical declarations of commitment and concern on the part of its leaders, the AF of L and its constituent unions showed little active interest in bringing women workers into the labor movement and were on the whole unresponsive to and unsupportive of the WTULs effort
This behavior stemmed in part from the AF of Ls focus on the development of unions based on craft rather than industrial divisions; it was primarily concerned with organizing skilled workers, who, as the highest paid members of the labor force, were in a better position to pay the dues necessary to develop strong and stable unions. But it was also in large measure the result of cultural values which did not encourage women or men to take womens identity as workers seriously, a critical prerequisite for an interest in unionization. Moreover, much of the behavior associated with being an active unionist--going to meetings (often at night and in such places as saloons, social halls, and union offices, all considered male preserves), speaking in public, asserting ones individual and group rights--conflicted with widely accepted norms of feminine behavior. A contemporary portrayal of a male unionists attitude toward his daughters participation in strike and union activities, although fictionalized, rings true: "I dont think its a womans place to be hangin around street corners.Union is all good and well by itself, but it was never meant for the woman."5
The WTUL attempted to combat these obstacles in a variety of ways. It exerted continuous, albeit deferential, pressure on the AF of L to pay more attention to the unionization of women. For example, it regularly urged the AF of L to employ women as organizers, arguing that women tended to be more effective than men in bringing women workers into unions. The National WTUL regularly requested financial support from the AF of L and its constituent unions. In the early 1920s the League proposed (in vain) that the AF of L grant federal charters, as it had done in certain cases for black workers, to groups of women who were refused admission to unions in their trades.
The WTUL, particularly at the local league level, also undertook unionization campaigns on its own, often in the immediate aftermath of spontaneous labor unrest among unorganized groups of women workers. These campaigns, however, rarely led to stable or lasting organizations. The WTULs inadequacies as a labor organization--the initial inexperience and naiveté of its members and their allegiance to AF of L principles and practices without seriously considering whether other approaches to unionization might be more appropriate for women workers--contributed to this failure.6 However, the seasonal, unskilled, and relatively temporary employment of women workers made for considerable fluctuation in the location and types of jobs most women held in the course of their years in the labor force. Thus, even when initial organizing efforts were successful, it was extremely difficult to consolidate and build on such gains from one season to the next.
Fledgling womens unions were also and more seriously hampered by the indifference, if not outright rejection, they so frequently encountered from the national unions of their respective trades. A typical instance was the refusal of the Bakery and Confectionery Workers Union to accept a group of about 100 candy workers organized by the Philadelphia WTUL.7 When hostile employers began to fire the unaffiliated unions leaders, the Philadelphia League once again appealed to the national union for advice and assistance, only to be told, after a prolonged silence, that it would not take the time to help these women since its officers were convinced that "girls do not stick together."8 The Philadelphia WTUL was not strong enough to sustain the nascent union on its own, and the Candy Workers League of Philadelphia dissolved shortly thereafter.
The WTULs most effective and visible contribution to women in the industrial labor force was its support for strikes by women workers. Within the first two years of the Leagues existence, the Chicago WTUL intervened on the side of striking corset workers in Aurora, Illinois; the New York League aided collar starchers in the upstate town of Troy; and the Boston WTUL extended its services to textile workers on strike in Fall River and to carpet weavers in Roxbury. The National WTULs section of the Union Labor Advocate and the pages of Life and Labor, the monthly journal the League began publishing in 1911, attest to the extent of labor unrest among women workers and indicate the kinds of support the WTUL and its local leagues provided over the years during these strikes of largely unorganized workers. The WTUL saw its participation in these strikes as a way of strengthening its position within the male labor movement as well as helping women workers and winning them to unionization.
The biggest and best known strike in which the WTUL was involved, and the one that stands out in retrospect as having brought the League closest to fulfilling its multiple goals, was the 1909-10 strike of New York shirtwaist makers.9 The New York WTUL played a crucial role in this "uprising of the 20,000." Its members joined picket lines, organized legal aid services and provided bail money for arrested strikers, and ran a publicity and information bureau in the strike headquarters. WTUL members also spoke to numerous civic, religious, and womens organizations, describing the conditions that led to the mass strike, explaining why unionization was so important, and appealing for funds to sustain the workers during what turned out to be an eleven-week struggle.
Appealing especially to suffragists, club women, and female college students in the name of sisterhood, the WTUL raised more than $20,000 for the strike fund and successfully encouraged students from Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Wellesley to join the striking workers on the picket lines. Public interest in the strike grew when women such as Anne Morgan, daughter of the banker J. Pierpont Morgan, and Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, a wealthy leader of New York society, joined the ranks of strike supporters. Moved to action after hearing WTUL members talk about the strike, Morgan volunteered for picket duty and also offered to help with League publicity. Belmont, an active suffragist, rented the Hippodrome Theater for a mass rally to publicize and support the strikers cause.
In addition to serving as the primary link between the strikers and the public, the New York WTUL worked very closely with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) to systematize the strike and bring the unorganized strikers into the union, which had been founded in 1900. Local 25, the waistmakers union, had fewer than 100 members in the summer of 1909; by mid-fall, as a result of worker unrest and WTUL and ILGWU organizing efforts, there were more than 1,000; and by the end of the strike in February 1910, nearly 20,000 workers, at least 80 percent of them women, belonged to Local 25, making it the largest in the ILGWU.10
Even thought he strikers did not win all their demands, the strike was generally considered a stunning success. The WTUL was justifiably proud of the role its New York branch had played and viewed this episode as a portent of the possibilities for unionizing women workers, working harmoniously with the labor movement, and arousing cross-class support for the woman workers problems and struggles. But though the League gave its support to a number of later strikes--among the best known being the 1910-11 strike of workers in the mens garment industry in Chicago and the 1912 strike of textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts--its success in the shirtwaist strike was rarely fully replicated, for reasons both intrinsic and extrinsic to the League. Discouraged and disillusioned, the WTUL increasingly turned its attention to education and legislation. Through them it hoped to create conditions favorable to the further unionization of women workers.
An important vehicle for the Leagues educational efforts was Life and Labor, the monthly journal initiated in January 1911. It was aimed not only at women workers but at middle-class women and trade union men, in the hope of attracting greater support. Perhaps because it sought too diverse an audience, the magazines circulation proved disappointingly low. Margaret Dreier Robins in 1913 reluctantly raised the possibility that it be discontinued, but the WTUL convention of that year decided after lengthy discussion to keep it alive. In spite of intensified sales campaigns among feminist and labor groups and special appeals to wealthy allies, continuing financial problems led to a reduction in the journals size and staff in 1915. On this reduced basis it survived until the summer of 1921. Robins, having come to believe that "educational and constructive work is the most important that we can undertake," had provided most of the money for Life and Labor in its first two years, and she remained its major source of support thereafter.11
For people interested in the WTUL and in issues relevant to women workers in general, Life and Labor provided much useful information, although its broader impact was perhaps never great enough to justify the cost or effort it demanded. Nevertheless, it kept League members throughout the country abreast of WTUL activities, and it was the only journal published in this period that attempted to interpret the feminist movement to women workers and at the same time to educate middle-class feminists as to the situation of women in the industrial labor force. Such propaganda, the League believed, was an essential step toward unionization.
The WTULs somewhat diffuse range of educational activities had a similar goal: to motivate women workers to unionize, and to provide the skills they would need to function effectively in the labor movement. To this end, the WTUL offered instruction in parliamentary procedure, public speaking, and the writing of business letters; several local leagues developed libraries of works on industrial questions; and most leagues sponsored series of lectures on trade union practices. One of the WTULs earliest and most interesting educational ventures was the formation of free English classes for immigrant women in which they could learn the value of trade unionism along with English.
The most ambitious educational project undertaken by the WTUL was a national Training School for Women Organizers, established in Chicago in 1914. The school was a pioneering venture, for it was the first residential workers educational program in the United States; even after other, similar programs were established in the early 1920s, the WTUL school remained unique in that its curriculum included field work as well as classes.
Initially, at least, the training consisted of a years residence in Chicago, where the students received instruction in labor history, industrial relations, labor legislation, the theory and practice of trade agreements, English, public speaking, and parliamentary procedure. Field work was divided between organizational and administrative activities. Under the supervision of WTUL and union officers, the students were to gain experience in writing business letters, reports, and articles for the press; recruiting unorganized workers; planning, publicizing, and conducting union meetings; handling workers grievances; and negotiating with employers. They also spent time in the offices of the WTUL and the Chicago Federation of Labor, where they were exposed to basic bookkeeping procedures and general office practices and gained an insight into the bureaucratic functioning of labor organizations.
It was understood from the beginning that the program would be one of full-time study and field work for the duration of the students stay in Chicago. This meant that all students would have to be on full scholarship, for the wages women workers received made it impossible for applicants to have savings that could cover a year of unemployment. The heavy expense of such scholarships limited the number of students who could be enrolled and made the school difficult to sustain. These financial problems and the disruption caused by World War I led to its temporary suspension in 1915 and again in 1918, and it closed permanently in 1926.
Despite the expenditure of approximately $50,000, raised with difficulty from middle- and upper-class women sympathizers, the school over its entire history trained only forty-four students. At least thirty-three of these, however, went on to serve the labor movement in some capacity, thus helping to enlarge the very small number of women labor leaders; and the school served as a model for other programs which further expanded the supply. It occupies an important place in history of the WTUL and of workers education in the United States.12
The social, recreational, and cultural activities which most local leagues sponsored were also part of the WTULs educational program. Local league meetings usually included refreshments and entertainment, such as music, dancing, travel slides, and literary recitations. Leagues often sponsored annual balls and, in the summer months, picnics and excursions. The Chicago WTUL even ran a small summer camp for its trade union members. Various leagues offered music, drama, art, and creative writing classes, and the Chicago WTULs chorus, which performed at Hull House functions and at WTUL conventions, was reported to be one of the leagues most successful activities. These activities were vital and important aspects of WTUL programs. They met real needs of women workers, they humanized the labor movement for many women, and they reflect the WTULs commitment to a world of "bread and roses" for women workers.
If the WTUL was to make lasting gains for women, however, it knew it must obtain the support of trade union men. League records indicate the scope of that effort, but they tell little of its content. In articles for labor papers and addresses to labor meetings, WTUL members described the work of the League and the problems of women workers, and argued that including women in the labor movement would also benefit union men. These efforts often won the passage of favorable resolutions, but they rarely produced any more significant support, such as serious efforts by male workers to organize the women in their trades.
Much of the WTULs educational work among trade union men focused on the need for woman suffrage. When suffrage referenda were pending in states where there was a branch of the WTUL, the local league made special visits to union locals and state labor conventions to explain why suffrage was in the best interest of working-class men as well as women. The most vigorous campaign in this regard was carried on by the New York WTUL, which formed the Industrial Section of the New York State Suffrage Party.
Finally, the WTULs educational efforts were also meant to gain the sympathy and support of non-working women. This was, as mentioned, partly the result of taking seriously the cross-class implications of feminist theory. In the absence, however, of significant financial support from the labor movement, contributions from middle-class women were crucial to the WTULs continued existence. For these two reasons, the WTUL devoted considerable energy to making the goals of the feminist movement appear relevant to women workers and the needs of women workers seem relevant to middle-class feminists.
Interest in the enfranchisement of women provided the most obvious link between the two groups, and the WTUL was heavily involved in suffrage activities, both on its own and in coalition with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Viewing itself as the industrial branch of the movement, the WTUL worked hard to develop working-class support for woman suffrage, stressing the value of the vote for women struggling to improve their living and working conditions. At the same time, it sought opportunities to educate NAWSA members and groups regarding the special problems of women workers. The WTUL urged NAWSA organizations and publications to broaden their activities and rhetoric so as to encompass working women. The history of the suffrage movement reveals some moves in this direction, but there is enough evidence of social and political tension, and of comments and incidents reflecting the class bias of middle-class suffragists, to suggest that the cross-class alliance here remained tenuous.13
Sensitivity and commitment to working-class women were even rarer, so League members discovered, when a common goal such as suffrage was not present. As part of its effort to win the support of middle-class womens groups, the WTUL consistently sent delegates to national conventions of such organizations as the YWCA and the General Federation of Womens Clubs, and watched for opportunities to address local womens groups. Such contact often aroused the interest and sympathy of members of these organizations and sometimes (most notably in the case of the YWCA) resulted in generous financial contributions. But a series of incidents revealed fundamental limitations to the support, understanding, and commitment of even sympathetic women. For example, two prominent and relatively wealthy Ohio feminists agreed to speak at a WTUL-arranged mass meeting during a 1911 strike of garment workers in Cleveland. The women made stirring speeches in support of the strike and the work of the WTUL, but then disconcerted and dismayed league members by submitting bills totaling $40 for their services and showing no further interest in the strike or the League.14
Along with organizational and educational efforts, legislative activities formed a basic part of the WTUL program from the start. As evidence of the increasing importance attached to this goal, the 1913 convention voted to establish a national legislative committee to supplement the legislative programs of the local leagues. Labor legislation, so a later League document averred, was "a supplementary arm of trade union organization."15 In practice, however, the commitment to a legislative approach served to accentuate the WTULs identity as a feminist organization and to link the League more firmly to the womans movement than to the labor movement. By the end of its second decade, legislative lobbying had become the WTULs primary focus, a shift in emphasis that was further underlined by the decision in 1929 to move the Leagues national headquarters from Chicago to Washington, D.C., the national capital.
The WTULs increased attention to legislation was a logical if not inevitable response to the problems it encountered in its attempts to organize women workers. It found the labor movement essentially unreceptive to the inclusion of women, a situation acknowledged by even so ardent a trade unionist as Rose Schneiderman, who declared in 1915, "We have come to the American Federation of Labor and said to them, Come and help us organize the American working girl,...but nothing was done."16
Disappointed by the results of its own organizing efforts and by the feeble support received from organized labor, the WTUL increasingly looked to the government for help--a move characteristic of many reform organizations in this period. The WTULs emphasis on legislation followed also from attention to the particular problems of women workers because they were women, and this further rooted the League within the feminist movement. The advocacy of protective legislation stemmed from a belief in womens special social and biological roles. Although legislative protection, as will be seen, became a controversial issue within feminist ranks in the 1920s, the idea that women were in a special position because of their roles as actual or potential mothers was widely accepted by most feminists in the early twentieth century.
A major impetus for the WTULs legislative program was the Supreme Courts decision in 1908 upholding an Oregon ten-hour law for women workers. In this case the court reasoned that protective legislation for women did not violate the fourteenth Amendments guarantee of the right to make contracts because women were physically weaker than men and because the state had the right and obligation to invoke its police powers to protect "the future mothers of the race." Special legislation for women was thus seen as compensatory; to feminists in this period it was a way of equalizing the positions of men and women in the industrial labor force.
Over the years the WTUL lobbied for a wide range of legislative measures, but its most consistent concern was with limiting the hours of womens work. The Chicago WTUL, for example, launched such an effort in 1909 when it secured the introduction of an eight-hour bill in the Illinois legislature. That such a bill was even introduced was largely the result of Margaret Dreier Robins social connections with certain sympathetic politicians. Four trade union members of the Chicago WTUL then spearheaded the Leagues lobbying efforts on behalf of the bill, which passed in amended form. Even though it excluded certain groups of women workers and mandated a ten-hour rather than an eight-hour day for the rest, the WTUL regarded its passage as an important victory for the principle of protective legislation and the cause of women workers.
The Chicago League vowed to continue the fight for an eight-hour day, and it did just that, little dreaming in 1909 that it would take another quarter-century. The ultimate victory had a bittersweet quality. As Agnes Nestor, who had appeared before every session of the state legislature from 1909 until the eight-hour bill was passed in 1937, noted, "My own emotions were mixed. The victory did not seem as thrilling as that of the passage of the Womens Ten-Hour-Day Law more than twenty-five years before. We had been so young then, and in between there had been so many defeats. Also, so many of us who had begun the fight were gone."17
Another example of the Leagues growing emphasis on legislation was its response to the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist company factory in New York in March 1911, a fire in which 146 young women workers died. The New York WTUL played a leading role in the ensuing agitation for better factory inspection and more stringent fire regulations.18 Other local leagues, influenced by the New York experience, conducted similar campaigns.
As long as the WTUL lobbied mainly for shorter hours and better working conditions for women workers, it had the tacit and on occasion the active support of the AF of L. When, however, it began serious work for minimum-wage legislation, it met explicit opposition. The AF of L, wary of government intervention in the critical area of wages, feared that legislated minimum wage rates would in practice become maximum rates, and it viewed such legislation as an intolerable interference with workers freedom. When the WTUL reiterated its commitment to minimum-wage legislation at its 1915 convention, the AF of L warned the League that it was weakening its labor orientation in favor of its identification with the womans movement.19
The WTUL debated its position on minimum-wage legislation at considerable length; both trade unionist and ally members were to be found on each side of the issue. No WTUL members opposed such legislation in principle; the question for them was whether to take a position which put them in direct conflict with the AF of L. As Louisa Mittelstadt, a brewery worker from Kansas City, put it at the 1915 convention, "This is not a question of whether we believe in the minimum wage or not, it is a question of standing for labor." The majority of WTUL members felt, however, that the needs of underpaid women workers were a more compelling consideration. Pauline Newman, one of the most class-conscious trade unionists in the WTUL, argued forcefully for what she termed "the human side of the question." "If," she declared, "the state, which is supposed to serve its people, can helpnot one of us has a right to say to the girls: Dont accept it. Starve rather than accept money from the state."20
By World War I, a period of greatly increased emphasis on the power and role of the federal government, the WTUL had become widely known as a womans lobby representing feminist concerns in the name of women workers. The Leagues work during a war reinforced its legislative orientation. The most lasting monument to the WTUL, to its commitment to the cause of women workers, and to the role of women workers during World War I is the Womens Bureau in the Department of Labor. Launched as a wartime agency in 1918 and made permanent in 1920, it represented the culmination of eleven years of agitation by the WTUL, which saw in the new Bureau an affirmation "that women in industry were an important asset to the nation and that the federal government was ready to assume responsibility for their well-being."21 The Leagues sense of accomplishment was heightened by the fact that a WTUL member, Mary Anderson, was named director. She held the post until her retirement in 1944. During these years, ties between the League and the Bureau were extremely close.
Eager to utilize American womens new political power as voters, the WTUL joined with nine other national womens organizations in 1920 to form the Womens Joint Congressional Committee (WJCC), designed to coordinate lobbying efforts for legislation of interest to women.22 The WJCC quickly gained a reputation as one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington; by 1925 its membership had grown to twenty-one organizations. One of its first major achievements was passage of the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act. It also successfully fought for increased appropriations for the Womens Bureau and the Childrens Bureau, for Congressional passage of the child labor amendment, for independent citizenship for married women, and for a federal prison for women. Although the WTUL supported all of these issues in principle, it participated actively only in those WJCC subcommittees concerned with legislation directly relevant to women workers. The influence of the WJCC, however, diminished rapidly after the mid-1920s in the face of a rising conservative tide in national politics and the growing realization among Congressmen that the enfranchisement of women did not in fact result in a female bloc vote.
After years of working for special legislation for women workers and of seeking support for its lobbying efforts from women outside the labor movement, the WTUL in the early 1920s encountered an unanticipated and potentially devastating threat to its legislative program: a campaign by a group of feminists to abolish the principle and practice of sex-specific legislation. The campaign, which was initiated by the National Womans Party in 1921, had as its goal the adoption of a federal equal rights amendment. In part, the new proposal reflected philosophical differences among feminists that had been muted during the years when suffrage was the dominant issue. More fundamentally, however, it represented the injection of class interests into feminist concerns and priorities, for the amendment was primarily supported by those who believed it would help the advancement of women in professional jobs, whereas its major opponents were feminists more concerned about the position of women in the industrial labor force. From 1921 until its dissolution in 1950, the WTUL bitterly opposed the amendment, fearing it would nullify or at least jeopardize the gains won for women workers through protective legislation.
For a time the Leagues position drew considerable support among womens groups, particularly its allies in the Womens Joint Congressional Committee. By the late 1920s, however, this support had begun to erode. Thus the WTUL found itself increasingly isolated. Its relationship with the labor movement had always been tenuous; in compensation, it had relied increasingly on its identification with the womans movement. The conflict over the equal rights amendment made that relationship also problematic. For both the feminist and labor movements, the needs of women workers remained a peripheral concern despite the Leagues efforts.
The WTUL had undertaken its legislative program in the belief that protective legislation would facilitate the unionization of women workers. In practice, the Leagues legislative activities increasingly served as a substitute for organizing, while weakening its ties to the labor movement. Its legislative program, which followed from its perceptions of the needs of women workers, thus turned the WTUL increasingly into a feminist social welfare organization focusing on the problems of women workers, an organization which was neither a branch of the labor movement nor quite in tune with other feminist groups.
From the mid-1920s to its dissolution in 1950, the WTUL continued its unionization campaigns, educational programs, and legislative lobbying, but its activities in these areas became more sporadic and its efforts more feeble as its membership and financial resources declined. The waning of the organized womans movement, the decreasing interest in feminist issues, and the strong anti-labor sentiment of the 1920s contributed to this decline and at the same time left the League increasingly isolated in its concern for the woman worker and its commitment to feminism and trade unionism.
Two developments in the 1930s caused the WTUL to hope that out of the misery of the Depression, a brighter future for women workers might emerge. One was the social legislation of the New Deal and the inclusion of various WTUL members in state and national agencies created to implement these new government policies. The other was the advent of the CIO, which, although no more explicitly interested in women workers than the AF of L, was committed to organizing along industrial rather than craft lines and therefore was bound to include more women in its unions. World War II, with its influx of women into the work force, offered a similar promise. Yet despite the valiant efforts of Elisabeth Christman and a few other loyal and dedicated WTUL members, the League failed to attract new members, and many former ones died or turned their attention elsewhere. The needs of women workers had not fundamentally changed, and the WTULs approach to their problems were no less valid, but the Progressive ethos that still characterized the League had lost its appeal. At an executive board meeting in May 1950 the national League voted to dissolve. The New York and Chicago branches continued for another five years until they too gave up the struggle.
The WTUL was justifiably proud of its pioneering efforts to ameliorate the problems of women workers. Although it fell far short of its ultimate goals, its existence did have an impact on women workers, the labor movement, and the feminist movement. The Leagues history suggests an admirable if somewhat naïve attempt to confront a problem whose causes were profoundly embedded in the cultural values and the structure of American society. The WTULs efforts to synthesize feminism and trade unionism provide an important model for those concerned with the position of women workers, both historically and currently.
1The British and American Leagues were entirely independent, but each had cross-class origins, and they pursued similar goals, although with differing degrees of emphasis and success. See Robin Miller Jacoby, The British and American Womens Trade Union Leagues, 1890-1925: A Case Study of Feminism and Class (Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1977).
2For a solid and most interesting study of the New York WTUL, see Nancy Schrom Dye, The Womens Trade Union League of New York, 1903-1920 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1974), to be published in 1980.
3At that time the League chose to count the national conference of November 1907 as its first national convention and numbered succeeding ones accordingly. Conventions were held every two years through 1919. The 1921 convention was delayed until 1922, and that meeting was followed by ones in 1924, 1926, and 1929. Declining finances allowed the WTUL to hold only two more conventions, in 1936 and 1947.
4See, for example, Mary E. Dreier, "Expansion Through Agitation and Education," Life and Labor, XI (June 1921), 163-165, 192.
5Theresa Malkiel, The Diary of a Shirtwaist Striker (New York, 1910), p. 12.
6Once again, the British provided a model for a possible alternative, although the WTUL did not seriously consider it. In 1906 the British WTUL created the National Federation of Women Workers, a general trade union recognized by the Trades Union Congress. The NFWW was open to all women working in trades where make unions did not exist or where they were unwilling to accept women members.
7It is unclear whether this incident took place in 1910 or 1918. See Alice Kessler-Harris, "Where Are the Organized Women Workers?" Feminist Studies, III (Fall 1975), note 35.
8Gladys Boone, The Womens Trade Union Leagues in Great Britain and the United States of America (New York, 1942), p. 167.
9For background and further information on this strike, see Dye, chap. 5, and Barbara Mayer Wertheimer, We Were There: The Story of Working Women in America (New York, 1977), chap. 16.
10These membership figures are taken from Dye, pp. 159, 171.
11By early 1916 she had contributed nearly $11,000. See Alice Henry to Executive Board Members, Dec. 19, 1914, and Margaret Dreier Robins to Emma Steghagen, Feb. 11, 1916 (National WTUL Records, Library of Congress, Reel 1, frame 750, and Reel 2, frame 216).
12See Jacoby, pp. 124-54, for an extended discussion of the Training School.
13For a fuller discussion of the WTUL and the suffrage movement, see Jacoby, "The Womens Trade Union League and American Feminism," Feminist Studies, III (Fall 1975), 126-40.
14Pauline Newman to Margaret Dreier Robins, Aug. 5, 1911 (Robins Papers, Reel 22, frame 207).
15National WTUL, Official Program, Eleventh Convention (1929), p. 19. (See WTUL Publications, Reel 1).
16New York Call, June 15, 1915, quoted in Dye, p. 396.
17Agnes Nestor, Womans Labor Leader (Rockford, Ill., 1954), p. 277.
18Leon Stein, The Triangle Fire (Philadelphia, 1968), gives a detailed account of the fire and the response to it. For fuller comments on the impact of the fire on the New York League see Dye, p. 181.
19See Samuel Gompers, "Coming into Her Own," American Federationist, XXII (July 1915), 517-19.
20Stenographic proceedings of the 1915 WTUL convention, pp. 262, 253-64 (National WTUL Records, Library of Congress, Reel 21, frames 501, 492-93).
21Mary Anderson, with Mary Winslow, Woman at Work (Minneapolis, 1951), p. 115.
22The other charter members were the National League of Women Voters, General Federation of Womens Clubs, Womans Christian Temperance Union, Parent and Teachers Association, National Federation of Business and Professional Womens Clubs, National Consumers League, Association of Collegiate Alumnae (which became the American Association of University Women), National Council of Jewish Women, and American Home Economics Association. For a fuller discussion of the WJCC, see J. Stanley Lemons, The Woman Citizen: Social Feminism in the 1920s (Urbana, Ill., 1973).
A Chronology of the Womens Trade Union League
League is organized, in Boston, by trade unionists and settlement workers under the leadership of William English Walling and Mary Kenney OSullivan. Mary Morton Kehew, a Boston social reformer, elected president.
Local branches established in Chicago, New York, and Boston.
Ellen M. Henrotin, Chicago womens club leader and social reformer, elected president.
League committee, headed by Mary McDowell, secures federal investigation into condition of woman and child workers.
Margaret Dreier Robins president.
League conducts Interstate Conferences of women trade unionists in Chicago, New York, and Boston.
League publishes Womans Department in the Union Labor Advocate, a Chicago monthly magazine.
League holds first national convention.
League secures state ten-hour law for women workers. Coverage expanded in 1911.
New York WTUL gives strong support to citywide strike of shirtwaist makers, the Leagues first major strike.
Margaret Dreier Robins and Chicago WTUL active in aiding strike of garment workers in Chicago mens clothing industry, and in security settlement with Hart, Schaffner & Marx which sets up arbitration machinery for grievances.
League strongly supports the woman suffrage movement. Margaret Dreier Robins, Leonora OReilly, and Rose Schneiderman especially active; New York WTUL closely allied with Woman Suffrage Party in successful state campaign of 1917.
Triangle Fire in New York spurs League activities, there and elsewhere, for better regulation of factory safety and sanitation.
League publishes monthly magazine, Life and Labor.
Boston WTUL provides strike relief in Lawrence (Massachusetts) textile strike.
American Federation of Labor grants funds to the WTUL for organizing work.
League conducts a training school for women trade unionists.
League calls International Congress of Working Women in Washington, D.C., which sets up a continuing organization, with Margaret Dreier Robins as president.
League helps achieve permanent establishment of federal Womens Bureau, with Mary Anderson as head.
With other womens organizations, League founds Womens Joint Congressional Committee to press legislative demands of member groups.
International Congress of Working Women becomes International Federation of Working Women.
League petitions AF of L, unsuccessfully, to issue federal charters to women excluded by the national unions of their trades.
League actively opposes the proposed Equal Rights Amendment as a threat to protective legislation for women workers.
Elisabeth Christman secretary.
Maud Swartz president.
League publishes monthly Life and Labor Bulletin.
International Federation of Working Women votes to become a bureau of the International Federation of Trade Unions. League withdraws, 1924.
President Gompers proposes that AF of L establish a Womens Department to take over the work of the WTUL; plan turned down by AF of L executive council.
Rose Schneiderman president.
League conducts Southern campaign, with headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, to promote unionization of Southern textile workers. Aids strikes at Elizabethon, Tennessee (1929), and Danville, Virginia (1930-31).
National headquarters moved from Chicago to Washington, D.C.
National League disbands.
Boston League disbands.
New York and Chicago Leagues disband.
An Annotated Bibliography of the Womens Trade Union League
By Robin Miller Jacoby
The manuscript collections and serial publications most central to a study of the Womens Trade Union League have been reproduced in the present microfilm edition. The following bibliography lists other archival and published sources, primary and secondary, that include some direct discussion of the League or its members. There exists, of course, a wide range of additional literature on the history of industrialization, labor organization, women, and feminism that is essential to a thorough understanding of the WTUL and its context, but no attempt is made here to cover this broader material.
The bibliography is arranged under the following headings:
I. Manuscript Collections and Oral History Interviews.
II. Works by Participants: Biographies and Autobiographies.
III. Works by Participants: Books.
IV. Works by Participants: Articles.
V. Contemporary Articles in the American Federationist.
VI. Other Contemporary Publications: Books.
VII. Other Contemporary Publications: Articles.
VIII. Secondary Sources: Doctoral Dissertations.
IX. Secondary Sources: Books.
X. Secondary Sources: Articles
The section of contemporary articles in the American Federationist, the official journal of the American Federation of Labor, includes articles by WTUL members and the very few other articles that touch upon the League. They have been placed together in a separate section in order to suggest the degree of recognition given by the AF of L to the WTUL.
Those researchers interested in scholarly studies will find them chiefly in the sections on doctoral dissertations and on other secondary sources, although there are a few early works of scholarship among the contemporary books.
Some additional references pertaining to particular WTUL leaders will be found elsewhere in this guide, in the bibliographical notes that accompany the descriptions of their papers.
I. Manuscript Collections and Oral History Interviews
Besides the collections microfilmed in the present edition, papers of a few other League leaders or members survive. Two recently acquired collections are at the Schlesinger Library of Radcliffe College: papers of Mary E. Dreier, sister of Margaret Dreier Robins and president of the New York WTUL, and papers of Pauline Newman, one of the Leagues most active working-class members. As of 1980, the latter collection could be consulted only with Miss Newmans permission. Material on the WTUL in the Dreier Papers is sparse. The voluminous papers of Cornelia Bryce Pinchot at the Library of Congress include folders pertaining to the WTUL for the years 1919-24, when she was lead of the Leagues local Washington (D.C.) Committee and active in national fund-raising.
The other surviving collections touch only lightly upon the WTUL; their value lies more in the sense they give of the range of each individuals interests and activities. Ellen Henrotin, the first president of the National WTUL, and Mary Winslow, the Leagues legislative representative in Washington, D.C., from 1929 to 1941, have small collections of papers at the Schlesinger Library; Mary McDowell, settlement house director and active member of the Chicago WTUL during its early years, and Lillian Herstein, Chicago teacher and union activist, have papers at the Chicago Historical Society; and the papers of Frances Noel, founder of the short-lived Los Angeles WTUL and a well-known California progressive, are at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The papers of William English Walling and Raymond Robins, both in the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (Madison), are useful for biographical information on the two men but contain little information about the WTUL or their involvement in it that is not available in the microfilmed materials in this edition. The Robins Papers do, however, include a number of personal letters from Margaret Dreier Robins and Mary Dreier which discuss the WTUL. The papers of Carrie Chapman Catt and of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, both at the Library of Congress, contain useful material on relations between the WTUL and the suffrage movement.
The International Congress/Federation of Working Women, organized by the WTUL and initially led by Margaret Dreier Robins, affords insights into the international dimensions of the WTUL and of the problems of women workers, as well as into the Leagues conceptions of feminism and its attitudes toward the AF of L. A collection of IFWW Papers is at the Schlesinger Library, but other and more comprehensive materials may be found within the microfilmed collections. For a listing of these materials see, in a later part of this guide, the introductory essay on the Schlesinger Librarys collection of National Womens Trade Union League Papers, which includes a section on the International Congress/Federation.
Records of one local branch of the Womens Trade Union League, the Milwaukee WTUL, during its final years of 1948-56 are at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (2 boxes). A collection of National WTUL material, listed in Andrea Hinding, ed., Womens History Sources (1979), as in the Industrial Relations and Manpower Collection, Littauer Library, Harvard University, no longer exists as such. This was mostly printed and duplicated material. Some was transferred to the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College; other portions were assimilated into the regular collections of the Littauer Library.
In the area of oral history, a recently completed project, "The Twentieth Century Trade Union Woman: Vehicle for Social Change," sponsored by the University of Michigan--Wayne State University Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations, includes interviews with several women associated with the WTUL--Pauline Newman, Rose Norwood, and Lillian Herstein--and with Evelyn Dubrow, a labor activist who knew many of the women involved in the New York WTUL between 1920 and 1950. Transcripts of the interviews are available at the Michigan Historical Collections, Bentley Library, University of Michigan, at the Schlesinger Library, and elsewhere. There is a Herstein interview also in the Roosevelt University Oral History Project in Labor History, Roosevelt University Library, Chicago. An oral history interview with Anna Weinstock Schneider at the Labor-Management Documentation Center, New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University, includes some mention of the Boston WTUL, of which she was president, 1919-23.
II. Works by Participants: Biographies and Autobiographies
Although uncritical, the following are important sources, including as they do biographies or autobiographies of four of the most important WTUL leaders.
Anderson, Mary, with Mary Winslow. Woman at Work. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1951. Autobiography.
Carola Woerishoffer: Her Life and Work. Philadelphia: Class of 1907 of Bryn Mawr College, 1912; reprinted ed., New York: Arno Press, 1974. A series of tributes to this active young ally member of the New York WTUL, published after her death in an automobile accident in 1911.
Dreier, Mary E. Margaret Dreier Robins: Her Life, Letters, and Work. New York: Island Press Cooperative, 1950. A biography by a sister who herself had been president of the New York WTUL.
Nester, Agnes. Womans Labor Leader. Rockford, Ill.: Bellevue Books, 1954. Autobiography.
Schneiderman, Rose, with Lucy Goldthwaite. All for One. New York: Paul S. Eriksson, 1967. Autobiography.
III. Works by Participants: Books
Henry Alice. The Trade Union Woman. New York: Appleton, 1915: reprint ed., New York: Burt Franklin, 1973. Traces the history of labor organization among women from the early nineteenth century, with particular attention to the WTUL. Henry, a journalist by background, had compiled the WTUL section in the Chicago Union Labor Advocate and then edited Life and Labor. She provides a comprehensive survey of the issues relevant to the organization of women and presents the WTUL point of view on the importance of trade unionism, the need for women organizers, and the value of woman suffrage.
Henry, Alice. Women and the Labor Movement. New York: George H. Doran, 1923; reprint ed., New York: Arno Press, 1971. Essentially a revised and updated version of The Trade Union Woman.
Marot, Helen. American Labor Unions. New York: Henry Holt, 1914. Broader and more interpretive than Henrys books. Marot, an early member of the New York WTUL, served as its secretary 1906-13. Her chapter on women presents a particularly astute analysis of the position of women in the labor force and the labor movement and concludes with a discussion of the WTUL.
U.S. Department of Labor. Womens Bureau. Proceedings of the Womens Industrial Conference. Bulletin no. 33. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1923. Many WTUL members participated in this conference on the problems of women in industry, and their statements reflect and reveal League policies as well as their own views.
IV. Works by Participants: Articles
In keeping with the guidelines by which this bibliography was compiled, the following list contains only those articles by WTUL members which specifically discuss the League. It does not include articles written for Life and Labor or other League publications. Articles that appeared in the American Federationist are listed in the following section.
Bensley, Martha S. "Labor Organization among Women." Charities and the Commons, 15 (Dec. 16, 1905): 384-85. Discusses the obstacles to the organization of women and some of the efforts of the WTUL to overcome them.
Christman, Elisabeth. "Womens Trade Union League of America." Labor Information Bulletin, 7 (Sept. 1940): 10-12. A brief article on the goals, structure, history, and current activities of the WTUL.
Evans, Elizabeth G. "The Roxbury Carpet Factory Strike." Survey, 24 (May 28, 1910): 337-38. On an early and successful strike of women workers that was aided by the Boston WTUL.
Henry, Alice. "Mary Macarthur and the Womens Trade Union Movement." Charities and the Commons, 18 (Apr. 6, 1907): 46-47. An account of the visit to the United States of Mary Macarthur, head of the British WTUL; the article compares the two Leagues and points out some of the differences between the labor movements in the two countries, especially in regard to the position of women.
Henry, Alice. "Women and the Trade-Union Movement in the United States." Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science in the City of New York, 1 (1910): 109-18. This article, which anticipates her book The Trade Union Woman, includes a discussion of the history and activities of the WTUL.
McDowell, Mary. "The National Womens Trade Union League." Survey, 23 (Oct. 16, 1909): 101-07. An account of the WTULs 1909 convention; includes excerpts from Chicago press reports of the meetings.
Marot, Helen. "A Womans Strike--An Appreciation of the Shirtwaist Makers of New York." Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science in the City of New York, 1 (1910): 119-28. A particularly forthright and non-sentimental account and interpretation of the strike; covers its background, the supportive activities of the WTUL, the role of ethnic differences and conflicts, and the impact of the strike on the women who participated in it.
Marot, Helen. "Women Trade Union League." Survey, 26 (July 1, 1911): 548-49. A report on the 1911 convention, summarizing the state of the WTUL and paying particular attention to the increased number of delegates who had been leaders in organizing their trades.
Robins, Margaret Dreier. "Women in Industry." Survey, 31 (Dec. 27, 1913): 351. A brief report of the WTULs 1913 convention.
Schneiderman, Rose. "On What Shall We Unite?--Voice of the Working Woman." Independent Woman, 15 (Feb. 1936): 36, 55. Part of a symposium on the goals behind which American women should join forces.
"Trade Union Organization among Women Workers." Industrial and Labour Information, 8 (Oct. 5, 1923): 12-13. A brief summary of the history, structure, and goals of the WTUL, taken from an address by Maud Swartz, League president, while in Paris.
Wald, Lillian D. "Organization amongst Working Women." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 27 (May 1906): 176-83. Includes a paragraph on the WTUL.
V. Contemporary Articles in the American Federationist
Since a major goal of the WTUL was to gain the support of the American Federation of Labor for the organization of women in general and for its own work in particular, an important source for assessing its achievement in this area is the Federations monthly journal, the American Federationist.1 Articles in the Federationist between 1903 and 1950 which explicitly discuss the WTUL in more than incidental fashion are listed below. They are in two groups, the first containing articles by WTUL members; the second, articles by others. To bring out patterns of coverage, each group is arranged chronologically, rather than alphabetically by author.
The chief value of the articles in the first group lies in the insights they provide as to how WTUL members presented their organization to the Federationists readers. The most noteworthy characteristic of the second group of articles is their small number. All told, the Federationist during this period published a substantial number of articles about women, but only a handful even mention the WTUL, a fact with which researchers must come to terms in analyzing the League.
a. Articles by WTUL Members
Henry, Alice. "The Campaign in Illinois for the Ten-Hour Law." 17 (Aug. 1910): 669-72. A discussion of protective legislation and details about the Illinois campaign and WTUL efforts.
Robins, Margaret Dreier. "Working Women and Organization." 21 (Sept. 1914): 717-19. An account of the WTUL, including its history, goals, and current activities.
Robins, Margaret Dreier. "Freedom through Organization." 22 (Sept. 1915): 727-29. A reprint of Robins speech on the need for and value of trade unionism among women given at a public meeting during the 1915 WTUL convention.
Scott, Melinda. "The Way to Freedom." 22 (Sept. 1915): 729-31. Contends that the existence of the WTUL and of related activities prove that women can organize and that they recognize the need for organization.
Barnum, Gertrude. "Women in the American Labor Movement." 22 (Sept. 1915): 731-33. Points to signs of "the awakening of the woman worker."
Nestor, Agnes. "The Womens Industrial Conference." 33 (Mar. 1926): 296-304. A report on a Womens Bureau conference on women in industry, which was dominated by controversy over protective legislation and the proposed equal rights amendment. Several WTUL leaders participated, defending vigorously the need for protective legislation.
Smith, Ethel. "Developing a New Organization Technique." 33 (Aug. 1926): 928-34. An account, stressing the need for leadership training among women, of institutes on organizing held in conjunction with the WTUL conventions of 1924 and 1926.
Leslie, Mabel. "An Adventure in Education." 34 (Apr. 1927): 436-38. Describes the educational activities of the New York WTUL.
Christman, Elisabeth. "Facts behind the Policies." 35 (Dec. 1928): 1444-51. Argues the values of protective legislation and explains why the National Womans Partys equal rights amendment should be opposed; the article stresses that protective legislation is not incompatible with trade unionism and describes the WTULs interest and efforts in both areas.
Christman, Elisabeth. "Conventions--A Complement to Workers Education." 36 (Aug. 1929): 921-25. A report of the 1929 WTUL convention which summarizes the discussions on married women workers, womens wages, and organizing efforts in the South.
Nestor, Agnes. "The Experiences of a Pioneer Woman Trade Unionist." 36 (Aug. 1929): 926-32. Reviews the development of the womens labor movement through the lens of her experience with the WTUL, her own union, and various government appointments.
Swartz, Maud. "Compensation Service for Women." 36 (Aug. 1929): 943-45. Describes the program established by the New York WTUL to help women injured on the job.
Herstein, Lillian. "Women Discuss Wages." 36 (Aug. 1929): 949-59. A summary of a symposium on this topic held during the 1929 WTUL convention.
Lindsay, Matilda. "Southern Women in Industry." 36 (Aug. 1929): 973-75. A brief description of the industrial development of the South and of the WTULs Southern program of educational activities on the need for trade unionism.
Dreier, Mary E. "Y.W. Convention Studies Changing World." 37 (July 1930): 792-95. A report on a recent YWCA convention which highlights the resolutions passed relevant to the labor movement; the article also discusses the social awareness that has come to characterize the YWCA and suggests that WTUL influence was a significant factor in producing this change.
Newman, Pauline. "A Bit of Personal History." 43 (Sept. 1936): 926-29. On the condition of garment workers earlier in the century, the 1909 shirtwaist strike, the development of the ILGWU, and the WTUL.
Newman, Pauline. "The Equal Rights Amendment." 45 (Aug. 1938): 815-17. An extract from her statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee opposing the amendment; explains why she (and the WTUL) are against it, and describes the work the WTUL is doing to gain support for its point of view.
Anderson, Mary. "A Silver Milestone for Women Workers." 50 (July 1943): 20-23. An account of the history and work of the Womens Bureau, accompanied by a biographical profile of Mary Anderson; both pieces include discussion of the WTULs role in her life and the creation of the Womens Bureau.
Miller, Frieda. "The Female Worker." 52 (Dec. 1945): 20-22. A brief history of women workers in the United States; summarizes the WTULs role in both calling attention to and dealing with the problems of women workers.
b. Articles by Others
"The Womens Trade Union League of New York." 18 (June 1911): 483. Emphasizes its organizing efforts and support for the union label campaign.
Mailly, William. "The Triangle Trade Union Relief." 18 (July 1911): 544-47. An account of the relief activities after the Triangle Fire which focuses on the role of the ILGWU but also discusses the efforts of the WTUL.
Gompers, Samuel. "Womans Work, Rights, and Progress. 20 (Aug. 1913): 624-27. An editorial on the position of women which begins by starting that the recent WTUL convention demonstrated that women were increasingly participating in and understanding the industrial world.
Gompers, Samuel. "Coming Into Her Own." 22 (July 1915): 517-19. An editorial discussing the 1915 WTUL convention as representing the coming together of two great movements of the day: labor and women.
Perkins, Frances. "Women Workers." 36 (Sept. 1929): 1073-79. A reprint of her address to the 1929 WTUL convention; suggests "the great mission" of the WTUL should be to help break down distinctions between blue and white collar women workers, since changes in the nature of white collar work are making unionization as important for the latter as for the former.
"Industrial Peace--How Achieved?" 38 (Apr. 1931): 448-53. An account of the Southern Industrial Conference sponsored by the WTUL.
VI. Other Contemporary Publications: Books
The books listed in this section and the articles in the next one were published during the years when the WTUL was most active and best known, 1903 through 1929. They record contemporary public and scholarly reaction to the League; they also served themselves to influence that reaction.
Andrews, John B., and W.D.P. Bliss. "History of Women in Trade Unions." Vol. 10 of U.S. Congress, Senate, Report on Condition of Woman and Child Wage-Earners. S. Doc. 645, 61st Cong., 2nd sess., 1911. This first major study of women in the labor movement contains a section on the WTUL, tracing its early history and activities.
Baker, Elizabeth F. Protective Labor Legislation, with Special Reference to Women in the State of New York. New York: Columbia University, 1925. A comprehensive study that includes considerable mention of the WTULs legislative activities, including its opposition to the equal rights amendment.
Beard, Mary R. A Short History of the American Labor Movement. New York: The Workers Education Bureau Press, 1928. Includes a discussion of the activities and achievements of the WTUL.
Beyer, Clara M. History of Labor Legislation for Women in Three States. U.S. Department of Labor, Womens Bureau, Bulletin no. 66. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1929. Includes a section on the role of the WTUL in promoting labor legislation for women; its discussion indicates the range of legislative issues the League advocated and stresses its role in influencing the AF of L and its constituent unions as to the value of labor legislation for women.
Bullard, Arthur. Comrade Yetta. New York: Macmillan, 1913; reprint ed., Upper Saddle River, N.J.: The Gregg Press, 1968. A novel by an author who was at one time a resident of New Yorks University Settlement (where he knew William English Walling) and editor of The Call, a New York Socialist newspaper. The heroine, Yetta Rayefsky, works in a garment sweatshop, and her life is totally changed by her contact with the New York WTUL, of which she becomes for a period a full-time organizer. She eventually breaks with the League and becomes a socialist. Although novels must be used by historians with great caution, this one makes a number of assertions about relations among WTUL members, class consciousness and conflict within the League, and the politics and priorities of the WTUL that merit serious consideration.
Dorr, Rheta Childe. What Eight Million Women Want. Boston: Small, Maynard and Co., 1910. This examination and explanation of the position and goals of American women includes, as part of its discussion of womens organizations, a section on the WTUL. Dorr characterizes the League as "more militant and more democratic" than any other existing womens organization; she covers its role in the shirtwaist strike and credits it with greatly increasing the interest in woman suffrage among women workers.
Gompers, Samuel. Seventy Years of Life and Labor. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1925. Gompers autobiography includes a chapter on women in which he briefly discusses the WTUL. He stresses his support for the goals of the League, especially the organization of women workers, but he also expresses criticism of Margaret Dreier Robins partisan political activities and his concern as to the role of wealthy women in influencing WTUL policies.
Herron, Belva M. The Progress of Labor Organization among Women. Urbana: University Press, 1905. One of the first serious studies of trade unionism among women workers; contains a section on the goals and the very early history of the WTUL.
Levine, Louis. The Womens Garment Workers: A History of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. New York; B.W. Huebsch, 1924. This classic history of the garment industry and the ILGWU includes discussion of WTUL work among garment workers and pays particular attention to the New York Leagues involvement in the 1909-10 shirtwaist strike. Levine credits the New York WTUL with playing a major role in systematizing the strike and the union office and in arousing public awareness and sympathy.
Malkiel, Theresa. Diary of a Shirtwaist Striker. New York: Cooperative Press, 1910. A didactic novel which paints a strongly positive picture of the WTUL. The central character is a participant in the shirtwaist strike and a member of the New York WTUL, and such actual members as Leonora OReilly, Pauline Newman, and Rose Schneiderman appear.
Smith Hilda W. Women Workers at the Bryn Mawr Summer School. New York: Affiliated Summer Schools for Women Workers in Industry and American Association for Adult Education, 1929. This account of the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers, founded in 1921, discusses the key role of certain WTUL members in its planning and administration.
Wolfson, Theresa. The Woman Worker and the Trade Unions. New York: International Publishers, 1926. A comprehensive and astute examination and analysis of the historical and contemporary problems that have impeded the growth of trade unionism among women workers. Wolfson lauds the WTUL for its efforts, insights, and innovative programs and for its organizing techniques, but notes that lack of funds and of the "whole-hearted co-operation of the labor movement" have limited its achievement.
VII. Other Contemporary Publications: Articles
Comstock, Sarah. "The Uprising of the Girls." Colliers, Dec. 25, 1909, pp. 14-16, 20-21. A vivid and sympathetic account written during the New York shirtwaist strike; includes interviews with striking workers and WTUL members and notes the various supportive activities of the WTUL.
Dorr, Rheta Childe. "The Woman Strikers of Troy." Charities and the Commons, 15 (Nov. 18, 1905): 233-36. An account of the strike of Troy collar makers whom the New York WTUL was seeking to organize; includes discussion of the opposition from male unionists.
"Eighth Biennial Convention of the National Womens Trade Union League of America." Industrial and Labour Information, 3 (July 14, 1922): 17. A report on the 1922 WTUL convention; pays particular attention to an appeal to the AF of L to issue local charters to women in trades where the national union refuses to admit them.
Kelley, Florence. "Industrial Democracy: Women in Trade Unions." Outlook, Dec. 15, 1906, pp. 926-31. Includes an assessment of the early years of the WTUL as revealing a "statesmanlike appreciation of the scope of the work before it."
Kelley, Florence, and Marguerite Marsh. "Labor Legislation for Women and Its Effects on Earnings and Conditions of Labor." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 143 (May 1929): 286-300. A thorough examination of the concept and effects of protective labor legislation; mentions the "firm stand" taken by the WTUL in defending such legislation against the efforts of the National Womans Party.
"A League of Working Women." New Republic, Feb. 9, 1918, pp. 43-44. An editorial commending the goals and work of the WTUL, and criticizing the AF of L for its "conservatism" and "blindness" in not taking women seriously as workers or unionists.
Leupp, Constance D. "The Shirtwaist Makers Strike." Survey, 23 (Dec. 18, 1909): 383-86. Comments briefly on the role of the WTUL.
Maher, Amy G. "Women Trade Unionists in the United States." International Labour Review, 11 (Mar. 1925): 366-80. A survey of the history of women in trade unions which includes a section on the WTUL, characterizing it as a necessary and useful response to the AF of Ls pattern of ignoring the problems of women workers.
"Position of the Trade Union Women." Survey, 38 (June 23, 1917): 277. A report of, and comments on, the 1917 WTUL convention.
"Solidarity?" New Republic, June 14, 1919, pp. 202-03. An editorial on the need for female solidarity in the labor movement; reports on the 1919 WTUL convention and sharply criticizes the AF of L for ignoring and excluding women workers.
Stewart, Jane A. "National Womens Trade Union League." Chautauquan, June 1910, pp. 116-20. On its history, goals, and accomplishments.
"Strike of the Lady Shirtwaist Makers." Survey, 23 (Nov. 13, 1909): 228. A brief report on the strike which devotes as much attention to the supportive role and activities of the New York WTUL as to the striking workers.
Van Kleeck, Mary. "Trade-Union Women." New Republic, Nov. 16, 1918, p. 74. A letter to the editor listing trade union women who held official government positions during World War I; among them are several WTUL members.
Waggamen, Mary T. "National Womens Trade Union League of America." Monthly Labor Review, 8 (Apr. 1919): 237-44. An informative narrative account of the history, goals, and functioning of the WTUL.
Waggamen, Mary T. "Women in Industry: First International Conference of Working Women, Washington, D.C." Monthly Labor Review, 9 (Dec. 1919): 280-90. A report on the conference, called by the WTUL, which led to the establishment of the International Congress (later Federation) of Working Women.
Walter, Henriette R. "Women as Workers and Citizens." Survey, 42 (June 21, 1919): 465-66. A report on the 1919 WTUL convention; suggests that people disheartened by the state of the American labor movement "might well gain comfort from the vision and unity" displayed at this convention of women workers.
"Women Workers in Convention." Survey, 30 (July 12, 1913): 496. A brief report on the 1913 WTUL convention.
"Working Women and Factory Fire Risks." Survey, 31 (Feb. 21, 1914): 633. A short report on the efforts of the Chicago WTUL to obtain better reporting and enforcement of violations of fire prevention ordinances.
VIII. Secondary Sources: Doctoral Dissertations
Daly, Sister John Marie. "Mary Anderson, Pioneer Labor Leader." Georgetown University, 1968. Covers her whole life, treating as major episodes her early work in a Chicago shoe factory and her involvement in her union, her work as an organizer for the WTUL, and her career as a government official, first in the Women in Industry Service during World War I and then, from 1920 to her retirement in 1944, as director of the Womens Bureau.
Endelman, Gary Edward. "Solidarity Forever: Rose Schneiderman and the Womens Trade Union League." University of Delaware, 1978. This biography departs from the usual view of Schneiderman as a trade unionist and emphasizes instead what Endelman sees as more central: her consistent "commitment to the power of political action." He argues that the guiding theme of her career was her belief, beginning when she was introduced to socialist ideas, in government action as a solution to the problems of women workers.
Estes, Barbara Ann. "Margaret Dreier Robins: Social Reformer and Labor Organizer." Ball State University, 1976. A chronological study of the development of Robins leadership in the labor movement. Estes discusses all major events relating to the WTUL during Robins presidency, with particular attention to her role in several major strikes. She sees Robins as a representative Progressive reformer, with the crucial exception that she chose to channel her energies into labor reform.
Greenwald, Maurine Weiner. "Women, War, and Work: The Impact of World War I on Women Workers in the United States." Brown University, 1977. The chapter on telephone operators mentions the Boston WTULs supportive efforts in the organization of the first operators union in 1912. The chapter on women streetcar conductors describes two episodes of WTUL involvement: its intervention (unsuccessful) on behalf of women conductors in Cleveland whose jobs were threatened at the end of the war, and, in much more detail, the involvement of the Kansas City WTUL in the initial hiring of women conductors and its role in creating solidarity between the men and women transit workers and middle-class support for a subsequent strike called by the union.
Jacoby, Robin Miller. "The British and American Womens Trade Union Leagues, 1890-1925: A Case Study of Feminism and Class." Harvard University, 1977. Interested in the relationship between feminism and class, Jacoby sees the Womens Trade Union Leagues as providing a comparative case study of the response of two groups of women who confronted this problem, as a practical rather than a theoretical matter, during the early twentieth century. The study examines the two Leagues organizing efforts, educational programs, and legislative lobbying; a chapter is also devoted to the role of these issues in the International Federation of Working Women. Although both Leagues began with a vision of synthesizing feminism and unionism, Jacoby concludes that the British WTUL advanced the cause of women workers as workers but slighted their links as women to women of other classes." The American WTUL, by contrast, "increasingly focused on education and legislation, rather than unionization, thereby downplaying the issue of class solidarity" and emphasizing its identity as a feminist reform organization.
Keiser, John H. "John Fitzpatrick and Progressive Unionism, 1915-1925." Northwestern University, 1965. Provides useful background on the Chicago labor community of which the WTUL was a part, and specifically on the Chicago Federation of Labor, with which the League had a warm rapport during Fitzpatricks long presidency. This study portrays Fitzpatrick and his chief associates as more committed to suffrage and to the organization of working women than other comparable city federations. Brief sections deal with the activities of specific League members; especially enlightening is one on Lillian Hersteins role in the Farmer- Labor party of the early 1920s. There are also several informative footnotes based on an extensive interview with Mollie Levitas, longtime secretary of the CF of L and the last president of the Chicago WTUL.
McCreesh, Carolyn Daniel. "On the Picket Line: Militant Women Campaign to Organize Garment Workers, 1880-1917." University of Maryland, 1975. Pays considerable attention to the WTUL, tracing its early history and examining episodes of internal dissension and conflict with male trade unionists. McCreesh credits the WTUL with producing a critical core group of trade union women ready and willing to assume union leadership positions, and argues that by 1917 women garment workers no longer needed the involvement of middle-class women.
Moore, Elizabeth Payne. "Life and Labor: Margaret Dreier Robins and the Womens Trade Union League." University of Illinois, Chicago Circle. 1981. Moores dissertation has two foci: the contours of Robins evolution from a conventional charity worker at Brooklyn Hospital to a leading advocate of the unionization and protection of working women; and the ideological context from which Robins took her cues as a labor reformer. Moore sees Robins as crucial to the growth of the League, noting that it was primarily through her financial contacts and network of friends and associates that the League achieved national visibility. Ultimately, however, she thinks Robins significance lies in her ability to serve as a mentor for younger women in the labor reform movement: in her capacity to impart courage to them, to help them confront and overcome their sense of ambivalence, and to encourage them to generate their own resources on behalf of self-defined goals.
Reid, John Louis. "The Professionalization of Public School Teachers: The Chicago Experience, 1895-1920." Northwestern University, 1968. Although primarily concerned with the process of professionalization, Reid offers an interesting sidelight on the Chicago Teachers Federation, an AF of L union affiliated with the Chicago WTUL. Margaret Haley and Catharine Goggin of the CTF provided valuable leadership to the early League and helped shape its activism in Chicagos educational and civic affairs. Of particular interest is Reids description of the combined efforts of the Chicago Federation of Labor, the WTUL, and the CTF in defeating the proposed "dual" system in Chicagos public schools.
IX. Secondary Sources: Books
Allen, Robert L. Reluctant Reformers: Racism and Social Reform Movements in the United States. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1974. The chapter "Woman Suffrage: Feminism and White Supremacy" briefly discusses female reformers support for labor organization among women workers and criticizes the WTUL for withdrawing its support of the 1912 Lawrence strike in deference to the views of the AF of L.
Banner, Lois W. Women in Modern America: A Brief History. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974. This comprehensive survey of the history of women in the United States from 1890 to 1974 contains many scattered references to the WTUL, which it characterizes as "the only womens organization in the twentieth century in which women have been able to cross class barriers in a common cause." Banner explains the Leagues support for protective legislation, its links to the Roosevelt administration in the 1930s, and its dissolution in 1950 (an event which she consistently misdates as 1947).
Boone, Gladys. The Womens Trade Union Leagues in Great Britain and the United States of America. New York: Columbia University Press, 1942. Deals primarily with the American League; more a solid chronicle than an analytic history, but it is the most comprehensive published account to date.
Brandeis, Elizabeth. "Labor Legislation." In John R. Commons et al., History of Labor in the United States, vol. 3, pp. 399-697. New York: Macmillan, 1935. Includes several specific and complimentary references to WTUL efforts regarding hour and wage legislation for women.
Chafe, William H. The American Woman: Her Changing Social, Economic, and Political Roles, 1920-1970. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972. The chapter on women in industry sees the WTUL as shifting its focus after 1913 from organizing to legislation and education. Chafe contends that this change reflected a shift in power from the unionists to the reformers (led by Margaret Dreier Robins) and resulted in the League increasingly becoming a social welfare rather than a labor organization. He further argues that its effectiveness was impeded by continuing internal division between the two groups, and that the AF of Ls lack of support was in large part due to the WTULs ambivalence about its commitment to trade unionism as the primary solution to the problem of women workers.
Chase, William H. Women and Equality: Changing Patterns in American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. In his essay "Feminism in the 1970s: An Historical Perspective," Chafe briefly compares the goals and structure of the WTUL with those of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), founded in 1973.
Chambers, Clarke A. Seedtime of Reform: American Social Service and Social Action, 1918-1933. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1963. Contains frequent references to WTUL policies and activities. The first chapter includes a discussion and analysis of the League as compared to the National Consumers League; Chambers regards the WTUL as more radical and as standing for a "broader reconstruction of American life."
Davis, Allen F. American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. This excellent biography contains a brief mention of Addams role as an early supporter and officer of the WTUL and asserts that both of the Leagues founders, Mary Kenney OSullivan and William English Walling, had been significantly influenced by Addams during their stays at Hull House.
Davis, Allen F. Spearheads for Reform: The Social Settlements and the Progressive Movement, 1890-1914. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967. Davis traces the connections between various settlement houses and the labor movement, gives a detailed account of the founding of the WTUL, noting its early settlement-house links, discusses the WTULs early history and its relationship with the labor movement, and emphasizes the critical role of Mary Dreier and especially Margaret Dreier Robins in solidifying its organization.
Dubofsky, Melvyn. When Workers Organize: New York City in the Progressive Era. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1968. In examining how a social climate conducive to reform affected organizing efforts in New York City, Dubofsky mentions the New York WTUL as a staunch supporter of the efforts of women workers to improve their conditions, particularly in the 1909-10 shirtwaist strike and in the garment industry in general.
Dye, Nancy Schrom. As Equals and as Sisters: Feminism, the Labor Movement, and the Womens Trade Union League of New York. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1980. A comprehensive and extremely lucid account of the New York WTUL, dealing with its union organizing, suffrage activities, and work for protective legislation, Dye closely examines the New York Leagues relationship with the labor movement, its approach to women workers, and its internal dynamics. She argues that its failure to achieve a synthesis of feminism and unionism was the result of the difficulty of the goal it set for itself; compounded by the structure and attitudes of the AF of L, the WTULs unwillingness to try other approaches to unionization that might have better met the needs and problems of women workers, and conflict among WTUL members (not necessarily based on class distinctions) over the organizations goals, priorities, and activities.
Fink, Gary M., ed. Biographical Dictionary of American Labor Leaders. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1974. Contains brief sketches of 500 leaders, twenty-five of them women. The following WTUL members are included: Mary Anderson, Gertrude Barnum, Elisabeth Christman, Alice Henry, Helen Marot, Agnes Nestor, Pauline Newman, Margaret Dreier Robins, Rose Schneiderman, and Maud Swartz.
Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle: The Womens Rights Movement in the United States. Rev. ed. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1975. Gives more attention than most womens history surveys to women workers and the labor movement. In discussing the WTUL, Flexner stresses its involvement in strikes, its complex relationship with the AF of L, and the opportunity it offered to working-class women to develop qualities of leadership.
Foner, Philip S. Women and the American Labor Movement: From Colonial Times to the Eve of World War I. New York: Free Press, 1979. This comprehensive account, which supersedes the material on women in the authors History of the Labor Movement in the United States, contains the most extensive recently published discussion of the WTUL. It devotes two complete chapters to the early history of the League (up to its involvement in the 1909-10 shirtwaist makers strike) and pays considerable attention to the WTUL and some of its leading members in four subsequent chapters covering the period from 1910 to World War I. Foner focuses on the relationship between the WTUL and the labor movement, detailing the Leagues organizing efforts, strike support, and its unsuccessful attempts to get the AF of L and its constituent bodies to take seriously the problems and needs of women workers.
Hutchins, Grace. Women Who Work. New York: International Publishers, 1952. A survey of the situation of working women which draws on some of the research studies undertaken by the WTUL and speaks of the Leagues involvement in campaigns for equal pay, its opposition to the equal rights amendment, and its commitment to organizing women workers into trade unions.
James, Edward T., and Jane Wilson James, eds. Notable American W omen, 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary 3 vols. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971. Contains articles, with bibliographies, on a significant number of WTUL activists: Gertrude Barnum, Elizabeth Glendower Evans, Mabel Gillespie, Margaret Haley, Ellen Hentrotin, Alice Henry, Anna Ickes, Mary Morton Kewhew, Mary McDowell, Helen Marot, Agnes Nestor, Leonora OReilly, Mary Kenney OSullivan, Margaret Dreier Robins, Maud Swartz, Carola Woerishoffer, and Maud Younger. See also Sicherman and Green, Notable American Women: The Modern Period, below.
Josephson, Matthew. Sidney Hillman: Statesman of American Labor. New York: Doubleday, 1952. Contains brief mention of the Chicago WTULs role in the 1910-11 strike of garment workers in that city.
Kenneally, James J. Women and American Trade Unions. St. Albans, Vt.: Eden Press, 1978. Originally planned as a volume of biographical sketches, this study touches upon most aspects of the WTULs history, though in disjointed fashion and with overgeneralized documentation. Kenneally sees the League as having prodded the government and trade unions into action regarding women workers, and as revealing "with the assistance of suffragists...that middle class feminists and working women could surmount class differences in the pursuit of justice."
Kraditor, Aileen S. The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1890-1920. New York: Columbia University Press, 1965. An important study of the suffrage movement that contains scattered references to the WTUL when discussing the relationship (or lack of it) between the suffrage movement and working-class women.
Lang, Lucy Robins. Tomorrow Is Beautiful. New York: Macmillan, 1948. This autobiography of a Jewish immigrant who was close to radical and labor activities of the early twentieth century mentions the WTUL briefly.
Lemons, J. Stanley. The Woman Citizen: Social Feminism in he 1920s. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973. Includes discussion of the WTUL in several chapters. Lemons describes the Leagues response to World War I and to incidents of discharging women workers after the war; its role in the creation of the Womens Bureau; its participation in the Womens Joint Congressional Committee; its opposition to the equal rights amendment; its decline in the 1920s; and anti-red attacks upon it and other feminist organizations by right-wing groups.
MacDonald, Lois. Labor Problems and the American Scene. New York: Harper, 1938. The chapter on women contains some discussion of the WTUL.
Maupin, Joyce. Labor Heroines: Ten Women Who Led the Struggle and Working Women and Their Organizations: 150 Years of Struggle. Berkeley: Union WAGE Educational Committee, 1974. Two pamphlets written for women workers. Of the ten profiles of women activists in the first pamphlet, two are on WTUL leaders: Agnes Nestor and Rose Schneiderman. The second briefly explains the structure and goals of the WTUL and praises it for its role in developing leaders among women trade unions.
ONeill, William L. Everyone Was Brave: The Rise and Fall of Feminism in America. Chicago: Quadrangle, 1969. This insightful and stimulating history of American feminism includes one of the most sustained and astute analyses of the WTUL in print. ONeill summarizes and interprets the WTULs history and the role of Margaret Dreier Robins, whose social position he sees as intimidating Samuel Gompers and the AF of L into giving more support to the League--little as that was--than they really wanted to give. He suggests that the WTUL might have been more effective if it had been willing to reconsider its unwavering assumption "that loyalty to the AFL was indispensable to its mission," and judges its resources to have been "pitifully inadequate for what was virtually an impossible task."
ONeill, William L., ed. The Woman Movement: Feminism in the United States and England. Chicago: Quadrangle, 1971. ONeills extensive introductory essays in this anthology include a significant discussion and interpretation of the WTUL. He traces the Leagues history, compares it to its British counterpart, and contends that "the Leagues middle class leadership was often a point in its favor among working women, and, although resented by union men, an asset in negotiating with them."
OSullivan, Judith, and Rosemary Gallick. Workers and Allies: Female Participation in the American Trade Union Movement, 1824-1976. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1975. The catalogue for an exhibit prepared by the Smithsonian; useful for its illustrations.
Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1980. Contains biographical essays, with bibliographies, on the following WTUL members: Mary Anderson, Emily Greene Balch, Mary Ritter Beard, Selma Borchardt, Elisabeth Christman, Mary Dreier, Frieda Miller, Julia OConnor Parker, Cornelia Bryce Pinchot, and Rose Schneiderman.
Sochen, June. Movers and Shakers: American Women Thinkers and Activists, 1900-1970. New York: Quadrangle, 1973. Describes the goals and some of the activities of the WTUL and presents biographical profiles of Mary Anderson, Agnes Nestor, and Rose Scheinderman.
Stein, Leon. The Triangle Fire. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1962. A comprehensive account of the fire and the response to it; includes considerable discussion of the New York WTULs involvement in the campaign for more stringent laws and enforcement procedures which followed the fire.
Tax, Meredith. The Rising of the Women: Feminist Solidarity and Class Conflict, 1880-1917. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1980. A study of intersections of socialist, feminist, and trade union organizing. Tax includes a discussion of the WTUL, mainly focused on the life of Leonora OReilly. She regards the League as a significant attempt to create a "united front" of women, and contends that despite its lack of support from the AF of L and its internal tensions it succeeded in gaining a permanent place for women within the ranks of organized labor.
U.S. Department of Labor. Womens Bureau. Toward Better Working Conditions for Women: Methods and Policies of the National Womens Trade Union League. Bulletin no. 252. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1953. A narrative account drawn largely from WTUL records and publications; it glosses over some serious League problems regarding finances, membership, and support from the labor movement.
Wertheimer, Barbara Mayer. We Were There: The Story of Working Women in America. New York: Pantheon Books, 1977. Includes a chapter on the WTUL and additional discussion in other chapters. Wertheimer declares that the WTULs most lasting achievement was providing trade union women with training and opportunities for leadership positions within the League, labor movement, and government.
Yellowitz, Irwin. Labor and the Progressive Movement in New York State, 1897-1916. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1965. Characterizing the WTUL as the progressive organization most closely connected to the labor movement, Yellowitz discusses the early history of the New York WTUL, paying particular attention to its internal conflicts over legislation versus organization and to its increasingly strained relationship with New York City labor unions.
X. Secondary Sources: Articles
Davis, Allen. F. "The Womens Trade Union League: Origins and Organization." Labor History, 5 (Winter 1964): 3-17. Traces the founding and early history of the WTUL and contends that it has been undeservedly ignored or slighted by most historians of progressivism and the labor movement.
Dickason, Gladys. "Women in Labor Unions." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 251 (May 1947): 70-79. This survey of the range of issues relevant to women and the labor movement briefly mentions the WTUL and characterizes it as having performed "an outstanding service in organizing women workers."
Dye, Nancy Schrom. "Creating a Feminist Alliance: Sisterhood and Class Conflict in the New York Womens Trade Union League, 1903-1914." Feminist Studies, 2, no. 2/3 (1975): 24-38. This subtle, solid, and insightful article examines the extent to which the New York WTUL achieved cross-class sisterhood. One of its most important findings is that divisions within the New York WTUL over organizational strategies and priorities did not follow class lines.
Dye, Nancy Schrom. "Feminism or Unionism? The New York Womens Trade Union League and the Labor Movement." Feminist Studies, 3 (Fall 1975): 111-25. Focuses on the special problems involved in organizing women workers in the early twentieth century and on the difficulties of reconciling commitments to both feminism and unionism. Dye describes and analyzes the New York WTULs approach to organizing and its successes and failures in this area, paying particular attention to its relationship with the AF of L and local unions and to alternative organizing strategies the League might have attempted. Her central contention is that "in their efforts to integrate women into the male-dominated labor movement and in their desire to appear as respectable trade unionists to the A.F. of L., League members were often forced to subordinate their commitment to feminism for a conservative trade union philosophy that was usually incompatible with their constituents needs as workers and as women."
Hillman, Bessie. "Gifted Women in the Trade Unions." In American Women: The Changing Image, pp. 99-115. Edited by Beverly Benner Cassara. Boston: Beacon Press, 1962. Hillman, a vice president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers union and one-time WTUL organizer, writes of the League in extremely positive terms.
Jacoby, Robin Miller. "Feminism and Class Consciousness in the British and American Womens Trade Union Leagues, 1890-1925." In Liberating Womens History: Theoretical and Critical Essays, pp. 137-60. Edited by Berenice A. Carroll. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976. After a summary history of the two Leagues and the context which produced them, Jacoby focuses on the issues of feminism and class through an examination of each Leagues relationship to its respective suffrage movement and an analysis of the conflict between the British WTUL and the American WTUL over the future of the International Federation of Working Women. She concludes from these two examples that the British "consistently chose to work for womens rights within sexually mixed, class-based contexts, while the Americans tended to focus their efforts on interaction with women across class lines."
Jacoby, Robin Miller. "The Womens Trade Union League and American Feminism." Feminist Studies, 3 (Fall 1975): 126-40. Viewing the WTUL in its self-defined role as the industrial branch of the womens movement, this article examines its relationship to some of the issues and groups that comprised the American feminist movement in the early twentieth century, including the suffrage movement, and concludes that the WTUL did considerably more for the womens movement than the womens movement did for the WTUL and the cause of women workers.
Kenneally, James J. "Women and Trade Unions, 1870-1920: The Quandary of the Reformer." Labor History, 14 (Winter 1973): 42-55. Primarily a discussion of the WTUL and its relationship with the AF of L from 1903 to 1920.
Kessler-Harris, Alice. "Organizing the Unorganizable: Three Jewish Women and Their Union." Labor History, 17 (Winter 1976): 5-23. This article on the lives and careers of Pauline Newman, Fannia Cohn, and Rose Pesotta focuses on their involvement with the ILGWU, but includes discussion of the WTUL, particularly in reference to Newman.
Kessler-Harris, Alice. "Where Are the Organized Women Workers?" Feminist Studies, 3 (Fall 1975): 92-110. The WTUL figures in this solid and sophisticated discussion of the factors responsible for the small number of organized women workers. The author argues that a major and not sufficiently emphasized factor was the attitudes and practices of the AF of L and its constituent unions.
Meyerand, Gladys. "Womens Organizations." In Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 15, pp. 460-65. Edited by Edwin R.A. Seligman. New York: Macmillan, 1935. The concluding paragraph of this survey of American and European womens organizations cites European criticism of American womens groups as having a "paternalistic attitude" and as seeking through selected reforms for women workers "to prevent any essential change in their status," and mentions the WTUL as the most commonly offered example. European women trade unionists, Meyerand indicates, criticize the League for placing "a mistaken emphasis on a womens movement within the ranks of labor." Women workers, they contend, must be organized on a class rather than a sex basis and should be independent of "middle or upper class sponsorship."
Perkins, Frances. "Women in Industry: An Historical Survey." Independent Woman, 16 (May 1937): 133, 152-54. Credits the WTUL with having given "considerable impetus" to the organization of women workers.
Sacks, Karen. "Class Roots of Feminism." Monthly Review, 27 (Feb. 1976): 28-48. Sacks sees the womens movement of the nineteenth century (which she defines as 1820-1920) as actually three distinct movements: one of industrial working-class women; another of middle and working-class black women; and a third of white middle-class women. She sees the WTUL as the one link between the first and third groups; she describes it as consisting largely of women workers but as dominated by middle-class reformers. She credits it with unionizing some women and ameliorating some anti-working-class attitudes among middle-class women, but asserts that its basic role was "to be in the midst of things, to see that events did not get out of control, and to make sure women workers stayed respectable in bourgeois eyes."
1Another important source is the Proceedings of the annual conventions of the AF of L. Reading through the published convention transcripts for the years during which the WTUL was in existence is tedious, but it reveals which WTUL members were present at a given convention and the roles they played. Extremely useful guides to convention actions and discussions, which do not mention the participants but do list and index resolutions by topic, are three volumes of the American Federation of Labor History, Encyclopedia, Reference Book, published by the AF of L in 1919, 1924, and 1955.
Introduction: Collection I: Margaret Dreier Robins Papers, University of Florida Libraries
By Edward T. James
Margaret Dreier was born in Brooklyn, New York, in September 1868, the daughter of German parents who had emigrated to the United States. She grew up in a family she remembered as "full of fun and life,"1 well-to-do but with a strong sense of civic obligation. Her fathers business success in the New World gave the family a secure place in Brooklyn Heights society. Although the German language and German traditions remained strong in the household, the Dreier circle included both German-Americans and families of the older English stock. Margarets closest friend throughout girlhood was Emily Ellsworth Ford, a sister of the later author Paul Leicester Ford.
Like her younger brother and three younger sisters, "Gretchen" was given good schooling through the secondary level, but no farther. Always a quick and perceptive reader--as she and others recalled, she read Emerson, Descartes, and Kant while still in her teens2--she pursued further education on her own: readings in history under the direction of a Brooklyn Congregational minister, Richard S. Storrs; lessons in rhetoric and composition from Lucia Gilbert Runkle, a former journalist. Throughout her lifetime, as her letters reveal, she retained a lively, active mind, wide in its interests, strong in powers of logic, apt at sizing up a situation.
Yet Margaret Dreiers was not a temperament of cool and rational detachment. She loved human contacts and activity, and she had a deeply religious idealism that early turned toward social betterment. Her German grandfather remembered Cavour and Mazzini. As a schoolgirl she was "stirred to the very depths of my heart" by the abolitionist traditions of the Quaker family of her friend Alice Smyth, great-niece of Thomas Garrett, noted for his aid to runaway slaves.3 She admired the work of Mrs. Emma M. Whittemore, founder in 1890 of a mission and home for New Yorks wayward women. And, although she attributed no special influence to the event, she later recalled being in London during the great dock strike of 1889 and meeting its leaders at Londons pioneering social settlement, Toynbee Hall.4 As an adult she pursued her chosen goals with passionate dedication. From the emotional side of her nature came traits that occasionally undercut the logical ones: impatience with both people and events, a lack of practicality in money matters, a near-mystical response to nature, especially as found in the setting of her Florida home. But at their best the two sides of her temperament fused to make her a strong and farsighted administrator and a public speaker of charismatic inspiration.
Her papers offer little evidence of how these qualities first developed: two manuscript essays dating from 1896 and 1898, probably written for Mrs. Runkle; an idealistic address to the graduating class at Brooklyns Packer Collegiate Institute in 1902; a few brief references in her letters of 1890-94 to the volunteer work for the Brooklyn Hospital and its nurses training school that became her first cause. From the hospital she moved to the State Charities Aid Association, as a visitor to the Long Island State Hospital (1901-04), and to the Womans Municipal League. Her vigorous and successful leadership of the Leagues campaign in 1903-04 for a state law regulating employment agencies marks the real beginning both of her public career and of the corpus of her papers. Leonora OReilly, whom she and her sisters had met around 1900 through Asacog House, a Brooklyn settlement, stirred Margaret Dreiers interest in labor conditions and led her into the Womens Trade Union League. She joined the New York branch in June 1904, a few months after its founding, and in the following March she became president of the New York League and treasurer of the National League.
Yet her progression seems not to have been so simple and straightforward as this summary might suggest. There must have been some emptiness, some irresolution during the years between girlhood and 1905, the year when she turned thirty-seven. Like her sisters, she made a formal debut in society. Stray letters in her correspondence mention her arranging a program for one local club and an exhibit of miniature paintings for another. She and her sister Mary bought property at Stonington, Connecticut, which they planned to develop into a model farm. And there are suggestions of internal tension. Margaret, whom her mother had described at age ten as "the least lovable" of the children and as having recently been "very naughty," was in her late teens suffering from "severe headaches."5 At thirty-five she missed a meeting on the employment agency bill because of "neuralgia," evidently a recurrent complaint. In June 1904 she thanked her sister Dorothea for a contribution "for my beloved Hospital" and signed the letter, "Your old maid, Gretchen."6 Ten months later she met Raymond Robins, a Chicago settlement worker and municipal reformer, and after a two-month courtship they were married in June 1905. "I never even took bromide on the steamer!" she wrote from her honeymoon. "I do not remember ever having been so well before."" The vigorous good health she now attained lasted for three decades.
That both wife and husband should continue their careers was never in question, but Margaret Robins did not at once plunge into public activity after moving to Chicago. She studied her new environment and met the citys leading settlement workers and reformers. Setting up housekeeping in a cold-water flat in a crowded working-class ward, she took pleasure in learning domestic skills; and she nursed hopes, never fulfilled, of starting a family. But she joined, of course, the Chicago Womens Trade Union League and in 1906 was elected its vice president. The president, Mary McDowell, recognizing the growing needs of the League and her own limited time as head of a major social settlement, graciously arranged in 1907 for the two to exchange places. Later that year Margaret Robins was also elected president of the National WTUL. She held both posts until 1913, when she gave up the local one to devote full time to the National League.
The years 1907 to 1922 mark the high point of Margaret Dreier Robins career. She brought to her leadership an energy and zest that carried her through long daily rounds of meetings, speeches, negotiations, administrative work, and letter writing. She systematized the Leagues operations, expanded its staff, found new sources of funding, and drew freely on her own means. She pursued two goals in particular: to bring the League closer to the labor movement, and to convey the needs of working women to middle-class women and the public generally.
Toward the first goal, she set out to familiarize herself with the ideas, leadership, and inner dynamics of the labor movement: the Chicago and Illinois federations, and the American Federation of Labor, whose national conventions she attended for several years, beginning as the Leagues fraternal delegate in 1907. She won respect and established friendships at all levels. With President Gompers of the AF of L her relationship was ambivalent. He found her demands on behalf of women troublesome, yet valued her sufficiently to appoint her in 1909 to the Federations Industrial Education Committee and to propose that she accompany him on a visit to Europe labor leaders. She respected his firm grasp of trade union principles but increasingly chafed at his temporizing toward women, and by 1917 political differences--Gompers strong support of Wilson, whose reelection she had opposed--had driven them apart. At the Chicago Federation of Labor she won, and returned, unqualified acceptance, both from the leaders--John Fitzpatrick, Victor Olander, and Edward Nockels--and from the rank and file. The Chicago Federation elected her in 1908 to its executive board, where she served until Gompers engineered her defeat in 1917. She staunchly supported the cause of labor, not only where women were involved but in other matters: the fight against court injunctions, as in the Bucks Stove Company case; the forced extradition of the Western mine leaders Charles Moyer and William Haywood to face murder charges growing out of a strike in Idaho. When in 1907 Chicago trade unionists staged a parade to protest the extradition, Margaret Robins marched at its head, to the consternation of her more conservative associates. Her reputation for radicalism caused her to be blackballed when she was proposed for membership in the Chicago Womans Club in 1907.
For the Womens Trade Union League, one of her early steps was to move the meeting place of the Chicago branch from the rarefied atmosphere of Hull House to the downtown hall used by the Chicago Federation of Labor. She gave firm backing and on occasion active personal leadership in strikes. When the shirtwaist makers strike of 1909-10 spread from New York City to Philadelphia, she and Agnes Nestor spent several weeks there mobilizing public support and helping to carry the conflict through to a settlement. She gave particularly strong leadership to the Chicago mens clothing workers strike of 1910-11.
As a member of the strike committee, she worked out a commissary system of relief that John Fitzpatrick later credited as setting a pattern for the whole labor movement, and she played an integral part in securing the landmark arbitration machinery in the agreement with the firm of Hart, Schaffner & Marx and in guiding the machinery through the important early years. From the Chicago strike and a New York one of 1912 emerged a new union, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, whose leaders in after years warmly recalled her role in their beginnings.
Margaret Robins viewed trade unions as more than bread-and-butter organizations to improve wages, hours, and working conditions. She saw them as a force to liberate and develop the human potential--to give their members a sense of dignity, teach them to act together effectively, to have a voice in their own destiny. "Industrial democracy" had a real and fundamental meaning for her. One of her most cherished projects for the National Womens Trade Union League was its training school for women organizers, which brought a small group of promising unionists to Chicago for a years study of both theory (in classes at the University of Chicago and Northwestern) and practice: observation and field work with local labor groups, instruction in how to draw up a trade agreement. By the same token, she sought to encourage and develop able trade unionists in the League. Among those who owed much to her guidance were Agnes Nestor, Mary Anderson, and Elisabeth Christman.
Margaret Robins second goal, interpreting the needs of working women to their middle-class sisters and to the public, she pursued through speeches and newspaper publicity, through the Leagues magazine, Life and Labor, and through participation in other organizations. She early arranged to have a group of working girls describe their experiences to a meeting of the Illinois Federation of Womens Clubs and for a time (1907-08) chaired its Industrial Committee. She attended conventions of the National Conference of Charities and Correction (1908, 1911), the YWCA (1913), and the National American Woman Suffrage Association (1910-1916). At the 1916 convention, President Wilson, seated on the platform, reportedly listened intently as she portrayed the working womans need for the ballot.8 She took labors message to the League of Women Voters as the first chairman of its Committee on Women in Industry (1919-20).
Although her presidency of the Womens Trade Union League continued until 1922, it seems apparent from her correspondence that Margaret Robins enthusiasm for the labor movement had begun to wane by 1916. An important factor, clearly, was her involvement in the Progressive party. Caught up in the revivalist excitement of its founding, she plunged into the 1912 campaign as stump speaker and head of womens work in Illinois. When the party collapsed four years later, she moved into the Republican party, primarily following her husbands lead, although her letters suggest that she also felt the pull of her Protestant and middle-class affiliations. That fall she was one of the most effective speakers aboard a special womens cross-country campaign train for the Republican candidate, Charles Evans Hughes. Her letters reveal some irritation with her labor associates in the Womens Trade Union League who were almost unanimously for Wilson. Once a Republican, she remained one for two decades. She accepted a place on the partys national womens committee in 1918 and, in 1920, on the policies and platform committee. Although outraged at first by the nomination of Harding (she and her husband had supported Hiram Johnson), she found what seemed to her compelling reasons to stay with the party and took the stump for Harding that fall. She campaigned with full enthusiasm for Hoover in 1928.
Meanwhile, Americas entry into the World War had diverted Margaret Robins from the Womens Trade Union League, though not from its goals. She helped get Agnes Nestor and other trade unionists onto government boards, and she herself promoted the interests of women factory workers as chairman of the Department of Women and Children in Industry of the Illinois branch of the Womans Committee, Council of National Defense. The war broadened her concern beyond national borders. Almost single-handedly, she persuaded the Womens Trade Union League to call an International Congress of Working Women in Washington in 1919, raised the necessary funds, and secured a respectably large group of overseas delegates from Europe, Latin America, and even the Far East. The Congress set up a continuing organization, later renamed the International Federation of Working Women, with Margaret Robins as president. She attended its two succeeding congresses, held in Europe in 1921 and 1923, but she and the League withdrew after the second congress voted to become a department of the male and socialist-oriented International Federation of Trade Unions.
By 1922 she had lost her enthusiasm not only for labor work but for city living. On her first visit during her honeymoon she had fallen in love with the natural beauties of a tract of land her husband owned in Florida. Raymond Robins had admired the former plantation during his boyhood on a nearby farm; after his return from the Alaska gold rush he had purchased it, giving it the native Alaskan name of Chinsegut. On their hilltop, high above the surrounding countryside, where she moved to watch the sun rise over a sea of mist, and in the adjoining woodlands, where she liked to wander and "dream," Margaret Robins felt a sense of peace and a closeness to God. Even her busiest Chicago years included sojourns at Chinsegut, during which she took special interest in planting trees, shrubs, and flowers. As the years went by, she and Robins increasingly looked forward to making Chinsegut their year-round home. Once she had launched the International Congress of Working Women, she was ready to retire from the League, which she did at the earliest opportunity, in 1922.
Her retirement, however, was not a contemplative one. With Raymond Robins away most of the year on the lecture circuit, she directed the remodeling of their home and supervised the fruit growing and other farm operations on the estate. From the start she had shared Chinsegut with relatives and friends. Her warm hospitality now brought increasing numbers of house guests from the North. She developed new friendships in nearby Brooksville and in other central Florida towns and held frequent dinners and receptions. As the fame of Chinsegut spread, other visitors came unannounced, so many that she had to set aside a special day of the week for them. These social responsibilities by the 1930s had come to engross much of her time.
Her public activities were now mainly local. She had become acquainted with the YWCA through Florence Simms, the director of its Industrial Department, who had aided the Womens Trade Union League, and through her own service on its War Work Council. In her new home she organized a YWCA chapter in Brooksville and guided it into a variety of projects, particularly a bookshop and lending library. She later headed a county Red Cross chapter and became vice president of a Brooksville bank which the Robinses were shoring up against the depression. She gave occasional addresses at local or regional schools and womens clubs, and in 1931 she accepted an appointment to the board of trustees of Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. In her new environment she developed interests in agriculture and the plight of the farmer, in small-town communities and in rural life. Public health needs were one such concern. After joining the Republican national campaign staff in 1928--one of the few public activities after 1922 that took her out of the South--she welcomed President Hoovers invitation to serve on the planning committee for his White House Conference on Child Health and Protection of 1930 and assisted in follow-up programs within Florida.
Yet her older loyalties, although submerged, did not die. After her retirement as national president she largely withdrew from active involvement in the Womens Trade Union League, both for her own sake and to give free rein to her successor, Maud Swartz. She maintained contact, however, with her former associates, particularly Elisabeth Christman, Mary Anderson, and Agnes Nestor, even though their ideas now sometimes diverged. When the League launched its Southern Project of 1928-31, which sought to organize women workers in the textile mills and win them public support, Margaret Robins took an active part, giving several speeches, appealing to President Hoover on behalf of strikers in Danville, Virginia, and sending relief supplies through her local YWCA. Although initially committed to Hoovers voluntarist approach to the depression, she responded increasingly to the New Deals concern for labor and the common man and by the close of the 1936 campaign had come around to Roosevelt. During the next few years she penned several eloquent defenses of organized labor and the New Deal to more conservative relatives and friends.
Family concerns and weakening health shadowed Margaret Robins last twelve years. Dependent on investment income, and squeezed by brokers debts incurred through buying stocks on margin before the crash, the Robinses saw their holdings largely wiped out by successive market collapses in 1931. To salvage their home, they persuaded the federal government to take over the Chinsegut estate as an agricultural experiment station, leaving them lifetime tenure of the house and grounds. The transfer was completed in the spring of 1932. That fall Raymond Robins, worn out by his participation in a long cross-country speaking tour seeking to ward off repeal of prohibition, disappeared after leaving New York for an appointment at the White House. It was feared that he was the victim of gangsters involved in the liquor trade. After nearly three months he was discovered living in a small North Carolina town, an apparent victim of amnesia.
Although Margaret Robins had borne up bravely, the weeks of uncertainty took their toll. A further blow came to her in 1935 when a severe fall from a tree he had been pruning nearly cost Robins his life and left his legs paralyzed. Although her own health now began to give way, for nearly a decade more she retained her lively interest in people and current events, both at Chinsegut and during summers with her sister Mary at Southwest Harbor, Maine. She died at Chinsegut in February 1945 at the age of seventy-six after a series of heart attacks. By her own wish, a simple cremation followed, and her ashes were scattered around the roots of a favorite oak at Chinsegut.
Footnotes: Collection I
1MDR to Mary Dreier, May 24, 1942 (Reel 47, frame 1053).
2MDR to Jane Ickes, Aug. 12, 1939, enclosed with MDR to Raymond Robins, Aug. 24, 1939 (Reel 63, frame 623); MDR to Nan (Antoinette Dreier Stearly), Feb. 15, 1935 (Reel 41, frame 119); Hamilton Holt to Raymond Robins, Feb. 26, 1945 (Reel 3, frame 174).
3MDR to Alice OGorman, Oct. 25, 1938 (Reel 45, frames 99-100).
4MDR to Raymond Robins, May 26, 1932 (Reel 61, frames 744-45); MDR to Dodo (Dorothea Dreier), July 21, 1923 (Reel 28, frame 153).
5Partial translation of Dora (Dorothea Adelheid Dreier) to her mother, Dec. 13, 1878 (Reel 17, frame 739); Mary E. Dreier, Margaret Dreier Robins (New York, 1950), p. 6.
6Margaret L. Chanler to Margaret Dreier, Jan. 8, 1904 (Reel 19, frame 528); Margaret Dreier to Dorothea Dreier, June 18, 1904 (Reel 19, frames 716-17).
7MDR to Mary Dreier, June 27, July 18, 1905 (Reel 19, frames 778-79).
8Catharine Waugh McCulloch to Raymond Robins, Feb. 26, 1945 (Reel 3, frames 180-81); Elizabeth Robins to MDR, Sept, 8, 1916 (Reel 24, frames 230A-230B).
Bibliographical Note: Collection I
For further research on Margaret Dreier Robins, much of the material in the present microfilm edition of Womens Trade Union League sources is pertinent. There are a few letters by her in the Rose Schneiderman Papers, more in the New York Womens Trade Union League Records and in the Leonora OReilly and Agnes Nestor papers, and a substantial number in the Mary Anderson Papers. The records of the National WTUL, filmed by the Library of Congress in conjunction with this edition, include some of her official correspondence.
In other manuscript collections, there are MDR letters in the Raymond Robins Papers at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, the Mary Dreier Papers at the Schlesinger Library, and the large collection of Elizabeth Robins Papers at the Fales Library of New York University. Other family collections are the Dorothea Dreier Papers at the Smithsonian Institutions Archives of American Art and the Ethel Eyre (Valentine) Dreier Papers at the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College. There are scattered MDR letters in the John Fitzpatrick and Chicago Teachers Federation (Margaret Haley) collections at the Chicago Historical Society and in the Graham Taylor Papers at the Newberry Library in Chicago. The Herbert Hoover Papers in the Hoover Presidential Library, West Branch, Iowa, Pre-Presidential Period, 1928-29, include a file of correspondence with MDR.
The basic secondary source is Mary E. Dreier, Margaret Dreier Robins: Her Life, Letters, and Work (1950), comprehensive but uncritical and lacking in perspective. See also the accounts by Allen F. Davis in Notable American Women, 1607-1950 and by David Brody in the Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 3. Barbara A. Estes completed a doctoral dissertation, "Margaret Dreier Robins: Social Reformer and Labor Organizer," at Ball State University in 1977. Dissertations by Alice Clement and Elizabeth Payne Moore dealing wholly or partly with MDRs work in the WTUL are in progress.
History of Collection I
Both Margaret Dreier Robins and Raymond Robins faithfully preserved their correspondence and other papers over four or more decades. Save for Robins records of his Russian years, which he kept in a vault in a New York bank, they were stored at Chinsegut Hill, the Robins estate in Florida. By the time Margaret Robins died in 1945, the holdings comprised considerable bulk. By all indications, they were largely unsorted.
The first person to venture into the papers was presumably Mary Dreier, who set out a year or two after MDRs death to write her biography. From the start she planned a "life and letters" that would include substantial excerpts from MDRs correspondence and other writings. She had herself preserved the many letters MDR had written to her from 1905 to 1945, and these she added to the collection, drawing upon them for her biography.
Mary Dreier had also inherited the papers of Leonora OReilly, her long-time friend and associate in the Womens Trade Union League. When sending these in 1945 to the Schlesinger Library (then the Womens Archives) at Radcliffe College, she evidently retained certain items for use in writing her biography: some half dozen letters from MDR, and material on the first few years of the National and New York Womens Trade Union Leagues, both official minutes and letters to OReilly. These ended up in the MDR collection. While writing her biography Mary Dreier secured MDR letters from several friends with whom her sister had corresponded: Elisabeth Christman, Alice OGorman, and Stella Franklin; these too became part of the collection. In a reversal of the process, MDR in 1942 had gathered together most of the letters she had received from Dr. Richard C. Cabot and sent them to Alice OGorman, Cabots former secretary, to be added to his papers which OGorman was then assembling for the Harvard University Archives.
Mary Dreiers biography itself augmented the MDR collection, as she preserved three successive drafts and portions of her correspondence relating to its editing and publication. In all likelihood, also, it was she who added to the collection the large group of letters of sympathy received after MDRs death by herself, Raymond Robins, and Edward Dreier, together with some of the published obituaries and tributes. Somewhere along the line papers of the preceding generation, mostly from the Dreier side, found their way into what was still an amorphous family archive. So too, probably inadvertently, did some of Mary Dreiers own papers and some of her sister Dorotheas.
Interest in the future of this assembled material at first centered on the career of Raymond Robins. As early as 1944 President John J. Tigert of the University of Florida made a gentle overture to Robins about acquiring his books and personal papers, an inquiry which Robins diplomatically turned aside. The next move dates from 1951. Mary Dreiers biography of MDR had appeared the year before, but it seems to have done little to stir interest in her career--least of all in Florida, where as late as 1976 a mimeographed information sheet at Chinsegut mentioned her only as a gracious hostess. The early 1950s were a time when both social reform and feminism were at a low ebb. Raymond Robins, however, was still living at Chinsegut, under the faithful care of the Robinses unofficially adopted daughter, Lisa von Borowsky, although his health was failing. The "cold war" had stirred interest in Americas relations with Russia, and Tigert and other university visitors had undoubtedly heard Robins tell of his adventures there during the Bolshevik revolution. Prompted by a member of the history department with a special interest in Russia, the director of the University of Florida Library, Stanley L. West, made inquiries in the spring of 1951 about acquiring Raymond Robins books and papers.
The overture dovetailed with family concern about the future of the Chinsegut home, which under the terms of the Robinses gift of the estate to the Federal government in 1932 would pass into federal hands when Robins died. The result was a formal agreement (1952) that the university would, after Robins death, lease the house from the federal government, station a librarian there, and use the house and its collection of books and manuscripts as a research and conference center.
The agreement was completed despite some uncertainty, as revealed in correspondence in the university archives, that Raymond Robins papers would actually come to the university. A historian at the University of Wisconsin, William Appleman Williams, had drawn upon Robins recollections and documents in writing his American-Russian Relations, 1781-1947, published in 1952, and that institution was making a strong bid for the material. In the end Wisconsin won. After Raymond Robins death in September 1954, his papers--the great majority of them at least--were separated out from the stored holdings at Chinsegut and, in June 1955, were given by his executor, Lisa von Borowsky, to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
The University of Florida, nonetheless, had gone ahead with its commitment and set up a branch library at Chinsegut. The first news releases, in January 1955, mentioned only the "8000 volumes, many rare and not replaceable," that had come with the house; not until early 1956 was any reference made to the papers of Margaret Dreier Robins. The Chinsegut library was dedicated that February. The dedication address by John Tigert, "A Tribute to Colonel and Mrs. Raymond Robins," described Robins career at some length, followed by the fulsome but vague assertion that Mrs. Robins had made even "great contributions," as witness the long list of organizations she had "founded, organized, directed or otherwise engaged in" that were listed in Whos Who in America. Tigerts only specific statements were incorrect: that Mrs. Robins had been "closely associated with Jane Addams" in the work of Hull House and--confusing her with her sister-in-law Elizabeth Robins--that she had written "works of fiction," including one depicting her husbands experiences in the Klondike.
The Chinsegut Hill library did not prove a practical undertaking and was discontinued in 1959. The books and other materials, including the Margaret Dreier Robins Papers--still largely "in boxes or wrapped"--were moved to the main university library in Gainesville. There they were eventually unpacked, reduced to an orderly arrangement, and placed in the librarys rare books and manuscripts department, where they filled nearly 110 standard manuscript boxes. One section of the papers, twenty-one boxes of personal correspondence between MDR and her husband, had been closed to researchers at family request when the papers came to the library. By agreement of Lisa von Borowsky and Theodore Dreier, the oldest of MDRs nephews, this restriction was lifted in 1976.
Description of Collection I
The Margaret Dreier Robins collection is both more and slightly less than a definitive set of her personal papers. It includes a large body of letters written by MDRs mother to her own mother in Germany. It also contains groups of correspondence of other members of the family--Mary Dreier, Dorothea Dreier, and Raymond Robins--that somehow became separated from the main bodies of their pages. Yet some of MDRs correspondence, in turn, strayed into other collections. Mary Dreier placed nearly all of the letters she had received from her sister into the Margaret Dreier Robins Papers, but more than 300 additional ones have turned up in the Mary Dreier Papers recently acquired by the Schlesinger Library. The bulk of the personal letters between MDR and her husband remain in the MDR collection, but some, along with scattered letters to MDR from other correspondents, found their way into the Raymond Robins Papers that went to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
Nonetheless, the Margaret Dreier Robins Papers have a basic coherence and are so nearly complete that the missing fragments are of less consequence. The papers provide rich documentation of MDRs public and personal activities from 1903 until her death in 1945, with scattered material also on the years before 1903.
The papers fall into two basic categories: correspondence and general papers. The general material comes first, divided into two series. Series 1, Biographical and Personal Material, has sections on MDR and the Dreier family and on Raymond Robins and his relatives. Each includes some family history or genealogy, various personal documents and memorabilia, other biographical material, speeches and writings, and scattered financial records. The series also includes material on MDRs death, mostly a substantial collection of letters of sympathy received by members of the family; typed drafts of Mary Dreiers biography of MDR, with related correspondence; various documents and records of Chinsegut Hill, the Robinses Florida estate; and guest books and other items concerning the Robinses social life.
The items in Series 2, Organization and Topical Material, pertain to particular organizations or subjects in which MDR was interested or involved. Included are minutes, reports, and internal memoranda, mostly typed or duplicated, and a variety of other documents, together with occasional printed leaflets or clippings.
Series 3, Correspondence, comprises the bulk of the collection. Its two main segments are the general Margaret Dreier Robins correspondence and the correspondence exchanged between MDR and Raymond Robins. Although for practical reasons Series 1 and 2 were arranged and filmed first, the researcher may prefer to begin his or her investigations with the correspondence in Series 3.
Fuller descriptions of each of the three series follow. Because of the size of the collection and the diversity of material within it, the contents of individual reels have been described in some detail in the reel notes. These notes will help the researcher looking for material on a particular person or topic.
In microfilming the Margaret Dreier Robins Papers, a few groups of material were omitted, either because they seemed of marginal value or because they were duplicated elsewhere. The omissions in Series 1 were minor and are indicated in the notes for Reels 4, 6, and 7. In Series 2, pamphlets and leaflets of the National Womans Trade Union League that had already been filmed as part of the collection of its papers at the Schlesinger Library were not repeated here. The same is true of serial publications of the National and local Leagues, although particular issues in the Robins Papers were photocopied and included in the consolidated set that forms part of this microfilm edition.
Three broader categories of material call for special comment: clippings (4 boxes of loose clippings in folders, 3 boxes of scrapbooks), printed matter (5 boxes), and photographs (6 boxes). The loose clippings and printed matter were reviewed, and items usefully related to MDRs activities or interests--a small portion of the total-- were placed and filmed in Series 1 or 2. The clipping scrapbooks proved unsuitable for filming because of oversize pages, poor condition, or the manner in which the clippings had been mounted, overlapping and partly folded under. The photographs were excluded because they do not reproduce well on standard high-contrast microfilm. Brief descriptions of the last two groups of material are included here for the benefit of a researcher who may wish to examine them at the University of Florida Library.
The earliest of the clipping scrapbooks are two large volumes assembled by Charles E. Robins, Raymond Robins father, over the years from 1853 to 1886. They reflect his interests and activities and record some family events, such as marriages and deaths. A smaller scrapbook kept by Raymond Robins consists mostly of clippings about California and San Francisco politics, c. 1896, with a scattering of material also on woman suffrage, the Womans Christian Temperance Union, and the single tax; a few pages at the end concern his administration of the Chicago Municipal Lodging House in 1902. Also pertaining to Raymond Robins are a scrapbook on his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1914 and two scrapbooks of clippings about Russia from American newspapers of 1918-19. The remaining scrapbooks or scrapbook pages date from 1906-13 and touch upon Chicago politics and affairs of the Womens Trade Union League, including the clothing workers strike of 1910. The photographs are of Margaret and Raymond Robins, their relatives, friends, and guests, and were mostly taken at Chinsegut. The subjects are largely unidentified and the photographs undated. Included are both studio photographs and family photograph albums.
Collection I : Series 1: Biographical and Personal Material (Reels 1-7)
Into this series has been gathered material about Margaret Dreier Robins that is primarily of a biographical, personal, or family nature. Material relating to the particular organizations or subject areas with which she was concerned will be found in Series 2. Not all items fall neatly into one category or the other. This series, for example, includes most of the available manuscript and typescript texts of MDRs articles and speeches, but a few were so closely related to her work in organizations like the Womans Municipal League and the National Womens Trade Union League that it seemed more useful to place them in Series 2. For the most part, however, the distinction is clear.
Besides material about MDR herself, Series 1 contains items relating to the Dreier family and its members, to the Robins family, particularly Raymond Robins, to Chinsegut Hill, the Florida estate which in later years so largely absorbed MDRs interest, and to social occasions there and elsewhere. The Chinsegut Hill segment includes a group of correspondence concerning the management and maintenance of the estate and of the Robins home--an exception to the general placement of correspondence in Series 3. Similarly, the segment on Mary Dreiers biography of her sister contains both a preliminary typescript of the biography and a file of correspondence concerning its writing and publication.
The following outline will indicate the general arrangement and content of the series. The quantity and usefulness of the material under the various headings varies. For more specific information see the reel notes.
Outline of Collection I: Series 1: Biographical and Personal Material
Note: The series is divided into nine numbered segments, some with subdivisions.
(1) Dreier Family
(2) Margaret Dreier Robins
General Biographical Material
Retirement Letters (1922)
Silver Wedding Anniversary (1930)
Programs of Speaking Engagements
Notes, Fragments, etc.
Investments and Business Records
Death, Letters of Sympathy, and Memorial Services
(3) Mary Dreier Biography of Margaret Dreier Robins
(4) Robins Family
(5) Raymond Robins
(6) Chinsegut Hill
(7) Guests and Social Occasions
Verses for Family Occasions
(8) Biographical Material on Other Persons
(9) Writings by Others
Collection I : Series 2: Organizational and Topical Material (Reels 8-16)
The material in this series has been arranged with an eye to the patterns of Margaret Dreier Robins career. It is divided into two basic categories. The first and largest covers the area of labor and social welfare, the predominant concern of the first two decades of her public life and one that remained active to some extent through the two later decades. The second category is devoted to the considerable variety of other causes, activities, and organizations to which she lent her interest and support. Within both categories, sections on particular organizations or topics are arranged in approximate chronological sequence according to the year of the earliest items within the section. The series concludes with a section on the groups and activities within Florida that came to engross so much of MDRs attention, and one on miscellaneous matters of a national focus.
Of particular interest, of course, is the material on the Womens Trade Union League, which comprises nearly five reels. Most of it concerns the National League: Reel 12 contains material on local branches and on the Leagues offshoot, the International Congress/Federation of Working Women. On the National League, there are minutes of its founding sessions and of the early meetings of its executive board (1903-05), but only random and marginal items for the ensuing thirteen years; for this period one must turn to MDRs correspondence in Series 3 and to the headquarters records of the NWTUL in the Library of Congress, as microfilmed in conjunction with the present edition. The quantity of documentation picks up somewhat in 1919-20, and particularly in 1921 when Elisabeth Christman takes over as national secretary. From then through 1939 there seems to be a largely complete set of the official communications sent to members of the executive board and of the boards minutes. Thereafter (1940-50) MDRs files become spotty. Of local League material, the strongest holdings are on the Chicago (originally Illinois) branch from 1940 to 1915 and on the founding and first two years of the New York branch.
Many of the documents within the National WTUL segment of Series 2 are in the form of letters. They are, however, official communications addressed to board members collectively, as distinct from individual or personal letters; letters of the latter sort that were sent to MDR are in Series 3. The same distinction (with minor exceptions) has been applied to other parts of Series 2.
Not all of the organizations and topics represented here were of equal importance in MDRs activities and concerns. For a number of them, additional (though scattered) information can be found in her correspondence; others receive little or no mention there.
Outline of Collection I : Series 2: Organizational and Topical Material
Note: The series is divided into six numbered segments, some with subdivisions.
(1) Womans Municipal League and Related Groups
(2) National Womens Trade Union League
(3) Womens Trade Union League: Local Activities
(4) International Congress/Federation of Working Women
(5) Additional Labor and Social Welfare Organizations and Interests
Industrial Committee, Illinois Federation of Womens Clubs (1906-08)
American Federation of Labor (1909)
Chicago and Illinois Federations of Labor (1907-14)
Council of National Defense, World War 1
YWCA War Work Council
Other Wartime Labor Matters
Committee on Women in Industry, League of Women Voters (1919-25)
Womens Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor (1918-38)
Mary Macarthur Memorial Committee (1921-23)
YWCA Industrial Department (1919-26, 1940)
White House Conference on Child Health and Protection (1929-30)
Southern Organizations and Conferences
Child Labor Amendment (1933-38)
Labor Legislation and Judicial Decisions
Labor and Social Welfare--Miscellaneous
(6) Other Organizations and Interests
Political Parties and Campaigns
National and International Councils of Women
Equal Rights Amendment
Committee on Public Relations, Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America
International Womens Conferences
Florida Groups and Activities (YWCA, Social Welfare, Public Health, Conservation)
Collection I : Series 3: Correspondence (Reels 17-66)
This series which comprises fifty reels, is divided into the following eight parts:
(1) Dreier Family Correspondence, 1855-1893
(2) Margaret Dreier Robins Correspondence
(3) Correspondence between Margaret Dreier Robins and Raymond Robins
(4) Raymond Robins Correspondence
(5) Mary E. Dreier Correspondence
(6) Dorothea A. Dreier Correspondence
(7) Leonora OReilly Correspondence
(8) Other Third-Party Correspondence
The principal bodies of correspondence within this series are Parts 2 and 3. Descriptions of these two parts follow. For descriptions of Part 1 and Parts 4-8 see the appropriate reel notes.
Collection I : Part 2: Margaret Dreier Robins Correspondence (Reels 19-51)
The general correspondence of Margaret Dreier Robins, as here assembled, comprises 33 out of the 66 reels of her papers. Only scattered items are preserved from her childhood and early adulthood, but the correspondence increases markedly in 1903 and from 1906 onward appears to be large intact. MDR kept relatively few copies of her outgoing letters. This, however, is more than compensated for by the presence in the collection of most of the hundreds of letters she wrote to her sister Mary from 1905 to 1945, along with Marys replies. The interchanges between the two sisters, closely tied by affection and common interests, add an important dimension to the papers, illuminating the thoughts and activities of them both and providing MDRs own running commentary on four decades of her life. It should be noted that most, if not all, of the letters quoted by Mary Dreier in her biography of MDR are to be found here, occasionally with sentiments or expressions (such as speaking of the black servants at her Florida estate as "darkeys") that Mary Dreier thought it better to modify or omit before committing the letters to print.
The correspondence reflects both the public and personal aspects of MDRs life: the organizations in which she took an active part, notably the Womens Trade Union League; her ideas and interests; her wide circle of friends; her strong family loyalties. For her public activities, this is of course personal rather than official correspondence (though a few official letters seem to have found their way into the papers). It does not cover in any systematic way MDRs day-to-day work as president of the National WTUL from 1907 to 1922; there is very little, for example, on her role in the Chicago clothing workers strike of 1910-11. The correspondence does, however, provide insights into her thoughts and motives and into the Leagues personal relationships, administrative problems, and inner tensions of a sort that find little or no reflection in surviving headquarters records.
The incoming letters represent a wide variety of correspondents, many of them friends of long standing. Among them are Agnes Nestor, Elisabeth Christman, and Mary Anderson of the WTUL; friends from her Brooklyn childhood like Emily Ford Skeel, Alice Smyth, Elisabeth Frothingham, Charlotte Schetter, and Lucy Schwab White; friends from Chicago reform and settlement house circles, including Graham Taylor, Harold and Anna Ickes, James Mullenbach, and Alice Thacher Post; and Florida families like the Fultons and Cooglers in Brooksville.
As the years go by, and particularly during the Florida years after 1922, letters from members of her own family make up an increasingly large portion of the correspondence. The papers provide a running chronicle of the Dreiers: particularly of Mary (1875-1963), but also of MDRs two other sisters, Dorothea (1870-1923), a painter, and Katherine (1877-1952), painter and patron of modern art; her brother Edward (1872-1955), the family businessman and financial manager; his wife, Ethel Eyre Dreier (1874-1958), active in New York civic and suffrage work; and their four children: Theodore (b. 1902), physicist, nuclear engineer, and co-founder of Black Mountain College, who married Barbara Loines; Antoinette ("Nanette" or "Nan," b. 1903), for many years active with her husband, Garrett Stearly, in the religious movement led by Frank Buchman; John (b. 1906), diplomat, educator, and Latin American specialist, who married Louisa ("Isa") Richardson; and Dorothea ("Dotty," b. 1909), wife of Peter Voorhees. During the years when Theodore Dreier was teaching at Rollins College in Florida, MDR took particular delight in her first grand-nephew, Theodore Jr., nicknamed "Quintus" as the fifth Dreier to bear that name. Her interests extended also to her relatives in Germany, whom she visited on occasional trips to Europe; with several of them she maintained a regular correspondence through most of her life.
On the Robins side, MDRs relations with her sister-in-law, Elizabeth Robins (1862-1952), actress, author, and suffragist, were sometimes strained, but the correspondence includes many letters from her and other references to her. There are also occasional letters from Vernon Robins, brother of Raymond and Elizabeth, a physician and public health official in Louisville, and a number of letters in later years from Elizabeth Bodine McKay ("Cousin Lizzie"), the foster mother on whose farm near Brooksville, Florida, Raymond Robins spent his later boyhood. The correspondence includes references, over the years, to Frances A. Kellor, who for much of her life lived with Mary Dreier. MDRs Florida household from time to time included young women who assisted her in various capacities. One, Lisa von Borowsky, the daughter of a German army officer who had settled after World War I in the United States, quickly formed a warm bond with the Robinses and with Chinsegut and became for all practical purposes their adopted daughter.
The correspondence is arranged chronologically. When more than one letter exists for a given date, the letters for that date are arranged alphabetically by the names of the writers. Undated letters, or letters lacking the year, have been given approximate dates (in square brackets) in as many cases as possible, usually based on their relationship to dated letters or on other internal evidence. Letters for which only a year can be assigned are grouped at the end of that year. Letters given a firm or conjectural month and year are generally placed at the end of that month. An exception has sometimes been made when such a letter clearly fits into an earlier point in that months correspondence. Undated letters for which not even a year can safely be assigned are grouped together at the end of the correspondence, arranged alphabetically by author.
Although this series is made up of letters to or by MDR, occasional letters addressed to Raymond Robins or to Mary Dreier that were found in MDRs correspondence and relate closely to her activities, or to letters to or by her, have been left within it.
Enclosures to letters have been filmed as they occur, without an identifying note or target, nor have targets been used to mark missing enclosures. When, however, any portion of a letter is missing, that fact is indicated by a note on the letter itself or by a target above or below the appropriate page. For letters written on folded sheets, the pages are normally filmed individually, except where the two inside pages are in proper sequence and alignment. Exceptions are sometimes made, as for example in filming an unfolded sheet with page 1 on the right and page 2 on the left, when the sequence is clear at a glance. In handwritten letters, the final few lines may sometimes be carried over from the pack page to the top or sides of the first page. No targets have been used to call attention to such cases.
Collection I : Part 3: Correspondence between Margaret Dreier Robins and Raymond Robins (Reels 52-63)
The correspondence on these twelve reels begins with the Robinses ten-week courtship in 1905 and continues until shortly before MDRs death in 1945. By nature, the correspondence is intermittent, since it took place (with a few brief exceptions) only when MDR or RR was away from home. That, however, was a surprisingly large part of the time, particularly during the years 1912-33, when RRs career as evangelist, public lecturer, political campaigner, and backstage political adviser kept him almost constantly on the road. The years before 1912 are the most spotty, both because MDR and RR did less traveling then and because portions of the correspondence have become separated or lost. No trace has been found, for example, of the letters MDR wrote from the Toronto convention of the American Federation of Labor in 1909, although RRs letters refer to them. Even after 1912 some MDR letters are missing, particularly for the years 1913-17. Some of them found their way into RRs papers that were sent in 1955 to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Whole runs of letters are sometimes in one collection or the other, as with the courtship letters of 1905. More commonly, letters for a particular month will be randomly represented in both collections. Overall, however, the bulk of the correspondence remains in the Margaret Dreier Robins Papers.
The correspondence on these reels varies in quantity from year to year: scarcely more than 300 frames in any year through 1912; 500 or more in 1915 and 1916; 365 in 1917; considerably fewer for the years 1918-21; 600 or more each for 1922-24; 200 or less for each of the years 1925-28; 400 to 800 each for 1929-32, but dropping off again thereafter. Both the quantity and the character of the correspondence changes after RRs near-fatal accident in September 1935. With his traveling at an end, he and MDR thereafter exchanged letters only during her summer sojourns with her sister Mary in Maine.
In content, MDRs letters are useful for the Womens Trade Union League period, the years through 1922. As compared to her general correspondence in Part 2, they contain some new material, but are perhaps equally important for providing a different perspective, a more full and frank expression of her ideas, aspirations, and reactions to persons and events. After 1922, when the Chinsegut estate and Florida affairs engross her attention, her letters here add little to those in her general correspondence. In these later years, too, the balance of the correspondence shifts, as RR writes more frequently and at greater length. Restless and high-strung, he seems to have worked off nervous energy between lectures or political conferences by dashing off long letters from his hotel room; by the late 1920s he was writing to MDR as many as three times a day. She on the other hand, busy with visitors and guests and other care of the estate, wrote less often and at less length.
RRs letters will be of particular value to the student of his career or of the political and social movements of which he was a part: municipal reform, the Progressive movement, the social gospel and the evangelical campaign to win Protestant men back to church membership, the movements for outlawry of war and the enforcement of prohibition. The letters are often long-winded and given to pontifical statements on public affairs or elaborate apostrophes to Chinsegut or to MDR. Yet they provide a frank and detailed running account of most of RRs public activities from 1907 to 1935 and offer insights into his personality and ideas.
The letters, of course, also document a marriage. The relationship is perhaps somewhat idealized in the writing; MDR and RR shared the faith of their Progressive generation in the noble possibilities of human nature and the generations tendency to exalt the sublime. Yet it seems clear that each indeed meant much to the other, that each depended upon and received support from the other, and that each respected and took pride in the others abilities and accomplishments.
The letters between them are interfiled in a single chronological sequence. When both wrote on the same day, MDRs letters are given alphabetical precedence. Occasional enclosures have been filmed as they occur. Scattered among the letters are some telegrams between MDR and RR. Others found their way into MDRs general correspondence in Part 2 and have been filmed there.
Collection I : Margaret Dreier Robins: Chronology
1868, Sept. 6--Born in Brooklyn, N.Y.
c. 1880 ff--Attended Brackett School in Brooklyn
c. 1887--Joined womens auxiliary of Brooklyn Hospital
1901-1904--Visitor to state hospitals, State Charities Aid Association
1903-1904--Chairman, legislative committee, Womans Municipal League
1904, June (?)--Joined New York Womens Trade Union League
1905, March--Elected president of New York WTUL and treasurer of National WTUL
1905, June 21--Married Raymond Robins and moved to Chicago
1907--Elected president of Chicago WTUL and of National WTUL
1908-1917--Member of the executive board, Chicago Federation of Labor
1909-1910--Active in leadership of mens clothing workers strike in Chicago and in negotiating and carrying into practice the trade agreement with Hart, Schaffner & Marx providing for arbitration of worker grievances.
1912--Chairman of womens work, Illinois Progressive party
1913--Resigned presidency of Chicago WTUL
1916--Campaigned for Charles Evans Hughes
1917-1918--Chairman, Department of Women and Children in Industry, Illinois Division of Womans Committee, Council of National Defense
1918-1920--Member, Republican Womens National Executive Committee
1919-1923--Founder and president of International Congress (later Federation) of Working Women
1922--Retired as president of National WTUL
1925--Completed move to Chinsegut Hill, the Robins estate near Brooksville, Florida
1925-44--Founded and guided Hernando County YWCA, Brooksville, Florida
1928--Headed industrial section of Herbert Hoovers presidential campaign
1929-1930--Member of planning committee, White House Conference on Child Health and Protection
1931-33--Trustee of Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida
1932--She and Raymond Robins donated their estate to the U.S. government, retaining lifetime tenure of their home
1945, Feb. 21--Died at Chinsegut Hill
Introduction: Collection II: National Womens Trade Union League Papers, Schlesinger Library
The National Womens Trade Union League Papers at the Schlesinger Library are best described in relation to the headquarters files of which they once formed a part. This in turn requires a look at the Leagues record-keeping practices.
From the start, two categories of material were preserved with special care: the records of the Leagues executive board and the stenographic or verbatim proceedings of the Leagues national conventions--the unedited transcripts from which the condensed printed proceedings were prepared. The executive board records included minutes of board meetings, official communications to board members, selected correspondence dealing with policy matters, circular letters to local Leagues, and occasional other material: reports of League officers or committees, speeches and legislative testimony, clippings and leaflets. These records were indexed and bound into volumes for better preservation and reference. They have survived intact, save for some material of 1913-15 that was lost in a fire in the national office in 1916. (See Emma Steghagen to Elisabeth Christman, Jan. 15, 1928, Apr. 3, 1930, Records of the National WTUL, Library of Congress, Reel 4, frame 489, and Reel 5, frame 256.) The file of stenographic proceedings begins with the first national convention of 1909 and lacks only two subsequent years, 1917 and 1926.
How the rest of the files evolved can be deduced from their contents when the League disbanded in 1950. The Leagues national correspondence, which must have been considerable, particularly during the long secretaryship of Elisabeth Christman--an indefatigable letter-writer--seems to have been kept intact only for the three or four most recent years. Thereafter the folders were evidently reviewed, a relatively small number of items retained for historical or reference purposes, and the rest discarded. To judge by the surviving records, both current and permanent records were filed chiefly by subject, although there are some folders of correspondence with individuals.
As of June 1950, when the League went out of existence, its general or subject files (as distinct from the executive board records) contained several types of material. One basic distinction was between current or active folders, containing material from about 1947 to 1950 ( much of it correspondence), and reference folders, containing selected material from earlier years. (In a few cases both types of material are in a single folder.) Among the reference folders, one topic was the League itself and its history. Other topics were as broad as women in trade unions and hours of labor for women, or as specific as particular strikes and government agencies. The reference folders on individuals were of two types: biographical information on League officers, and records of the financial contributions of long-term non-working-class members.
As the League prepared to disband, Elisabeth Christman gave careful thought to the disposition of its records. She was eager to place them where they would "be used by students of the labor movement and other interested persons" (Christman to Mary E. Howard, May 26, 1950, NWTUL Papers, Schlesinger Library, Reel 1, frame 91). Her first step was to offer the bound executive board records and the stenographic convention reports to the Library of Congress, which quickly accepted them. She next wrote to Radcliffe Colleges special library on the history of American women, the Womens Archives (later renamed the Schlesinger Library), offering bound volumes of the Leagues serial publications and of its printed convention proceedings. "We also have," she added, "a drawer full of valuable industrial reference material classified by industries, and, of course, much other reference material." Mary Howard, replying for the Womens Archives, expressed strong interest in both the printed volumes and "the draw of reference material."
What finally came to Radcliffe was something more than the "industrial" material but a good deal less than the entire set of reference files. The bulk of these non-current files went to the Womens Archives, but a few, including the most important historical folders and the folders recording the Leagues relations with the American Federation of Labor--spotted, perhaps, by the "representatives of the Congressional Library" who came in early June to "pack the records they wish to have"--went to that institution, as did the surviving current folders and those on individuals. So too, as noted below, did material on the International Congress/Federation of Working Women. (See Christman to Mary E. Howard, May 26, 1950, Howard to Christman, May 29, and Christman to Howard, June 3, NWTUL Papers, Schlesinger Library, Reel 1, frames 91, 95-97; Christman to National Executive Board and local Leagues, June 1, 1950, NWTUL Records, Library of Congress, Reel 10, frame 756). Small portions of the files apparently went to other institutions: "our reference file on minimum wage including the Brandeis report on the Oregon test case" to the Commons Labor Library at the University of Wisconsin and the "National Health Insurance file" to the New York WTUL. (Bess W. Kaye, New York WTUL, to Christman, June 6, 1950, and Christman to Executive Board members, June 22, NWTUL Records, Library of Congress, Reel 10, frames 773, 819-20.)
Thus most researchers interested in the Womens Trade Union League will want to consult both portions of what was once a single set of records, the large portion at the Library of Congress and the smaller one at the Schlesinger Library. Both have been microfilmed as part of the present project. The Library of Congress collection (25 reels) was prepared and filmed by that librarys personnel. The Schlesinger Library collection (4 reels) and all other portions of the microfilm edition are distributed by Research Publications, Inc. (now Primary Source Microfilm, an imprint of Gale).
Schlesinger Library: Collection II
The National Womens Trade Union League Papers at the Schlesinger Library fall into two categories, historical files and subject files. Within each category are groups of material of a particular type or on a particular topic. The groups vary considerably in quantity and usefulness. In the historical files, the general material is haphazard but includes a few items from the formative years of 1904-08 that are not available elsewhere. There is some useful documentation also in the sections on the Leagues educational program (chiefly records of the training school) and on its Southern campaign of 1927-32.
Among the subject files, the more substantial include those on hotel and restaurant workers and household and domestic employees (under Industries), on the Equal Rights Amendment (under Legislation), and on strikes, particularly those of Chicago garment (clothing) workers in 1910-11 and of Danville (Va.) textile workers in 1930-31. The material under some headings is very slight; the American Federation of Labor folder, for example, contains only four stray items.
In both the historical and subject files, some of the larger groups are divided into subgroups. Within each group or subgroup, material in most cases is arranged chronologically.
The files include some earlier items, but their basic form and content reflect the long tenure of Elisabeth Christman as secretary, from 1921 to 1950--for most of that time the national Leagues only full-time executive. The material within the various folders consists of some or all of the following: selected correspondence; clippings, news releases, leaflets, and other printed or duplicated material, both from the WTUL and from other organizations; typed memoranda, reports, and texts of speeches; and statistics and reference notes assembled by Christman. This is material that she used for writing articles (for the Leagues Life and Labor Bulletin and for outside publications), for speeches and for testimony at Congressional hearings, for answers to inquiries, and for her careful summaries of League activity given at the Leagues successive national conventions. The correspondence within the folders is mostly hers, although some is by others, such as Ethel M. Smith, NWTUL legislative representative, Agnes Nestor, Chicago WTUL president and chairman of the national legislative committee, and Rose Schneiderman, president of both the New York and national Leagues. On occasion, the material records activities of local branches of the League, particularly the New York branch. It also reflects frequent cooperation between the League and such agencies as the federal Womens Bureau, the National Consumers League, and the YWCA.
Neither the Library of Congress nor the Schlesinger Library portions of the NWTUL files include any substantial quantity of correspondence between the two top national officers, the president and the secretary. There was little occasion for such correspondence during the presidency of Margaret Dreier Robins, when she and the national secretary worked side by side at national headquarters in Chicago. But from the summer of 1922 onward the national president (Maud Swartz until 1926, Rose Schneiderman thereafter) was in New York and the national secretary in Chicago or, after 1925, in Washington. The discussions between them and the nature of their relationship form a significant dimension of the Leagues operations, but one which Elisabeth Christmans filing system did not retain. Fortunately, portions of this correspondence were preserved at the New York end, particularly for Maud Swartzs presidency. These may be found within the correspondence of the New York WTUL, as microfilmed in the present edition.
A few groups of material in the Schlesinger Librarys National Womens Trade Union League Papers were not filmed or were deferred to other parts of the microfilm edition. A scrapbook containing samples of most of the Leagues pamphlets and leaflets was omitted because its oversize pages and overlapping mounting made filming impractical. Most of the items are in any case duplicated within the filmed portion of the collection. Stenographic proceedings for the conventions of 1915 and 1947 were not filmed since these years are included in the larger set within the Library of Congress collection. The Schlesinger Library collection includes substantial holdings of the serial and other publications of local Leagues. These were not filmed with the collection itself but rather as part of a composite file, drawn from the Schlesinger and other libraries, of Publications of the Womens Trade Union League.
International Congress/Federation of Working Women: Collection II
The headquarters files of the National Womens Trade Union League at the time it disbanded included material on a closely related group, the International Federation of Working Women (IFWW), founded by the League in 1919 as the International Congress of Working Women and initially led by League officers. The bulk of this material, including stenographic proceedings of the groups three congresses or conventions (1919, 1921, and 1923), went to the Library of Congress, where it remains as part of the NWTUL collection. A smaller group, sent in 1950 to the Schlesinger Library, was set up there as a separate collection. This collection has not been microfilmed. It contains printed and duplicated items, primarily related to the three congresses--some issued by the NWTUL, others by the IFWW itself. With a few minor exceptions, these items can be found within other collections that have been microfilmed: in the sections on the International Congress/Federation within the Library of Congress collection (Reels 13, 14, and 25), in the Margaret Dreier Robins Papers (Reel 12), and in the Mary Anderson Papers (Reel 4). The principal material in the Schlesinger Librarys IFWW Papers that is not duplicated elsewhere is a selection of newspaper and magazine articles about the Congress/Federation, some from English and Continental periodicals. The Schlesinger collection also includes a nearly complete set of mimeographed stenographic proceedings of the 1919 congress; this set is unmarked, in contrast to the one in the Library of Congress microfilm (Reel 25), which has extensive handwritten revisions by Margaret Dreier Robins and others.
One other basic research source for the International Congress/Federation of Working Women is the correspondence file maintained by Maud Swartz as the organizations secretary and American vice president. This became part of the records of the New York Womens Trade Union League and can be found on Reel 17 of the microfilm edition. Some references to the IFWW can also be found in the general New York WTUL correspondence (Reel 10) and in the Margaret Dreier Robins correspondence (Reels 25-28).
National Womens Trade Union League Papers (Schlesinger Library) Outline and Reel List: Collection II
General Historical Material (1905-50): Frames 2-99
Constitutions (1919, 1922, 1947): Frames 100-123
Educational Program (1914-28, 1943): Frames 124-417
Anti-Red Attacks on the League and Other Womens Organizations (1925-27): Frames 418-462
Southern Campaign (1927-31): Frames 463-589
Publications--General: Frames 590-659
Miscellaneous: Frames 660-736
American Federation of Labor (1905-1924): Frames 1-8
Home Work (1926-41): Frames 9-39
Industrial Unionism (1933?-36): Frames 40-46
Industries--Agricultural (1921-48): Frames 47-119
Industries--Beauty Parlor (1927-36): Frames 120-192
Industries--Clothing (1917, 1928-36): Frames 193-251
Industries--Flower, Feather, and Millinery (1935-39): Frames 252-275
Industries--Hotel and Restaurant (1933-38, 1946): Frames 276-434
Industries--Household and Domestic (1915?-40): Frames 435-764
Industries--Laundry (1923-35, 1946): Frames 765-815
Industries--Telephone and Telegraph (1922-40): Frames 816-867
Industries--Textile (1922-39): Frames 868-981
Industries--Other (1928-35): Frames 982-1001
Injunctions (1909?-32): Frames 1-64
Insurance--Health (n.d.): Frames 65-70
Insurance--Savings Bank Life (1936): Frames 71-87
Insurance--Union-Sponsored (1927): Frames 88-94
Insurance--Unemployment (1930-36): Frames 95-143
International Ladies Garment Workers Union (1939-40): Frames 144-152
Labor Party (1923): Frames 153-167
Legislation--General (1909-47): Frames 168-223
Legislation--Equal Rights Amendment (1920?-47): Frames 224-554
Legislation--Hours of Labor (1909-39): Frames 555-881
Legislation--Minimum Wage (1917-23, 145): Frames 882-904
Legislation--Social Security (1935, 1948-49): Frames 905-934
NRA Codes (1933-35): Frames 935-977
Older Workers (1937-39): Frames 978-1025
Part-Time Employment (1934, 1938): Frames 1026-1035
Strikes--Chicago Garment Workers (1910-11): Frames 1-286
Strikes--Other Strikes in Garment Trades (1909-33): Frames 287-405
Strikes--Hosiery Workers (1928-31): Frames 406-416
Strikes--Miners (1916-31): Frames 417-454
Strikes--Danville (Va.) Textile Workers (1920-32): Frames 455-561
Strikes--Other Textile Strikes (1922-29): Frames 562-594
Strikes--Miscellaneous (1911-29): Frames 595-644
Sweatshops (1914, 1930-37): Frames 645-795
Trade Unions and Trade Unionism (1918?-44): Frames 796-897
United Textile Workers (1926-48): Frames 898-1023
Women in Trade Unions (1914-48): Frames 1024-1186
World War I (1917-18): Frames 1187-1197
Introduction: Collection III: Mary Anderson Papers, Schlesinger Library
By Edward T. James
A first-generation American, Mary Anderson came to the United States only after sixteen years in her native Sweden. She was born in August 1872 on her parents farm near the small town of Lidköping. Magnus and Matilda (Johnson) Anderson had seven children, of whom Mary was the youngest and the fourth daughter. Sturdy in physique, she loved the outdoor work of the farm but shunned housework. Her only schooling came at a local Lutheran school, where she graduated at the head of her class. When a severe agricultural depression hit Sweden in the 1880s, Mary and a sister, with their mothers encouragement, decided to emigrate to America and join their oldest sister, Anna, who had settled in the Michigan lumbering area. They crossed the Atlantic as steerage passengers in 1889.
The sixteen-year-old Mary, who knew no English, secured her first job as dishwasher in a lumberjacks boarding house in Ludington, Michigan. A succession of housework positions followed until 1892, when she and Anna moved to Chicago, where construction of the Worlds Fair buildings had created a local boom. After working briefly in a garment factory, Mary found work as a stitcher at a shoe factory in West Pullman. There she enjoyed developing her skill at the machine and socializing with fellow employees. The company failed in the depression of 1893, but by the fall of 1894 she had found a steady job in a larger Chicago factory.
Her first contact with trade unionism came in 1899 when she and other women at her shop joined the International Boot and Shoe Workers Union. A year later Anderson was elected president of the women stitchers Local 94. Before long she became its representative on the unions citywide joint council and its delegate to the Chicago Federation of Labor; she held the latter post for some fifteen years. In 1906 she succeeded a fellow Chicagoan, Emma Steghagen, as a member of the unions national executive board, on which she served until 1919. Even in these years Anderson showed the cool judgment, unswayed by personal or class loyalties, that was to win the respect of workers and employers alike. Once, when a popular woman stitcher was fired for poor work and the other women workers proposed a protest strike, Anderson looked at the womans work, found it indeed poor, and led them back to their machines.1
Through union meetings held at Hull House, Anderson met Jane Addams, who, as she wrote in her autobiography, "opened a door to a larger life."2 But it was in the Womens Trade Union League that she found her full potential. Learning of the League through Emma Steghagen, she joined its Chicago branch in 1905 and was promptly placed on the executive board.3 Thus began her long friendship with Margaret Dreier Robins, soon to become national president of the WTUL. Looking back, Anderson recalled Robins as a constant source of "inspiration and support" and "the finest person I ever knew."4
A citywide strike of workers in the mens clothing industry in 1910-11 brought Anderson a new responsibility. The strike, in which the WTUL had played an integral role, secured a trade agreement with the firm of Hart, Schaffner & Marx that provided arbitration machinery for worker grievances. But the employees, new to unionism and mostly young women, were inexperienced and restless; they needed guidance to put the new system into effect. For this job Robins picked Mary Anderson, who now (July 1911) gave up working at her craft to become a salaried League organizer. For two years she followed a daily round of visits to various of the companys forty shops, explaining trade unionism, hearing complaints, transmitting them to the trade board and carrying back the answers, and forestalling or ending a succession of wildcat strikes; during these two years she attended 570 meetings.5 Her part in this pioneering venture in industrial arbitration she later regarded as her most important achievement.
Anderson continued as a League organizer for four more years, mostly in Chicago but occasionally on out-of-town missions. The World War led to her next role. In April 1917 Samuel Gompers, labor representative on the Advisory Commission of the U.S. Council of National Defense, appointed a committee on women in industry. The committee at first included no working women, but in response to protests he added several, including Anderson; between committee meetings she continued her organizing work for the League. Through the committee she met Mary Van Kleeck, director of industrial studies of the Russell Sage Foundation. When in January 1918 Van Kleeck was chosen to head a womens branch in the Armys Ordnance Department, she called Anderson to her staff, initially on three months leave from the WTUL.
Unfamiliar with the ways of bureaucracy and frustrated by the early shunting aside of the divisions inquiries, Anderson by the end of three months was ready to go back to the League. But a phone call from Felix Frankfurter of the War Labor Board, a young lawyer who was helping to plan a wartime reorganization of the Department of Labor, told her that the department was about to set up a womens division in which there might be a place for her, and she stayed on. The Women in Industry Service of the Labor Department came into being in July 1918, with Mary Van Kleeck as director and Mary Anderson as assistant director.
To her new post Anderson brought not only her calm common sense but a first-hand knowledge of working women and the capacity to learn from experience. She absorbed much from Van Kleeck, a seasoned administrator and social investigator. She also sat in on meetings of the interagency Council of Women in Industry and, when Van Kleeck was out of town, took her place on the War Labor Policies Board. Andersons experience was further broadened by a mission for the National Womens Trade Union League. Margaret Dreier Robins, concerned that the labor representatives meeting in conjunction with the Paris Peace Conference included no women, sent Anderson and Rose Schneiderman to Paris to speak for women workers. Through conferences with members of the American peace delegation and with President Wilson, they helped advance the cause of womens representation in the International Labor Organization. Anderson in the course of her trip met women labor leaders in England and France. She made further such friendships as a delegate to the WTUL-sponsored International Congress of Working Women in Washington in the fall of 1919.
Meanwhile, in August 1919, Mary Van Kleeck had resigned as director of the Women in Industry Service and Anderson had been appointed to succeed her. The Service was still a temporary war agency, but pressure from the WTUL and other womens groups secured an act of Congress in June 1920 converting it to a permanent Womens Bureau within the Labor Department, and President Wilson appointed Anderson as director. The Republican triumph that fall placed her tenure in doubt. Renewed support, however, from organized women and the strategic efforts of two prominent Republicans, Harriet Taylor Upton and Corinne Roosevelt Robinson, sister of Theodore Roosevelt, moved President Harding to reappoint Anderson, and her post was thereafter secure.
From the start the basic mission of the Womens Bureau was to perform a fact-finding, coordinating, and advocacy role on behalf of women workers. It drew up and publicized standards for womens employment that could serve as goals; it assembled facts about actual wages and working conditions, principally through extensive field investigations; and it encouraged and coordinated efforts by private and government agencies to better those conditions. Anderson hired able associates and worked closely and supportively with them. The Bureaus investigations won a reputation for reliability, and as early as 1925 Anderson was hailed as the best known and most popular woman in the federal service.6
Since her bureau had been created by act of Congress and was funded by specific Congressional appropriations, and since she had her own special constituency in the organized womans movement, Anderson enjoyed a measure of independence within the Labor Department. She got along well, however, with her first three Secretaries of Labor--William B. Wilson, James J. Davis, and William Doak--all former trade unionists like herself. Yet she welcomed the appointment in 1933 of Frances Perkins as a person "who really understood our problems" and "a friend to whom I could go freely and confidently."7 The expected entree never materialized. Perkins, sensitive to prejudice against her as a woman, probably sought to distance herself from womens causes, but it seems clear that she and Anderson simply did not hit it off. The failure puzzled and deeply troubled Anderson.
Her disappointment was partly offset by the friendship of the Roosevelts. She had known Franklin as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I and Eleanor as an active member of the Womens Trade Union League. The President in 1933 insisted on appointing Anderson as chief of the U.S. delegation to the International Labor Organization, to the annoyance of Perkins,8 and Anderson was one of the few government officials invited to a White House reception for the King and Queen of England in 1939.
Of medium height and stocky build, Anderson had fair coloring, penetrating blue eyes, and a rather impassive expression. As her handwritten letters reveal, she never fully mastered English syntax. Anne Larrabee and other Bureau secretaries transformed her dictated letters into clear and straightforward prose. Some staff work must also have gone into her frequent public addresses. By all accounts she was an effective speaker, her sincerity, expert knowledge, and warm concern for working women far offsetting her lingering Swedish accent.
A supporter of woman suffrage, Anderson had become a naturalized citizen in 1915 when it looked as though Illinois women might get the vote. She kept her political preferences to herself while in government service but later confided that she had voted regularly for Democratic presidential candidates. Within the Womens Bureau and outside, she consistently and vigorously opposed the Womans Partys proposed Equal Rights Amendment on the ground that it would destroy hard-won protective legislation for wage-earning women.
The Lend-Lease Act and the entry of America into World War II brought a new influx of women workers into defense plants. Applying the experience of the first World War, Anderson as head of the Womens Bureau established procedures to assure their access to jobs and training and to uphold high working standards. Then, disheartened by the failure of Frances Perkins to support an increase in the Bureaus budget to match its new duties, she retired in June 1944, at the age of seventy-one.
To a large degree, Mary Andersons work was her life. Apart from the Womens Trade Union League, of which she remained throughout her career an active and concerned member, she had few outside ties: some participation in the Conference on the Cause and Cure of War and the National Council of Social Work, and service in the early 1920s on the board of the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers, for which she was enlisted by President M. Carey Thomas at Felix Frankfurters suggestion. Her cultural and recreational interests were also few: a little reading, an occasional round of fishing when visiting Mary Dreier in Maine, a hobby of taking motion pictures of scenic views.
A fellow trade unionist, Pauline Newman, found Anderson "limited" and surprisingly lacking in intellectual curiosity. Raymond Robins once described her as "not too bright."9 This last seems a misjudgment, but certainly Andersons personality and habits of thought had no particular spark or imaginative flair. Yet her solidity and balance served her well. She quickly learned the ways of Washington bureaucracy, and rarely made a misstep. Once such error (an ill-advised press release) resulted in a last-minute order by the State Department barring her from attending the International Labor Organization conference of 1931 in Geneva, to which she had been appointed as a government observer; but she calmly took a room in a hotel across the nearby French border and let the women delegates come visit her there.
Reserved by heritage, Anderson had few close friends. Marriage seems never to have entered her thoughts. She lived in a succession of Washington apartments, at first with her sister Anna and, after her death, with occasional government colleagues. Her closest and most persistent friendships dated from her early career: with Elisabeth Christman, her colleague in the WTUL in Chicago and national secretary of the League in Washington from 1930 on, and somewhat more distantly, with Margaret Dreier Robins. Robins special place is suggested by the fact that Anderson kept their correspondence apart from the rest of her papers.
After her retirement, Anderson lived quietly in Washington for two decades. She had received an honorary degree from Smith College in 1941. On her ninetieth birthday, in 1962, Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg presented her the departments Award of Merit. She died at her Washington home in January 1964, of a cerebral thrombosis.
In developing and backing Mary Anderson, the Womens Trade Union League made what was perhaps its most enduring contribution to American life. Her long and successful directorship of a major government bureau set a precedent for her sex. Above all, she firmly established concern for the special needs of working women as part of federal policy, at a time when government intervention seemed more urgent than equality of rights.
Footnotes: Collection III
1Mary Anderson, with Mary N. Winslow, Woman at Work (1951), p. 27.
2Woman at Work, p. 32.
3Union Labor Advocate (Chicago), Dec. 1905, pp. 19, 22.
4Woman at Work, pp. 37-38.
5Chicago WTUL, Biennial Report, 1911-13, pp. 10-11.
6Sister John Marie Daly, R.S.M., "Mary Anderson, Pioneer Labor Leader" (Ph.D. dissertation, Georgetown University, 1968), p. 151.
7Woman at Work, p. 183.
8Margaret Dreier Robins to Raymond Robins, Aug. 21, 1939 (Robins Papers, Reel 63, frame 613).
9George Martin, Madam Secretary: Frances Perkins (1976), p. 295; Raymond Robins to Margaret Dreier Robins, Feb. 9, 1924 (Robins Papers, Reel 58, frame 386).
Bibliographical Note: Collection III
An important supplement to the Anderson Papers is the papers of Margaret Dreier Robins, also part of the present microfilm edition. Robins letters include occasional references to Andersons work as an organizer for the Womens Trade Union League (1911-17), and there are letters from Anderson beginning as early as 1913--nearly a decade before the start of the Robins correspondence in the Anderson Papers. Even when the two collections overlap, a comparison reveals nearly 70 Anderson letters to Robins during the 1920s that are not in the Anderson Papers, together with a scattering in the 1930s and eight for the years 1944-45.
Several other collections within the microfilm edition contain Anderson items. There are occasional letters by her in the Agnes Nestor Papers and in the correspondence portion of the New York Womens Trade Union League Records. The Leonora OReilly Papers include (in Reel 12) typed minutes of two meetings of the National WTUL Committee on Training Women Organizers (1913-14), of which Anderson was chairman. The National WTUL Papers (Schlesinger Library) contain two reports of her work as organizer (1915, 1916) and her account of the WTUL mission to Paris in 1919. There are several reports of Andersons organizing work and a few letters by her in the National WTUL Records at the Library of Congress, as microfilmed in conjunction with the present edition.
Andersons official correspondence may be found in the files of the Womens Bureau in the National Archives (Record Group 86). The Mary Winslow Papers, in the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College, include letters from some half dozen friends of Anderson to whom Winslow wrote for their recollections. The library also has a taped interview of Anderson (c. 1963) by a later director of the Womens Bureau, Esther Peterson, and a tape of the memorial services for Anderson held at the Labor Department, including remarks by Frances Perkins and Pauline Newman, an old labor and WTUL friend. There is a folder of Anderson correspondence in the papers of Mary Van Kleeck at the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College. As noted, Andersons autobiography, Woman at Work (1951), is the basic biographical source. The only extended study is Sister John Marie Daly, R.S.M., "Mary Anderson, Pioneer Labor Leader" (Ph.D. dissertation, Georgetown University, 1968).
Description and History of Collection III
As an immigrant Swedish farm girl who rose from housemaid to trade unionist, organizer for the Womens Trade Union League, and head of a major government bureau, Mary Anderson exemplified the American dream of democratic opportunity. Her papers, however, record only the later portion of her career, as director of the Womens Bureau in the Department of Labor. A few scattered items date back to 1918 and forward to 1953, but otherwise the papers fall into the year 1922 through 1945.
The collection is relatively small (four and a half standard manuscript boxes) but--like Anderson herself--it is solid and businesslike. The correspondence which makes up the bulk of the collection is evidently the personal portion of her office files: incoming letters, plus occasional other papers, and carbon copies of her outgoing letters. Even this material seems to have been somewhat selectively preserved, particularly for the 1920s and part of the 30s. The letters she is answering are not always present, and the quantity of correspondence varies considerably from year to year. The fullest body of correspondence, which has been filmed, as she kept it, in a separate series, is with Margaret Dreier Robins. The papers also include several clusters of letters and other material on particular topics, among them the International Federation of Working Women and the accusations of radicalism lodged during the 1920s against Anderson and other women who supported social welfare measures. These too have been kept apart from the general correspondence.
The general correspondence includes a few items of an official nature: several letters appointing her to government posts, letters of commendation from successive Secretaries of Labor, and a few exchanges of memoranda with Secretary Frances Perkins. Otherwise it is correspondence with personal friends or acquaintances or about nongovernmental matters. By their nature, the papers give only occasional glimpses of the work of the Womens Bureau and Andersons leadership of it; yet personal comments written to an old friend may contain a dimension not found in official documents. One recurrent theme throughout the correspondence is Andersons long and vigilant campaign to block the Womans Party and its proposed Equal Rights Amendment. The amendment, as she and other social feminists saw it, would have destroyed the hard-won body of protective legislation for women workers, the most vulnerable portion of the work force. Since Anderson throughout her government service maintained her membership and interest in the Womens Trade Union League, there are occasional references to its affairs, in both the general and the Robins correspondence.
The papers tell relatively little about Anderson herself. This is true both of her own letters and of the small set of biographical and personal materials at the end of the collection. Reticent by nature, and perhaps by family and ethnic heritage as well--as she once remarked to Mary Winslow when speaking of her family, "Swedes dont talk much"--she seldom wrote about her own doings, particularly those of her leisure time, and almost never about her personal reactions and emotions. The chief exception--the more significant for its rarity--is the frustration she voiced about her lack of rapport with Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins. She apparently had few private interests. What she liked to discuss in her personal letters was current developments in labor and politics. Only Mary Winslows persistent questioning when they worked together on Andersons autobiography evoked the dictated reminiscences that Winslow fashioned into book form. Spare though it is, the autobiography tells more about herself than she ever confided in nearly three decades of letter writing.
One of Mary Andersons acquaintances in her work for women was the suffrage leader Maud Wood Park. Park in 1943 had written to Anderson about the Womans Rights Collection that she was about to give to Radcliffe College, the nucleus of what became the Womens Archives and later the Schlesinger Library; she wrote to ask for Andersons photograph and biographical data to be added to the collection. Anderson was therefore receptive when in 1951 the director of the womens Archives, Elizabeth Borden, approached her about donating her papers. The main portion of the collection arrived in 1953. An addenda of material still in Andersons possession at the time of her death was posited in the library in 1965 by her friend and associate Louise Stitt.
The two accessions have been combined for microfilming and arranged into four series: General Correspondence and Papers (Reels 1, 2, and part of Reel 3); Correspondence with Margaret Drier Robins (balance of Reel 3); Correspondence and Papers on Special Topics (first part of Reel 4); and Biographical and Personal Material (balance of Reel 4). Within Series 1 and 2, and within most subgroups of Series 3 and 4, material is arranged in chronological sequence, with undated items at the end. For fuller descriptions of the content of the various series see the reel notes.
Mary Anderson: Chronology: Collection III
1872, Aug. 27--Born on a farm near Lidköping, Sweden.
(date not known)--Graduated from local Lutheran school.
1889--Emigrated to the United States; secured first job, as dishwasher in a lumberjacks boarding house, Ludington, Mich.
1892--Moved to Chicago; began work in a shoe factory.
1899--Joined Boot and Shoe Workers Union.
1905--Joined Chicago Womens Trade Union League.
1906-1919--Member of national executive board, International Boot and Shoe Workers Union.
1911-1917--Salaried organizer for WTUL, at first (1911-13) guiding the implementation of arbitration machinery at the Chicago clothing firm of Hart, Schaffner & Marx.
1917--Appointed to subcommittee on women in industry of the Advisory Commission, U.S. Council of National Defense.
1918--Appointed to staff of womens branch, Army Ordnance Department.
1918, July--Appointed assistant director of wartime Women in Industry Service, Department of Labor.
1919, August--Succeeded Mary Van Kleeck as director, Women in Industry Service.
1920, June--Women in Industry Service converted by act of Congress to a permanent Womens Bureau.
1920-1944--Director of Womens Bureau.
1933--Chief of U.S. delegation to International Labor Organization.
1941--Awarded honorary degree by Smith College.
1951--Autobiography, Woman at Work, published.
1964, Jan. 29--Died at her Washington home.
Introduction: Collection IV: Records of the New York Womens Trade Union League, New York State Department of Labor Library
The Womens Trade Union League of New York
By Nancy Schrom Dye
The Womens Trade Union League of New York was one of the three original local Leagues established in the months following the formation of the National Womens Trade Union League in November 1903. After preliminary meetings beginning in December, it was formally organized in February 1904, and it remained continually active until June 1955. The other two pioneer branches, Chicago and Boston, were similarly long-lived.
As its records reveal, the New York League was also one of the most successful WTUL branches. It developed strong, effective, and consistent leadership, found sources of adequate funding, established working relationships with New York unions and central labor bodies, and recruited a substantial membership. Like the other original League locals and the branches established later in St. Louis, Kansas City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, the New York League stressed both trade-union organization and protective legislation for working women, but in its early years it put considerably more emphasis on organization than the other branches. Although it was subject to periodic ideological disputes and some class ethnic conflict, the New York League enjoyed at least partial success in achieving its goal of an egalitarian, cross-class alliance. To a unique extent among the local Leagues, its membership was evenly balanced between working women and middle-class women (the latter known as "allies"), and its leadership positions were distributed among both groups. Although virtually all the funding came from wealthy allies, and although allies often dominated the organization culturally, by 1907 working women made up a majority of the Leagues executive board and a significant percentage of the active membership.
The history of the Womens Trade Union League of New York can be divided into three periods. During the first and most active period, up to early 1914, the end of the general strike era in the New York City garment trades, the New York League concentrated primarily on direct trade-union organizing, particularly in the garment trades. The second and longest period, extending from 1914 to World War II, witnessed a gradual but definite shift away from organization and increasing emphasis upon legislation as a way to ameliorate womens working conditions. The final period was essentially one of decline, in both activities and membership.
The founder of the New York League was William English Walling, a young settlement resident, socialist reformer, and the co-founder, with Mary Kenney OSullivan, a Boston trade unionist, of the National Womens Trade Union League. Although he apparently lost interest in the League within a year or two after its formation, Walling seems to have been primarily responsible for recruiting a group of extraordinarily capable and dedicated individuals who formed the core of the New York Leagues membership over the first period of its history.
Quite possibly the most important were Margaret and Mary Dreier. Daughters of a well-to-do and socially prominent German-American family in Brooklyn, the Dreier sisters provided much of the leadership and financial backing not only for the New York League but for the Chicago League and the national organization as well. Margaret Dreier was the second president of the New York branch, elected in March 1905; after her marriage to Raymond Robins later that year had taken her to Chicago, she assumed leadership of both the Chicago local and the National WTUL. Mary Dreier succeeded her older sister as president of the New York League and held the office until 1914. Although often overshadowed by her more confident and assertive older sister, Mary Dreier was an extraordinarily competent and dedicated individual, able to win the trust and support of both middle-class and working-class members of the League.
Also important in determining the New York Leagues early priorities and activities were Leonora OReilly, one of the founding members, a keenly intelligent Irish-American who had moved from garment worker to industrial educator and had broad contacts in both labor and reform circles, and Helen Marot, a socialist reformer and settlement resident who served as the Leagues secretary from 1906 to 1913. Two other working-class women who were to become important WTUL leaders were early recruits. Rose Schneiderman, a young Jewish immigrant who had already distinguished herself as an organizer in the cap trade, attended her first meeting in February 1904, although, put off at first by the Leagues middle-class membership, she did not join until 1905. She became vice president of the New York WTUL in 1906 or 1907, president in 1908, and president of the National League in 1926. Melinda Scott, a hat trimmer and experienced organizer, joined the New York League in 1907 and became its president in 1914.
Others who played significant roles in the Leagues early history include Pauline Newman, Clara Lemlich, Alice Bean, and Hilda Svenson among the working-class members, and Ida Rauh, Mary Simkhovitch, Mary Van Kleeck, Mary Ritter Beard, Harriot Stanton Blatch, Rheta Childe Dorr, and Carola Woerishoffer among the allies. The League served as a kind of training ground for the working women, several of whom went on to distinguished careers in the labor movement and in government service.
During these early years the New York League was distinguished by the vigor of its trade-union organizing efforts. The particular emphasis placed upon this work derived partly from the fact that the Leagues early years coincided with an upsurge of labor activity in New York City, especially in the garment trades. Other contributing factors were the vitality of the Jewish labor movement and of the young International Ladies Garment Workers Union.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the New York Leagues most successful organizing efforts were among women garment workers, particularly young Jewish immigrant women. From 1904 through early 1914, the League formed several dozen small shop unions of women in various branches of the clothing industry and provided them with organizational and financial assistance until they could affiliate with the International Ladies Garment Workers or the United Garment Workers. The League enjoyed its most spectacular organizing successes during the period from late 1909 through early 1914, the era of city-wide general strikes within the womens clothing trades, particularly that of the shirtwaist makers in 1909. The "Uprising of the Twenty Thousand," as this first major womens strike came to be called, was unsuccessful in the end: many of the large firms did not negotiate settlements with the ILGWU, and the shirtwaist makers won neither a standard contract nor a union shop. Nevertheless, the strike was a major event in the history of women workers: it demonstrated womens ability to organize and strike, and it brought a great deal of attention to the economic plight of young immigrant working women. In 1913 the League assumed a similar role in the general strike of ILGWU Local 62 (underwear or "white goods" workers), a union that the League itself had organized in 1908.
League members also tried to reach unorganized women workers in dozens of the citys other industries and service occupations through a vigorous campaign of street meetings, English classes, and social activities. During its first ten years the New York WTUL established small unions of laundry workers, box makers, candy makers, artificial flower and feather workers, textile workers, and tobacco workers, among others. In white collar occupations, it was actively involved with the Bookkeepers, Stenographers and Accountants Union and several teachers organizations.
Despite the spectacular strikes in the garment trades, League members were well aware that organizing New York Citys women wage earners was a difficult and often discouraging task. Most were unskilled or semi-skilled and hence had little bargaining power, and most were in the work force for only a few years. Their ethnic diversity posed further problems. So too did the citys trade unions, which were often indifferent or even hostile to the idea of organizing women. Like its national counterpart, the New York League subscribed to the principles and policies of the American Federation of Labor; indeed, since there was no viable tradition of industrial unionism, it had little choice. AF of L craft unionism, however, proved ill suited to the needs of the great majority of women workers. The New York League worked hard to overcome these obstacles, but often found them overwhelming. Eventually its members began to look to other ways to improve women wage earners working conditions.
Thus began the Leagues gradual but definite shift away from its original emphasis on trade-union organizing. It continued to launch organizing campaigns among the citys most unskilled and powerless workers--candy makers and laundresses, for example--but they met with little success. Meanwhile the League began to devote more time and money to the campaign for protective legislation.
One of the first indications of this shift in League priorities was an increasing interest on the part of the organization and its members in woman suffrage. The New York League itself played an active role in both the 1915 and the successful 1917 state referendum campaigns. Among its leaders, Mary Dreier headed the Industrial Branch of the New York City Woman Suffrage Party, and Leonora OReilly formed a League-affiliated suffrage organization exclusively for working women, the Wage Earners Suffrage League. Several leaders also took leaves of absence to campaign under the auspices of the National American Woman Suffrage Association or the Congressional Union.
Bibliographical Note: Collection IV
In addition to its own records, there is useful material about the New York Womens Trade Union League in other portions of the present microfilm edition: the Leonora OReilly Papers, the Rose Schneiderman Papers, the Margaret Dreier Robins Papers (see especially the early minutes on Reel 12 and the many letters from Mary Dreier), and the Schlesinger Librarys National Womens Trade Union League Papers. See also the Library of Congress collection of National WTUL Records, as microfilmed in conjunction with this edition.
A full bibliography for the New York WTUL will be found in Nancy Schrom Dye, As Equals and as Sisters: Feminism, the Labor Movement, and the Womens Trade Union League of New York (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1980).
History of Collection IV
The New York Womens Trade Union League throughout its existence seems to have taken particular care to preserve one portion of its records, the minutes of executive board and general membership meetings and the accompanying reports of officers and committees. Save for the first year of 1904, these remain largely complete. Correspondence files were regarded as less essential. Maud Swartz, then the Leagues secretary, discarded nearly all of the pre-1919 files in a burst of housecleaning in 1920 (see Reel 2, frame 807), and most correspondence for a later period, 1928-1944, has also been lost. The only other materials preserved with any sort of regularity were the Leagues serial publications and, more haphazardly, scrapbooks of clippings.
After World War I, the League worked increasingly for protective legislation. Its primary goals during the 1920s and 1930s were maximum-hour and minimum-wage laws. The WTULs lobbying efforts, though persistent, were disappointing: New York did not enact a strict eight-hour day law until 1935, and a 1936 minimum-wage law was declared unconstitutional. On the federal level, the Womens Trade Union League, along with other social reform organizations such as the Consumers League, launched a substantial campaign against the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. In effect, the League became a professional lobbying organization.
The character of the New York league changed in another important respect after World War I. Despite the fact that local labor unions never, as had been hoped, took over the financial burden of supporting the League, middle-class allies now played a far less important role in its day-to-day work. Most of the League leaders in the 1920s and 1930s, like Rose Schneiderman and Maud Swartz, were working women. Allies like Mary Dreier and Helen Marot were replaced by more traditional and distant philanthropists, such as Mrs. Thomas Lamont, who underwrote the Leagues expenses but took little or no actual part in its affairs.
Some renewal of trade-union organizing took place in the 1930s, spurred by the New Deal legislation recognizing the legitimacy of collective bargaining and by the emergence of industrial unionism under the CIO. But the League had neither the money nor the personnel for an extensive campaign. One of its few successes was organizing the citys laundry workers into a union that affiliated with the Amalgamated Clothing Workers.
The Leagues final years, after World War II, lacked the vitality and innovation that had characterized its early history. Severely restricted by lack of funds and diminishing membership, it played an increasingly peripheral role in labor affairs. A new president, Gerel Rubien, took over when Rose Schneiderman retired in 1949, and when the National WTUL disbanded the next year, the New York League chose to continue. Five years later, however, as its funding dwindled, the executive board voted unanimously to bring the Leagues activities to an end, and the general membership reluctantly assented.
Other papers found their way into the collection more by chance than by design. Since Maud Swartz and Rose Schneiderman combined their presidencies of the National WTUL with posts in the New York League, using the same typists and files in both capacities, their national correspondence remained interfiled with the local. Swartz did keep a separate file of her correspondence as an officer of the International Congress/Federation of Working Women, but this too stayed in the New York office. So did the papers of three special-interest groups of the 1930s in which New York League members participated: the New York Conference for Unemployment Insurance Legislation, the New York Joint Committee for Ratification of the Child Labor Amendment, and the Campaign Committee against the Equal Rights Amendment.
When the League in 1955 prepared to sell its clubhouse and disband, it gave thought to the preservation of its records. A Special Committee on House Inventory recommended that they be offered to the New York Public Library or, if it should decline, to one of the citys municipal or other colleges (Reel 5, frame 473). The reaction to this suggestion is not recorded. Possibly Rose Schneiderman, remembering her service as secretary of the New York State Department of Labor, thought its library a more suitable repository. In any event, that was the ultimate choice. In turning over the collection, Gerel Rubien, the Leagues last president, stipulated that it be made available to scholars. The papers were formally transferred in November 1956. Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at the ceremonies, and Mary Dreier and other longtime League members were on hand.
The papers when first received were considerably jumbled, but they were gradually restored to something like their original order. Rose Schneiderman while working on her autobiography took out some material which presumably remained with her papers. With further refinements in arrangement, the collection was microfilmed for the present edition in 1977.
Description of Collection IV
The records of the Womens Trade Union League of New York, preserved in twelve file draws at the library of the New York State Department of Labor, in New York City, constitute one of the largest surviving collections of source material on the history of the WTUL. They are particularly valuable as providing the only extensive documentation of a local League. The collection has been organized into five main divisions or series: Minutes and Reports (Reels 1-5), Correspondence (Reels 6-16), Papers on Special Topics (Reels 17-21), Printed and Duplicated Material (Reels 22-24), and Miscellaneous Material (Reel 25).
Of the five series, the first is the most complete and probably the most useful. The basic documents are: minutes of general membership meetings (usually held once a month except for July and August); minutes of meetings of the executive board (held once or twice a month); and monthly reports on the Leagues work, usually by the secretary but occasionally by, or supplemented by, the president. Other items turn up from time to time: minutes of the newly created strike council, beginning in December 1910; reports of League committees on organization, legislation, and other matters; monthly reports of the Leagues organizer; and occasional annual reports of one or more of the officers, presumably prepared for the annual membership meeting. (Some reports of this sort turn up also on Reel 22). All documents are arranged in a single chronological sequence.
The series has a few gaps. Scheduled meetings were sometimes omitted, and occasional minutes and secretarys reports appear to be missing. For some reason, minutes of the Leagues annual meeting, held in March and largely devoted to annual reports and to the election of officers for the coming year, do not appear in the files until 1920 and are sometimes absent thereafter. The files, moreover, do not begin until January 1905, nearly a year after the New York League was organized. Fortunately, minutes for the missing first year can be found elsewhere in the present microfilm edition, on Reel 12 of the Margaret Dreier Robins Papers.
All told, however, the minutes and reports have remarkable continuity and coherence. Through them it is possible to trace almost the entire history of the New York League and to reconstruct much of its day-to-day activity: its attempts to make contact with working women, its organizing efforts in various trades, its relations with local trade unions and the labor movement generally, and its legislative work. The executive board minutes are useful for recording changes in the Leagues ideology and priorities. Helen Marots meticulously prepared monthly reports during her tenure as secretary, from 1906 to 1913, provide informative documentation for these vital years. Records from the 1920s and 1930s are especially useful in studying the ideology, strategy, and tactics of the Leagues campaign for protective legislation.
Official minutes and reports have limitations, of course. Although they record the activities of leading members, they tell little about them as individuals: their political, social, and personal attitudes and their interrelationships. Some of this personal dimension, and a greater sense of the New York Leagues outreach, may be found in its correspondence files, in Series 2. These include both incoming letters and carbon copies of outgoing ones, arranged in a single chronological sequence. Yet though they constitute the largest single portion of the collection, the correspondence files have serious gaps. All but a random handful of letters for the years before 1919 are missing--apparently discarded in 1920 (see Secretarys Report, May 1920, Reel 2, frame 807)--as are most letters for 1928 through 1944. For the years before 1919, the best personal source is the papers of Margaret Dreier Robins, which contain frequent letters from her sister Mary Dreier during and after Dreiers presidency of the New York WTUL.
Even for the years when the correspondence files appear to be reasonably intact (1919-26, 1944-55), their content at times is disappointingly thin. Relatively little of it deals with trade-union matters, in part, perhaps, for want of letters from the years before World War I, when the League was most heavily involved in organizing work. Much of the correspondence is routine in nature, or is concerned with such international matters as fund-raising and the management of the Leagues clubhouse. The most substantial topic, during the 1920s and during the postwar decade of 1945-55, is the Leagues work for legislation, at the state and increasingly at the national level.
The rest of the collection is much more miscellaneous in character. Of the papers on special topics, the majority are only tangentially related to the New York WTUL. The largest bodies of papers within this series are the records of three ad hoc, cross-organizational groups seeking legislative goals (Reels 18-20): the New York Conference for Unemployment Insurance Legislation (1931-34), the New York Joint Committee for Ratification of the Child Labor Amendment (1937-38), and the Campaign Committee against the Equal Rights Amendment (1938-39). Each had League support and some participation by League leaders. Mary Dreier was the last secretary of the first group and was chairman of the second group throughout its existence; at the end she moved the office of each group (and thus its files) to the Leagues headquarters. How records of the third group came to the League is not apparent.
More closely related to the WTUL are the files of the International Congress/Federation of Working Women, 1919-24 (Reel 17). These contain correspondence and other papers kept by Maud Swartz of the New York WTUL in her capacity as the Congresss secretary (1919-21) and as American vice president (1921-23) of the rechristened International Federation of Working Women.
Within the special topics series, records actually generated by the New York WTUL begin with a small group of papers (first part of Reel 17) dating from January and March of 1911 and pertaining to the Leagues campaign against safety and sanitation abuses in New York factories. Records of the later and more significant phase of this campaign, which began after the notorious Triangle Fire in late March, may be found in the Leonora OReilly Papers elsewhere in the present microfilm edition.
A larger group (parts of Reels 17 and 18) is made up of correspondence and related papers of the New York Leagues compensation service, conducted by Maud Swartz and set up to assist working women in making claims for job-related injuries under the states workmens compensation act. These files record the services first three years (1922-24). Three later groups of material (on Reel 21) pertain to New York League benefits and to songs and skits prepared for League occasions; to labor plays in general; and to articles and speeches prepared by League members.
Within the printed and duplicated series, the most important segment is a partial file (on Reel 22) of the New York Leagues Annual Reports, Convention Reports, and Monthly Bulletins. Some of the gaps in this segment can be filled by consulting Reel 8 of the collected WTUL Publications in another part of the present microfilm edition. A small group of miscellaneous items issued by the National and New York Leagues and other organizations, and two reels (23 and 24) of state and federal legislative bills, assembled by the New York League, are of minor usefulness.
The final, miscellaneous series includes newspaper clippings pertaining to the New York WTUL, a scrapbook of the annual announcements of its Educational Department, and notes for a history of the League compiled in the late 1930s as part of a WPA project.
Although the collection is of primary value to students of the New York WTUL itself, it will benefit other researchers. Those interested in the National WTUL will find here substantial portions of the official correspondence of two successive national presidents, Maud Swartz and Rose Schneiderman, carried on from the office of the New York League and interfiled with its correspondence. This national correspondence significantly supplements the records of the NWTUL preserved in the Library of Congress and microfilmed in conjunction with the present edition of WTUL sources. The same is true of Maud Swartzs office files dealing with the International Congress/Federation of Working Women, a basic resource for any study of that offshoot of the NWTUL.
Since much of the New York Leagues effort focused on legislation, the records provide insights into the legislative goals and tactics of a social reform organization, during the 1920s and beyond. There is also a good deal in the collection about labor education, both the Leagues own evening classes and such ventures as Brookwood Labor College and the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers, in which Rose Schneiderman and other League leaders participated. In the special topics series and within the Leagues correspondence, there is material about broader social movements: labor participation in third parties, 1919-24; efforts to ratify the Child Labor Amendment, in 1924-25 and again in 1937-38; the campaign during the depression years for social security legislation; the sustained opposition of many women reformers and activists to the proposed Equal Rights Amendment because of its impact on protective legislation for women workers.
The collection is also a source of biographical and personal data. It contains relatively little information about Mary Dreier, from whose presidency only a few stray letters remain, or about Leonora OReilly. It is a bit stronger on Pauline Newman, whose membership spanned almost the whole history of the League; occasional letters from her are scattered throughout the correspondence. From the personal angle, the collection is strongest on Rose Schneiderman and Maud Swartz. It greatly enhances Schneidermans rather meager personal papers, as microfilmed within the present edition. For Swartz, it provides the only substantial body of her correspondence that survives, and casts light on her relations with her predecessor as national president, Margaret Dreier Robins, and with the Leagues national secretary, Elisabeth Christman.
As a general rule, material within each group or sub-group of the collection is arranged chronologically, with undated items at the end. Undated items and items of the same date are arranged alphabetically by author.
New York Womens Trade Union League: Chronology: Collection IV
1904, February--League formally organized. First officers: Margaret Daly, president; William English Walling, secretary
1905--Margaret Dreier elected president in March; holds office until her move to Chicago following her marriage in June.
1906-1914--Mary E. Dreier president; Helen Marot secretary (until 1913).
1909-1914--Leonora OReilly vice president.
1909-1910--League assists shirtwaist makers general strike.
1911-1912--League conducts drive for factory safety and sanitation after Triangle Fire.
1913--League assists white goods workers general strike.
1914-1918--Melinda Scott president.
1915, 1917--League active in state suffrage campaigns.
1917-1921--Maud Swartz secretary.
1918-1949--Rose Schneiderman president.
1919--League helps form Womens Joint Legislative Conference of New York State.
1919-1936--League works for state 48-hour-week law for women (passed 1935) and minimum wage law for women (passed 1936 but declared unconstitutional).
1949-1955--Gerel Rubien president.
1955, June--League disbands.
Introduction: Collection V: Leonora OReilly Papers, Schlesinger Library
By Edward T. James
Leonora OReilly was born in New York City in February 1870 to Irish immigrant parents. John OReilly, a printer by trade, had come to the United States early enough to be naturalized in 1861. Winifred (Rooney) OReilly, born in 1840, had been brought to America as a young girl. The death of her father soon after the ocean passage condemned Winifred to a hard-working childhood: nursemaid at seven, errand girl for a dressmaker at eleven, and then long hours in a ladies garment factory. Her marriage in 1867 only briefly interrupted this life of toil. The couple put their savings into a grocery store, which failed. The first child, a boy, died in infancy, and a year after Leonoras birth, John OReilly fell ill and died. Mrs. OReilly went back to the factory, at first taking her daughter with her to spend the day in a clothes basket and then leaving her at home in the care of neighbors.1
Leonora grew up in a freethinking atmosphere. Her mothers ties to Catholicism seem early to have weakened. Her father had been converted to socialism by a working-class friend, John Baptiste Hubert, a French-born machinist of intellectual bent. Hubert was Leonoras godfather, and after the fathers death he boarded with the family to aid in their support. Leonora for a time attended public schools. Although a cousin recalled that she first developed heart trouble when she was about ten, she too had to go to work soon afterward, perhaps as early as the age of twelve when, according to one account, she took a job in a collar factory.2
Her formal schooling, however, was only the beginning of her education, which continued under the guidance of two successive groups of friends, the first made up of working-class intellectuals, men of her fathers generation, the second of middle-class reformers. Her godfather, Hubert, seems to have been the most important early influence. A member of the Knights of Labor, he arranged for Leonora to join the order in 1886, when she was sixteen, and saw to it that she was taken into the radical inner circle then active among the New York Knights. One of the leaders of that circle, Victor Drury (1825-1918), a French socialist and follower of Karl Marx who had come to the United States in 1867, became OReillys lifelong friend and mentor.3 Tutelage of a more systematic sort came during the 1880s from Edward King (1846-1922), a Scottish-born type founder active in New Yorks Central Labor Union. A Positivist disciple of Auguste Comte, King won a wide following as a lecturer at the Educational Alliance of New Yorks Lower East Side. He also conducted a reading group, the Synthetic Circle, in which OReilly took part. There she met, among others, two members of the East Side community, the fledgling philosopher Morris Cohen and his future wife, Mary Ryshpan.4
Her earliest middle-class acquaintance was probably Louise S.W. Perkins, a schoolteacher of Concord, Massachusetts, who was a few years younger than her mother. According to Mary Dreier, they first met when Leonora was speaking for the Knights of Labor in Boston. Miss Perkins had adopted the cause of labor reform in 1867, at a time when its New England adherents included Wendell Phillips, the former abolitionist; she sensed the girls promise and became her friend, benefactor, and correspondent for nearly four decades. OReilly early in her Knights of Labor days had begun holding meetings in New York of women workers. With the support and guidance of Miss Perkins and her friend Josephine Shaw Lowell, a noted leader in organized charity, the group became in 1888 the Working Womens Society. It secured passage of a state law providing for women factory inspectors, and its work led directly to the founding in 1890 of the Consumers League. The Working Womens Society brought OReilly into contact with a group of New York social reformers that included also Grace Dodge and a young Episcopal priest, James O.S Huntington.5 By 1888 Huntingtons parents, Bishop and Mrs. Frederic Dan Huntington, had begun inviting OReilly to their home in Hadley, Massachusetts, for summer respites from the city, as had Louise Perkins at her summer home in Annisquam, on Cape Ann.
It was probably through Miss Perkins that OReilly met Annie W. Winsor (later Annie Winsor Allen), a Massachusetts woman of about her own age then teaching at the Brearley School in New York. The two became good friends, sharing an interest in the Peoples Choral Union. Winsor in the mid-1890s gave OReilly lessons in composition. By 1898 they were serving together on the executive committee of the Womans Municipal League and as officers (OReilly as second vice president) of the Social Reform Club, founded in 1894 by Edward King and others to bring labor and middle-class leaders together in common efforts.6
At the same time OReilly was pursuing her own course of self-improvement. In an essay for Annie Winsor in 1896 (Reel 1, Volume 2, Nov. 11, 1896) she described her weekly schedule. While working ten hours a day, six days a week, as forewoman in the shirtwaist factory of George W. Bellamy, she found time each week for evening classes at the YWCA in business methods and "physical culture," two meetings of the Social Reform Club, and a meting of Kings Synthetic Circle, along with fifteen minutes each morning spent studying shorthand.
A year later, however, that schedule underwent a sweeping change. Leonora OReillys middle-class friends, led by Miss Perkins, decided that her potential for social good should no longer be sacrificed to long hours in the factory and undertook to give her a years support in a more useful undertaking. The result was an experimental cooperative shirtwaist shop which sought to teach young women marketable skills; it opened in the fall of 1897 at Lillian Walds Nurses Settlement on Henry Street, with OReilly in charge.
Though the shop lasted only for a year, OReilly never went back to the factory. Seeking to qualify herself as a teacher in the growing field of industrial education, she next enrolled (with Miss Perkins continued support) in a two-year course in domestic arts at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. During her second year (1899-1900) she served as head resident of Asacog House, a Brooklyn social settlement. (The name, inspired by Walter Besant, was an acronym for "All sorts and conditions of girls.") Through that post, in which she continued for two years after her graduation, she formed another long-lasting friendship, this time with a member of the settlements board, five years her junior, Mary E. Dreier. OReilly left Asacog House in 1902 to become supervisor of machine sewing instruction at the new Manhattan Trade School for Girls. Over the next seven years she became deeply involved in that enterprise and in the broader movement for vocational education.
To this interest, the Womens Trade Union League, organized late in 1903, for a time took second place. William English Walling, co-founder of the National WTUL and prime mover that winter in organizing its New York branch, saw to it that OReilly was appointed to the original executive boards of both. He also sought her advice. When he was lining up likely middle-class members, it was undoubtedly she who suggested Mary and Margaret Dreier, thus bringing into the League two of its major leaders. But OReilly herself was for a time ambivalent about the WTUL. Torn between her loyalty to working women and the labor movement and her conviction that she, as one who carried no union card, was an "interloper" in labor affairs, she peremptorily resigned from both the national and New York Leagues in December 1905.
Mary Dreier was responsible for healing the breach. Late in 1907 she persuaded OReilly to accept from her a monthly "salary" for the rest of her life, thus freeing her from the need for self-support, and to return to the New York League. The house OReilly bought in 1909 for herself and her mother, located in a quiet section of Brooklyn, further enhanced her security. During the next five years her public career reached its peak.
Although she continued until 1909 to give part of her time to the Manhattan Trade School, OReilly increasingly devoted her efforts to the Womens Trade Union League. She served from 1909 to 1914 as first vice president of the New York branch. She also took some part in the national League, sitting on its executive board for two years (1909-11) and undertaking occasional special missions, such as bolstering up the shaky Kansas City branch in 1912. But her prime arena was New York City. There she did picketing, fund-raising, and organizing work during strikes, including the mass walkout of shirtwaist makers in 1909-10. When the Triangle Fire of 1911 killed 146 working girls, it was the New York League that led in mobilizing a shocked community into action by exposing safety and sanitation abuses in other factories and pressing for corrective legislation, and it was OReilly as head of the Leagues fire committee who directed the campaign. In this and other League work she had a useful ally in Arthur Brisbane, editor of the New York Journal--a friend, through his father, of Victor Drury and thence of the OReillys--who provided news coverage and editorial support. It was, however, as a public speaker that OReilly made her greatest impact. Her addresses to labor audiences taught the principles of trade unionism and roused group loyalty. She was equally adept at conveying labors needs and outlook to the middle class. By all accounts she was a compelling speaker; one newspaper reporter who observed her suffrage work called her "the Billy Sunday" of that campaign (Reel 9, frame 762). The extensive notes and reports of her speeches as found in her papers give some hint of this eloquence in an occasional sharply pointed or thought-provoking statement.
OReillys suffrage work for a time was coequal with her work for the WTUL. Her emphasis was always on the labor aspects of suffrage: how working women needed both trade unions and the vote for their protection. Beginning in 1909 and continuing, as her strength permitted, through the successful state campaign of 1917, she did much to convert and activate the working-class votes that helped push New York to victory. She organized street-corner and mass meetings, found effective working-class speakers, and turned out strong contingents of working women for suffrage parades. Her principal agency was the Wage Earners Suffrage League, which she founded and headed beginning in 1911, affiliating it at first with the city Woman Suffrage Party and then with the New York WTUL.
A lesser interest, more unusual for her day, was the cause of the Negro. As early as 1906 she attended meetings of the Constitution League, concerned with lynching and the denial of voting rights to blacks, and she took part in the National Negro Conference of 1909 that led to the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She was also active for several years, beginning in 1910, in the Socialist party but was put off by its factionalism.
Much of Leonora OReillys effectiveness as speaker and organizer derived from her strong yet selfless personality. Her very appearance conveyed her alert intelligence. As the few surviving snapshots in her papers attest, she was slim and attractive. (She shunned formal photographs and refused listings in Whos Whos, citing her vow in the Knights of Labor to subordinate self.7) "She was lythe and swift of movement," recalled Mary Dreier of their first meeting, "and held her head a little to one side as she asked questions[,] and her green brown eyes loo[ked] straight at you and as if she were weighing what was being sai[d]."8 Her writings reveal her fresh, pointed way of putting things, often with a touch of the Irish. The strength of her convictions showed clearly, as did their emotional coloration. She was "so intense," recalled another observer, "that few dared contradict her." And "No one who came under her spell ever forgot her."9
It seems apparent, however, that OReillys transformation from working girl to de facto member of the middle class, along with her position as a recipient of philanthropy, left some inner tensions. As early as 1900, while enjoying the gracious hospitality of the Dreiers at their summer home, a sudden thought of the "inequality" between their "mode of life" and that of her mentor Victor Drury made "my whole soulburn with the old rebellious spirit. In my supersensativeness I fear I detect just the slightest touch of trying to prove that they [the Dreiers] do not think there is the slightest bit of difference between us." "It is a kind of madness with me for no people could be kinder or more willing to serve."10 On occasion these tensions led to sharp outbursts--once against even so gentle and unassuming a person as Mary Dreier.
Less is known of OReillys personal life. Her diaries suggest that during her twenties and early thirties she had a circle of friends with whom she went on summer outings and trips to the theater. Among them were several attentive young men. One who is represented in her correspondence (Reel 8, frames 724-811) was George McGregor, a resident of southern New Jersey who worked in Philadelphia, possibly as a newspaperman. They shared an interest in the theater and in literature, and from 1900 to 1904 they saw each other with some regularity. McGregor expressed his love and sought hers in return; whether she gave it is unclear. A quarrel in the fall of 1904 strained their relationship, and by 1906 McGregor had married someone else. Could this have been the source of the "period of terrible disillusionment" that OReilly suffered at about this time, according to her friend Mary Wolfe?11 In 1907 OReilly adopted an infant daughter, Alice. Alice died four years later. Thereafter OReillys friendships were mostly with women. To them she seemed to radiate strength and warmth. One friend, Laura Griesheimer, a Rochester suffragist living alone with a difficult father, was drawn to her as a mother-figure. Another, Mary Wolfe, recalled a study-group of girls who came "to sun our souls in her sweet beneficence."12
Serious illness in early 1914, presumably heart trouble, forced Leonora OReilly to give up most of her WTUL work and all public speaking for six months. Her health seems never fully to have recovered. The result was a scaling down and reorientation of her public activities. In mid-1915, stirred again by her anomalous position as a spokesman for labor who no longer worked for wages, she sought once more to resign from the WTUL. Her suffrage work also diminished. At the same time she took up two new interests. Caught up in the movement for international peace that flourished between the outbreak of war in Europe and Americas entry, she joined the Womans Peace Party and attended (as a representative of the National WTUL) the womens peace congress that met in The Hague, Holland, in April 1915. At the close of the war she became an ardent supporter of Irish independence.
OReilly had always been close to her mother, who shared her liberal leanings and her love of reading. Sweet-natured and calm, Mrs. OReilly also served as a useful balance-wheel for her more excitable daughter. With dismay Leonora in 1922 watched her mother begin slipping into senility. By 1924 her restless and disordered fancies had to be appeased by frequent subway trips to New York at odd hours of the day or night. Friends urged OReilly to find someone to share the burden or, as her mother worsened, to place her in an institution, but she always refused. To the care of her mother Leonora OReilly sacrificed her own remaining strength. She died of a final heart attack in April 1927 at the age of fifty-seven. Mrs. OReilly lived on until 1931. After services conducted by Mary Dreier, the ashes of mother and daughter were buried in Kensico Cemetery near New York City.
Unlike Agnes Nestor, Mary Anderson, or Rose Schneiderman, Leonora OReilly brought to the Womens Trade Union League no strong background of leadership within her trade. Her membership in the Knights of Labor may have shaped her loyalties, but there is no evidence that it involved her unconventional union activity. Her years as a shirtwaist maker came at a time when unionism had scarcely begun to penetrate the ladies garment industry, and by her own account she held no union card. Her shop experience, moreover, seems to have been rather benign, with a sympathetic employer and, in later years, a position as forewoman. Her only recorded trade-union work before the founding of the Womens Trade Union League came during her year at the Henry Street settlement when, with the aid of sympathetic residents, she organized a womens local of the United Garment Workers.
OReillys limited union background, together with her unusual intellectual development, her ingrained individualism, and, to some extent perhaps, her close contact with middle-class reformers, made her see things a bit differently from veteran trade unionists like Schneiderman. The New York League tended to polarize into unionists and "allies." Though OReilly found some allies, like Laura Elliot, irritating, her ties with Mary Dreier were strong, and it is perhaps significant that she chose to withdraw from active participation in the New York League after Dreier stepped down as president.13
Nonetheless, OReillys faith in the principles of the labor movement and in the necessity for workers to guide their own destiny never wavered. Within the WTUL, she served effectively in organizing work and in strikes. By temperament she was averse to holding high office; she exerted her leadership instead through inspiration. Her emotional force and compelling eloquence moved working-class audiences, animated her colleagues in the New York WTUL, and illuminated the condition and needs of working women to their middle-class sisters. As Mary Dreier put it in her memorial verse: "You held the torch aloft when we were young. Your passionate faith and fervor drew us on." "She was a great and glorious rebel," wrote Margaret Dreier Robins on hearing of OReillys death. "She made many thousands understand who would never have known of another world but for [her]."14
Footnotes: Collection V
1These and other details about OReilly and her mother come from Mary Dreiers interview with a cousin of OReilly and from her unpublished memoir, "Leonora OReilly: A Chapter of Memories" (not always accurate), both in the Margaret Dreier Robins Papers (Reel 7, frames 491-92, 502-47); and from letters written to Mary Dreier after OReillys death by Mary Ryshpan Cohen and Mary S. Wolfe (OReilly Papers, Reel 3, frames 152-67).
2Interview in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 8, 1913 (OReilly Papers, Reel 9, frames 758-59).
3See Huberts letters to OReilly of 1886-90. There are no Drury letters in the correspondence, but OReillys notebook of material from his papers on Reel 3 suggests his influence, and scattered annotations in his shaky hand turn up in other portions of the papers. For Drury and his role in the Knights of Labor, see Dictionnaire Biographique du Mouvement Ouvrier Francais, III (1968), 377; Norman J. Ware, The Labor Movement in the United States, 1860-1895 (1929), p. 111; John R. Commons et al., History of Labor in the United States, II (1918), 433; Samuel Gompers, Seventy Years of Life and Labor (1925), I, 98-99, 254-56.
4Milton Hindus, "Edward Smith King and the Old East Side," American Jewish Historical Quarterly, LXIV (June 1975), 321; Morris R. Cohen, A Dreamers Journey (1949), pp. 96-97; Gregory Weinstein, Reminiscences of an Interesting Decade: The Ardent Eighties (1928).
5Information about Louise Perkins comes almost wholly from her many letters to OReilly. There is only one minor contemporary reference to the Working Womens Society in the OReilly Papers (Reel 13, frames 686-87), but letters from Perkins in later years recall its activities. See also Alice Henry, The Trade Union Woman (1915), pp. 43-45; William Rhinelander Stewart, The Philanthropic Work of Josephine Shaw Lowell (1911), pp. 136, 334-35, 372; and New York Times, Oct. 10, 1888, p. 8.
6Annie Winsors occasional letters in the OReilly Papers (see especially Dec. 16, 1911); OReilly and other correspondence of the 1890s in the Annie Winsor Allen Papers, Schlesinger Library.
7Newspaper interview, June 8, 1913 (Reel 9, frame 758).
8Undated note in Margaret Dreier Robins Papers (Reel 7, frame 495).
9R.L. Duffus, Lillian Wald (1938), p. 67.
10Undated letter of Leonora OReilly to her mother, probably 1900 (Reel 3, frames 502-04).
11Undated letter to Mary Dreier (Reel 3, frame 165). As Ellen Condliffe Lagemann points out (A Generation of Women, 1979, p. 105), there is evidence that OReilly spent some time in a sanitarium in 1906. Lagemann attributes this crisis to OReillys disenchantment with the Manhattan Trade School for Girls, upon which she was nevertheless dependent for a livelihood. My own reading of her papers suggests that OReillys initial disappointment with the schools policies soon receded, and that subsequent disagreements were mostly over the budget for her department. Shocked by the rejection of salary increases for her staff, she sought to resign in May 1905. She stayed on, however, and in 1908 (contrary to Lagemann) was placed upon the schools Board of Administration (Manhattan Trade School for Girls, Fifth Annual Report, Jan. 1908, p. 4 - Reel 10, frame 707).
12Notebook-letter of Laura Griesheimer, April-May 1915 (Reel 7, frames 297-324); Mary S. Wolfe to Mary Dreier, n.d. (Reel 3, frame 157).
13For a different interpretation of OReillys ambivalence toward the League, see Nancy Schrom Dye, "Creating a Feminist Alliance: Sisterhood and Class Conflict in the New York Womens Trade Union League, 1903-1914," Feminist Studies, II (1975), 24-38.
14Mary E. Dreier, "Leonora OReilly" (OReilly Papers, Reel 3, frame 39); Margaret Dreier Robins to Mary Dreier, Apr. 5, 1927 (Mary Dreier Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College).
Bibliographical Note: Collection V
Apart from her own papers, there is little primary material on the life and career of Leonora OReilly, and most of this is to be found within the present microfilm edition. The most useful supplementary source is the Margaret Dreier Robins Papers. These contain an unpublished 43-page memoir of OReilly by Mary Dreier--not always accurate in biographical detail--and Dreiers notes on an interview with a cousin of OReilly (both on Reel 7). The Margaret Dreier Robins correspondence includes one or more OReilly letters on nearly every reel from 1907 through 1927 (Reels 19-31). In addition, a small but important group of letters to OReilly, 1903-05, from William English Walling and others, somehow found their way into the Robins Papers and have been filmed there on Reel 66.
The microfilmed records of the New York Womens Trade Union League contain references to OReilly in the minutes of monthly and executive board meetings and, in the correspondence series, two letters from her. There are a few OReilly letters also in the Rose Schneiderman Papers.
In other manuscript collections, the Annie Winsor Allen Papers at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, include at least forty letters from OReilly, some undated but mostly from 1896 to 1900. There are perhaps a dozen OReilly letters in the Pauline Newman Papers, also at the Schlesinger Library; the collection as of 1980 was open to researchers only with Miss Newmans permission. Only one OReilly letter has turned up in the same librarys Mary Dreier Papers. Barbara Wertheimers oral history interview with Pauline Newman (1976, for the Twentieth Century Trade Union Woman project of the University of Michigan-Wayne State University Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations; copy in Schlesinger Library) includes recollections of OReilly (pp. 29-31).
Very little has been published about Leonora OReilly. The best overall biographical account is the one by Charles Chively in Notable American Women, 1607-1950. Ellen Condliffe Lagemanns "educational biography" of OReilly in her volume A Generation of Women (1979) adds useful details and offers an interpretation of OReillys development. Nancy Schrom Dye discusses OReilly in her "Creating a Feminist Alliance: Sisterhood and Class Conflict in the New York Womens Trade Union League, 1903-1914," Feminist Studies, II (1975), 24-38. There are brief references to OReilly in R.L. Duffuss Lillian Wald (1938), Vida D. Scudders Father Huntington (1940), and Morris R. Cohens autobiography, A Dreamers Journey (1949). For contemporary impressions of her mother, see Alice Henry, "Mrs. Winifred OReilly," Life and Labor, I (May 1911), 132-36, and Duffus, p. 67. Leonora OReilly and her household are pictured briefly in a Theosophy-oriented romance by her old friend Laura (Griesheimer) Chase, Vanya: A Narrative (1950).
History of Collection V
At her death in 1927 Leonora OReilly willed all her property to Mary Dreier, including her extensive personal papers. Dreier, a longtime friend and admirer, early conceived the idea of writing a biography of OReilly. To this end she kept the papers in her custody and conducted at least one interview with a relative to obtain family data. Dreiers busy life deferred the project, but she eventually completed a modest 43-page typescript, "Leonora OReilly: A Chapter of Memories." This and her notes on the interview found their way into the Margaret Dreier Robins Papers at the University of Florida (see Reel 7 of the microfilm edition).
In 1936 the historian Mary Ritter Beard, concerned about the neglect of womens role in history, launched her project for a World Center for Womens Archives. As a former member of the New York Womens Trade Union League, she knew Mary Dreier and, evidently learning of the OReilly Papers, sought them for the future archives. Dreier formally pledged them in 1939.
Beards plan proved overambitious and had to be abandoned soon after the outbreak of World War II. But a similar project, limited to American women, got under way in 1943 when Maud Wood Park, suffrage leader and Radcliffe graduate, gave her extensive collection of books and manuscripts pertaining to the womens rights movement to Radcliffe College. Seeking to build this nucleus into a broader research collection, President W.K. Jordan turned for advice to knowledgeable women, including Mary Beard. Beard responded warmly, and by mid-1944 was steering books and manuscripts to Radcliffe.
Thus when Mary Dreier, now finished with her use of the OReilly Papers, wrote to Mary Beard in the fall of 1945 proposing to ship the papers to her, Beard promptly suggested that they go instead to Radcliffe. President Jordan acknowledged their receipt in December. They were processed in 1950 and opened to researchers in Radcliffes new Womens Archives--later renamed the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library, in honor of the Harvard historian who had helped shape the new library, and his wife. Mary Drier made a small addition to the collection in 1957.
During her custody of the OReilly Papers, Mary Dreier had added a few posthumous items: her obituary and poem of tribute to OReilly, letters of appreciation she had received from OReillys friends, and papers relating to the closing of OReillys estate. (All are on Reel 3.) At some point also, possibly while writing her biography of her sister Margaret Dreier Robins, she had removed from the collection various items pertaining to the founding and first two years of the National and New York Womens Trade Union Leagues. Like Dreiers memoir of OReilly, these ended up as part of the Margaret Dreier Robins Papers. (They may be found in the microfilm edition on Reels 8, 12, and 66.) One final addition to the collection took place in 1976. When Mary Dreiers own papers came to the Schlesinger Library that year, there were found among them some thirty items--letters, newspaper clippings, reports--that seemed clearly once to have been part of the OReilly Papers. These were integrated into the collection before it was microfilmed.
Description of Collection V
The papers of Leonora OReilly constitute a fairly large collection (16 standard manuscript boxes) of considerable coherence and substance. They record her distinctive intellectual development, under the guidance of friends both in the labor movement and of the middle class. They document her somewhat special career in the Womens Trade Union League and in other reform movements, a career based less on organized leadership (although she could on occasion supply it) than on eloquence and motional force.
The collection has some limitations. It contains relatively little material on OReillys first twenty-seven years: a few recollections, by others, of her childhood; scattered correspondence for the years from 1886, when at sixteen she joined the Knights of Labor, up to 1897, when she gave up factory work for a career in reform; a brief newspaper report of a speech she gave in 1889; and a few diary entries for 1895-96. There is virtually nothing about her everyday life as a factory worker, or about her experience as a member of the Knights of Labor--the only labor organization (so far as her papers reveal) to which she ever belonged. Nor does the collection, then and later, tell much about the personal side of her life: her immediate circle of friends in New York and their social activities, as distinct from the out-of-town friends with whom she carried on a regular correspondence. Only from a chance group of undated letters does one learn that she once had an ardent suitor whom she might have married.
From 1897 onward, however, OReillys public career is increasingly well documented in her papers. There is particularly full material for the peak years of 1909 through 1914, years devoted primarily to the Womens Trade Union League and to the suffrage movement. The quantity declines thereafter, as poor health curtails her activities, but coverage continues up to 1927, the year of her death.
The organization of the collection reflects the types of material included, and the number of reels indicates their relative bulk:
Series 1: Diaries and Notebooks (Reels 1 and 2)
Series 2: Biographical and Personal Material (Part of Reel 3)
Series 3: Letters from OReilly to Her Mother (Rest of Reel 3)
Series 4: General Correspondence (Reels 4-8)
Series 5: Speeches and Writings (Reel 9 and part of Reel 10)
Series 6: Organizational and Topical Material (Rest of Reel 10 and Reels 11-13)
The diaries and notebooks in Series 1 are spotty both in coverage and in depth but contain some useful details and insights. The material in Series 2 is miscellaneous and mostly slight: a few personal memorabilia; stray items about some of OReillys friends; records of the purchase of her home and her mortgage payments; papers on the closing of her estate; and recollections about OReilly sent after her death by a few of her close friends to her executor, Mary Dreier. Series 3, letters written over the years by OReilly to her mother, are, like the diaries, intermittent but useful in providing a more personal dimension.
The correspondence in Series 4 makes up the largest and most solid portion of the collection. For the peak years of her career OReillys files seem to be virtually complete. They include a fair number of longhand drafts or copies of her own letters, thus providing some of the flavor of her thinking and personality. Although most of the correspondence deals with her public activities, there is a steady flow of letters from personal friends. The most faithful and long-standing of these are Louise S.W. Perkins, Massachusetts schoolteacher and labor reformer, and Mary Dreier, whom OReilly brought into the Womens Trade Union League. But there are others: Margaret Dreier Robins and Katherine Dreier, Marys sisters; the journalist Arthur Brisbane and his sister Alice Thursby; Harriette Hifton, a librarian, in later years at the Library of Congress, who in 1915 married OReillys early mentor Edward King; Mary S. Wolfe of New York, apparently a schoolteacher; and members of the Womens Trade Union League as diverse as Stella Franklin and Pauline Newman.
The material in Series 5, on OReillys speeches and writings, helps to document an important avenue of her influence. The organizational and topical material in Series 6 varies in usefulness but includes some personal notes, minutes of meetings, and other records of her activities for a variety of institutions and causes. More specific information about these and other portions of the collection can be found in the reel notes.
Both the general correspondence and the organizational and topical series contain considerable material on the Womens Trade Union League. Some reflects OReillys work at the national level, as a participant in conventions and standing committees and as a national organizer. The major part, however, concerns the New York League, in which her activities largely centered. Some of the material is of an official nature: copies of her dictated letters, and minutes and reports of committees, as well as her own informal records of some of her strike work. There are substantial files of the New York Leagues Fire Committee, formed after the Triangle Fire of 1911, including hundreds of questionnaires and letters sent in by working women to report fire and other hazards in their factories. The OReilly Papers thus form a useful supplement to the records of the New York League, as microfilmed elsewhere in this edition.
The collection also casts light on other fields in which OReilly was interested. Second only to the WTUL was the suffrage movement. Its standard chroniclers make little or no mention of OReillys Wage Earners Suffrage League and its impact. There is useful material also on other organizations or movements, such as the Social Reform Club of New York, the Asacog settlement in Brooklyn, the Manhattan Trade School for Girls, and the womens peace congress that met at The Hague in 1915.
Within the correspondence series, and within the majority of subgroups in other series, items are arranged in chronological sequence. Those for which the month but not the day is known follow the dated items for that month; items for which only the year is known (or can reasonably be assigned by internal evidence) come at the end of that year. Completely undated items are placed at the end of the chronological sequence. Within the correspondence, letters for the same date, and undated letters, are arranged alphabetically by the name of the writer; letters of the same date by OReilly are arranged alphabetically by the name of the recipient.
Leonora OReilly: Chronology: Collection V
1870, Feb. 16--Born in New York City.
(dates not known)--Attended public school in New York.
c. 1882--Began work in a factory.
1886--Joined Knights of Labor.
c. 1888 ff--Attended Edward Kings Positivist reading group, the Synthetic Circle.
c. 1888-1890--Active, with Louise S.W. Perkins, Josephine Shaw Lowell, and others, in the Working Womens Society, New York City.
c. 1894 ff--Active in Social Reform Club of New York City, for a time as second vice president.
1897-1898--With support from Louise Perkins and others, gave up factory work to run an experimental cooperative shirtwaist shop at Lillian Walds Nurses Settlement on Henry Street.
1898-1900--Student at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn; completed two-year course in domestic arts.
1899-1902--Resident head of Asacog House, a Brooklyn settlement; met Mary Dreier when interviewed for the post.
1902-1909--Associated with Manhattan Trade School for Girls, at first as supervisor of machine sewing instruction, later as board member.
Winter 1903-04--Helped organize New York branch of Womens Trade Union League.
1907--Adopted a baby daughter, Alice, who died in 1911.
1908--Given lifetime support by Mary Dreier.
1909-1914--Vice president of New York WTUL; active in organizing, strike, and fire and safety work and as public speaker.
1909-1911--Member of executive board, National WTUL.
1909-1917--Active in suffrage work; founded Wage Earners Suffrage League (New York City), 1911.
1915--Attended international womens peace congress at The Hague.
1914 ff--Activities curtailed by weakened health.
1922-1927--Devoted herself to care of her ailing mother.
1927, Apr. 3--Died at her Brooklyn home of heart disease.
Introduction: Collection VI: Rose Schneiderman Papers, Tamiment Library, New York University
By Nancy Schrom Dye
Rose Schneiderman was born April 6, 1882, in the village of Saven, Poland, the first of four children. Like many Eastern European Orthodox Jews in the late nineteenth century, her parents, Samuel and Deborah (Rothman) Schneiderman, worked in the sewing trades to support their impoverished family, at first in Saven and then in the industrial city of Khelm. When Rose was eight they emigrated to New York Citys Lower East Side. Her fathers death there in the winter of 1892 left the family dependent upon relatives and charity. Rose and her brothers spent over a year in Jewish orphanages before their mother could reunite them.
Roses education was limited and frequently interrupted. In Poland she began her schooling at the village chedar, a Hebrew school traditionally open only to boys. For several years she attended Russian schools. In the United States, to her disappointment, she had to leave school for work after the ninth grade. Throughout her life she continued a program of self-education and was an omnivorous reader.
Rose Schneidermans first job, at thirteen, was as a department store cash girl at $2.25 a week. Three years later, in 1989, she found a better-paying position as a sewing-machine operator in a cap factory. Despite the oppressive conditions that characterized both retail stores and clothing factories in the late nineteenth century, her interest in trade unionism did not develop immediately. Like most young women wage-earners of that day, she regarded her time in industry as temporary, to be given up for marriage or a teaching career. As she recalled in her autobiography, "We had no idea that there was a union in our industry and that women could join it. Nor did we have a full realization of the hardships we were undergoing."
Two relationships seem to have changed this view. In 1902 her family moved briefly to Montreal, where close friendship with a socialist family stirred her interest in radical politics and trade unionism. Soon after her return to the New York cap factory in 1903, she joined another new friend, Bessie Braut, a young anarchist, in organizing the women in their shop. They applied for a charter to the United Cloth Hat and Cap Makers Union, a vigorous Jewish socialist organization, but the union, reluctant to take women members, told them to come back after they had succeeded in organizing twenty-five women--a task they accomplished within a few days. The union then chartered its first womens local.
Schneiderman quickly emerged as a promising organizer and labor leader, particularly during a long and bitter citywide capmakers strike in 1905. Her local, largely under her direction, rapidly grew to several hundred members. She was elected its secretary and one of its delegates to the New York City Central Labor Union. Previously a quiet, introverted, often unhappy young woman, she now came into her own. She joined the Socialist party and, in 1905, the New York
Womens Trade Union League, the organization she was later to call "the most important influence in my life."
The New York League, recently organized and on the lookout for promising women trade unionists, had spotted Schneidermans organizing work and invited her to its meetings as early as 1904. Although hesitant at first about an organization containing so many upper-class women, she made her decision to join and quickly became a leading member. By 1908 she was the Leagues vice president and one of its most effective organizers. In that year a stipend provided by Irene Lewisohn, one of the Leagues wealthy supporters, enabled her to give up factory employment and work for the League, meanwhile continuing her education at the Rand School of Social Science.
During the tumultuous years of the general strikes in the garment trades from 1909 through 1914, Rose Schneiderman became well known in trade union circles for her abilities as an organizer, public speaker, and union administrator. As the Leagues East Side organizer, she helped found numerous womens unions, primarily among Jewish immigrants. She was active in the 1909 general strike of the shirtwaist makers, the "Uprising of the Twenty Thousand," and served on the shirtwaist makers unions executive board. She also established, virtually singlehandedly, a small union of white goods workers that became Local 62 of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. As its first president and organizer, she led it carefully from its precarious beginnings in 1908 through its general strike in 1913.
Friction with Melinda Scott, the Leagues organizer for English-speaking women, who had defeated her in the contest for president of the League in 1914, led Schneiderman to resign her League positions at the end of that year and become a national organizer for the ILGWU. She spent a year in the job, traveling throughout the East and Midwest to organize shirtwaist makers, but found working for a male-dominated trade union frustrating and unfulfilling. The experience seems to have deepened her commitment to the Womens Trade Union League and to the womans movement generally. Throughout the second decade of the twentieth century she was an active suffragist, and throughout her career she did not hesitate to voice criticism of union policies that indicated insensitivity to womens concerns. She became president of the New York League in 1918, and in 1926 accepted the presidency of the National WTUL as well, although the New York League remained her primary focus.
The years after World War I saw changes in Rose Schneidermans activities and priorities. Although, under New York League auspices, she continued to organize women workers in New York City, she devoted increasing time and energy to administrative and legislative matters. As president of the New York League, she channeled much of her energy into lobbying at the state capitol for protective legislation for women, particularly eight-hour and minimum-wage laws. She also gave vigorous opposition to the new Equal Rights Amendment proposed by the National Womans Party.
Her political orientation also changed during these years. Earlier a Socialist, she helped organize the state Labor party in 1919 and was its candidate for U.S. Senator on the Farmer-Labor ticket of 1920. So strong was her reputation at this time as a political radical that she was assailed by conservative groups as "Red Rose" and was one of the individuals investigated by New Yorks Lusk Committee. Over the next few years, however, the decline of the Socialist and Farmer-Labor parties and her friendship with Democratic activists within the New York WTUL like Nancy Cook and especially Eleanor Roosevelt (who joined the League late in 1922) drew her toward the party. She was pleased when the Democratic governor, Al Smith, appointed her a state delegate to a child labor conference in Washington in 1924. Though she campaigned that fall for the Progressive presidential candidate, La Follette, she also voted for Smith. Before long she had become a staunch Democrat.
Her friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt soon extended to Franklin as well, during visits at Hyde Park, Campobello, and later at the Governors Mansion. The friendship greatly influenced Schneidermans public career. She in turn, through their conversations, gave Roosevelt an insight into the labor movement and problems of women workers that did much to shape the future presidents outlook on labor relations.
During his first presidential year Roosevelt appointed Schneiderman to the National Recovery Administrations Labor Advisory Board--one of the first women he named to a high post. As the Boards only woman member, she was regularly consulted on womens issues. Her appointment lapsed with the NRA itself in 1935. In 1937 Governor Herbert Lehman of New York appointed her secretary (the second-ranking officer) of the states Department of Labor, an office she held until 1944.
Throughout these years Rose Schneiderman had continued as president of both the New York and the National Womens Trade Union Leagues. Her resignation from the first post, in 1949, marked her real retirement from public life; her presidency of the National League came to an end when it disbanded in 1950. While living quietly in Manhattan, she completed her autobiography, All for One, written in collaboration with Lucy Goldthwaite; it was published in 1967. Rose Schneiderman died at the Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged in New York City on August 11, 1972.
Bibliographical Note: Collection VI
For Rose Schneidermans career in the Womens Trade Union League, a more comprehensive source than her own papers is the records of the New York WTUL, also part of the present microfilm edition. These include minutes of regular and executive board meetings in which she participated, from 1905 to 1955; her correspondence as president of the New York League from 1918 to 1949; and some of her correspondence as president of the National League. The correspondence files, particularly in later years, also include occasional personal letters, and they throw light on other aspects of Schneidermans career, such as her post-World War I evolution from socialist to Democrat.
Other portions of the microfilm edition contain scattered Schneiderman letters: the papers of Margaret Dreier Robins, Mary Anderson, and Leonora OReilly, and the National WTUL Papers at the Schlesinger Library. There are Schneiderman letters also in the National WTUL Records at the Library of Congress, which have been microfilmed in conjunction with this edition.
Manuscript collections elsewhere that contain Schneiderman letters include the Brookwood Labor College Records at the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University; the Herbert H. Lehman Papers, School of International Affairs, Columbia University; the Eleanor Roosevelt Personal Papers, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York; and the Pauline Newman Papers, Schlesinger Library; the last collection may be consulted only with Miss Newmans permission. There is a brief chapter on Schneiderman in the unpublished autobiography of her old friend George N. Caylor (originally Cohen), "If Memory Serves Me Right," in the Caylor Papers at the Tamiment Institute Library, New York University. The records of the National Recovery Administration in the National Archives (Record Group 9) include the office files of Rose Schneiderman and other members of the Labor Advisory Board. Her official correspondence as secretary of the New York State Department of Labor seems not to have survived.
The basic source for Schneidermans life is her autobiography, All for One (1967), written in collaboration with Lucy Goldthwaite. See also her early autobiographical article, "A Cap makers Story," Independent, LVIII (Apr. 27, 1905), 935-38. A recent scholarly study is Gary Endelman, "Solidarity Forever: Rose Schneiderman and the Womens Trade Union League" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Delaware, 1978). Schneiderman is viewed in different contexts in Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, A Generation of Women: Education in the Lives of Progressive Reformers (1979), and Pat. L.C. Scholten, "Militant Women for Economic Justice: The Persuasion of Mary Harris Jones, Ella Reeve Bloor, Rose Pastor Stokes, Rose Schneiderman, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn" (Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University, 1979).
Rose Schneiderman presumably made use of her personal papers while writing her autobiography. In June 1962 she gave a large portion of the papers to the Tamiment Institute Library in New York City, a special collection of books and manuscripts pertaining to labor and radical movements. A year later the Tamiment Library was acquired by New York University; it is now housed in the universitys Elmer Holmes Bobst Library.
As her strength weakened and Schneiderman made plans to move from her apartment on East 22 Street to a nursing home, she called upon an old friend, George N. Caylor, to help sort out her remaining personal papers. These she gave to the Tamiment Library in August 1965. The two acquisitions were integrated prior to microfilming.
One portion of the collection, a group of letters (1910-13) from Pauline Newman, a long-time friend and WTUL colleague, was closed to researchers by Miss Newman in 1975 except with her permission. As of 1980 the letters were in her possession.
Description of Collection VI
This is a small collection of personal papers (four and a half standard manuscript boxes), and the coverage for the most part is thin and spotty. One could not reconstruct Rose Schneidermans life and career from her papers. Yet much of the material is of value to students of womens labor history.
The collection is arranged in four series: Correspondence, Material on Special Topics, Biographical and Personal Material, and Newspaper Clippings. The first series is on Reel 1, the other three on Reel 2.
The most useful part of the collection is the correspondence. The overall dates are 1909 through 1964, but the greatest concentration falls in the years before World War I. The letters for those years deal with personal and family matters, trade union and Womens Trade Union League affairs, woman suffrage, and, more briefly, socialism. They give some insight into the day-to-day life and concerns of an early twentieth century woman labor organizer. Much of the correspondence is from friends in the Womens Trade Union League, the labor movement, and the suffrage campaign. Through such letters it is possible to glimpse the female network that sustained Schneiderman and other women reformers and unionists in the male-dominated labor movement. One important part of the collection, the correspondence (1910-13) from Rose Schneidermans close friend Pauline Newman, International Ladies Garment Workers Union organizer and official, is restricted and hence has not been filmed. As of 1980 it was available to scholars only with Miss Newmans permission.
The remainder of the collection, on Reel 2, is made up of a variety of largely miscellaneous items, both personal and official. For a description, see the reel note. In filming this portion, some groups of material have been omitted: personal memorabilia of lesser significance, such as White House invitations, Christmas cards, and dinner menus; a folder of photographs (not well adapted to microfilming) that includes some women labor leaders of the early twentieth century; and a typed final draft of Rose Schneidermans autobiography. Also omitted were such National Womens Trade Union League items as minutes of executive board meetings and convention proceedings, since more complete files are to be found in other portions of the present microfilm edition.
Rose Schneiderman: Chronology: Collection VI
1882, Apr. 6--Born in Saven, Poland.
1890--Came with parents to United States; family settled in New York Citys Lower East Side.
1892-1893--Spent a year in Jewish orphanages after fathers death.
1895--Left public school after ninth grade to become a cash girl in a department store.
1898--Became sewing-machine operator in a cap factory.
1903--Helped organize the women in her shop into a local of the capmakers union, thus starting her labor career.
1905--A leader in citywide capmakers strike; joined New York Womens Trade Union League.
1906-1907--Elected vice president of New York WTUL.
1908--Left factory work to become an organizer for the WTUL.
1909-1914--A leader in shirtwaist and other general strikes of New York garment workers.
c. 1909-1917--Active as campaigner for woman suffrage.
1914, December--Resigned as WTUL vice president and organizer.
1915-1916--National organizer for International Ladies Garment Workers Union.
1918-1919--President of New York WTUL.
1920--Farmer-Labor party candidate for U.S. Senator.
1924--Campaigned for La Follette for president.
1924 ff--Growing friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt (a WTUL member) and Franklin D. Roosevelt drew her toward Democratic party.
1926-1950--President of National WTUL.
1933-1935--Member of Labor Advisory Board, National Recovery Administration.
1937-1944--Secretary of New York State Department of Labor.
1967--Published her autobiography, All for One, written in collaboration with Lucy Goldthwaite.
1972, Aug. 11--Died at Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged, New York City.
Introduction: Collection VII: Agnes Nestor Papers, Chicago Historical Society
By Sarah H. Gordon and Edward T. James
Born on June 24, 1880, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Agnes Nestor grew up as the third of four children in an Irish Catholic family. Her Irish-born father, Thomas Nestor, a union machinist, owned a grocery store and later became a city official. Her mother, Anna (McEwan) Nestor, had worked in a cotton mill in her native New York state. Agnes attended public and parochial schools in Grand Rapids but left the eighth grade in the spring of 1897 when the family moved to Chicago. They settled on the North Side, where Agnes soon found a job at the Eisendrath Glove Company. Her papers document her age at this time as seventeen, not fourteen as she says in her autobiography.
In 1901 the cutters at the Eisendrath Company (all men) went on strike, and young Agnes emerged as a leader among the women operators who joined them. The strike succeeded, and the workers organized as Glove Makers Local No. 1. Next year the women split off to form their own Local No. 2, with Agnes Nestor as president.1
Nestor was one of the delegates from twenty-eight glove workers locals around the country who met in Washington, D.C., in December 1902 and organized the International Glove Workers Union of America. She rose rapidly in the new unions national ranks: third vice-president and member of the executive board (1903-06), secretary-treasurer (1906-13), and president (1913-16). She remained a national officer until her death, as a vice-president until 1939, then as director of research and education. In the latter post, she wrote a Brief History of the International Glove Workers Union of America (1942), a year-by-year chronicle of strikes and organizing efforts.
Agnes Nestors second great interest was the Womens Trade Union League. She joined the Chicago branch during its initial year, 1904. Her League work brought her into contact with a number of well-known Chicago women, including Jane Addams and Mary McDowell. Over the years she built up ties with other Chicago reformers and civic leaders; the philanthropist Charles R. Crane took a particular interest in her career. Within the League she worked closely with Margaret Dreier Robins from 1905 to 1922. Nestor was elected to the executive board of the National WTUL in 1906 and succeeded Robins as president of the Chicago WTUL in 1913. She retained both posts until her death. With the increased responsibilities in her national union and in the WTUL, she gave up working at her trade and left the Eisendrath Company in 1906.
Two of Nestors early undertakings for the WTUL led to ongoing interests. In 1909 she was one of a small group of Chicago trade-union women who, by able lobbying at the state capitol, secured a law limiting the working hours of women in Illinois factories to ten per day. They succeeded in broadening the ten-hour laws coverage in 1911, but Nester never lost sight of their original goal, an eight-hour law, which she finally achieved in 1937.
Again in 1909, she served with Margaret Dreier Robins on a committee of the American Federation of Labor appointed to consider the place of industrial training in the public schools. Five years later, at Robins urging, President Wilson named Agnes Nestor to the federal Commission on Vocational Education. She may well have been, as Mary Dreier believed, "the first working woman to be appointed to any position by the President of the United States."2 As a commission member, Nestor helped shape the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917, which provided federal aid to vocational education. She also took a continuing interest, over the years, in educational opportunities for working women.
Americas entry into the First World War created a demand in Washington for specialists in womens labor, and Agnes Nestor found herself spending much of the war period away from home. An initial appointment to a labor committee under the Advisory Commission, U.S. Council of National Defense, was largely superseded by her appointment (May 7, 1917) to a committee of the Council itself, the Womans Committee, where she became chairman of its Department of Women in Industry. She served also, during the first three months of 1918, on the Advisory Council to the Secretary of Labor--the only woman among its seven members--which worked out a reorganization of the Labor Department to meet the needs of war. Her correspondence reveals a particular interest in the creation of a womens bureau within the department and the appointment of a suitable head. Later in 1918 Nestor joined the American labor mission, organized by President Samuel Gompers of the AF of L, which visited wartime England and France. The experience obviously meant much to her; it bulks large both in her papers and in her autobiography.
Her postwar years are less well documented. A renewed attempt for an eight-hour law for women in Illinois failed in 1919. To her regular work as labor organizer and president of the Chicago WTUL she added a few new activities. Between 1921 and 1925 she headed the Co-operative Glove Association of Chicago, formed by union workers after the leading Chicago glove manufacturers had joined the postwar open-shop movement and ended their union contracts. In 1922 and 1923 she served as assistant director of the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers, and in 1923 she attended the International Congress of Working Women in Vienna. She campaigned unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for a seat in the Illinois legislature in 1928. In the following year, Loyola University of Chicago awarded her an honorary degree for her services on behalf of working women. Within her church, she took part in such organizations as the Catholic Conference on Industrial Problems and the National Council of Catholic Women.
The Depression brought Agnes Nestor a number of new duties. Always a Democrat, she had supported William Devers campaigns for mayor in 1923 and 1927, and in 1932 she worked actively for both Franklin D. Roosevelt and Henry Horner, the Democratic candidate for governor. Her appointments to the following committees were therefore appropriate both politically and in terms of her expertise: the Governors Commission on Unemployment and Relief (1930); the Joint Emergency Relief Fund of Cook County (1931); the Advisory Council of the United States Employment Service, the Unemployment Compensation and Employment Service for the Chicago Metropolitan Area, and the Chicago Recreation Commission (1934); and the Advisory Committee of the Chicago Planning Commission (1939). She also served as a trustee of Chicagos Century of Progress Exposition (1932-34).
During the 1940s Agnes Nestor continued her work for the WTUL and for the glove workers. She traveled frequently, but this activity became circumscribed by illness in the later years of the decade. She began to write her autobiography, which she completed shortly before her death. She was sixty-eight when she died in Chicago in December 1948.
One of Agnes Nestors last labor fights had come within her own union. In 1937 Sidney Hillman of the CIO proposed to the International Glove Workers Union that it leave the AF of L and become affiliated with his Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Nestor opposed the move, and when a majority of the Glove Workers locals voted in favor, she kept the loyal ones together under the AF of L, even though this meant differing with two old friends, Hillman and Elisabeth Christman.
A split such as this was the exception in Agnes Nestors life. In general her career showed remarkable consistency in loyalty and purpose. Although her responsibilities multiplied and came to include national offices, she never abandoned her original commitments. She remained with the Womens Trade Union League and with the International Glove Workers Union from her early twenties until her death. She continued to work for a state eight-hour law until its passage in 1937. Her belief in protective legislation for women led her to oppose the Equal Rights Amendment when it was first proposed in the 1920s, a position which she never altered. It is typical of Agnes Nestors life that her most frequent correspondent in her last years was Elisabeth Christman, who had been a co-worker at the Eisendrath Glove Company and a close associate within both the WTUL and the Glove Workers Union.
Footnotes: Collection VII
1The dates given here follow Nestors account in her Brief History of the International Glove Workers Union of America (IGWUA, 1942; filmed as an appendix to Reel 7), pp. 16-17. Contemporary items in her papers include an IGWUA membership card of 1904 which notes "Initiated May 1902" and a printed constitution of Glove Makers Union No. 1 as adopted Feb. 26, 1902 (Reel 7, frames 175, 196).
2Margaret Dreier Robins (1950), p. 106
Bibliographical Note: Collection VII
Besides her own papers, several other manuscript collections within the present microfilm edition contain Agnes Nestor material. This is particularly true of the Margaret Dreier Robins Papers. For nearly a quarter of a century, up to Robins death in 1945, Nestor sent her several letters a year reporting on the League and other matters in Chicago. There are scattered Nestor letters also in the Mary Anderson, Rose Schneiderman, and New York Womens Trade Union League collections, and in the Records of the National WTUL in the Library of Congress, which have been filmed in conjunction with this edition. The newspaper clippings (1911-12) in the microfilmed Chicago WTUL collection (see Smaller Collections reel) contain references to Nestor.
In other holdings, there are Nestor letters in the Victor A. Olander Papers at the Chicago Historical Society. The records of the U.S. Council of National Defense in World War I, at the National Archives (Record Group 62), include papers of the Women in Industry Department which Nestor headed.
Nestor wrote occasional articles for labor and social work journals. Among these are: "A Days Work Making Gloves," Charities and the Commons, XX (Sept. 5, 1908), 659-61; "The Eight-Hours Day," Survey, XXXVII (Dec. 30, 1916), 369; "The Trend of Legislation Affecting Womens Hours of Labor," Life and Labor, VII (May 1917), 81-82; "Ushering in the New Day," Life and Labor, XI (June 1921), 168-71; "The Womens Industrial Conference," American Federationist, XXXIII (Mar. 1926), 296-304; "The Experiences of a Pioneer Woman Trade Unionist," American Federationist, XXXVI (Aug. 1929), 926-32; and two articles in the Proceedings of the National Council of Social Work: "Workers Education for Women in Industry," 1924, pp. 345-48, and "Current Problems of Unemployment: What Labor Is Doing," 1930, pp. 315-19. See also her testimony before the U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations, as recorded in US. Congress, 64 Cong., 1 Sess., Senate Document 415, Industrial Relations: Final Report and Testimony Submitted to Congress by the Commission on Industrial Relations (1916), IV, 3377-91.
Agnes Nestors autobiography, Womans Labor Leader (1954), is a basic source. It is, however, anecdotal and episodic in treatment, and it is weak on the three decades after World War I. The best brief biographical account is that of Clarke A. Chambers in Notable American Women, 1607-1950. For contemporary impressions, see Union Labor Advocate, Oct. 1904, p. 15 (with photograph); Octavia Roberts, "Agnes Nestor," American Magazine, LXXIII (Feb. 1912), 422-25; and Stella M. Franklin, "Agnes Nestor of the Glove Workers," Life and Labor, III (Dec. 1913), 370-74. For the trade-union phase of Nestors career, see her own Brief History of the International Glove Workers Union of America (1942), filmed as an appendix to Reel 7, and Marie Tedescos account of the IGWUA in Gary M. Fink, ed., The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Institutions: Labor Unions (1977). The successful campaign for a state ten-hour law in 1909 is described in a Chicago WTUL pamphlet of that year, The Eight Hour Fight in Illinois (see Womens Trade Union League Publications, Reel 9). There are frequent references to Nestor in Gladys Boone, The Womens Trade Union Leagues in Great Britain and the United States of America (1942), and Mary E. Dreier, Margaret Dreier Robins (1950).
History of Collection VII
After Agnes Nestors death in 1948, her sister, Mary, assumed responsibility for her papers. Mary died in 1958 and by her will bequeathed the papers to the Chicago Historical Society; they were received in 1959.
Besides material Agnes Nester herself had preserved, the collection contains information about her final illness and death, including obituaries and letters of sympathy. It also includes correspondence of Mary and Owen Nestor, 1949-1953, with editors and publishing houses in the attempt to find a publisher for the autobiography their sister had left in manuscript. It was probably Mary and Owen also who added to the collection letters Agnes had written to them during trips away from home.
The Chicago Historical Society has made a few minor changes in the collection. In order to preserve fragile or valuable items, some originals have been removed and photocopies substituted. The Society has added photocopies of a scattering of Nestor letters found in other collections, particularly the papers of John Fitzpatrick, long-time president of the Chicago Federation of Labor. The photocopies, which have been integrated into Series 1, bear identifying notes.
Description of Collection VII
The Agnes Nestor Papers are broad in chronological coverage, with some material on nearly every year of her adult life. Yet the collection is relatively small (eight standard manuscript boxes, or slightly more than three linear feet), and the material often thin. With rare exceptions, it consists of personal, not official, papers and hence reflects only fleetingly or indirectly her major work. There is some correspondence of an official nature concerning the International Glove Workers Union, particularly during the 1940s, but virtually none concerning the womens Trade Union League. There are, however, useful references to the WTUL in scattered personal letters from Mary McDowell, Margaret Dreier Robins, Elisabeth Christman, and others, and in the still more occasional copies of Nestors replies. The collection is relatively strong on Nestors work during World War I, in Washington and elsewhere. It is generally weak on the three postwar decades.
The Nester Papers are arranged in three series: General Papers and Correspondence, Special Subjects, and Biographical Material. Series 1, which comprises the bulk of the collection, runs from June 1900 to February 1949, plus undated items. Correspondence predominates, but there are other items, such as printed or mimeographed announcements and programs, minutes of meetings, reports, and newspaper clippings. All are arranged in a single chronological sequence. For the most part, the correspondence is fragmentary, with more gaps than continuity. It is often one-sided, although carbon copies of some of Nestors own letters are present, particularly in the later years. Series 2 contains three clusters of papers on particular activities of Agnes Nestor: the Co-operative Glove Association of 1921-25; her campaign for the state legislature in 1928; and her service on the board of directors of Chicagos Century of Progress Exposition of 1933-34. Series 3, Biographical Material, is somewhat miscellaneous. The largest segments are a group of messages of sympathy received after Agnes Nestors death and a preliminary typescript of her autobiography. Fuller descriptions will be found in the reel notes.
As a general rule, items within each series or topical group are arranged chronologically. Undated items are placed at the end of the month or year to which they belong, if that much can be ascertained; otherwise they will be found at the end of the group or series. Items of the same date, and undated items, are normally arranged alphabetically according to the name of the writer.
Agnes Nestor: Chronology: Collection VII
1880, June 24--Born in Grand Rapids, Mich.
1897, Spring--Left school before completing eighth grade when family moved to Chicago.
1897-1906--Worked at Eisendrath Glove Company, Chicago.
1902--Elected president of newly organized Glove Makers Local No. 2.
1902--Delegate to convention in Washington, D.C., that organized International Glove Workers Union of America (IGWUA).
1903-1906--Vice president, IGWUA.
1904--Joined Chicago branch of Womens Trade Union League.
1906-1948--Member of executive board, National Womens Trade Union League.
1909--With other Chicago trade union women, lobbied successfully for a state 10-hour-day law for women.
1913-1948--President, Chicago WTUL.
1914--Appointed by President Wilson to federal Commission on Vocational Education.
1916-1939--Vice president, IGWUA.
1917-1918--Member of Womans Committee, U.S. Council of National Defense.
1918--Member of Advisory Council to Secretary of Labor dealing with wartime reorganization.
1918--Member of American labor mission to England and France.
1921-1925--Headed Co-operative Glove Association of Chicago.
1922-1923--Assistant Director, Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers.
1928--Unsuccessful candidate for state legislature in Democratic primary.
1929--Awarded honorary degree by Loyola University, Chicago.
1932-1934--Trustee of Century of Progress Exposition, Chicago.
1937 ff--Opposed merger of IGWUA with Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (CIO) and helped keep a group of locals within the AF of L.
1948, Dec. 28--Died at St. Lukes Hospital, Chicago.
1954--Autobiography, Womans Labor Leader, published.
Introduction: Collection VIII: Mary Kenney OSullivan Autobiography, Schlesinger Library; Boston Womens Trade Union League Connections, Schlesinger Library; Womens Trade Union League of Chicago Collection, University of Illinois at Chicago Circle
This reel contains three smaller groups of source material pertaining to the Womens Trade Union League. The first, part of the manuscript holdings of the Schlesinger Library, is the unpublished autobiography of Mary Kenney OSullivan, a union bookbinder and one of the two original founders of the National Womens Trade Union League. The second is an assemblage of scattered material at the Schlesinger Library pertaining to the Boston branch of the League. The third and final segment of the reel consists of the Chicago Womens Trade Union League Collection at the Chicago Circle campus of the University of Illinois--primarily a scrapbook of clippings covering the years 1911 to 1922.
The frames for each segment are numbered separately.
Mary Kenney OSullivan Autobiography: Collection VIII
Born in 1864 in Mark Twains Hannibal, Missouri, Mary Kennedy was the daughter of Irish immigrant parents. Her father worked in the local railroad shops, and Mary left school after the fourth grade to aid in the familys support. Within a few years she had mastered the bookbinders trade. In the late 1880s she moved to Chicago. The move brought her into active contact with the labor movement, in which she proved an effective organizer. It also brought her, before long, to Hull House, where the discovery that there were middle-class women seeking to aid the working class proved a revelation to her. Hull House provided the first meeting place for most of the unions she organized, and she in turn helped educate its residents. Mary McDowell, a settlement worker who remained a firm friend of organized labor, always credited Mary Kennedy with giving her her first lessons in trade unionism.
Mary Kenneys skill at union work led to her appointment in 1892 by President Samuel Gompers of the American Federation of Labor as its first woman organizer. Marriage in 1894 to a Boston trade unionist, John OSullivan, took her to that city, where she established at Denison House the sort of ties she had had at Hull House. It is hardly surprising, therefore to find Mary Kenney OSullivan a key figure in the joint effort of the settlement and labor movements to found an American counterpart of the English Womens Trade Union League. During the American Federation of Labor convention in Boston in November 1903, she and William English Walling, a New York settlement worker, with the support of Samuel Gompers, arranged the meetings that brought the League into being. It was she who sent telegrams to Jane Adams, Mary McDowell, and Lillian Wald asking them to accept positions as officers or board members of the new organization.
Mary OSullivans subsequent career was limited by the hard necessity of earning a living for herself and her three surviving children after her husbands death in 1902. Although she served as the first secretary of the National Womens Trade Union League (1903-06) and then as treasurer (1907) and vice president (1908-11), she soon dropped out of its national councils. She remained active in he Leagues Boston branch, but not, apparently, in a strong leadership capacity. Employment as manager of a model tenement sponsored by Boston philanthropists gave way in 1914 to a job as inspector for the Massachusetts Department of Labor and Industries, which she held for two decades until her retirement at the age of seventy. She died in 1943 at her home in the Boston suburb of West Medford.
At some point in her career, probably during the 1920s, Mrs. OSullivan undertook to write an account of her life. The resulting manuscript had reached its present typewritten form when her children, hoping that it could be put into shape for publication, brought it to an old family friend and Medford neighbor with newspaper experience, Frances David Cohen. Mrs. Cohen judged that the manuscript, however lively its depiction of particular episodes, was too fragmentary for publication. Recognizing its importance as a document of labor history, she deposited it in 1959 in the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College.
The autobiography has been microfilmed as it survives, with a few pages missing, with variant forms for others, and with editorial changes and suggestions penciled in on the margins. Though disappointingly meager in references to the Womens Trade Union League, the organization with which Mary Kenney OSullivans name will always be associated, the autobiography conveys some sense of a warm and lively personality and of the interaction between the worlds of social reform and organized labor that gave rise to the Womens Trade Union League.
Bibliographical Note: Collection VIII
The foregoing is based on the OSullivan autobiography and on the following: biographical account in Notable American Women, 1607-1950; two undated letters by OSullivan to Alice Henry, about her early labor work and the founding of the WTUL, in the National Womens Trade Union League Records, Library of Congress (microfilm edition, Reel 17, frames 934-936); Alice Henry in Life and Labor, XI (July 1921), 206; and information from Frances David Cohen. A printed memorial tribute and a longer typed sketch of O'Sullivan by another of her early settlement house friends, Emily Greene Balch, are in the Balch Papers at the Swarthmore College Peace Collection. Apart from a few early items in the Library of Congress collection of League records and a typed speech in the Margaret Dreier Robins Papers (Reel 8, frames 258-267), there is almost no OSullivan material in the other portions of the present microfilm edition.
Since the filming of the autobiography, a small group of additional OSullivan Papers has come to the Schlesinger Library. These include a notebook with manuscript minutes of three WTUL meetings of 1904; three letters; three pages of handwritten notes by OSullivan on her career up to 1902; newspaper clippings pertaining to her, a few dating back to 1892; several photographs; and miscellaneous memorabilia, including a copy of the Balch tribute noted above. In the 1904 notebook, two sets of minutes are of meetings of the WTUL national executive board and exist elsewhere in typed form; the third is of a previously unrecorded "first meeting of New England members of the National Womens Trade Union League" held in Boston on February 14, 1904.
Boston Womens Trade Union League Collections: Collection VIII
Over its lifetime of nearly fifty years, the Womens Trade Union League established a score of local branches. Three of these stand out for their strength and longevity: those in New York, Chicago, and Boston. All three were founded in 1904, during the Leagues first year. Each maintained its existence until the parent Leagues demise or for a few years afterward. Of the three, the New York branch, with its headquarters files largely intact, is the best documented. Chicagos office files have not survived, but a good deal of source material exists in the Margaret Dreier Robins and Agnes Nestor papers, as well as in substantial runs of the Chicago Leagues Reports and Bulletins.
For Boston almost no records at all remain, manuscript or printed. Financially weak, the Boston League seldom had a paid secretary or a fully functioning headquarters. Its leadership was subject to turnover and factional division. Unlike the Chicago and New York branches, the Boston one maintained relatively little contact, over the years, with the National League. Few of its members sat on the national executive board; seldom were any of its officers in correspondence with Mrs. Robins; and the Boston Leagues disdain for orderly record-keeping and payment of its per capita tax was a perennial trial to the national secretary, Elisabeth Christman. Yet the Boston branch aided strikes, worked with local unions on organizing campaigns, and somehow survived.
Since so little source material remains, nearly all of it in the Schlesinger Library, it seemed worthwhile to pull together on this reel the librarys scattered holdings. Three small collections are reproduced in their entirety: one pertaining to the Boston Leagues campaign for ratification of the Child Labor Amendment, the other two consisting of personal items retained by the Leagues last two presidents, Mary Gordon Thompson and Rose Norwood. Other material is drawn from the papers of the Consumers League of Massachusetts and those of Mary E. Dreier and, for some of the printed Reports and Bulletins, from the National Womens Trade Union League Papers--all in the Schlesinger Library. A photocopy of the 1947 Report was supplied by the Boston Public Library.
Further information about the activities of the Boston League may be found in other portions of the present microfilm edition of source materials. There is considerable discussion of the Boston League in the correspondence between Maud Swartz, as national president, and Elisabeth Christman, the national secretary, during the years 1922-26, as found in the New York Womens Trade Union League Records (Reels 7-13). The affairs of the Boston branch came up in the discussions of the national executive board on a few other occasions besides the particular one documented here. The Records of the National Womens Trade Union League at the Library of Congress, microfilmed in conjunction with the present edition, contain (on Reel 15) a file of correspondence between the national office and the Boston branch for 1946-50. The published Proceedings of each national convention of the League include at least brief reports from the various local branches. Scattered items may also be found in the Leagues serial publications, from the Union Labor Advocate through Life and Labor Bulletin. References to the Boston League in the Margaret Dreier Robins Papers are extremely meager.
Beyond the present edition, an oral history interview with Anna Weinstock Schneider at the Labor-Management Documentation Center, New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University, includes some mention of the Boston League, of which she was president, 1919-23. The Rare Books Room of the Boston Public Library has a scrapbook containing a dozen items (mostly notices of meetings) issued by the Boston WTUL, c. 1911-13.
A listing of the contents of this segment of the reel follows.
1. The Boston Womens Trade Union League: Scattered Items, 1918-41 (From the papers of the Consumers League of Massachusetts)
2. The Boston Womens Trade Union League and the Child Labor Amendment (1923-25 and later items)
A small collection centering on the Massachusetts campaign of 1924 for ratification of the amendment. The collection was acquired in 1942 by the Littauer Library at Harvard (then the library of the Graduate School of Public Administration); the donor is not recorded but may have been the League itself. It was transferred to the Schlesinger Library in 1977.
The collection is divided into two sections: correspondence, and printed and duplicated material. It reflects a close cooperation, for this specific goal, between the National and Boston Leagues. It also documents the participation of the National League in two larger coordinating groups, the Womens Committee for the Childrens Amendment (a subcommittee of the Womens Joint Congressional Committee) and the Organizations Associated for Ratification of the Child Labor Amendment.
3. National Executive Board Committee to Consider Revoking the Charter of the Boston League (1939-41)
4. Mary Gordon Thompson Collection (c. 1918-43, 1974)
5. Rose Norwood Collection (c. 1929-48)
6. League Pamphlets
The History of Trade Unionism among Women in Boston (1906?) (Published under the Leagues original name, the Womens Trade Union League of Massachusetts)
The Case for Trade Unions (1920)
7. Scattered Reports and Bulletins of the Boston League (1913-47)
Chicago Womens Trade Union League Collection: Collection VIII
The Chicago Womens Trade Union League--for its first four years officially the Womens Trade Union League of Illinois--was one of the three local branches organized soon after the founding of the national League. It was formed, according to contemporary and later accounts, at a meeting held at Hull House on January 4, 1904, and presided over by Jane Addams, then the national Leagues vice president.1 Thus Chicago had the honor of being the first local branch, closely followed by New York in February and Boston in June.2 Mary E. McDowell, head of the University of Chicago Settlement, was the first president. She was succeeded in 1907 by Margaret Dreier Robins, who stepped down in 1913 to devote her full time to the presidency of the national League. Her successor, Agnes Nestor, continued as president of the Chicago League until her death in 1948.
The close association between the national and Chicago Leagues, during the six years when Mrs. Robins headed them both and during the succeeding nine years of her dynamic presence in Chicago as national president, gave the Chicago branch a strong impetus. It is a measure of Agnes Nestors stature that she was able to keep the Chicago League functioning smoothly and effectively after Mrs. Robins had left both the presidency and the Chicago scene in 1922.
The present collection, housed in the manuscripts department of the library of the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, reflects only a portion of the Chicago Leagues history. Its origin is unknown; library records indicate only that the collection was accessioned in 1968. Save for a few loose items at the end, it consists of newspaper clippings pertaining to the Leagues activities from 1911 to 1922. They cover a variety of topics: the life of the working girl, fire safety in factories, the campaign for eight-hour legislation in Illinois in 1915, vocational education, woman suffrage. There are announcements of League-sponsored dances, plays, and fund-raising benefits; articles on League leaders like Agnes Nestor, Margaret Dreier Robins, and Mary McDowell; accounts of organizing campaigns, particularly among Chicagos retail clerks in 1913; and week-by-week coverage of some half-dozen strikes supported by the League.
Many of the clippings are eroded or incomplete, and some of the early ones have become too dark to reproduce clearly. A number lack dates or other identification. Their groupings are sometimes random and the chronology occasionally jumbled; originally on yellowed and crumbling scrapbook pages, they were remounted in 1976, but with the original arrangement retained. Despite these limitations, the collection has value for the details and the state of immediacy with which it conveys part of the story of the Chicago League at its Progressive-era peak.
Also reproduced here, as an Appendix, is a newspaper clipping (from the Organization File of the Schlesinger Library) that records the date when the Chicago League disbanded.
Additional material about the Chicago Womens Trade Union League may be found in other portions of the present microfilm edition. Substantial, though incomplete, runs of its Reports and monthly Bulletins and a group of its pamphlets are assembled on Reel 9 of the Womens Trade Union League Publications. Other material may be found in the Agnes Nestor Papers (seven reels) and in the Margaret Dreier Robins Papers: in the organizational and topical series, on Reel 12; in her correspondence of the Chicago years; and in the letters written to her by Agnes Nestor, usually several times a year, from 1923 to 1945. There are brief reports of the Chicago League in the Proceedings of the Leagues national conventions. Other references are in the files of its successive official journals, beginning with the Union Labor Advocate in 1904. (Both the proceedings and the journals are included in the microfilmed Womens Trade Union League Publications.) The Records of the National Womens Trade Union League at the Library of Congress, microfilmed in conjunction with this edition, include correspondence between the national headquarters and the Chicago League for the years 1949-50 (Reel 15, frames 150-277). Mary McDowell was one of the few settlement workers who remained active in the Womens Trade Union League, but her papers, at the Chicago Historical Society, contain almost nothing about her League work.
Footnotes: Collection VIII
1Typed copy of article in Union Labor Advocate, February 1904, in Records of the National Womens Trade Union League, Library of Congress (microfilm edition, Reel 17, frames 57-58); Womens Trade Union League of Chicago, Thirty-Fifth Anniversary (1939), unpaged.
2Printed "Outline" of the WTUL, dated in pencil 1905, in Records of the National WTUL, Library of Congress (microfilm edition, Reel 1, frame 154); Minutes of "Meeting Called for the Purpose of Organizing a [New York] Branch of the Womans Trade Union League," Feb. 14, 1904, and of a subsequent meeting on Feb. 21, in Margaret Dreier Robins Papers (microfilm edition, Reel 12, frames 432-442).
Introduction: Collection IX: Womens Trade Union League Publications
The original plan for this microfilm edition was to include only manuscript materials: the major available collections pertaining to the Womens Trade Union League. It early became apparent, however, that the serial publications issued by the League and its various branches formed another prime body of source material and one that was almost as difficult of access. Only a few libraries hold files of even the basic publications of the National WTUL--the Proceedings, Life and Labor, and Life and Labor Bulletin--and holdings of local League publications are few and fragmentary. Hence the decision to draw together these scattered holdings within the present edition.
The starting point in assembling the files was the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College with its substantial holdings of League publications, most of them received from the national office of the WTUL when it closed down in 1950. For the National League, these holdings were largely complete, with one important exception: the files of the Chicago Union Labor Advocate during the six years when it included a League-edited Womans Department that constituted the League first official journal. Providing these files and augmenting others, particularly of local League publications, required the resources of no less than eight additional libraries. They are named in the reel notes and their assistance is gratefully acknowledged.
Only serial publications have been microfilmed, with one exception. For the Chicago WTUL, a small group of pamphlets and leaflets was also included, to augment the otherwise limited primary material available on this branch, as found elsewhere in this microfilm edition on the Smaller Collections reel.
National Womens Trade Union League, Convention Proceedings (1909-1947); Convention Handbooks and Programs (1909, 1911, 1922-1929).
Union Labor Advocate (Chicago): September 1904-January 1906 (Vol. V, No. 1 through Vol. VI, No. 5); May-December 1906 (Vol. VI, No. 9 through Vol. VII, No. 4).
Union Labor Advocate: January 1907-December 1908 (Vol. VII, No. 5 through Vol. IX, No. 4).
Union Labor Advocate: January 1909-December 1910 (Vol. X, No. 1 through Vol. XI, No. 12).
Life and Labor: January 1911-December 1914 (Volumes I through IV).
Life and Labor: January 1915-October 1921 (Volumes V through XI).
Special Publications of the National Womens Trade Union League (1916-1922); Life and Labor Bulletin: First Series (1922-1932), Second Series (1933-1950).
Publications of the New York Womens Trade Union League.
Publications of the Chicago Womens Trade Union League and Other Local Branches.