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.13.3 ‘251


Toward Better
Working Conditions
for Women

Methods and Policies
of the

National Women’s
Trade Union League

James P. Mitchell, Secretary

Bulletin 252

S. Miller, Director



Methods and Policies of the National Women’s
Trade Union League of America

Bulletin of the Women’s Bureau, No. 252






Frieda S. Miller, Director

Washington : 1953

United States Government Printing Office, Washington : 1953

For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U. S. Government Printing Office
Washington 25, D. C. - Price 25 cents

United States Department op Labor,
Women’s Bureau,

Washington, October 12,1953.
Sir : I have the honor of transmitting a report on the methods and
policies developed by the National Women’s Trade Union League to
help American women workers improve their conditions of work and
of life. The National Women’s Trade Union League occupies a
unique position in the history of the United States, as spokesman for
women within the labor movement, and for the labor movement among
working women.
This report was prepared by the Women’s Bureau in response to
demands for historical information concerning techniques used to
assist women workers at a time in our Nation’s life when the largescale employment of women in industry was first developing. Methods
and policies in this field are matters in which women from other parts
of the world have expressed particular interest.
For the most part, the presentation here stresses the work of the
League in its first 10 years, although later activities also are indicated.
Only the more outstanding examples of the League’s many projects
and the more basic of its policies are described.
The Bureau wishes to thank Rose Schneiderman, for many years
president of the League, and Elisabeth Christman, for many years
its secretary, for furnishing numerous helpful materials, and the latter
for reading and making valuable suggestions on the manuscript. The
selections were made and the report prepared under the direction of
Mary N. Hilton, Chief of the Bureau’s Research Division, by MaryElizabeth Pidgeon, economic consultant.
Respectfully submitted.
Frieda S. Miller, Director.
Hon. James P. Mitchell,
Secretary of Labor.


Major activities of the National Women’s Trade Union League of AmericaWomen’s industrial work'
__ _
The League’s origin, objectives, and membership____________________
Origin of the League _
Membership _
Platform and purposes____________ ____________________ __
Objectives and program______: _
The League’s alliance with labor unions____________________
The League as a part of the woman movement______________
Methods employed by the League'__________________________
Telling the public about women workers1____________________ ___
The League seeks a Federal investigation
Reports on conditions of women’s work_________________ ______
Early branches, conventions, periodicals, and finances________________
First national convention ________________________ _____
Second and third national conventions
_ _
Later conventions_________________
The League’s monthly publication
How the League was supported___ ______________ ______ ______
Organizational program of the League
Value of organization to the woman worker
Organization is a natural move _________________________ ____
Early organizing programs of local leagues
The League’s work during strikes of women workers_____________
Policies of the League for work during strikes
Educational program of the League
_ _
Local league classes and libraries______________________ _______
Training School for Active Workers in the Labor Movement_______
Arrangements for college summer courses
Recommendations on trade education
Local league classes in later years______ 1
__ _
Legislative program of the League
Reasons for labor laws__________________________ _ ____
The League’s basic legislative programLimitation of work hours_________________________ _ __
The minimum wage________
_ _
Developing effective methods
The League campaigns for a Federal Women’s Bureau:___________
Other Federal measures the League supported___________________
Later State legislative programs _ __
The League’s response to immediate needs
League programs for the workers’ health
Helping injured workers get compensation._____________________
League plans to aid foreign-born workers
Standards proposed for Government contracts, World War I_______
















Continuing contact with women workers in other countries-----------------Labor standards in the peace treaty after World War I----------------The International Congress of Working Women-------------------------The close of the League-------------------------------------------------------------Appendix:
League primary officers and local branches--------------------------------The first constitution of the Women’s Trade Union League-----------Constitution—Revision of 1913----------------------------------------------Notes on International Congress of Working Women-------------------Selected references-------------Illustrations:
1. Woman in textile mill [Life and Labor, May 1913]-----------------2. The official seal of the League------------------- -----------------------3. “Modern organization of industry”------------------------------------4. “Women work under a strain” [page of leaflet, New York League]-5. New York League [page of annual report, 1906-07]----------------6. Illinois League [page of report, 1907]------------------- :--------------7. Life and Labor, June 1914-----------------------------------------------8. “The case for trades unions” [cover of pamphlet, Boston League]9. “At a glance” [page of New York report]----------------------------10. Bulletin, Women’s Trade Union League of Chicago----------------11. “Classes for workers” [pages of New York announcement, 1952­
12. “Why labor laws for women?” [page of League leaflet]------------13. Six reasons for shorter hours [page of League leaflet]----------------




Promoting the organization of working women into existing unions, and where
necessary forming new unions.
Informing the public on conditions of women’s work and the purposes of trade
unions, and securing support for improved conditions.
Securing affiliation with the League of unions in trades employing many women.
Assisting women workers during strikes and in securing advantageous agree­
ments with employers.
Insisting that unions appoint their women members to their policy-making
councils and committees.
Arranging classes in economics and trade-union history for women workers,
and securing the cooperation of colleges in conducting such classes.
Conducting a special training program to develop selected women for active
work in labor organizations.
Securing for girls equal opportunity with boys for trade and technical training.
Securing provisions for retraining women displaced from industries or occu­
pations with declining demand for workers.
Forming local committees to promote enforcement of labor laws for women.
Urging establishment of fire prevention bureaus in cities to protect workers.
Aiding foreign-born women workers to become a part of American life.
Conducting recreational groups and health programs for women workers.
Advising and assisting women to secure compensation for injuries under exist­
ing workmen’s compensation laws.
Furthering legislation of advantage to women workers, in particular the 8-hour
day and minimum-wage laws.
Urging appointment of women on public industrial boards and commissions.
Promoting the establishment of women’s right to vote.
Initiating the move for a far-reaching Federal investigation of working con­
ditions of woman and child wage earners in woman-employing industries.
Presenting to the President and to the Secretary of War and the Secretary of
the Navy during World War I, the importance of declaring standards for
women’s work on Government war contracts.
Promoting establishment of a Women’s Bureau in the Department of Labor.
Sending two official League representatives to present a reconstruction pro­
gram to the Versailles Peace Conference after World War I.
Having fraternal delegates and speakers from other countries at league
Keeping continually in touch with working women in other countries.
Initiating and developing successive international congresses of working women,
in cooperation with women’s groups from other countries.


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Figure 1.—Woman



Textile Mill.

Labor, May 1913]

Methods and Policies of The National Women’s Trade Union
League of America

The compelling movements for human welfare in our times have
included those designed to secure more healthful and satisfactory
conditions for women’s employment. In this field the work of the
National Women’s Trade Union League of America has been outstand­
ing. This organization was initiated at the turn of the century by
women of leisure who had observed at first hand the terrible situation
then existing for women employed in many factories and shops.
The League was made up primarily of working women themselves,
together with others who understood their needs. In close coopera­
tion with labor unions, it spent almost 50 years helping women
worker’s organize and standing back of them in their efforts to better
their working conditions. Its basic purpose was twofold: It sought
to secure public recognition of women workers’ problems and public
approval of their efforts; and it sought to develop among working
women themselves initiative, self-reliance, fellowship, and a knowl­
edge of the economic backgrounds of their employment.
The League continued its work until 1950, when it ceased to function
as a national organization, although several local branches remained
active. The methods used and the policies developed by this or­
ganization can prove of great assistance to women who may be facing
similar problems. The far-reaching social objective of the League
was well stated in the first editorial of its periodical, Life and Labor,
when this publication was launched in 1911:
If the whole burden of remedying unfair industrial inequities is left to
the oppressed social groups we have the cruel and primitive method of
To this the only alternative is for the whole community through co­
operative action to undertake the removal of industrial wrongs and the
placing of industry on a basis just and fair to the worker.


In a number of large American cities, small groups of publicspirited men and women had a keen realization of the unfortunate
conditions under which many women and children were employed dur­
ing the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In that period, a large





proportion of the feminine workers (more than two in five) were
young girls under 21 years of age, inexperienced, unskilled and with
little bargaining power for a just wage or reasonable working hours.
The excessive hours these girls were employed often ran to 10 or
12 in the day, and sometimes to 14 or even longer. In numerous in­
stances reported, women worked longer days than the men in the plant.
The processes of industry and the speed with which they were per­
formed over these lengthened workdays caused excessive fatigue and
strained the young workers’ physical capacities, sometimes almost
beyond endurance.
Basic wages were insufficient to buy the necessities of life; the esti­
mates of average earnings of workers in manufacturing industries in
1904 showed women receiving but little more than half as much as
men to live on throughout the year. Wages were subject to many
reductions—fines for imperfect work, rental of machines, or purchases
of supplies such as thread and needles, or provision of specified uni­
forms. For example, women making men’s pants in Chicago re­
ported that if they damaged a pair they had to buy it at the wholesale
Girls often were subject to insanitary work surroundings, not in­
frequently to abusive foremen, and to employment in buildings that
were firetraps, in some cases with tragic consequences.
The general public was not widely aware of these often shocking
conditions of women’s employment. But influential women in cities
such as Boston, Chicago, and New York, who understood the prob­
lems of working girls, sought to inform citizens in general of the
unsatisfactory situations and to secure improvements. Labor leaders
among the men also were interested, since they knew that low wages
for women had an influence in depressing standards for men.
Informed persons realized that public knowledge was necessary.
They also believed that assistance was needed among working women
themselves, to enable them to band together and make progress within
their own ranks for better conditions of work. Some of these persons
knew of the work that had been done along these lines in England
since 1874 by the British Women’s Trade Union League, and had the
idea that a similar organization could prove helpful in American

Origin of the League
At the time of the convention of the American Federation of Labor
held in Boston in the fall of 1903, a small group of interested persons



planned a meeting for the special discussion of the problems of women
workers. Permission was given to announce from the platform of
the A. F. of L. convention the meeting to consider women workers’
needs. It was held on November 14, 1903, and resulted in the forma­
tion of the National Women’s Trade Union League of America.
The officers and board members of the new organization included
women from Chicago, New York, Boston, and Lynn, Mass. They
included women from the Boot and Shoe Workers, United Garment
Workers, Textile Workers, and Ladies’ Garment Workers. Branches
shortly were organized in several cities, as will be more fully described
From the first, the Women’s Trade Union League was closely allied
both with labor organization and with the woman movement of the
times. Some of its members, experienced in the conditions of working
women’s lives, saw through the League the importance of woman
suffrage; and some of the suffragists learned by contact with the
League the importance of organizing women into trade unions. It
was “the woman movement within the labor movement, and labor’s
spokesman within the woman movement.”
The membership of the Women’s Trade Union League included
women representatives of trade unions and also other women inter­
ested in its objectives and program. It united in one national organ­
ization all working women, whether already in unions or not, and
sympathizers with the movement outside the ranks of labor. It had
the unique provision for “national members”—sympathizers living
where no local league existed, who could affiliate as individuals directly
with the national organization.1 The League has been defined in gen­
eral as a federation of trade unions and individuals, its membership
consisting of the following:2
(a) Affiliated unions of men and women, which were also affiliated with
the American Federation of Labor.
(b) Women working in trades in which no local union existed.
(c) Members at large who were outside the ranks of labor hut endorsed
the purpose of the League.
1 See Proceedings, Second Biennial Convention, 1909, p. 7. (Footnotes refer to list of
Selected References at the end of this report.)
2 See Women in Trade Unions in the United States, Pamphlet of National Women’s Trade
Union League, p. 6.



The National Women’s Trade Union League of America is a federation of
trade unions with women members, with an individual membership of those
accepting its platform. The women trade unionists have made of it a clearing
house for their problems and have found it an effective instrument for collec­
tive action. The soundness of its policies and the permanent character of its
work have won for it the steady support of a large group of men and women
outside the trade-union movement, as well as within its ranks.
1. Organization of workers into trade unions.
2. The shortened workweek.
3. A standard of living commensurate with the Nation’s productive
4. Equal pay for equal work regardless of sex or race.
5. Full citizenship for women.
6. Cooperation with trade-union women of other countries.
7. International cooperation to abolish war.
To provide a common meeting ground for women of all groups who
endorse the principles of democracy and wish to see them applied in
To develop leadership among the women workers, inspiring them with a
sense of personal responsibility for the conditions under which they work.
To secure for girls and women equal opportunity with boys and men in
trades and technical training, and pay on the basis of occupation and not
on the basis of sex.
To secure the representation of women on industrial tribunals and public
boards and commissions.
To interpret to the public generally the aims and purposes of the tradeunion movement.
The League’s work divides itself naturally into three divisions: Organization,
Education, Legislation.
Organization of women workers into trade unions enables them to bargain
collectively and raise working standards.
In training for trade-union leadership, the Women’s Trade Union League
The National League keeps in close contact with Federal legislative measures
relating to women and civic welfare.



Objectives and Program,
The broad objectives of the National Women’s Trade Union League
were to serve the interests of wage-earning women, to acquaint the
public more fully with the unhealthful and sometimes shocking condi­
tions under which women often were employed at the time, to assist
women in organizing for the purpose of securing better working con­
ditions, and also to obtain improvements by means of legislation.
The League’s first purpose was stated:
To assist in the organization of women wage-earners into trade unions and
thereby to help them secure conditions necessary for healthful and efficient
work and to obtain a just return for such work.

This did not mean separate unions for women alone, but rather in­
creasing the membership of women in existing unions, and developing
organization in trades where none existed and where many women
were employed.
These major objectives of the League were sought through the
methods of organization, education, and legislation, which became
the three main divisions of its program. As more fully stated, its pur­
poses were furthered through organization of workers into trade
unions, collective bargaining agreements between trade unions and
employers, Federal and State legislation for the workers’ economic
and social advancement, workers’ education, and interpretation of
labor problems to the public.
The League's Alliance With Labor Unions.—The work of the
League, primarily for women workers, always was done in close co­
operation with trade-union groups, which then were chiefly of men.
The League was started with the endorsement of the only great na­
tional labor federation of the time, and its first constitution called for
holding an annual convention at the same time and place as this fed­
eration. Many unions were affiliated with it. At its second conven­
tion (1909) the organization report stated that 42 trades were affiliated.
In Chicago the League sent voting delegations to local and State fed­
erations of labor and at the conventions of the Illinois Federation of
Labor the League usually conducted a session in the interests of women
workers. Other leagues also sent delegates to central labor bodies,
and these usually had a voice but no vote.
The League constitution provided from the beginning that the
majority of the women on its executive board must be union members.
(See copy of first constitution at end of this report.) It sent organ­
izers to increase the number of women in existing unions, and early in
its history successfully asked the American Federation of Labor to
provide women organizers to aid in this. It helped form new unions
in industries or localities with many women workers but without



unions. By 1922, its president stated, the League had cooperated with
over 100 trades. It gave powerful assistance to women workers in
time of strike (which will be more fully described later) and helped
women to negotiate with their employers for better wages, hours, and
other conditions of work.
The League’s close relation with labor organization is further shown
by the fact that its national executive board had an advisory council
of trade-union men. In 1912 the A. F. of L. again responded to the
League’s request to make it possible to organize women more fully,
and authorized the funds to pay a league organizer for a year. More
than a decade later, in the fall of 1925, the League gave the services of
its organizer to the Wisconsin Federation of Labor to aid in the 40hour-week organizing campaign.
The League lent its support to union strikes and policies in many
instances where it was not primarily responsible for assistance; for
example, in the early years of its existence the Boston League officially
took part in a protest meeting during the strike of the hatters in 1908.
In 1911 a league convention resolution protested against the arrest
without warrant of an officer of one of the metal-trades unions in
Indiana. In 1913 league representatives investigated cases in which
families of striking copper miners in Calumet, Mich., had been evicted
from their homes. In the same year, league convention resolutions
supported a Federal investigation of treatment of workers in unions
of miners in West Virginia, and called for public apology to a noted
social worker among miners’ families for her arrest and detention.
The League as a Part of the Woman Movement.—At the same time,
the League was an important part of the woman movement of the day.
Its wTork and its support were given along many lines to bettering
the conditions of the life and work of women. A description of the
League stated that it had:
. . . the great advantage of being a movement of women for women. Its
leaders are women widely known as friends of their wage-earning sisters.
In many cases years of study have made them well acquainted alike with
the industrial field and the industrial leaders. Their connection with the
movement inspired confidence, and in their respective States the Women’s
Trade Union Leagues soon became the very centers of effort for the improve­
ment of women’s conditions along trade-union lines.3

The League advocated full suffrage for women, had a suffrage
committee of its own, passed at its conventions strong resolutions for
suffrage, and worked actively with the suffrage organizations, which
were affiliated with the League and sent representatives to its con­
ventions. One of the national presidents joined the League after
contact with a league member while attending a suffrage conference.
s See Report on Condition of Woman and Child Wage-Earners in the United States,
Senate Document No. 645, 61st Cong., 2d Sess., vol. X, p. 157.



A resolution was passed in its fourth biennial (1913), remonstrating
with the union brothers of the central labor councils of Cincinnati
and Dayton for failing to support suffrage, and calling on them to
make amends by supporting the Ohio suffrage campaign of that year.
The same convention voted that its suffrage committee should be ac­
tive in increasing the number of Wage Earners’ Suffrage Leagues in
various localities.
The League had as a basic purpose informing the public of condi­
tions under which women work and interpreting their needs. It
made vigorous efforts to increase the membership of women in unions
and to organize women workers, and insisted that women organizers
be appointed to bring women into existing unions or to form new
The League used its resources in interpreting to men unionists the
needs of women workers. Its members realized that men unionists,
faced by hard and pressing problems of their own, are likely to give
to women’s needs much less attention than their importance deserves.
Consequently, the League officially urged the American Federation of
Labor and all of its constituent bodies to guarantee to women workers
adequate representation by women responsible to their organizations
on all policy-making councils, bureaus, boards, or committees that
deal with conditions of employment or standards of living.
When women were excluded from union membership, for example,
the League objected vigorously, as in the case of a branch of the street
and electric railway employees, which had refused to admit women
to its membership though other branches of the same union had
women members. There were many instances where the League car­
ried on active campaigns to secure admission of women to unions,
which sometimes required changes in the union charter—for example,
the Philadelphia women candy makers in 1918 to the Bakery and
Confectionery Workers’ Union; the women copyholders in New York
in 1920 to the International Typographical Union, which refused
them on the ground of their being “unskilled”; and in 1923 the grow­
ing numbers of women beauty-shop operators to the Journeymen Bar­
bers’ International, an effort that finally succeeded in 1925.
The League also worked to open to women opportunities for tech­
nical and trade training, urged that pay be based on the occupation
without discrimination because of sex, and insisted on representation
of women on public industrial boards and commissions. The Boston
League reported to the second biennial (1909) the appointment of its
president to the Massachusetts State Commission on Industrial Edu­
cation, first urged by the League and by textile unions so that “needs
of girls for industrial training might not be overlooked by a com­
mission composed entirely of men.”





NjHoURCAY ;■ »

(1j I A. UVING-> |
11! WAGE, II



Figure 2.—The Official Seal




Prior to the biennial convention of the Women’s Trade Union League in
1900, a beautiful official seal had been designed and presented to the League
by a Chicago sculptress, Mrs. Julia Bracken Wendt. The legal work neces­
sary to have the seal patented was the gift of another Chicagoan, Mr. T. J.
Morgan. The League program was outlined on the seal as:

The seal was increasingly popular. It was used by the local leagues on
all their publications, from postcards to pamphlets of information and adver­
tisements. It was reproduced as a pin used witli the badges of delegates to
the convention. The president of the American Federation of Labor, Mr.
Samuel Goiupers, requested a large copy, which he framed and hung in his
office in Washington.



Methods Employed by the League
1. Active promotion of the organization of working women.

a. Sending organizers to build unions among women in unorganized trades,
and to increase woman membership in existing unions.
b. Giving information to the public on conditions of women’s work and
securing public support for workers’ efforts toward improvement.
c. Aiding women workers in strike situations in a variety of specific ways.
2. Active promotion of legislation to secure better working conditions for women.
a. For laws to provide an 8-hour day and shortened work week.
b. For minimum-wage laws and establishment of orders under them.
e. Establishment in local leagues of committees to promote enforcement of
3. Educational work along union lines.
a. Training women for the work of organizing women.
b. Conducting study courses in economics and trade-union history for
women workers.
c. Promoting access to technical and trades training for girls and women
on an equal basis with boys and men.


Leaders in the Women’s Trade Union League saw as one of its first
important tasks informing the public more fully of industrial condi­
tions, and especially of the conditions which confronted women in
the mills and factories. The President of the League, Mrs. Margaret
Dreier Robins, wrote in 1909:
The Women’s Trade Union League of Chicago is continuously receiving
letters from all over the country asking for information regarding the in­
dustrial conditions under which the women in America are working. . . .
Better than printed information is the knowledge to be had through per­
sonal fellowship with the women workers, and this is found in the mem­
bership of the Women’s Trade Union League. Therefore, to every woman
who acknowledges her share of the responsibility for the miserable lives of
women and children in the sweated trades and who recognizes her kinship
with all women, we say—Join in the glad comradeship of the Women’s Trade
Union League and learn with us that organization into trade unions is
our immediate opportunity and one within our reach.4

In an address to one of the League conventions, Mrs. Robins said:
In shop, factory, and mill all over our country, our women are working
under conditions that weaken vitality and sap moral fiber—conditions that
are destructive alike to physical health and mental and moral develop­
ment. These conditions, if permitted to continue, will destroy the ideals and
promise of our individual and national life. Long hours, small pay, des­
potic rules and foremen, overshadowed by the haunting fear of losing one’s
job, with consequent hunger, cold and bitter want, do not make for the de­
velopment of free men and free women. . . .
A8ee Pamphlet, The Women’s Trade Union League of Chicago, 1908-09 Introduction.





Every product of modern industry lias, beside and above its cost price in
money, a social price in humanity. Some articles that we seem to be getting
very cheap will be found to be costing us very dear. The glory and strength
of motherhood, the dream and music of childhood, are many times sold at
the bargain counters. . . . Products that are made for wages less than
living and by hours longer than health endurance express a ruinous social
cost, no matter what the selling price may be.r'

The League sought every available opportunity to tell about
women’s work. For example, in 1905 the Chicago League arranged
for a young glove worker named Agnes Nestor (then a member and
throughout most of its history an active officer of the League) to
speak about factory work to the Illinois Federation of Women’s Clubs.
This was, apparently, the first instance of an industrial woman ap­
pearing before club women. The next year the National League had
three representatives at the convention of the General Federation of
Women’s Clubs. The League sent speakers to unions who could be
interested in organizing women, and to meetings and conferences of
all sorts to tell of the problems of women workers.
The League Seeks a Federal Investigation
League members, who so well knew of these things at first hand,
quickly saw the urgent need for a more comprehensive body of facts
to help them show the public how widespread were the unfavorable
conditions under which women worked. Not long after its organiza­
tion, the Chicago League, at one of its regular meetings, asked the
board of the National League to request the Federal Government to
make an investigation of this subject.5 In March 1905, about a year
after the Chicago League was founded, the National League’s execu­
tive committee appointed a committee of three to work for such an
investigation. This wTas headed by Mary E. McDowell, president of
the Chicago League, a board member of the National League, and a
social worker well known throughout the country.
As League officers and members continued to tell the public about
women workers’ problems, the committee secured widespread support
for an official investigation—support from labor organizations,
women’s organizations, social settlements, associations of ministers
of the churches, and boards of trade.
The committee went to Washington and aroused the interest of
President Theodore Roosevelt and of Charles P. Neill, head of the
Bureau of Labor (then the only Federal labor agency), which was in
the Department of Commerce and Labor. The request for an investi­
gation was supported by major women’s organizations of the time—
5 See 1911 Proceedings, p. 4.
* See 1911 Proceedings, p. 8; 3d Biennial Convention Handbook, 1911, foreword; Alice
Henry, Women and the Labor Movement, pp. 166, 167.


divides labor more and more into
repet it ions.. of single;

Each new division means increased
monotony for the workers
is constantly increasing the-speed,
of machine

Every improvement in thenmWchine
means greater speeding up
of the worker
The Logical Remedy
for these new strains
Figure 3.—“Modern Organization






the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Woman’s Christian
Temperance Union, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and
the Colonial Dames. It was backed by the American Federation of
Labor, by numerous international unions, by the Brotherhood of Rail­
road Trainmen’s Associations, and by other organizations interested
in improving labor conditions.
A bill was introduced into Congress in March 1906, and was passed
in January 1907, directing the Secretary of Commerce and Labor to
carry on an investigation and to report on the industrial, social, moral,
educational, and physical conditions of woman and child wage earners
in the Nation. Rep. Gardner of Massachusetts sponsored the bill.
The investigation was very thorough and continued through several
years. From time to time, as its reports were published, the League
used them in informing the public more fully as to women’s work
and the conditions under which it was done. Information at length
became available on almost all the large industries and trades employ­
ing many women. In the end the report was published in 19 volumes
and gave a mass of evidence.
The handbook prepared for the League’s second biennial conven­
tion in 1909 (referred to later) quoted from the investigation, giving
examples of workload in some of the industries that depended largely
on woman labor. In each instance, the handbook also pointed out
the improved conditions that had been secured in plants where unions
were organized. Thus the League, which had asked the Government
to make this investigation, used it in its two characteristic methods
of assisting women workers—informing the public in general, and
aiding women workers in organizing to help themselves.
Reports on Conditions of Women’s Work
The following excerpts, taken from the 1909 handbook, illustrate
the conditions found and the way in which the League helped make
them of public use.
Textile Workers

Standing in thick cotton dust in the card room the speeder-tender may have
1,000 bobbins in the upper part of her machine and 500 in the lower part, and
William Hard tells us that “each bobbin, in each machine, in each alley, is
whirling like a dervish at almost unimaginable speed, and screaming like the
whistle on a peanut stand.” And the weavers, the ringspinners, the speedertenders, work in heat which is like the intense heat of the tropics, and at the
end of the day’s work face the bitter cold nights of our northern winters.
What a price we are paying for our cotton sheets and our calico !
The Sewing Trades

... if you are sewing tucks in a waist or petticoat, you are watching ten
needles running at 4,400 stitches a minute—watching to see if a thread breaks,
or the point of any one of the ten needles snaps. And they dance up and down
like flashes of steel or lightning, and your eyes smart with the strain. . . . And


Eight-Hour Day
for Women
Women Work Under a Strain
“It is brought out that in nearly all occupations an increasing strain and
intensity of labor is required by modern methods of production. . . . The
introduction of machinery and the division of labor have made it possible to
increase greatly the speed of the individual workman.”—Report of the United
States Industrial Commission, 1901.
"Years ago a woman tended two slowly-running looms. Later, as the
hours of work grew less, the number of looms was increased to four and six,
and now, with the Drapers, an operative is expected to look out for twelve
or sixteen.”—Report of Maine Bureau of Industry and Labor Statistics.

That a telephone operator answers about 225 calls per hour (in
some exchanges 275 per hour) and that each call requires six
different operations?
That many girls in the sewing trades sit for long hours in a
room roaring with machinery watching a machine that carries
twelve needles or one that sets 4,000 stitches a minute?
That in mills where women formerly tended two looms they
now are expected to look out for twelve or sixteen?
That in canneries the women sorters must work steadily with
their eyes and attention fixed on moving conveyors, and the
“cappers” are expected to cap from 54 to 80 cans per minute?
Must we combine the strain of
With that of LONG HOURS?

Women’s Trade Union League
43 East 22d Street

Figure 4.—“Women Work Under



[Page of leaflet, New York League]




sometimes you feel as if the machine were running away from you, and your
effort to control it makes your whole body ache.
Cloth Hat


Cap Makers

Cloth caps—automobile caps—bicycle caps—soldiers’ caps—women’s and
children’s caps have to be cut, sewed, lined, trimmed, and finished. The lining
makers and trimmers are women—one woman to four men. Each special process
of work has its own union. In some factories the workers have to buy $35
machines at $60, or else rent them for 50 cents a week. They pay 40 cents a week
for power, and they buy their thread, which during the busy season runs up to
$2.50 a week.
The union has abolished night work; reduced the hours of work from 12 to 9
and 8; and increased the average wage 40 percent ($5 to $7). The union label
strengthens the union, and protects the consumer from sweatshop caps, and the
worker from sweatshop competition.
Glove Workers

In many unorganized factories in the glove trade each girl must buy her
machine, paying $60 for a $35 machine or rent one for 50 cents a week. She
buys the needles and oil for her machine; pays 40 cents a week for power to
run it, and pays the factory machinist to repair breakages. All the work in
the sewing department is piecework, and the heavy working and driving gloves
pass through the hands of the cutter, silker, closer, bander, binder, hemmer, and
again closer.
The wage is dependent upon the speed of the operator and upon conditions
over which she has no control; for example, poor leather which is difficult: to
sew; waiting for work from 10 to 20 minutes because of the delay in the cutting
department; waiting for supplies, such as needles, thread, welt, and so forth;
breaking of belt or machine. For all loss of time the girl pays out of her
The union has abolished the system of forcing the girls to buy machines, and
so on. It has reduced hours of work from 12 to 9% and 8 hours, and has estab­
lished the Saturday half holiday. The union has eliminated the pacemaker as
a factor in controlling the price< of piecework, for the price is now determined
by the capacity of the average worker. . . .
Laundry Workers

How would you like to iron a shirt a minute? Think of standing at a mangle
just above the washroom with the hot steam pouring up through the floor for
10, 12, 14, and sometimes 17 hours a day! Sometimes the floors are made of
cement and then it seems as though one were standing on hot coals, and the
workers are dripping with perspiration. Perhaps you have complained about:
the chemicals used in the washing of your clothes, which cause them to wear out
quickly, but what do you suppose is the effect of these chemicals upon the
workers? They are standing 10, 12, 14, and 17 hours a day in intense heat,
breathing air laden with particles of soda, ammonia, and other chemicals ! The
Laundry Workers’ Union ... in one city reduced this long day to 9 hours, and
has increased the wages 50 percent. . . .





Long hours and poor pay are the general lot of unorganized waitresses. They
often work 14 hours a day and 7 days a week. In many of these unorganized



restaurants they have to provide uniforms and aprons of special fashion, and
must pay for the laundering. They have to purchase the material from their
employer at a higher cost than it can be had in the open market. In some places
they are still compelled to pay for all breakages, however little they may be
responsible. When not actually waiting on table, they have to clean silver,
pick berries, iron napkins, and so forth. It is estimated that a waitress walks
10 miles in a “10-hour watch,” and that she carries 1,500 pounds during that
The organized waitresses, have their uniforms and aprons, and the laundering
of these furnished them. They have established the 10-hour day and the 6-day
week, and every other afternoon they are off duty from 2 to 5 o’clock. They
have increased wages . . . and give their members $3 a week sick benefit for
13 weeks, and a $50 death benefit.


The new Women’s Trade Union League was at work along several
lines and in several cities at one and the same time.7 State branches
had been formed in 1904 in Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York.
In Chicago, Jane Addams offered the facilities of Hull House for
League meetings. At the first one, held January 4, 1904, there were
27 persons present, of whom 23 joined. The New York League opened
its headquarters in a room up five flights of dark stairs on one of the
East Side streets. In 1908 a league was formed in St. Louis, its
headquarters in the home of the musicians’ union.8 Within the next
2 years leagues were formed in Springfield, 111., Kansas City, Mo.,
Cleveland, and Baltimore. In its twenty-fifth year the League had
more than 25 branches.
In the first year or two after they were formed, the efforts of these
leagues were of necessity devoted mainly to perfecting their organiza­
tion, to learning the situation in regard to the organizing of women,
and to gaining the confidence of wage earners in and out of unions.
In 1907, 4 years after organization of the League, the three
existing local branches (Boston, Chicago, and New York) held simul­
taneous conventions to discuss the question “How can women’s unions
best be strengthened?” The Chicago meeting was attended by 81
delegates, representing 6 States, 23 cities, and 30 trades. In Boston,
2 States, 11 cities, and 25 unions were represented. In New York,
75 delegates represented 5 States and the District of Columbia. These
early conventions passed a resolution urging that a woman be ap­
pointed to a responsible position in the Federal Bureau of Labor. A
committee was appointed to meet the officers of the American Federa­
tion of Labor and request the appointment of a woman organizer.
7 See 1909 Proceedings, p. 7 and title page; 1911 Proceedings, p. 7 ; Pamphlet, Women
in Trade Unions in U. S., 1919 ; Breckinridge, p. 62 ; Boone, p. 68; Henry, p. 116; Condition
of Woman and Child Wage Earners, vol. X, pp. 158—159.
“See 1913 Proceedings, p. 3.




Roman’s Cra&e tinton ^League
At the close of the third year it may be recorded that the
Woman’s Trade Union League has become a recognized
factor in the local trade union world; that it has established
important relations with some of the local unions as well as
national and that these relations have created responsi­
bilities which demand increasing effort on the part of the
League. Under reports of committees it will be shown in
what way the League has put forth effort in support of the
following unions: The Lithographers, Stereotypers, Boot
and Shoe Workers, Waitresses, Hand Buttonhole Makers,
Overall Workers, East Side Restaurant Cooks, Skirt Mak­
ers, Shirt Waist Makers, Children’s Jacket Makers, Millin­
ers, Bakers and Confectioners, Neckwear Makers, Shirt
Waist and Laundry Workers, United Laundry Workers,
United Garment Workers, International Brotherhood of
Electrical Workers, International Ladies’ Garment Work­
ers, United Hebrew Trades. Broom and Brush Makers.
Typographical, Box Makers, Glove Makers, Flour and
Cereal Employees.

Committees* atm C^etr iSeportsi
It has been the plan of the League to carry out its work
so far as possible through committees made up of members
of the League. Standing committees with the exception of
the Auxiliary, Label and Electrical Workers have been re­
organized during the past year. The Electrical Workers’
Committee was newly created. The Cooks’ Committee was
not formed until October, and the Hand Buttonhole Makers’
and Waitresses’ Committee not until January of this year.
The work which was accomplished therefore in connection
with these unions, up to the time of their formation, was
by the office force.

Figure 5.—New York League.
[Tage of annual report, 1906-07]
The League reported that on the average of twice a month it was appealed
to, to take part in the settlement of strikes or labor disputes.



First National Convention
Shortly after this, in July 1907, the first national convention9
of the League was held in Norfolk, Va., meeting at the same time as
the convention of the American Federation of Labor. Only seven
delegates were in attendance. However, over 60 letters had been re­
ceived from various international unions pledging support to the
League’s request that the A. F. of L. appoint a special woman organ­
izer, and the A. F. of L. subsequently made such an appointment.
At this first convention in 1907, the League elected Margaret Dreier
Kobins of Chicago as its national president. She remained in office
15 years, a continual inspiration to her co-workers and a vital force
in furthering the organization of women workers and the bettering
of their employment conditions. The convention elected an executive
board including the president and other officers (vice president and
secretary-treasurer) and three representatives from each local league.
The constitution stipulated that two of the three officers and a ma­
jority of the board must be trade-union members. (See appendix for
first constitution.) This board proved rather cumbersome and, 4
years later, changes in the constitution provided for a board of six
members in addition to the officers, care being taken that various cities
having leagues were represented.
Again in 1908 three conventions were held at the same time in
Chicago, New York, and Boston. The conventions spread a knowl­
edge of the League among the trade unions of these centers. In
consequence, a large number of unions having women members became
affiliated with them, sent accredited delegates to their meetings, and
paid toward their support small but regular per capita dues. Chicago
and New York each had some 75 or 80 union delegates in attendance
at the 1908 meetings.
Second and Third National Conventions
A national convention was to be held biennially. In the fall of
1909 the second biennial convention met in Chicago, 6 years after the
formation of the League. An impressive convention handbook had
been printed. It gave details as to the conditions of women’s work
in numerous industries, using reports from the Federal investigation
previously described, and pointed out the effectiveness of unions in
some trades in improving women’s hours, wages, and other work
9 See 1909 Proceedings, p. 7; 1911 Proceedings, p. 38; Boone, p. 73; Mary E. Dreier__
Margaret Dreier Robins, pp. 170, 174; Henry, pp. 115-116; and Condition of Woman and
Child Wage Earners, vol. X, pp. 157-158.



Sixty-five delegates were accredited to the 1909 convention. They
came from 14 cities, the most distant being San Francisco. They
represented 19 different trades and included representatives of two
city central labor bodies (Brooklyn and Rochester, N. Y.) and one
State Federation of Labor (Wisconsin). In addition, there were
three fraternal delegates, one representing a city central labor body
(Indianapolis, Ind.) and two coming from abroad, representing the
Women’s Trade Union League in Great Britain, and the organization
of 25,000 German bookkeepers, stenographers, and department-store
clerks. The printed report of the convention proceedings contained
over 50 double-columned pages. It was very evident that after its 6
years of effort the National Women’s Trade Union League was well
launched in its work. This convention adopted a national platform
(see p. 4) and defined the program that was to be the basis of its legis­
lative activities through the years. (See section on Legislation.) It
also adopted a definite form for reporting membership in the leagues.
In the following biennial, the third, in 1911, reports included 765
members in Chicago, 569 in New York, 425 in Boston, 250 in St. Louis,
and in Philadelphia a recent buildup to 400. Organizations affiliated
with the League, chiefly union groups, numbered in Chicago 32, New
York 24, St. Louis 10, and Boston 5. Women who were members of
the unions in their own trades constituted four-fifths of the Chicago
and St. Louis membership, two-thirds of that in Boston, and over a
third of that in New York. The 1911 convention, meeting just after
the League had assisted many women during labor strikes, outlined
methods of procedure for local leagues to follow in such work. (See
section on Organization.)
Later Conventions
By the fourth convention (1913) the work several local leagues had
to report was very considerable and the business of the convention so
full that separate reports were printed and distributed for the leagues
of Boston, New York, Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City, Mo. Ten
biennial conventions were held through 1922, in one case a year behind
schedule. After that the convention program was planned as a tri­
ennial meeting, in some cases deferred. During the years, the League
also continued holding regional conferences in nonconvention years.
The League’s Monthly Publication
The League soon realized the need of a regular printed method of
exchanging information as to the activities of its far separated local
branches. The Union Labor Advocate of Chicago, a labor paper
chiefly representing men’s unions, offered the League space in 1906
to edit a woman’s department. This was used as the organ of the
Chicago Women’s Trade Union League, and in June 1908 the national



From January 1, 1907 to July 1, 1907
The Women’s Trade Union League of Illinois Has
made great progress during the past six months. It
has now, thanks to the generosity of Mr. George Hodge,
headquarters in the office of the Union Labor Advocate.
Having thus an abiding place, the League has been able
greatly to increase the scope of its work.
Eight organizations have been added to those with
which the League was already connected. In one
instance, that of the Cloth Hat and Cap Makers, Mrs.
Raymond Robins and Mr. Anton Johansen of the Wood­
workers’ Association, were deputed by the Chicago Fed­
eration of Labor to go before the workers and present
the case for organizing. Mr. Holzsager, National Or­
ganizer, reports that a charter has now been issued to
the new women’s local.
The long-continued strike among the Hebrew Bakers
gave rise to much suffering among the women and chil­
dren during its continuance and still more after its
collapse, when strike pay ceased. By forming an auxil­
iary among the women and also by calling the atten­
tion of other workers to the pressing need, the League
was able to lessen some of the worst of the distress.
The conditions from which the bakers were striv­
ing to be relieved and to which they are still submitting
are very bad. Eighteen and nineteen hours of Work a
day are a crying wrong which Chicago must abolish if
she would maintain any claim to be a civilized com­
Another need that was emphasized in this connection
was the necessity for establishing a legal aid department
both to give advice in cases of difficulty and to watch
over the interests of working women against whom legal
proceedings have been taken.

Figure 6.—Illinois League.
[Page of Report, 1907.]
The League reported public meetings held regularly the second Sunday of
each month, plans started to provide medical care, exhibits, addresses about
the League at many meetings of other organizations, and preparations for
an annual meeting at the same time in Boston, New York, and Chicago.





VS-P >'■*: :H: :t

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. ■
l|i| ||




Figure 7.—Life


Labor, June 1914,



executive board made it the League’s official national journal. The
local branches regularly sent information to the Women’s Depart­
ment of the Union Labor Advocate, in some cases, as in the New York
League, by a local publicity committee. This publication was sent to
a substantial exchange list and special issues were sent to public
libraries and to libraries of men’s and women’s colleges. Its items
were widely copied in other labor papers, in papers devoted to woman
suffrage, and in the regular press, such as the Spring-field Republican
and Boston Transcript. Soon the Woman’s Department was reprinted
as a separate supplement. In January 1911 the League established
its own separate periodical, a journal of over 30 pages, Life and La­
Its purpose was stated:
To express the forces both latent and active in the woman movement in
this country and thus bring the working girl into fuller and larger relation­
ships with life on all sides.

This periodical was printed monthly in its original form until 1921
The next year it began in a 4-page edition, which continued for sev­
eral years. It was later issued in mimeographed form. Its news was
presented in the earlier years in the following departments: What
Women Are Doing; Earning a Living; Votes for Women; Industrial
Law and Politics; Reports from Local Leagues; With the Editors;
Household Notes; The Serial Story.10
The National League had additional periodicals of shorter existence,
as well as numerous pamphlets. For about a year during World War I
it regularly issued a 4-page bulletin, Women’s Work and the War,
giving facts on the employment of women in the national emergency.
Beginning about the same time and continuing for almost 10 years, the
League’s Washington office issued a mimeographed weekly News Serv­
ice telling the status of national legislation of interest to the League.
Pamphlets were printed from time to time, as for example, Self­
Government in the Workshop, an article by Mrs. Robins; the Report of
the Committee on Social and Industrial Reconstruction appointed by
the League after World War I; and a reprint of articles appearing in
Life and Labor in 1912 and 1913 on The Early History of Women
Trade Unionists of America; and in 1929 a small booklet, How to
Organize, which reported the findings of a 1-day institute in Chicago
on trade-union organization.
League branches in the various cities also had their own publications.
Both the New York and Chicago Leagues issued a regular bulletin
each month. Annual reports were printed or mimeographed, and
special reports were issued of the regional meetings held between
national conventions. They also published pamphlets on various
10 See 1909 Proceedings, p. 8 ; 1911 Proceedings, p. 9 ; and Boone, pp. 66, 98.



subjects. For example, the Chicago League issued a booklet of in­
structions for foreign-born workers, How to Become a Citizen, and the
Boston League published a pamphlet, The Case for Trades Unions.
How the League Was Supported
The means of financial support usually are a problem with a volun­
tary organization, and industrial girls had little money. The League
had a regular system of payments by its members. Local leagues paid
a specified amount for each of their members. Union groups that were
affiliated, and other affiliated groups such as women’s clubs or suffrage
organizations, paid an annual fee. Individual members paid yearly
dues. (See Constitution of 1913 at end of this report.)
None of these amounts were large in themselves, and even though
their aggregate was considerable it was by no means sufficient to sup­
port the League. Some of the unions that saw the importance of the
League’s work gave it special grants, usually on an annual basis but
varying with strength of the union. As time went on the League
gained increased support from the unions. The A. F. of L. paid the
expenses of a League organizer to bring more women into its unions,
and from time to time paid for several organizers for limited periods
to do intensive work in certain industries or localities.
The League could not have carried on the varied activities it did,
over such a wide area, if it had not had substantial assistance from the
contributions of many private individuals. A few of its early backers
were women of considerable wealth, and they gave generously to
launch the League and continued through the years to supply a large
part of its support. They also were joined later by numerous persons
who contributed with considerable regularity, and by many who gave
for a special need that became urgent in some particular time or place.
Some contributed primarily for the League’s educational work, some
for its legislative program, others for its organizational activities,
especially when acute situations arose, and still others for its ambi­
tious program of keeping contact with women trade unionists in other

From the first, the Women’s Trade Union League wrnrked primarily
for the organization of women into trade unions and their representa­
tion on committees dealing with working conditions. This objective
was defined by the League’s President, Mrs. Robins, in these terms:
To teach girls of 14 receiving 5 cents an hour, and women working for $3
a week . . . and interpret to them the tragedy of the underbidder, and the
certainty with which low wages react in injury to women and ruin of the



home; to develop a sense of group fellowship and responsibility for working
conditions in their factory and trade; to help the average working girl to
feel that upon her knowledge, courage and cooperation depend her personal
well-being and the well-being of her fellow workers—this is one of the im­
portant tasks of the League.11

The difficulties faced in the organization of women workers, a large
proportion of whom were under 21 years of age, arose from the fact
that so many were immature girls, underpaid, overworked, unaccus­
tomed to working in groups, tending to yield to employer demands.
As expressed in a pamphlet of the League, the organization sought to
“form a bulwark against the aggressions of those impersonal interests
which endeavor to wipe out narrow but hard-won margins.”12
Value of Organization to the Woman Worker
The meaning and value of organization to the woman worker is
vividly described in various speeches and writings of the League’s
president. An article by her, published as a bulletin entitled “Self­
Government in the Workshop,” stated as follows:
Now it so happens that in the ranks of the army of labor upon whom
falls most heavily the burden of the battle for self-government in the day’s
work there are several million young working girls. Upon their vision, upon
their knowledge and fortitude depends the hope of a whole great people. . . .
Having for centuries, and rightly so, looked upon her problem as a
personal one to be met and solved through her individual effort, It is not
surprising that the woman is slow to learn that her economic problem today
is a social one to be controlled by social and collective action. Unorganized,
she became the tragic underbidder in the labor market and her own worst
competitor, putting the working mothers in the-sweatshop and the working
fathers on the tramp. ... It is because the Women’s Trade Union League
believes in a government of the people, by the people and for the people in
industry as in politics that it stands steadfastly and unflinchingly for the
organization of all workers into trade unions.
Many and many a time the call to self-government, the sense of responsi­
bility toward her condition of work is the first awakening of the young girl.
Unorganized, she has to accept conditions as she finds them, low wages,
long hours, abusive language, insanitary conditions, locked doors, fire dan­
gers, work destructive of her physical strength with its promise of the future,
work destructive of her moral and spiritual development.
Alone she cannot even protest against these conditions, except at the
risk of losing her job. She has tried—she now knows. She loses her job
when she asserts her fundamental right to have a voice as to the conditions
under which she works. Self-government is essential to the making of a
free people, and self-government in the day’s work can be had only by the
united action of the workers. Organization of the workers is imperative,
for the sake of the girl and for the sake of the community.
11 See pamphlet, The Women’s Trade Union League of Chicago.
1! See pamphlet, Women in Trade Unions, p. 3.



The Case for Trades Unions

“There can be no compromise with poverty arising
out of social conditions. Such conditions are a be­
trayal of the nation. It is idle to speak to men and
women of self-government and citizenship when their
entire thought and all their activities are engrossed by
their daily needs. It is only when the personal needs
are increasingly protected by collective action and
legislative enactment that thoughts can be turned into
new channels and energies directed to other tasks,"

Mrs. Raymond Robins.

iMued by the *
March, 1920

Figure 8.—“The Case


Trades Unions.”

[Page of pamphlet, Boston League.]

Organization Is a Natural Move
In one of her earlier addresses made to the League’s first large con­
vention with many delegates (1909), Mrs. Robins had given a series
of picturesque illustrations likening the economic organization of
working women to the natural grouping of like elements in the
physical world:
. . . organization ... is a fundamental law of nature; everywhere,
if we but look, we see union. The miner tells us that when he goes down



into the earth and finds a hard rock or stringer, he works until he comes
to another stringer, and finally to a vein, and he knows that if he finds the
union of the veins he has found a mine. Astronomers declare that every
orb in the sky is bound unto a cluster, and they declare that if there were
one scab star in the sky we should have a wreck in the universe. The sun
is a central body and the eight planets are joined together into one system
to do one thing, and they obey that law of their being always.
Look at the wild cattle on the plain. Do you ever find one straying about
alone? No, never, they are always gathered in great herds. ... I looked
once through a glass-bottomed boat at Santa Catalina Island and saw the
fish passing over the shoals. They were not alone but in schools—thousands
of them together. Look at the bird in the sky when he goes from Lake
Winnipeg to Louisiana to spend the winter. Will he go alone? Never. Or­
ganized and by the hundreds they will travel not only following a leader, but
ranged so as to form an acute angle to lessen the resistence of the air.
Can we, my friends, look anywhere in nature and not find unity of action
within groups where common purposes are to be accomplished. . . . The
trade union is the great social school of the working people, and when the
isolated young girl worker enters it she finds it to be the open sesame of
fellowship and understanding. Here is the opportunity given to her to
study, to think, to learn, to grow into the powers of her womanhood.

Early Organizing Programs of Local Leagues
The local leagues in the cities were active in organizing women into
trade unions, and the League early had its own woman organizer.
Reference has been made to the fact that in 1907 it was successful in its
request that the A. F. of L. supply a woman organizer. The char­
acter of this work has been described as follows:
. . . The National Women’s Trade Union League, organized in 1903, was
the first to develop a technique of organizing women workers which the
American labor movement had hitherto failed to accomplish. . . . The con­
tribution of the Women’s Trade Union League to the technique of organiza­
tion was a realization of the special problems besetting women workers and
the initiation of methods, . . . and social activities that women understood.
Women organizers, women speakers, women trade unionists were developed
and encouraged by them to work in a field of organization that had generally
been considered hopeless.
. . . the . . . male organizer may have acquired a method of approach in his
work with men which he cannot transfer to the organization of women,
because they are primarily not interested in . . . the [same] topics and
[he] failed to take into consideration the psychology of the women
workers—their habits of thought.13

More than this, it often was not practical for the man organizer to
talk easily on union problems with the many young women in his in­
dustry who were living in rooms away from home. Nor could he well
find out all details as to insanitary conditions and abuses from which
girls suffered at their work places, and which the union might seek
to correct.
13 See Theresa Wolfson, The Woman Worker and the Trade Unions, pp. 129, 133.



Reports of the local leagues at the second biennial convention in 1909
showed that the newest branch (St. Louis) had organized the bindery
women. It also had worked to organize a group of Italian girls em­
ployed in garment shops, and since the girls did not understand Eng­
lish, the League secured the help of their church authorities in inter­
preting its purposes to them.
The Chicago League had organized the necktie workers and helped
form the union of the straw and felt hat workers.
The League in New York had worked with some of the stronger
unions such as the Bookbinders; and likewise with the Typographical
Union, which had few women compared to the men but had pioneered
in organizing women in the 1860’s. It stated in 1909 that it “must do
the most for the people who are suffering the most, and the women
who are the lowest paid in New York are the garment finishers.”
Work with this group was difficult, but after a considerable time the
League succeeded in forming an organization with over 100 members.
At that time girls in garment shops were working 10 hours a day while
the men’s day was only 9 hours, the girls remaining for an hour after
the men left. The New York League also was helping East Side
laundry workers.
Since in New York the garment trades employed the largest num­
ber of women workers, it was natural that the League organizer gave
them much of her attention, distributing leaflets outside their shops
at the end of the workday, addressing their shop meetings, and help­
ing in every way possible. Work also continued through the years
to be done with small neglected groups that did not have much help
from strong parent organizations. What the New York League
learned from its earlier experiences was summarized at a later con­
vention (1911) :
When the League first started it eagerly sought opportunity to organize
in any one of the many bad trades without due consideration of the spirit of
the workers in the trade. This attempt to foster or force organization in
the trades where the workers were not ready for it has been discarded
We have learned that the initiative must come from them, and as the
League has become known in the community ample opportunity for helping
to organize is given and repeated calls for assistance are being made upon
the League.

At its second biennial convention (1909) the League’s committee on
organization recommended the following methods of work:
1. That the National Convention of the Women’s Trade Union League
petition the international unions who have women employed in their crafts
to give us assistance by paying a woman district organizer to work in con­
junction with our League for the year 1910.
2. That the delegates ask their local unions to petition their international
union to grant a woman organizer for the year 1910.



3. That small groups of women, who cannot get enough members of their
own craft to form a good live active union, shall be formed into a federated
We further recommend that we have a national benefit, either marriage or
vacation benefit, for the federated union. We also recommend that the
National Women’s Trade Union League notify the local leagues nearest their
members at large so that they can cooperate with them in forming new
leagues (through literature, notices of meetings, and speakers, etc.) ; also
that they ask the State and Central Federations of Labor to assist them.

The League was developing its own membership at the same time
that it was assisting women to organize into the unions of their own
trades. Its organizing committee recommended to the fourth biennial
(1913) that every local branch appoint an organization committee,
two-thirds of its members to be women trade-union members. The
committee also recommended the following methods:
1. A series of lectures on trade unionism to be held by every organization.
The circulation of Life and Labor [the League’s official journal, started
January 1911] among the rank and file of our organization, so as to keep our
members in touch with matters which, in a great many cases, are familiar
only to the officers.
3. That social features be introduced at local meetings to make our girls
understand that we come together to have happy times as well as serious
and business sessions. Every effort should be made to increase the attend­
ance, and every method tried to encourage this.
4. Another feature we recommend to be introduced into our union is ath­
letic work. This would not only interest our members because of the en­
joyment of it, but would be a great health feature.

The League’s Work During Strikes of Women Workers
The women who were developing the young organization of the
Women’s Trade Union League and seeking to arouse public conscious­
ness to the conditions under which women were working were ex­
perienced in social welfare activities. They were well aware of the
social handicaps and public disapproval almost sure to meet a strong
movement on the part of workers, particularly if it reached the stage
of labor strikes. In fact there were many cases, like that of candy
workers in a plant in Cambridge, Mass., when girls were immediately
dismissed from their jobs as soon as employers learned they had at­
tended meetings that promised to result in union organization. In a
later period (1918) girls who were leaders in forming a union lost
their jobs with a large Philadelphia candy company.14
The League leaders, who were very influential women, put forth
every effort to create and stimulate an atmosphere of public approval
for any effort to improve the conditions of women’s work. Very soon
after formation of the Women’s Trade Union League the first of its
14 See 1909 Proceedings, p. 45 ; Boone, p. 167 ; Wolfson, p. 130.



organizers worked to make known through the daily press of the
country the reasons for the strikes of 30,000 textile workers in Fall
River and 22,000 in Lawrence, Mass., and the facts about conditions
of work there. In the same way she aided the laundry workers of
Troy, N. Y., at the time of their strike in 1905. In the previous year,
the president of the Chicago League, Mary McDowell, who was a
resident worker in a social settlement near the stockyards district of
the city, helped in the stockyards strike, which involved many hun­
dreds of girls. In 1904 also, the League organizer assisted a group
of women corset workers, whose employers had locked them out of
their work place in Aurora, 111. In this case the League adopted a
new and effective method—that of writing to all women’s clubs
throughout Illinois, telling them of the conditions under which women
worked in making garments for women.15 In the same period the
League in Boston assisted the Roxbury carpet weavers and in New
York, the child laborers in paper-box factories.
A strong reaction from “intolerable overwork, inadequate pay,
underbidding by the underpaid, and the consequent utter waste of
women’s lives” began in 1909 to express itself in a series of labor
strikes of extensive groups of workers composed largely of women
and girls. These occurred in Philadelphia, Boston, St. Louis, Chicago,
and New York. They were chiefly among the makers of ready-made
■clothing, which always had been associated with low wages, speeding
up, and uncertain employment. The Women’s Trade Union League
insisted in season and out upon the publication of the facts. It inter­
preted to the public the demands of the strikers and the reasons for
these demands. Mrs. Robins, the League’s president, said in her fore­
word to the handbook of the 1911 convention:
The great strikes in the garment trades . . . were simply a long overdue
reaction against intolerable conditions. The splendid unity of spirit and
fortitude under suffering displayed by the women and girls in these struggles
is the best hope for the future of the Republic. These women and girls
were suffering cold and hunger, struggling to redeem that promise “of the
more abundant life” which is the pledge of our religion and our constitution.
They are the torch bearers as well as the burden bearers of our Republic.
To abolish such industrial conditions and to begin forthwith is the common
duty of all the women of this Nation. The right arm for this work is union
organization and the left arm is social and industrial legislation. The two
combined can abolish every industrial evil that exists today.

By this time, some of the information had become available from
the Federal investigation already described, which the League had
stimulated. From these reports the often inhuman conditions under
which women worked were being widely publicized. The extent to16
16 See Boone, p. 65 ; Henry, pp. 110, 119-120.



which public understanding was developed and interest aroused is
indicated as follows:
In the strike of the New York garment workers of 1909, the facts dis­
closing the unsanitary conditions under which the garments were manu­
factured, plus the tremendous fight which the striking garment workers were
putting up, caused men and women of wealth, the press, the clergy, and.
* prominent figures in public life to support the cause of striking women
workers. This had a unique effect on . . . the morale of the women workers
themselves. They had secured [public] sanction ... in their efforts, they
were not stigmatized as “disorderly persons.” 16

The League did much more than help acquaint the public with the
facts. It aided the strikers in many ways, as summarized in the fol­
lowing description in a pamphlet of the Boston League:
The function of the League as a national body of trade union women was
plain. A multitude of separate grievances and protests were to be assembled
into a set of common demands; thousands of young girls speaking a dozen
different languages and unacquainted with the rudiments of cooperation
were to be organized and held together; pickets were to be provided and
protected; bail secured; fines paid; allotments made to strikers of money
and food; an agreement made with employers which would be binding and
bring a real improvement in conditions of work.17

In New York and Chicago, leagues assisted the clothing workers in
strikes in a number of unions. One of the first of these into which
special effort was put was the strike of New York shirtwaist makers,
involving 20,000 to 30,000 women. Many of the workers were young
girls, new to the union, inexperienced in dealing with employers, and
hence greatly in need of effective leadership. The situation was fur­
ther complicated by the fact that many of these girls were of foreign
parentage and not well acquainted with English.
Every morning the League stationed its own members in front of
factories to act as witnesses in cases of unlawful arrest and to watch
the insulting conduct of many of the police. They helped in the pro­
vision of bail, secured newspaper publicity for the workers, and
brought out before churches and clubs the intolerable conditions that
had driven these young girls to revolt. Some of the women who were
backing the League also were arrested with the women strikers and, in
some cases, went to jail and had to put up bail for themselves as well
as for the workers.
Similar help was given in Philadelphia, to which the clothing strike
spread when it was found that New York employers were sending the
work there to avoid coming to terms with the strikers. Mrs. Robins
herself went to Philadelphia with the League’s organizer, Agnes
Nestor, to aid the strikers. They stayed until the strike was won,.
“ See Wolfson, p. 130.
17 See pamphlet, Women in Trade Unions, p. 9.



a period lasting over 7 weeks. The League opened headquarters in
the heart of the Philadelphia factory district, where pickets and other
workers could report, obtain sandwiches and coffee, and rest and
warm themselves during the bitter weather which prevailed at the
time. That the strikers were successful in this struggle was in large
part owing to the local residents who gave much valuable help,
especially at the College Settlement, where the League organizers
were given a home and center of influence.
League representatives reported to its third biennial (1911) the
following activities in the New York shirtwaist strike:
1. Organized a volunteer picket force of 75 “allies,” non worker League
members. This is the first time in our knowledge in the history of trade
unions where a volunteer picket corps was organized.
2. Organized volunteer legal service, 9 lawyers.
3. Furnished bail amounting to $29,000.
4. Protested against illegal action on part of police, and interceded for
strikers with the city authorities.
5. Organized shops.
6. Organized parade of 10,000 strikers at a day’s notice.
7. Took part in arbitration conferences.
8. Arranged large meeting where arbitrators representing the Union
explained situation to the strikers.
9. Took active part in shop meetings and paid benefits to those meeting
at the League headquarters.
10. Made publicity for strike through the press, through meetings of all
descriptions, edited two special strike editions of the New York Call and
New York Evening Journal.
11. Appealed for funds.

The New York League’s work with the shirtwaist workers con­
tinued after the strike, helping to organize and to teach the new
recruits how to run union and shop meetings. Public-speaking classes
that the League had organized during the strike were continued.
In the New York cloak-and-suit makers’ strike of 1910, which was
known as “The Great Kevolt” and affected 60,000 workers, the League
did less than in the shirtwaist strike, since a smaller proportion of
women was involved. However, the League provided for the distribu­
tion of milk to workers’ families, and in a 6-week period furnished
over 200,000 quarts to the most needy families.
In the autumn of the same year (1910) the League in Chicago was
active in behalf of the striking clothing workers. Beginning with
men’s clothing workers, this strike spread to the Ladies’ Tailors whose
workday had been lengthened from 8 to 10 hours. It spread further
to unorganized groups involving many women and girls. All told,
it affected some 45,000 workers. In the end a League official and
union member, Mary Anderson (who later directed the Federal
Women’s Bureau for 25 years), served on the committee that made


®'tic UHomen’si tZTrabt Union league

Heto pork

(Affiliated with the Central Trades and Labor Council)
Worked to Extend Trade Union Organization
among Feather and Flower Workers, Copyholders, Re­
tail Salespeople, Lampshade Workers, Fancy Leather
v^oods Workers, Laundry Workers, Embroidery Work­
ers, Cigarmakers.

Backed Progressive Labor Legislation
Minimum Wage Bill
Eight-Hour Day Bill
and Against
the repeal of the night-work .and 54-hour laws
Co-operated with Other Organizations
Women's Joint Legislative Conference
Workers’ Education Bureau
Health Foundation
Labor Sanitation Conference
Farmer-Labor Party
Men’s Trade Unions, through Women’s Auxiliaries
N. Y. Council for Limitation of Armaments
United Organizations for the Sheppard-Towner Ma­
ternity Bill
Eastern States Industrial Conference


Figure 9.—“At a Glance.”
[Page of New York report]




labor history in the forward-looking contract negotiated with the
men’s clothing firms. The Chicago League also helped laundry work­
ers, mattress makers, paper-box workers, and others.
The report from Boston at the League’s third biennial (1911) in­
cluded the following:
No sooner was the Roxbury [carpetmakers] strike over than the Shirt­
waist Makers called for assistance. Thus began our real constructive plan
of organization. Small shop meetings were called, literature was dis­
tributed in the noon hour and at night. For weeks there seemed to be
no response, but we continued, and finally an English-speaking branch of
the union was formed. The life of this branch fluctuated in proportion
to the assistance that we were able to give.
. . . the League, realizing that to do active organizing work, it must
increase its working force, engaged an organizer, herself a shirtwaist maker.
By shop meetings and individual work with the girls, she has put new life
into the garment trades. The membership in the various locals has
doubled. . . . The same policy of individual work was carried on a few
months ago in an effort to bring new members into the Clerks’ Union. To­
gether with a temporary organizer from the Clerks’ Union, the League has
interviewed approximately 500 saleswomen.
. . . when we begin to organize a trade, we should be in a position to
give assistance, as long as assistance is needed. It is not fair to begin the
agitation and then drop out. While the girls must assume responsibility
and leadership, it is not fair for us to expect untrained workers to carry the
whole burden too soon. We must recognize that our work is not done when
a strike is won or a union organized. In order to assist in training the
girls to rely upon themselves and ably officer their unions, as well as to
interest nonunion girls in organization, a debating class has been started.18

The struggle of the women clothing workers in New York and
Chicago and other cities from 1909 to 1912 ended in the transforma­
tion of the needle trades from a sweated and degraded occupation to
one of the best paid, most highly standardized and most efficient trades
in the country.
Among the other organization work of the League, reported at its
third biennial (1911) were the following:
An investigation by the League of working conditions of girls working in
breweries in Milwaukee, and assistance to these girls in organizing.
Assistance in organizing, after they had suffered a wage cut, women
working in the hose-supporter department of a large corset factory in Bridge­
port, Conn.
Assistance in organizing women button makers in Muscatine, Iowa, and
La Crosse, Wis., after employers had locked them out of the plants because
of joining the union.
Assistance in organizing clothing workers in Sedalia, Mo. These girls
made overalls, and when they lost jobs because of organizing the small town
offered them few other work opportunities. The League helped union men
establish a union shirt factory, in which all workers held stock and belonged
to the union.
” See 1911 Proceedings, p. 30.



The League continued its organizing program, worked closely with
labor organizations, and received financial support from them. At
the sixth biennial convention the secretary reported that the League
had had 20 organizers at work in the years 1915 to 1917.
Policies of the League for Work During Strikes
Experience in helping women workers during strike periods led the
League at its third biennial convention in 1911 to adopt a definite
plan for its local branches to follow during strikes. When approached
in reference to a strike, the League took no action until full informa­
tion had been obtained and the matter had been presented to its local
executive board and a committee appointed to act in the situation.
If it was to assist women strikers, the League was to have representa­
tion on the strike committee of the union calling the strike. After
this foundation was provided for, the activities of the League in con­
nection with a strike were outlined by the convention as follows, a
list that indicates the magnitude and difficulties of the work under­
taken and the need for wise direction and varied talents to carry it
through successfully:
1. To organize and direct public opinion;
2. To patrol the streets;
3. To obtain fair play in courts;
4. To help in raising funds through its members and sympathizers;
5. To help in formation of trade-union organization where workers are
not organized.


Mention has been made of the efforts of the Women’s Trade Union
League to inform the public as to the conditions of women’s work.
Helping women workers to a better understanding of the economic
society in which they were living was an important object of the
League’s educational program. Lectures and classes were held at
headquarters of the local leagues, recreational programs were planned,
and libraries were started of books that could be borrowed by members.
Somewhat later the National League embarked on a more ambitious
training program for women who could work actively in the labor
movement. The League also continually sought to have established in
the various localities public facilities for trade and industrial training
which would be open to women.
Local League Classes and Libraries
As early as the second biennial (1909), the League’s president was
suggesting the need to help its members study their place in tradeunion life, as follows:
... It would be well for our leagues to form classes in study of the
history of trades unionism, so that we may gain from the experience of the



men and women of other days, learn from their mistakes, learn from their
struggles, learn from their victories, and by study of their methods see
where we may follow them successfully.

The leagues already were doing some work to inform themselves.
St. Louis was planning group meetings to discuss current labor events
and their significance. New York was conducting English classes,
which were greatly in demand by the large population of foreign resi­
dents. Boston had stimulated the Trade School for Girls to develop a
program of retraining for experienced women hat trimmers unlikely
to find jobs as the industry changed. Chicago had started a lending
library of over 300 books, a chorus, and a hockey team, and had planned
Saturday outings. They had begun a series of leaflets to discuss cur­
rent labor questions. A recent court case had brought to the fore the
question of the legal injunction issued against labor, and the Chicago
League discussed this problem and circulated a series of 14 questions
to the members, offering a prize for the best answers.
At this convention (1909) the committee on education proposed
that local leagues establish classes to discuss labor questions and that
they work to have a trade-union woman elected on local education
boards. They also advocated placing trade schools under public
education authorities, with facilities available to girls as well as boys,
and with administration “not to be detrimental to labor.”
By the next biennial convention (1911) New York as well as Chi­
cago had made great progress with a series of pamphlets developed
from lectures showing the growth of industrial society, and explaining
to girls their position in the world as women and the necessity of the
trade-union movement.” These pamphlets discussed the development
of society; the history of industry; land, labor, capital, rent, wages,
and profits; structure, purpose, and methods of trade unions; and
the history of the labor movement in Europe and America. They also
were accompanied by a series of short stories on the value of organiza­
tion, and other subjects.
At this time the committee on education recommended use by local
leagues of the New York leaflets and storiettes, and the Chicago meth­
ods of education in trade-union principles and of reaching girls who
spoke Italian and other foreign languages. The committee also made
recommendations—which were repeated at the next biennial (1913)_
that the leagues conduct parliamentary law and debating classes and
health lectures, and that they establish lending libraries, as the Chi­
cago League had done.
Training School for Active Workers in the Labor Movement
At the fourth biennial (1913) a still more far-reaching proposal was
made by the president—that the League conduct a school for organ­
izers, giving a year’s training and providing scholarships for the girls




-'f \

may a mi9 *.
Borngna ftrabkjljunn IGj^r^e of (tthirago^.

Phone Randolph 6158

Mist Agnes Nrsfor, President
Miaa Mary McDowell, Vice-Prealdeni
Mlaa Olive Sullivan, Secretary
Catherine Duffy. Treasurer

Room 820, 139 North Clark Street, Chicago


No. 1-2

Public Meeting
Thursday Evening, February 6, 1919, at 8 o’clock

Subject: “Why a Labor Party?’’
speaker: MR. JOHN FITZPATRICK, President of the Chicago
Federation of Labor and Candidate for MAYOR on the LABOR PARTY
Everyone is welcome. Please bring your friends who are interested to
know about the new Labor Party and its PLATFORM.
between Dearborn and State Streets.

Course in the History of Trade Unions
The course in the History of Trade Unions begins the first Friday in
February (7), at 8 o’clock, in Musicians’ Hall, 175 West Washington Street.
WISCONSIN will open the course with a lecture on “Forerunners of Trade
Unions Before i860.” Admission to single lecture, twenty-five cents. Entire
course, one dollar.
Register Tuesday, February 4, 1919.



Women’s Trade Union League



who would attend. It was pointed out that these scholarships would
have to include sufficient allowance to prevent the girls’ families from
“losing the support which they brought into the family treasury.”
In proposing this, the League president stressed the need for construc­
tive labor organizations and pointed out that every week the League
received requests, coming from all parts of the country, to send workers



to organize women. She added that it was “idle to think that this
work can be done without organizers.” Her first suggestions as to
the kinds of training needed were comprehensive, and were stated as
The course of study ought to include the philosophy of trade unionism,
the history of trade unions in America, England, and Europe, the history of
trade agreements and the study of the best type of modern trade agreements
in America, England, and Europe, a study of all current labor legislation,
current history of the woman movement and the need for full citizenship for
women, lessons in parliamentary law, a study in the methods of trade-union
offices including the office of the American Federation of Labor at Washing­
ton, field practice in more than one city and under the leadership of the
trade-union organizers of the Women’s Trade Union League.

The convention approved undertaking the school, the first effort in the
country to educate for trade-union leadership. Thus was initiated a
movement for the education of women workers, which was carried on
as such for over a decade and then continued through expanding con­
nections with numerous colleges, and which colored to a large extent
the character of workers’ education for several decades to follow.19
The League sent out to unions and central labor bodies a prepara­
tory statement and plan of the school. Enthusiastic replies were re­
ceived from widely separated parts of the country. The response of
working women hoping to participate was so great as to pose new
problems. The League’s national executive board and a special com­
mittee for the purpose selected the few who could be given scholar­
The Training School for Active Workers in the Labor Movement
(so named officially at the 1916 convention) opened its doors at the
League’s national headquarters in Chicago in 1914, and three girls
were admitted to test the experiment, one from Kansas City, one from
Baltimore, and one from New York. This pioneer educational pro­
gram for working girls continued until 1926 and awarded scholarships
in all to 44 trade-union women. The University of Chicago and
North western University gave cooperation from the first, by admitting
students of the school to classes in economics, labor problems, and
present-day social and industrial problems.
The course included advanced English, the history of the tradeunion movement in England and America, courses in public speaking,
organization, the handling of meetings, typing and office procedure,
legislation for women and children, and the function, theory, and
practice of trade agreements.
19 See 1013 Proceedings, pp. 2, 10-13 ; Pamphlet, Educational Plana ot the National
Women's Trade Union League, Chicago, 1914; Women, in Trade Unions, p. 11; Brectinridge, p. 62 ; Boone, p. 117 ; Dreier, p. 105 ; Henry, p. 120.



In order to translate theory into action, field work was arranged
which provided constant illustration and practice. The trainee studied
the history of trade unionism while the methods of organizing were
put into practice. She analyzed trade agreements during the con­
ferences between employers and groups of employees who were draw­
ing them up, and learned to draft an agreement. She learned the de­
tail of office administration through actual filing and cataloging in a
union office. She conducted meetings according to parliamentary
At the same time the evening classes in English and public speaking
continued open to the local members of the Women’s Trade Union
Teague of Chicago. One class of 32 students studied public speaking
under the direction of a professor of the University of Chicago.
Other locals were stimulated to secure cooperation of colleges in
their areas. In Boston an educational council was formed of women
and men trade unionists elected respectively by the Women’s Trade
Union League and the Central Labor Body. Evening classes were
arranged and the Trade Union College was founded.
Arrangements for College Summer Courses
At the fifth biennial (1915) the League asked that women’s colleges
throw open their doors to wage-earning women in the summer months
when the working women might be able to attend. At length Bryn
Mawr College showed an interest in such a proposal and opened sum­
mer courses for women workers in 1921. The idea developed and later
several other colleges provided summer classes of some type for similar
The mimeographed report of the interstate conference held by the
Chicago Women’s Trade Union League in September 1921 gives some
detail of the methods used in opening this school, after the League
president, Mrs. Robins, and President M. Cary Thomas of Bryn Mawr,
worked out initial plans for the project. To the advantage of both
students and sponsoring college were careful provisions that the teach­
ers and lecturers must have high professional qualifications as well as
an understanding of the needs of women workers.
On the advice of Miss Mary Anderson, Director of the Women’s Bureau,
U. S. Department of Labor, representative women in the labor movement
were invited to meet with representatives of the college faculty and alumnae
at Bryn Mawr College. A joint administrative committee was formed of
members of the college faculty alumnae, and representatives of working
women. At this meeting plans were completed. The country was divided
into regional districts and a committee for each district was appointed con­
sisting of members of the alumnae to act upon applications for scholarships
and to secure same. Applications were allotted to each district in proportion
to the number of women industrial workers. Illinois was allowed 10, of



which 2 were sent from downstate and 4 from Chicago. Ten applications
were to be filled by the country at large.
Scholarships were given from scholarship funds provided by trade unions,
working girls’ clubs, or groups of clubs and other friends, and were awarded
to women wishing to avail themselves of the opportunity who might other­
wise be prevented from attending the school.
On June 16, 1921, the college opened for classes with 83 students from 17
States, representing 21 trades, and coming from points as far separated as
Los Angeles and Boston, Minnesota and Tennessee. The teaching was car­
ried on by means of brief lectures accompanied by class discussions. The
courses included literature, English composition, political history, social his­
tory, hygiene, music, labor economics, industrial organization, labor move­
ment with reference to women. Physical exercise and sports (including
swimming, basketball, hockey, and tennis), relaxation, amusement, and social
life in general, were organized and participated in by students, tutors, and
gymnastic and sport experts.

Recommendations on Trade Education
The League always worked to increase the availability of trade
training to girls as well as boys. The need for this was well set forth
in a pamphlet of the Boston League as follows:
The more familiar one is with today’s conditions, the more obvious is the
fact that the crying need for women in industrial life is proper equipment
in the way of industrial training. The girl of 14 or 15 or 16 who goes from
school into the factory or workshop with no knowledge of the trade she
enters, necessarily drifts into the doing of unskilled work, and unless she
is unusually endowed with energy, ambition and courage, she cannot rise
into the ranks of the skilled.
If apprenticeships are not to be open to women—and “open” should be
easily accessible instead of merely nominally open—then trade schools which
offer them opportunities to increase their economic value must come
into being.20

Following its convention recommendations in 1909 that trade
training be under the public school systems and be open to girls and
boys alike, the League at its 1913 biennial made detailed recommenda­
tions as to the content of trade training, and embodied these in resolu­
tions to be sent to appropriate educational authorities. They specified
that the instruction at trade schools:
. . . Include, besides the subjects necessary to trade training, the history
of the trades taught, the history of the evolution of industry, and a sound
system of economics including and emphasizing the philosophy of collective
bargaining; also that all training in such schools be co-educational, the boy
and girl studying the same subjects.
. . . the National Women’s Trade Union League urges at once upon the
educational authorities to introduce into the public school curriculum a
special study of the State and Federal laws that have been enacted for
their protection, and that such a course shall be of a nature to equip the
" See Boston Pamphlet, The History of Trade Unionism Among Women in Boston, p. 32.



boy and girl entering the industrial world with a full sense of his or her
responsibility for seeing that the laws are enforced.

Local League Classes in Later Years
A few excerpts from annual reports of the League of New York at
later 10-year intervals indicate the progress of the educational work
of a local league that continues in strength.
1930-31. Our educational activities, in spite of the difficulties growing
out of the depression, have shown interesting developments this year. Stu­
dents who have attended, especially in the training course, history, and
English classes, have come regularly and worked with great seriousness.
Our “Training Course for Active Women Trade Unionists” . . . was aimed
to give active trade-union women an opportunity to analyze the functions
and operation of their unions. Ten students were selected from applicants
suggested by the various local unions affiliated with the League and from
the League membership itself, and given scholarships for the duration of
the term of 20 weeks. The elementary English class has become almost
an institution in itself and has attracted many new students to the League.
The class this winter has met two evenings each week for 2 hours at each
session. Our largest class this winter has been the course in modern
European history. They asked to spend an hour after class each evening
to discuss current events. Other classes were in pottery and literature, and
there was a series of readings from American literature.

1940-41. In our classrooms, we try to equip young workers for responsible
trade-union work by providing them with an understanding of the social
problems of American life. If these students are to put their League training
to successful use, they must have not only the facts but also the ability to
use their information and training within the labor movement and the
community. . . . the job is that of bringing intelligent education about
the issues at stake in this emergency, and of training working people for
active participation in shaping labor and national policy.
This year, the League conducted 12 classes, from October through April,
attended by over 300 students from 43 unions. These students used books
from the League library at the rate of about 30 a week. They organized
into a student council, made six field trips to study government and tradeunion administration. They participated in four joint conferences with
other young people, arranged six special projects, planned three social
get-togethers, a student assembly, and a student banquet. Fourteen students
were speakers at large meetings.
The League offered two classes in legislation this year. The class in
trade unionism in the United States, taught by the educational director,
was given this year for the third time. The students included eight busi­
ness agents and organizers. Others in the group were newly organized
or holding office for the first time. A course was given on current develop­
ments in the international situation. Other classes brought to league
students the opportunity to work with qualified people in small discussion
groups. These included economies, current events, and American and
European history. A new activity in league educational work this year



was the radio workshop, organized in November to promote student-pro­
duced radio programs about labor problems and what the trade-union
movement is doing to solve them.
A large part of the League’s educational work this year was in promotion
of the general worker’s education movement in the community, participa­
tion in community efforts to raise general educational standards, and
general educational activity in the community to promote wider under­
standing of labor’s aims and activities. During the year the educational
director represented the League on numerous joint committees and spoke
at many meetings. The League successfully experimented with an open
forum, which held a weekly 2-hour meeting, the first hour of which was
devoted to a presentation by a guest speaker, and the second hour to student
1950-51. New this year was the “White Collar Union Techniques Class”
which had 10 weekly discussions of the problems and techniques relating
to organization and functioning of white-collar unions. Students who
participated reported at the final session that the class helped them achieve
greater participation in union meetings and affairs through specific sug­
gestions for making meetings interesting, setting up educational meetings,
use of films and library, etc. The social action workshop was an out­
standing class, which analyzed the leading issues of the day.
The union training course studied grievance procedure, duties and re­
sponsibilities of shop stewards, parliamentary procedure and public speak­
ing. With it, the classes in history of labor, and the “Profits and Your Jobs”
course furthered the understanding, loyalty, and practical leadership
ability of the students.
Our crafts, dance, and dramatics classes provided our working people
and community friends at large with the important creative relaxation
so important in today’s economic and physical setup of our city. They
included modern dance, pottery, leathercraft, and dramatics. Our library
service provided reading opportunity for students in all classes. Books
and pamphlets related to the courses were offered, and modern fiction for
relaxing reading was available.


The vigorous work for the organization of women workers, already
described, was a primary objective of the National Women’s Trade
Union League. Its leaders realized, however, that hand in hand
with organization must go efforts for labor legislation. Legislation
became one of the League’s three basic programs—organization, edu­
cation, legislation. As Alice Henry, the editor of the League’s
periodical put it:


Trade-union women have ardently and efficiently championed the cause
of their weaker sisters. ... In every trade strongly organized even
locally some raising of standards has been the unfailing result of organi­
zation. . . . But it would be inhuman to postpone the day of improvement
until trade unionism among women becomes so general that they can act
[solely] through the power of [their] numbers.21
21 See Henry, p. 136.



Classes for Workers, 1952-53



To help the union member understand his role in
the local union. Information on structure and func­
tions of the union, as a democratic self-governing
entity. How to use grievance machinery and media­
tion processes. How to participate usefully in floor
discussion at union meetings, in committees, in com­
munity activities. Encouragement of group discussion
by the members of the class.

The designing and making of useful and orna­
mental objects, including vases, trays, bowls, lamp
bases. Preparation of glazes on an individual basis.
Use of kiln and potter's wheel on the premises, so that
students have an unusual opportunity to work out all
stages of the potter's art and craft.
Instruction adapted to all degrees of experience.
Open to beginners and advanced students.

Tuesdays, 7:00 p.m.
Begins October 14

Fee: $10.00
2 semesters


Thursdays, 7:00 p.m.
Begins October 16

2 semesters
Fee: $25.00

* ★ ★


Development of the modern labor movement. Or­
ganized labor as a powerful force in modern demo­
cratic society. Review of the range of its responsi­
bilities, prestige and influence.
Presentation of outstanding speakers, leaders of
the labor movement who will discuss their own trade
union work.
Wednesdays, 8:00 p.m.
Begins October 15

2 semesters
Fee: $10.00

The dramatic arts as a means of more affective
self-expression. Intended primarily for amateurs.
Basic techniques of acting and play production. The
course will include working out and presenting be­
fore live audiences simple sketches and short pro­
ductions. Themes to be selected by the students.
Analysis of individual speech problems and prac­
tice in the classroom of effective speaking.
This class "learns by doing."
Tuesdays, 7:00 p.m.
Begins October 14


2 semesters
Fee: $10.00




(Attention: Union Officers)

For beginners and advanced students. Rhythmic
physical movement improvised to musical patterns.
Original composition and practice in modern con­
cepts of the dance. Stimulation of creative approach.

Special classes geared to the needs of any local
union desiring to utilize the resources of the League's
School and library for its own members on a group
Subscription arrangements can be made upon
Purpose—to provide a '‘custom-made" educa­
tional program geared to fit an individual union.
Consult the League's Education Director on details.

Development of poise, grace. Of particular value
to workers seeking relaxation after the day's job and
release from tensions. Combines beauty with exercise
and originality.
Wednesdays, 7:00 p.m.
Begins October 15

Figure 11.—“Classes


2 semesters
Fee: $ 10.00


[Pages of New York announcement, 1952-53]

Reasons for Labor Laws
The legislative committee in the second biennial (1909), considering
that the League faced a large problem and had no precedent for its
full solution, gave the following reasons for the League to support
legislation for women workers:
We believe that the organized women, who have the power because of their
organization to contract collectively for their labor, are bound to secure
protection for their weaker sisters and brothers and to demand that the
state secure for all conditions that will safeguard the health of the workers
and the welfare of future generations.



Your committee urges this legislative program (listed below) for the
protection of wage-earning women because the mass of them are young,
between 16 and 21 years, inexperienced, unskilled, without the . . . power
to bargain on equal terms with their employers, for, while the employer
has the power to wait, these girls are helpless because of the struggle for
a mere existence.

The League’s Basic Legislative Program
The 8-hour day and a living wage were the first points on which the
League actively sought labor laws—policies of such importance that
they were placed on the League’s official seal. The ambitious legisla­
tive program proposed and adopted at the second biennial (1909)
included the following, to be introduced as measures “to safeguard
the health of female employees”:
1. The 8-hour day.
2. Elimination of night work.
3. Protected machinery.
4. Sanitary workshops.
5. Separate toilet rooms.
6. Seats for women and permission for their use when the work allows.
7. Prohibition of the employment of pregnant women 2 months before
and after childbirth.
8. Pensions for working mothers during the lying-in period.
9. An increased number of women factory inspectors.
10. Women physicians as health inspectors.
11. A legal minimum wage in sweated trades.

These measures continued as the League’s basic program of legisla­
tion, with additions and fuller statements from time to time. For
example, following the shock that was felt by the entire country when
143 girls lost their lives in the fire of the Triangle Waist Co. in New
York, the League’s 1911 convention added: Adequate fire protection.
This became a permanent part of the list. It also presented these as
“measures to be introduced into the various State legislatures as soon
as possible.” The 1913 convention enlarged the ninth point to read:
9. Factory inspection laws which make possible the enforcement of labor
laws. An increased number of women inspectors. The Labor and Factory
Departments to be placed on a nonpolitical and scientific basis, and the in­
spectors to be men and women with a practical knowledge of the work, under
civil service.

Limitation of Work Hours
The first subject on which the League focused its legislative ac­
tivity was that of women’s hours of work, which was so closely related
to the health of the workers.22 Soon after the first convention in
1907, the Chicago League called a conference of women trade unionists
22 See 1909 Proceedings, pp. 18, 19, 48 ; 1911 Proceedings, pp. 20, 54 ; Chicago Report,
35th Anniversary Dinner, “The First Ten Years” ; Boone, pp. 112-113.



Labor Laws For
Because They Are Necessary
To Eitabliih Standard* of Health and Effi­
ciency for the Wage-Earning Woman.

Except in states where there are 8-hour
and minimum wage laws, hundreds of thou­
sands of wage-earning women are work­
ing more than 8 hours, many of them more
than 10 hours a day, for less than $12 a
To Permit Efficient Motherhood and Healthy

Nearly 2J4 million of the wage-earning
women in this country are under 21 years
old—at ages when overstrain means broken
health for life. In a typical industrial com­
munity, over half the women factory work­
ers are married, and many of them are
mothers of children under 5 years old,
working at night, after caring for their
children all day.
To Prevent Exploitation of Women and the




for Both Women and Men.

So many women must work to live, so
many are unskilled and their bargaining
power is so slight because of their neces­
sities and lack of organization, that they
are at the mercy of the exploiter. Forced
to accept longer hours and lower pay than
men, they become underbidding competi­
tors and drag down the standards of all

Figure 12.—“Why Labor Laws for Women?’

[Page of League leaflet.]

and presented its proposals to the State industrial commission, which
the Illinois governor had appointed to draft a law for workers’ health
and safety. These included an 8-hour measure, protection from ma­
chine accidents, and provision for women factory inspectors. The
Commission did not include the 8-hour measure in its recommenda­
tions, but the League pressed it on the State legislature in 1909. This
resulted in 1911 in the passage of a law limiting hours in factories
and laundries to 10 a day.



In reporting this progress, the League continued to look forward,
saying, “After the law was passed it was our job to get the informa­
tion to the working women of Chicago, so they would know of the
protection the law afforded them, and how and where to report a vio­
lation. Thousands of leaflets printed in many languages were dis­
tributed.” The League’s president and organizer also stood on street
corners, morning after morning between 5 and 6 o’clock, meeting
young workers as they went to work in hotels and restaurants in the
poorer sections of Chicago and telling them about the new law.

—From 54 to 48 Hours—

6 Reasons for 6 Hours Less Work
a Week
The proposed 48-hour law for women in industry would cover
women employed in factory and mercantile establishments. Approxi­
mately 400,000 women are employed in these industries in New York
State. In towns of less than 3,000 population, the 48-hour law would
not apply to mercantile establishments. The summer exemption for
canneries would not be changed.

What will be the effect of a 48-hour week law on
these women and these industries*
Health and efficiency
1 for the women workers—better physical and mental conditions
when they are released from the strain of too long hours.
2 For the industry—improvement in the quality of the work, less
absenteeism, fewer industrial accidents, greater efficiency.

Earnings and profit
3 For the women workers—the same or higher earnings, for investi­
gation has shown that wage earners in establishments with a
schedule of 48 hours or less a week receive higher rates for full
time than workers on full time in establishments with longer hours.
4 For the industry—less material wasted, leas time wasted, longer
life of equipment and less repairs, increased production. Mr.
Harrington Emerson, director of the Emerson Engineers, has for­
mulated the following table showing the profitableness of shorter
hours, his calculation being based on actual experience:
Reduction in hours .... 33J per cent
Increase in wages......................... 15 per cent
Increase in production ... 87 per cent
Decrease in cost......................... 15 per cent

Stabilized employment
6 For the women workers—more full time, steadier work in place of
long periods of idleness followed by periods of too long hours with
consequent over-strain and injury to health.
6 For the industry—less labor turnover. This is an objective for
which every industry strives for it means lower cost of production, •
higher skill in workmanship and greatly increased efficiency.

In dollars and cents—In satisfied and therefore better workers—
In better health.

Figure 13.—Six Reasons for Shorter Hours.

[Page of League leaflet]



In 1909 the League’s national convention passed the following reso­
lution, and similar action was repeated in 1911:
Resolved, That each local league present an 8-hour bill at the nest general
assembly in their State, if possible, and that we urge all State federations
of labor to assist us In securing such legislation.

The New York League in 1910 pressed for limitation of women’s
work hours. They formed a joint labor legislative conference of the
legislative committees of all the various labor organizations and
secured an enormous array of supporters for the bill. After its defeat,
the State federation of labor made it an issue, and notified Senate
leaders that unless it was passed labor would work to defeat its oppo­
nents. The result was a 9-hour-day bill with a weekly limit of 54
hours, passed in 1912 after a bitter fight.
The Minimum Wage
The League’s president laid special stress on the second basic point
in its program, the minimum wage, in her address to the fourth
biennial convention (1913). By that time the League had made some
progress in promoting laws to limit hours, and the first State mini­
mum-wage laws had been passed. Mrs. Bobins says:
The National Women’s Trade Union League at its second biennial con­
vention in 1900 included in its legislative program the demand for a mini­
mum wage. Representing as we do the organized women workers in America,
it was natural that we should be among the first to understand the need
of such legislation. Today, however, thoughtful men and women everywhere
are realizing the individual and social menace of the low wage and there
is a general recognition of the fact that in a great, rich, empty country,
able-bodied men and women should find it possible to earn their living by
their day’s work. . . .
No one will deny that however difficult the problem, we find ourselves
under conditions demanding immediate action. The right to live and the
right to earn a living are indistinguishable terms. . . .
A living wage must certainly mean sufficient reward for labor to provide
health-giving food, good clothing, shelter with sunlight and air and warmth
and comfort, education and recreation—books and music—sufficient reward
to tide over periods of sickness or other unemployment and to make provi­
sion for a happy and serene old age. It must give opportunity and time
not only for the development of the powers within us, but also for expression
of human fellowship.

Developing Effective Methods
It has been seen that the Chicago League did not stop after passage
of a law had been secured, but at once began to spread information
that the law existed. Similarly, the National League sought to develop
among women workers methods of seeing that the law was effective.
At the third biennial (1911) the committee on legislation suggested
that each local league set up a permanent law-enforcement com­
mittee, in the following manner:



Methods for Local Leagues To Make Laws Effective
That each league request all women’s unions to send one representative to
such a committee. Through each union this committee is to form in each
shop or factory a voluntary social police force consisting of two shop mem­
bers, whose business it is to see about the enforcement of the fire, labor, and
sanitary laws. This shop committee is to report to its union representative
on the enforcement committee, and also to the chairman of this committee,
which will have on file the shops and factory, and the names and addresses
of the voluntary social police committee of each shop.
This committee is to report to the department of labor or fire any violation
reported to it. If this does not bring results, the union is requested to take
up the question.
This committee should also have a r4sumd of the laws affecting the women
workers in factories, and distribute it through the shops and factories.

At the fourth biennial convention (1913) the committee on legis­
lation made two far-reaching recommendations for methods of
strengthening league programs of legislation. One of these outlined
methods of procedure for local leagues, some of which already had been
used in some localities; the other proposed further work in the
National League.
Methods for Local Leagues in Supporting Legislation
... in times of a legislative campaign the local league’s legislative com­
mittees shall call upon all women’s trade unions in the State to form a
State legislative committee with representatives from all women’s trade
unions and trade-union leagues throughout the State.
The committee also recommends a joint labor legislative council, called
by each local league, of the legislative committee of all local unions or
central labor bodies.
Also that at all legislative hearings on labor questions the leagues shall
send as large a delegation of trade-union women as possible.
National Standing Committee on Legislation
The committee on legislation recommends the establishment of a standing
committee on legislation, whose duty it shall be to follow and further the
progress of legislation in the various States and in Congress with regard
to the program of the legislative committee; to keep on hand at the national
office such information and data as may be of assistance with reference to
legislative work in the different States. . . .

The League Campaigns for a Federal Women’s Bureau
The League was seeking to raise the standards of women’s work
conditions along every front. Besides intensive local activities it
had stimulated a Federal investigation of women’s work. Imme­
diately after Congress had authorized this, as has been mentioned,
the three interstate conferences in 1907 requested that a woman be
appointed to a responsible position in the Federal Bureau of Labor.
The need for this was emphasized as the investigation progressed and
its findings seemed to League members to indicate the requirement
for a permanent investigating body in the Federal Government, with




Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of
the United States of America in Congress assembled, That there
shall be established in the Department of Labor a bureau to be
known as the Women’s Bureau.
Sec. 2. That the said bureau shall be in charge of a director,
a woman, to be appointed by the President, by and with the
advice and consent of the Senate, who shall receive an annual
compensation of $5,000.1 It shall be the duty of said bureau to
formulate standards and policies which shall promote the wel­
fare of wage-earning women, improve their working conditions,
increase their efficiency, and advance their opportunities for
profitable employment. The said bureau shall have authority
to investigate and report to the said department upon all matters
pertaining to the welfare of women in industry. The director
of said bureau may from time to time publish the results of these
investigations in such a manner and to such extent as the Sec­
retary of Labor may prescribe.
Sec. 3. That there shall be in said bureau an assistant di­
rector, to be appointed by the Secretary of Labor, who shall
receive an annual compensation of $3,5001 and shall perform
such duties as shall be prescribed by the director and approved
by the Secretary of Labor.
Sec. 4. That there is hereby authorized to be employed by
said bureau a chief clerk and such special agents, assistants,
clerks, and other employees at such rates of compensation and
in such numbers as Congress may from time to time provide
by appropriations.
Sec. 5. That the Secretary of Labor is hereby directed to
furnish sufficient quarters, office furniture, and equipment for
the work of this bureau.
Sec. 6. That this act shall take effect and be in force from
and after its passage.
Approved, June 5, 1920.
Public No. 259, 66th Congress (H. It. 13229).
‘Amounts increased by Reclassification Act of March 4, 1923,
amended and supplemented.




officials always at work and able to provide continuing information
that would give a basis for further action to better women’s working
conditions. The League’s second biennial (1909) asked that such
an official authority be established in the Federal Government. The
request was prefaced with strong statements that indicated current
situations as follows:
. . . The Federal Supreme Court and the Supreme Courts of 19 States
have established the legality of limiting the hours of women’s labor and
have decided as constitutional the principles of protective legislation for
working women;
■ . . The rapid increase of women workers in the factories, mills and
shops of the Nation is fraught with industrial and social consequences of
the utmost importance to the national welfare;
. . . The National Women’s Trade Union League, in convention assembled,
respectfully asks the Honorable Charles Nagel, Secretary of the Department
of Commerce and Labor, and the Honorable Charles P. Neill, Commissioner
of the Bureau of Labor, to create in said Bureau of Labor a specific depart­
ment for the investigation and report from time to time upon the condition
of working women in the United States with special reference to protective
legislation directed to the preservation of the health, safety and morals of
the motherhood of our people;
. . . We respectfully urge upon said Secretary and Commissioner the
wisdom, propriety, and justice of appointing a woman as the head of such

A Women’s Division was set up in the Federal Government, but only
as a subdivision of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Its head worked
as effectively as possible under the conditions and secured considerable
support from State labor bureaus. But she had no independent
authority, no power of initiative, and no separate appropriation.
Efforts continued for a separate and independent bureau. At length
a bill was introduced for this purpose in 1916, with the recommenda­
tion of the Secretary of Labor and the support of the Women’s Trade
Union League, the Young Women’s Christian Association, the
National Consumers’ League, the General Federation of Women’s
Clubs, and labor organizations. This was the Jones-Casey bill.
Work to establish a Women’s Bureau continued without result for
several years. In the end, the need for it was emphasized to a wider
public by the experiences of World War I. In that period, war
industries had rapid need of large numbers of women workers and
many of those who responded were young and inexperienced. Often
they were subject to conditions that led to serious strain or injury.
At length a Woman in Industry Service was established in the De­
partment of Labor. Its value and the need for it were so fully
demonstrated that pressure to make it permanent continued after the
war. Finally, in June 1920,11 years after the League’s first national
convention resolution and 4 years after a bill was first introduced in
Congress, a law was passed to establish a permanent Women’s Bureau
in the Department of Labor.



Other Federal Measures the League Supported
Reference has been made to the League’s earliest national policies—
work for a Women’s Bureau in the Department of Labor and for a
Federal investigation of women’s work. Each year it used its in­
fluence to get Congress to appropriate funds to operate the Women’s
Bureau and the Children’s Bureau. The League was among the lead­
ing organizations that pressed for an amendment to the Constitu­
tion of the United States to give Congress power to regulate the em­
ployment of children under 18.
The convention of 1913 established a national legislative committee.
By the spring of 1918 this developed into an office in Washington with
an official legislative representative. This continued until 1926, after
which the national office carried on this work in Chicago until 1929.
At that time the national headquarters was moved to Washington.
The legislative secretary, Ethel Smith, sent to local leagues and other
interested groups a mimeographed weekly news service telling the
status of legislation of interest to the League. Among other measures
the League supported were extensions of Children’s Bureau functions
to include research and policymaking on maternal and infant hygiene,
an act to make the citizenship of a woman independent of her hus­
band’s nationality, development of the merit system in the civil service,
and the establishment of a department of education with a secretary in
the President’s Cabinet. The League carried on its legislative work in
close cooperation with the American Federation of Labor and the
Women’s Joint Congressional Committee, which was made up of rep­
resentatives of a number of women’s organizations working to support
their common legislative policies.
Later State Legislative Programs
In later years, local leagues continued to work for comprehensive
programs of State laws, and had well-developed methods of furthering
the legislative measures they supported. This is illustrated by the
following extracts from the activities along this line mentioned in
some of the annual reports of the New York League:
19J/1 Legislative Activities
The committee sent representatives to the annual legislative conference
of the New York State Federation of Labor in Albany. The League’s legis­
lative program was introduced, and we participated in the general program
of the State federation. The League’s interest still centers on the problems
of the household employee. Three measures were again introduced for
domestic workers: To provide for them workmen’s compensation; to estab­
lish a 60-hour week; and to include domestic workers under the minimumwage law. Emphasis was placed on the workmen’s compensation bill, as
it represents the least controversial measure and the most feasible of admin­



istration. No bill, however, passed. The League then organized a special
committee of representative women to continue promotion of the workmen’s
compensation bill until it is enacted into law.
1951 Legislation
The Women’s Trade Union League began its work for the 1951 legislative
season early in June of 1950, preparing its legislative program which was
submitted to the New York Federation of Labor convention for approval.
The League’s program is:
1. Enactment of a law establishing maximum hours of work and minimum
wages for all workers [including men in the women’s law].
2. Establishment of day-care centers for the children of working mothers.
3. Equal pay for women and men workers on the basis of work performed.
4. Extension of child-labor laws to cover children—
(a) in street trades,
(b) on commercial farms,
(c) as caddies.
5. Amendment of the disability benefits law to eliminate the provisions
which discriminate against women workers.


The basic points in the national program of the League continued
as its long-time policy. But the broad purpose of furthering all im­
provements in the status of working women and of women in general
allowed for considerable flexibility of action as need arose. The
League, both on national measures and in local situations, thus gave
its efforts to a variety of programs that promised to aid in the de­
velopment of its broader purposes.
Response to the strike situations already described were instances
of this. Other examples were the work for adequate standards for
women’s work on Government contracts in World War I and the vig­
orous local plans developed for workers’ health, for legal aid to those
eligible for compensation for injuries suffered in their work places, and
for aid to foreign-born workers along several lines—in learning Eng­
lish and adjusting to their new industrial environment, in legal diffi­
culties, and in the techniques of obtaining citizenship. In one of the
league pamphlets Mrs. Robins describes, in her usual inspirational
style, the broad possibilities the League sought to develop and its
versatile response to current needs:
If the fight for the shorter workday presents itself as a legislative measure
for the 8- or 9- or 10-hour day, we throw our strength and time and intelli­
gence into the winning of that fight. Not forgetting that we stand for the
8-hour day we yet realize that even a 10-hour day limitation often means,
as in the laundry and hotel trades for instance, a shorter workday by 4 or 5
hours, and we know that these hours so gained give opportunity for thought
and action.



If the fight for better wages becomes a legislative measure in the form of
a demand for minimum-wage boards, we throw whatever we have of time
and strength and intelligence into that fight. . . .
If the demand for equipment in citizenship takes the form of a legislative
measure enfranchising women, all the more certainly will we throw our time
and strength into this fight for democracy.
If the constructive work of organizing and training for self-government
demands organizers—-women with vision and power and patience—we must
furnish such organizers. . . .
If the request comes for music and merrymaking from our younger sisters,
let us understand that joy more certainly than sorrow calls the child into
the larger life and social relationship.
If the constructive work of organization in the shop has not been permitted
by the employers and a strike ensues as a long overdue reaction against
intolerable conditions, then here, too, let us put the best that is in us of time
and strength, of intelligence and service and money into this fight for a truer
democracy. Grim and terrible as a strike may be as an expression of protest,
it is nevertheless the outward and visible sign of a miracle in the human
soul. . . . The gleam of some vision caught . . . breaks through into light
and life as unexpectedly, as miraculously as the power which, unseen and un­
recognized through the long winter months, suddenly transforms the barren
and desolate moors of the northland into sunlit sod and singing grass.
That the work of the Women’s Trade Union League is national in scope
and need is recognized. This battle can only be won by and with and through
the whole people. Will you help?
Are you an artist? Give us designs and colors. We need two thousand
streamers and banners for the next parade.
Are you a cartoonist, a writer, a poet, a playwright or an actor? Our
problem is largely a problem of interpretation. Interpret for us the struggle
and the story.
Are you a rhymster? Give us jingles so that the children in the street may
learn and play with them and catch their meaning.
Are you a musician? Give us music to stir the heart and make it glad, to
give it courage and hope so that the songs of the people may bring in the
Are you a thinker ? Help us plan wisely so that no moment may be lost
to restore childhood to its joy, motherhood to its glory, manhood and woman­
hood to power of growth and freedom.
Are you an educator, a teacher? Help us to set free the hidden powers
of the human heart and spirit.
Are we workers ? Then may the vision never leave us in the day’s drudg­
ery. Let us qualify ourselves to the task undertaken and by establishing
self-government in the workshop help win this next step in the human strug­
gle for liberty and social justice.23

League Programs for the Workers’ Health
The health of the workers was a continual interest of the League.
In that period the conditions of factory work, involving long hours,
speed of operation, and often insanitary surroundings, resulted in
broken health for many workers. In most trades workers were likely
to be subject to some particular type of illness. In the garment and
22 See pamphlet, Self-Government In the Workshop, by Margaret Dreier Robins.



textile industries, which employed many women, the workers fre­
quently contracted tuberculosis. Several of the local leagues, notably
Chicago and New York, had extensive health programs.
The sick-benefit plan of the Chicago League was reported as early
as the second biennial (1909) to have been “established for some time.”
From it grew a well-developed health plan in which several physicians
cooperated, in particular three women physicians. Members were
encouraged to take advantage of this, and if headache, sore throat,
excessive fatigue, or other symptoms indicated trouble to go to a
physician so the cause could be determined and corrected “before their
health is entirely broken down.” Later the League supported beds for
tubercular patients in two hospitals and established a summer camp
for women workers.
The physicians who participated in the health program kept careful
records of the cases, noting the trade where the girl was employed,
hours of work, whether the job was done sitting or standing, whether
the factory or shop was well or poorly lighted, and other conditions
that would affect the workers’ health.
The method arranged for the health service was that every union
affiliated with the League also could belong to the health committee
by the payment of a small annual fee per member (25 cents). A book
of tickets was issued to the union’s shop steward and a member needing
medical aid could secure a ticket entitling her to a visit to the doctor.
League officers were careful to explain that the doctors were paid their
full fees.
The report at the League’s fourth biennial (1913) showed that
almost 100 women had received treatment in the year. About 40 per­
cent had made no more than 5 visits to the doctor, but almost 30 percent
had made 15 or more visits. The expense of the program made it
necessary to limit the number of free visits to 5, with a charge of 25
cents for each of the next 5, and thereafter a charge of 50 cents, half
the usual fee doctors then charged for an office visit.
During the strike of cloakmakers in 1916, the New York League set
up a special medical-care service. Aid was given by 71 physicians and
many druggists and opticians provided supp] ies at cost. The League’s
distribution of milk to workers’ families has already been mentioned.
Other parts of the program of some local leagues that were directed
toward the workers’ health were certain of their recreational activities
and the inclusion of health lectures in their educational programs;
leagues also were advised to introduce athletic work as a health feature.
Helping Injured Workers Get Compensation
The New York League set up in 1922 a compensation service to help
women injured in industry to obtain compensation. Many of these



women were timid and did not know what they were entitled to nor
how to present their cases to the State workmen’s compensation com­
mission. Some of them could speak but little English.
The adviser of the New York League, Maud Swartz (who was also
in this period the National League’s president), told them their rights
under the laws, advised as to what was best for them to do, helped to
get doctors’ reports, expense accounts, doctors’ bills, procured witnesses
for their hearings, procured subpoenas, got their doctors to testify, if
necessary, had the cases put on the calendar if there had been a delay.
If the injured worker was unable to resume her former employment,
the adviser urged her to go to the Rehabilitation Bureau of the New
York State Department of Education, which made a specialty of
placing the disabled workers and sometimes gave them retraining.
If claimants were in need they were referred to the social service de­
partment. Sometimes it was difficult to collect compensation promptly
and in those cases the adviser helped the claimant to collect the pay­
ments due her. Reports to the League’s national conventions showed
that in the period 1922-24 over 500 women had been aided in this way,
and in 1926-29 more than 2,000 had been helped. The League con­
tinued this service for almost a decade, after which assistance was
given by the New York State Department of Labor.
League Plans to Aid Foreign-Born Workers
In their organization work local leagues often had a problem to
secure the interest of women workers who had come recently to
America. In New York and Chicago large groups of Italian women
were employed in the garment and other trades. The New York
League offered classes in English, and organized a group of over 200
Italian women to whom they “taught the principles of trade union­
ism,” and whom they helped in various other ways.
The Chicago League undertook an ambitious program of helping
foreign-born workers to become well integrated in the New World.
The story of this League’s “First Ten Years,” in its Thirty-Fifth
Anniversary Report, says:
One of our early committees was the Immigration committee, formed in
July 1908. Arrangements were made with the authorities of Ellis Island
to have sent to us the names of all the immigrant women en route to Chicago.
The receipt of the names was followed by personal calls. From July 15,
1907, to April 1, 1908, 1,459 names were received, representing almost every
country in Europe. The ages ranged from 16 to 30, and fully 90 percent of
the women came alone. Although the committee did not attempt to meet
trains, it was found that a very important work was still necessary after
the girl arrived at her destination.

The League helped these foreign-born persons to go through the
process of obtaining American citizenship, and prepared a booklet of



instructions: How to Become a Citizen. The work continued to grow,
and the Chicago League interested a group of citizens in it, took the
initiative in organizing the Immigrants’ Protective League, and paid
its secretary for a time. This organization specialized in giving help
of various kinds to foreign-horn women. For example, it aided in
settling legal difficulties and in freeing immigrants from the grip of
certain unscrupulous agencies which purported to obtain employment
or to give other services. The League secured the cooperation of
prominent lawyers in these efforts.
Becreational activities also were organized in foreign districts.
For example, the Chicago League report covering its first 10 years
In order tliat our strange foreign neighbors might have brought into their
lives some of the music to which they were used in their home countries,
we organized a music committee and arranged concerts in the small parks
throughout the city. Concerts were held every week during the winter, and
the best artists contributed their services. This was the first attempt to
give this sort of music to the people in our foreign districts. Later the
Civic Music Association took over all such work.24

Standards Proposed for Government Contracts, World War 1
The League’s sixth convention was held in June 1917, three months
after the United States had entered World War I. War industries
soon called for large numbers of women, many of whom were inex­
perienced. It was thought the war would be short, and demand was
widespread for total or partial abolition of restrictions on hours and
on work at night or on Sundays. The United States Navy Yard
went on a 10-hour basis, the first breakdown of an 8-hour law for
Government workers. At the same time new investigations were
showing that excessive work hours and insanitary and dangerous con­
ditions of work lessened rather than increased production, because of
their ill effects on the workers. The League’s convention took vigorous
action. The following is an extract from a resolution on this subject
passed by the convention:
Whereas England’s experience under like circumstances has proved on
the one hand that increasing the hours of labor actually lessens the output,
and, on the other, that the crippling of the schools was accompanied by an
increase of 34 percent in child delinquency, while the small money saving
made in this way in two years was only enough to support the armies for
15 hours, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the National Women’s Trade Union League in convention
assembled protest emphatically against any attempt to lower educational
standards or to weaken the laws safeguarding the workers, especially
24 See Thirty-fifth Anniversary Report,



women and children, and that we do all within our power to maintain and
help establish

as well as guard every other law enacted for the protection of women and
children in industry; that we secure equal pay for equal work where women
are forced into the positions left vacant by men.

The League convention also passed resolutions demanding preser­
vation of the right of free speech in wartime, and urging the Govern­
ment to try to “achieve a just and honorable settlement” of the conflict.
However, it did not stop with the passage of resolutions. A convention
committee on women’s work in wartime outlined in detail standards
that should he established in women’s wartime work. The League
urged on the President of the United States, the Secretary of War, and
the Secretary of the Navy the importance of putting these standards
into effect. The League’s proposals were as follows and were pub­
lished in a pamphlet, Eeport of Committee on Women’s Work in
For the first time in our history, trade-union women representing their
respective trades have been called by the Government into active service in
order to meet intelligently the difficulties and complications which will arise
in the industrial field as the result of our entrance into the war. It is there­
fore incumbent upon us to consider the best ways of protecting the great
mass of women workers from the exploitation that may follow.
Trade-union women are serving on committees appointed by the Council
of National Defense and on State and city defense committees, thereby in
an official capacity representing the interests of the women workers and
voicing for the first time the needs of this most exploited group in the
We therefore recommend to the proper Government committees the follow­
ing outline of standards to be established for Government contracts, and the
following recommendations to protect working women in the necessary
industrial adjustments that are now in process of development:
Standards of Industry


Government Contracts

1. Adult labor.
2. Wages—
a. The highest prevailing rate of wages in the industry which the
contract affects.
b. Equal pay for equal work. .
c. Those trades where there is no wage standard whatsover shall be
placed in the hands of an adjustment committee.
d. That all wages be adjusted from time to time to meet the increased
cost of living—by this committee—and that other wage questions be
submitted to it.
3. The 8-hour day.
4. One day’s rest in seven.
5. Prohibition of night work for women.



6. Standards of sanitation and fire protection.

7. Protection against overfatigue and industrial diseases.
8. Prohibition of tenement-house labor.
9. Exemption from the call into industry of women having small children
needing their care.
10. Exemption from the call into industry of women during 2 months
before and after childbirth.

In this first war year, these activities of the League were among the
pressing influences that, combined with the necessity for an enormous
program of rapid production led the War Department to establish the
women’s branch as a part of the Industrial Service Section of its
Ordnance Department. Government policy on conditions for women’s
employment was first defined by the War Department in General
Order No. IB issued by the Chief of Ordnance in November 1917 and
at the same time by the Quartermaster General. This suggests to
manufacturers working under war contracts and to plants under
Government control certain employment standards characterized as
“mechanisms of efficiency.” These standards of 35 years ago state,
among other points:
The day’s work should not exceed the customary hours . . . already
attained. The drift in the industrial world is toward an 8-hour day as an
efficiency measure. Hours of labor must be adapted to the age and sex of
the worker and the nature of the occupation. . . . existing legal standards
should be rigidly maintained. Effort should be made to restrict the work
of women to 8 hours.
One day of rest in seven should be a universal and invariable rule. The
working period on Saturday should not exceed 5 hours. The half holiday
on Saturday is already a common custom. The Saturday half holiday should
be considered an absolute essential for women under all conditions.
The standards of wages hitherto prevailing for men in the process should
not be lowered where women render equivalent service.
The employment of women on night shifts should be avoided.
No work should be given out to be done in tenement houses.

Other provisions made for women required time and suitable place
for meals, rest periods, use of seats where possible, and avoidance of
continuous lifting of heavy weights. Reference has already been made
to the Woman in Industry Service established in the Labor Department
as a wartime measure.

Some of the League leaders had contacts with women prominent in
the workers’ organizations of other countries. Every opportunity
was taken to enable the membership to meet or hear such personalities
from abroad and learn of the movements they represented. The
League’s wide concept of fellowship with workers and with the op­
pressed of all types was expressed as follows by Mrs. Robins:



. . . labor’s kinship is as broad and wide as life. We are kin with those
who are suffering ... in that storm-tossed Continent of Europe. We are
kin with our own folks at home, with the political prisoners who dared
obey their conscience in the whirlwind of the war, with the mine workers in
West Virginia, with the steel workers in Pennsylvania, with the old men
and women in our midst to whom the fulfillment of life has been denied,
who are suffering poverty in old age in spite of hard, honest work through
the long years. . . .25

Women unionists from abroad were invited to attend and speak at
League conventions. The regional conferences held in 1908 requested
the League’s national officers to establish the fullest possible coopera­
tion with women’s trade unions in Great Britain and on the Continent
of Europe. The activities of the British Women’s Trade Union
League had been carried on for nearly 30 years when its American
counterpart came on the scene. Its secretary, the dynamic Mary
Macarthur, who also had started the National Federation of Women
Workers, was present at the League’s second biennial (1909) and was
asked to speak on organization. Also attending and speaking at this
convention was Margarete Scliweichler representing women in the
large organization of office workers and department-store clerks in
Germany. This organization was again represented at the 1911
Labor Standards in the Peace Treaty After World War I
In international affairs that applied more specifically to women
workers themselves, the League pioneered in presenting forward­
looking programs. After World War I the national board had ap­
pointed a committee on social and industrial reconstruction. One of
its proposals was that labor standards should be incorporated in the
treaty of peace. This followed a plan which was endorsed by the
League’s sixth convention (1917), proposed by Mine. Gabrielle
Duchene of the white-goods workers of Paris—that such standards
be included in the treaty, and apply within a definite time to every
country signing.1 Two League representatives were sent to Paris to
present this plan and the standards to the Labor Commission of the
Peace Conference, which was handling initial plans for what later
became the International Labor Organization. They made a detailed
report at the seventh biennial convention (1919). At the same time
the League asked the American Federation of Labor to include a
woman among the delegates it would appoint to the International
Labor Conference, which was held in Washington later in 1919.
The standards the League proposed for inclusion in the peace treaty
consisted of those it formerly had recommended to the President, the
25 See Dreier, p. 171.



Secretary of War, and the Secretary of the Navy to be incorporated in
Government war-work contracts (see p. 55), with the addition of the
following: Abolition of child labor; legislation for compulsory full­
time education up to 16, and part-time up to 18 years of age; social
insurance against sickness, accident, industrial disease and unemploy­
ment; and provision for old-age and disability pensions and maternity
benefits. The program also called for the full enfranchisement of
women and demanded that they should be accorded political, social,
and legal equality.
The International Congress of Working Women
One of the most original and far-reaching programs the League ever
undertook was the proposal to call an international conference of
working women. This was a recommendation of the committee on
social and industrial reconstruction, formerly mentioned, and was
urged by the representatives sent to Paris. A committee to plan fur­
ther details reported at the national convention in June 1919. An
outstanding trade-union woman from Great Britain, Margaret Bondfield, brought to this convention from the Standing Joint Committee
of Women’s Industrial Organizations in England a special resolution
that offered full cooperation in calling such a conference.
The First International Congress of Working Women was convened
in Washington in late October 1919, just before the first meeting of
the International Labor Conference. Delegates had been asked to
bring material from their countries on the 8-hour day, women’s em­
ployment, unemployment, child labor, and maternity care. They were
requested to bring credentials signed by trade-Union organizations in
their countries. Labor organizations of 11 countries in addition to
the United States sent delegates, most of them one or two. Women
from 7 other countries came as visitors. The League sent 10 delegates
since the call to Congress asked for that number. Headquarters were
established in Washington, with a secretary.
A second such congress was held in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1921,
and a third in Vienna in 1923. The Vienna Congress voted to develop
as a women’s department of the International Federation of Trade
Unions, which had headquarters in Amsterdam. The American Fed­
eration of Labor, with which the League was affiliated, had not con­
nected itself with this International. For this reason, the League,
which had initiated the women’s international congress, voted at its
ninth biennial (1924) to withdraw from the women’s department of
the Federation. (For lists of countries represented and League del­
egates to the three international conferences, see p. 67.)




When the Women’s Trade Union League decided to disband as a na­
tional organization in June 1950, it pointed out that other organiza­
tions it had stimulated were now carrying on much of the work it
had begun. Other factors in the 1950 situation were in considerable
contrast to those at the beginning of the century, when the League was
formed. To mention but a few of the differences:
Unions had greater strength by 1950 than in 1900. Not only did
they more generally include women in their membership in 1950, but
they also consulted women’s needs and often elected them as local
officers, or on local committees, sometimes as delegates to national
conventions. Conditions of work in many plants were much improved
by 1950, sometimes as a result of adopting better methods and in­
creased facilities, or of newer buildings started for war production.
Union activity had directed more widespread attention to workers’
health and welfare, and advanced knowledge along various lines had
made possible more modern work equipment. Furthermore, young
girls were a markedly smaller proportion of the labor force in 1950
than in 1900 or at the time the League was born.
The statement made at the close of the League in its mimeographed
bulletin Life and Labor, for June 1950, said in part:
. . . Our task is not done, but much of it has been taken over by the labor
movement and by other groups which we have helped to form. In effect we
are and should be a self-liquidating organization. There is now an enor­
mous opportunity for women in the trade-union movement and for friends
of the trade-union movement to participate directly in the implementation
of the program to which the National Women’s Trade Union League has
been dedicated for so many years.
The National Women’s Trade Union League was organized in 1903 at a
time when working women and the labor movement had few sympathetic
supporters. For 47 years the League has been a federation of trade unions
with womeh members, with a supplementary membership of persons who
indorse its principles and accept its platform. National and international
unions and State Federations of Labor have been linked to the League by
affiliation and have helped to further its aims, and by financial assistance,
to accomplish its purposes. In the several industrial centers where the
I/eague maintains local branches there is a similar relationship. The fun­
damental principle upon which the Women’s Trade Union League has based
its work is the organization of women wage earners into trade unions.
Throughout the years it has been their spokesman, the interpreter of their
problems—and these have grown in complexity with mass production and
modern speed, repetitive processes and mechanized assembling.
The League’s program has been made possible by the support, tangible
and moral, of men and women without the trade-union movement and of
some national and international unions and State federations of labor, as
well as individual union members.



An additional point that should be mentioned in connection with
the League’s closing was its increasing difficulty in balancing its
budget. The regular dues from many affiliated unions and from indi­
vidual members, and the considerable additional contributions from
a number of unions, were never enough to maintain the League and
carry on the projects necessary. The organization had to depend
on generous contributors for a large proportion of its financial sup­
port. The League had from time to time made various economy
moves, such as shifting the national convention from a biennial to a
triennial basis, or substituting a small mimeographed paper for the
monthly magazine the League published in earlier years. It had also
raised its scale of dues and affiliations. The depression of the 1930’s
had been weathered, but it diminished the resources of much of the
League’s regular clientele and some of its largest contributors. The
greatly advanced price levels of the 1940’s and the depreciation of the
dollar took an added toll.
Though the National League disbanded, several strong local leagues
still continue their activities. Other organizations also have felt fur­
ther responsibilities for developing programs in the interest of women
workers. Among the numerous present-day organizations, for ex­
ample, that did not exist when the League was first organized, and
that could continue some of the types of work the League formerly
handled, are the union auxiliaries formed for women in the families
of men who are members of a union affiliated either with the A. F.
of L. or with the more recently organized C. I. O. Those affili­
ated with the A. F. of L. have combined on a national basis into the
American Federation of Women’s Auxiliaries of Labor.





Mary Morton Keliew, Boston, 1903.
Mrs. Charles Henrotin, Chicago, 1904.
Margaret Dreier Robins, New York and Chicago, 1907.
Mrs. Maud O’Farrell Swartz, Typographical Union, New York,
Rose Schneiderman, Cloth Cap and Hat Makers, New York,



Secretary—Mary Kenny O’Sullivan, A. F. of L., Boston, 1903.
Treasurer—Mary Donovan, Boot and Shoe Workers, Lynn, Mass.,
Treasurer—Margaret Dreier Robins, 1904.
Secretary-Treasurer—Mrs. Robert A. Woods, Boston, 1907.
Secretary-Treasurer—Mrs. D. W. Knefler, St. Louis, 1909.
Secretary—Stella M. Franklin, Department Store Workers, Chi­
cago, 1911.
Treasurer—Melinda Scott, Hat Trimmers, New York, 1913.
Secretary-Treasurer—Stella M. Franklin, 1913.
Secretary—Emma Steghagen, Boot and Shoe Workers, Chi­
cago, 1915.
Secretary-Treasurer—Elisabeth Christman, Glove Workers,
Chicago, 1921-51.
Affiliated Local Branches 1903-29

Clinton, Iowa

Grand Rapids
Kansas City
La Crosse, Wis.
Lake Geneva, Wis.
Los Angeles
Madison, Wis.
New Bedford, Mass.

Alice Henry
Stella M. Franklin
Frances Squire Potter
Margaret Dreier Robins




New York City
Rock Island, 111.
St. Louis
St. Paul
Springfield, 111.
Washington, D. C.
Worcester, Mass.


Irene Osgood Andrews
Amy Walker Field
William L. Chenery
Sarah Cory Rippey



TON, NOVEMBER 17-19, 1903)
The object of the Women’s Trade Union League shall be to assist in the or­
ganization of women wage workers into trade unions.
Any person may be admitted to membership who will declare himself or her­
self willing to assist those trade unions already existing, which have women
members, and to aid in the formation of new unions of women wage workers.
Any member may be admitted to the Annual Conference by the endorsement of
a majority of the Executive Board. Those who have attended Annual Confer­
ence shall be eligible to all succeeding Conferences.
The officers shall consist of President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer,
with the usual duties of these officers.
Executive Board
The Executive Board shall consist of the four officers and five other members.
The majority of the Executive Board shall be women who are, or have been,
trade unionists in good standing, the minority, of those well known to be earnest
sympathizers and workers for the cause of trade unionism. The Executive
Board shall have full power to act subject to the Conferences. A majority of
the Executive Board shall constitute a quorum. Two-thirds of the Executive
Board may grant permission to organize local leagues or committees under the
authority of the Executive Board.
Annual Conference
The Annual Conference shall be held at the time and place of the meeting of
the American Federation of Labor, whenever possible.
The dues shall be one dollar a year, payable in advance.
A majority of those present at any Conference shall have authority to amend
tlie Constitution.




(Eevision of 1913)
Article I—Name

The name of this organization shall be The National Women's Trade Union
League of America.
Article II—Purposes
The purposes of this organization shall be:
First, to develop the national aspects of the trade organization of women.
Second, to assist the Local and State Trade Union Leagues in organizing
women into trade unions, and to organize women locally into trade unions where
there are no Local and State Trade Union Leagues, such unions to be affiliated
where practicable, with the American Federation of Labor.


Section 1. The membership of the National Women’s Trade Union League
shall consist of:
a.—Local Women’s Trade Union Leagues.
b.—State Committees of the National League.
c.—State Women’s Trade Union Leagues (State groupings of the Local
d.—Affiliated International Unions, Trade Union Locals, Central Labor
Bodies, and State Federations of Labor.
e.—Other Offiliated Organizations.
f.—Members at large.
Section 2. (a) Local Women’s Trade Union Leagues whose membership in­
cludes at least seven women, whose members are admitted by a majority vote
and whose executive boards contain a majority of trade unionists in good stand­
ing, shall be eligible to membership in the National League and the National
President and Secretary-Treasurer acting for the National Executive Board,
shall have power to issue a charter with a fee of five dollars to any such local
League provided its application for membership has been approved by the
National Executive Board. Applications for membership are to be subject to
the approval of the National Executive Board. The duties of local Leagues
shall be to organize the women workers of their locality into trade unions, and
to strengthen existing unions. Local Leagues are urged to affiliate with and
attach themselves to the various Central Bodies in their localities chartered by
the American Federation of Labor.
Section 3. (b) State Women’s Trade Union Leagues consisting of at least
seven affiliated local Women’s Trade Union Leagues, shall be eligible to member­
ship in the National League. Applications for membership are to be subject to
the approval of the National Executive Board. The duties of State Leagues
shall be especially to promote labor legislation as outlined in the platform.
Section 4. (c) In States where there is no State Women’s Trade Union League,
a State Committee of the National Women’s Trade Union League may be formed
to carry on the work of the League.
Section 5. (d) Trade Union Locals whose membership includes at least seven
women, existing in a locality where there is no local Women’s Trade Union
League, also International Unions, Central Labor Bodies, and State Federations
of Labor, shall be eligible to membership in the National League. Applications
for membership are to be subject to the approval of the National Executive



Section 6. (e) The Constitution and By-Laws of the State Leagues, State
Committees and Local Leagues shall not be inconsistent with the Constitution
of the National Women’s Trade Union League and are to be subject to the
approval of the National Executive Board.
Section 7. (f) Other organizations in sympathy with the purpose of the Na­
tional League, existing in a locality in which there is no local Women’s Trade
Union League, shall be eligible to membership in the National League as Affili­
ated Organizations. Applications for membership are to be subject to the ap­
proval of the National Executive Board.
Section 8. (g) Any Trade Unionist in good standing residing in a locality in
which there is no local Women’s Trade Union League, or any person who would
be eligible as an allied member of a local League, residing in a locality where
there is no local League, shall be eligible to membership in the National League
as a Member at Large, upon declaration of sympathy with its purposes and en­
dorsement of its platform, accompanied by a signed application blank.- Appli­
cations are to be subject to the approval of the National Executive Board.


Section 1. The officers shall consist of a President, a Vice-President and a
Secretary-Treasurer. Two of the three officers must be trade unionists in good
Section 2. To be eligible for election as a National Officer or a member of the
National Executive Board it is necessary to have been a member of a local
League for at least two years and to have served as an officer or Executive
Board member of her local League.
Section 3. The President shall perform the usual duties of the office. When
the Executive Board is not in session, the President, with the assistance of the
Secretary-Treasurer, shall conduct all business for and in all respects represent
the League.
Section 4. The Vice-President shall perform the usual duties of her office.
Section 5. The Secretary-Treasurer shall have charge of the correspondence
and funds of the League. She shall send each member of the Executive Board,
within two weeks following the meeting of the Board, a full copy of the minutes
of the meeting. The funds of the League, outside of current expenses, shall be
paid out only upon warrants signed by the President and Secretary-Treasurer.
The Secretary-Treasurer shall send out notices in regard to the payment of the
annual dues by the first day of May each year.
Section 6. The Secretary-Treasurer shall be bonded. Amount of bond not to
exceed $5,000.
Article V—Executive Board
Section 1. The Executive Board shall consist of the officers and six members
elected at large. Of the members elected at large not more than one shall be
from any one League. A majority of the Executive Board must be trade union­
ists in good standing. Vacancies occurring in the Executive Board between
elections shall be filled by the Board.
Section 2. (a) The National Executive Board shall meet twice a year if pos­
sible. Additional meetings may be called upon the initiative of the President
with the majority vote of the Board, as well as by the majority of the Board,
the total number not to exceed four meetings a year.
(b) Expenses and salaries of National Executive Board for Board meetings
and convention to be paid out of the National treasury.



(c) The authority of the convention shall be vested in the Executive Board
between conventions.
Section 3. When due notification of a meeting of the Executive Board has
been given, five members shall constitute a quorum, provided that there be a
majority of the trade unionists present.
Section 4. In the absence of personal representation at any meeting of the
Executive Board, official written reports from each League shall be sent to the
Board, signed by the President and Secretary of the League.
Section 5. The National Convention shall elect the League’s delegate to the
American Federation of Labor to serve during a period of two years.
Article VI—Elections

Section 1. The President, Vice-President, and the Secretary-Treasurer shall
be elected by ballot at the National Convention to assume office thirty days after
their election and to serve two years or until thirty days after their successors
shall be elected. The six members of the Executive Board elected at large shall
be elected by ballot at the National Convention to assume office thirty days after
their election and to serve for two years or until thirty days after their succes­
sors shall be elected.
Section 2. The Secretary-Treasurer shall within thirty days of the election
of the officers and the six members at large of the Executive Board, notify the
Secretary of each local League of such elections.


Section 1. (a) The dues of local Leagues shall be on the basis of ten cents
annually for each person in their membership.
Section 2. (h) The dues of State Leagues shall be $5.00 annually.
Section 3. (c) The dues of Affiliated International Unions, Trade Union Locals,
Central Labor Bodies, and State Federations of Labor, shall be $5.00 annually.
Section 4. (d) The dues of other Affiliated Organizations shall be $5.00
Section 5. (e) The dues of Members at Large shall be $5.00 annually. Dues
of Trade Union Members at Large shall be $1.00 annually.
Section 6. Dues for current year shall be paid on or before the first of July
of that year.
Section 7. Only those Leagues and Affiliated Organizations whose annual dues
shall have been fully paid up sixty days in advance of the National Convention
shall be entitled to vote at the Convention.




Interstate Conferences

Section 1. Each National Convention of the Women’s Trade Union League
shall determine time and place for the succeeding National Convention.
Section 2. The membership of the Convention shall consist of the following:
a.—The three officers and the other six members of the Executive Board
with one vote each.
b.—Each local League shall be entitled to send one delegate with one vote
for every 25 members or fraction thereof, up to 500 members, and after that,
one to every 50.
e.—Each affiliated State League shall be entitled to send one delegate with
one vote.



d. Each Affiliated International Union, Trade Union Local, Central Labor
Body, and State Federation of Labor, shall be entitled to send one delegate
with one vote.
e. Every other Affiliated Organization shall be entitled to send one delegate
with one vote.
f.—In order to encourage interest in forming local Leagues, Members at
Large shall be given voice, but with no vote.
Section 3. The Local Leagues shall be encouraged to hold Inter-State Confer­
ences. The time of such Conferences shall be determined at the National
Article IX—Charge®



Section 1. All charges of whatever nature against any officer or member must
be presented in writing to the body before which the charges are made, and no
defendant shall be found guilty without having upon written application a copy
of the charges preferred, and opportunity for defense.
Section 2, Appeals against the decision of any Officer, Committee, Board or
League shall be presented in writing to the next highest authority and no ap­
peals shall be considered unless the applicant conforms to the decision appealed
from, pending the decision of the appeal.
Article X—Amendment

This Constitution can be amended only at a regular session of the Convention,
and to do so it shall require a two-thirds vote. [Formerly advance notice re­
quired, and if provisions differed, subsequent ratification by local leagues.]







Working Women

Washington, 1919
Countries whose labor groups sent representatives:
Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, France, Great Britain, India,
Italy, Norway, Poland, Sweden, United States of America.
Countries having women visitors present:
Cuba, Denmark, Japan, Netherlands, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland.
Delegates from National Women’s Trade Union League of America:
Margaret Dreier Robins (League President), Leonora O’Reilly (Ladies’ Gar­
ment Workers, New York), Rose Schneiderman (Cloth Hat and Cap Mak­
ers, New York), Mrs. Louis B. Rantoul (Federal Employees, Boston), Mary
Anderson (Boot and Shoe Workers, Chicago), Fannia Cohn (International
Ladies’ Garment Makers Union, New York), Elisabeth Christman (Glove
Workers, Chicago), Agnes Nestor (Glove Workers, Chicago), Julia O’Con­
nor (Telephone Workers, Boston), Maud Swartz (Typographical Workers,
New York).
Officers chosen:
President—Margaret Dreier Robins.
Secretary-Treasurer—Maud Swartz.
Vice Presidents:
Mary Maearthur (England).
Betzy Kjelsberg (Norway).
Landova Stychova (Czechoslovakia).
Jeanne Bouvier (France).
Anna Boschek (Austria).
Action of Congress:
. , . The Congress requested the International Labor Conference to amend
its Constitution so that in future one of the two Government delegates and
one of the two delegates representing Labor should be women. Other reso­
lutions demanded a maximum eight-hour day and forty-four hour week
for all workers; the prohibition of the labor of children under sixteen and
regulation up to eighteen years of age; the prohibition of night work for
women and for all workers insofar as possible; and the regulation of
hazardous occupations. All the delegates agreed that there should be
some form of maternity insurance, though they differed on the scope and
details of the scheme. The Congress requested the International Labor
Conference to take steps toward dealing with emigration on an interna­
tional basis, and with unemployment as an international problem. . . .
Second International Congress


Working Women

Geneva, 1921
Countries having representatives:
Belgium, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, France, Great Britain, Italy, Norway, Poland,
South Africa, Switzerland, United States of America.



Delegates from National Women’s Trade Union League of America:
Margaret Dreier Robins, Maud Swartz, Emma Steghagen (League Secre­
tary), Sarah Green (Waitresses, Kansas City).
Included among visitors, women from the following:
World’s Young Women’s Christian Association, Chinese Young Women’s
Christian Association, Nippon Women’s University of Tokyo, Women’s
International League for Peace and Freedom, International Labor Office,
other women’s organizations.
Statement of purposes of the organization:
(1) to promote trade union organization among women;
(2) to develop an international policy giving special consideration to the
needs of women and children and to examine ail projects for legislation
proposed by the International Labor Conference of the League of Nations;
(3) to promote the appointment of working women on organizations affect­
ing the welfare of the workers.
■ . . the . . . Federation . . . was to “consist of National Trade Union
organizations, containing women members, and affiliated to the Inter­
national Federation of Trade Unions; it should also admit working
women’s organizations accepting its aims and agreeing to work in the
spirit and to follow the principles of the International Federation of
Trade Unions.”
Action of the Congress:
(1) Sent the International Labor Office resolutions which were more farreaching than its proposals on Anthrax, Lead Poisoning, Conditions of
Agricultural Work, and Employment of Young Persons on Ships.
(2) Called for the protection of women and children under the application
of the ILO Night-work and Lead-poisoning Conventions.
(3) Meeting in a period of acute economic distress, the delegates . . . asked
that governments should take measures for the stabilization of exchanges
and extension of credits, looking to the reestablishment of world trade.
(4) Passed a resolution urging total disarmament, and appointed Miss Kate
Manicom, of the General Workers’ Union of Great Britain to carry it to
President Harding at the time of the Disarmament Conference which was
to convene in Washington, D. C., on November 11.
Third Congress—International Federation


Working Women

Schoenbrunn, Vienna, 1923
Countries whose labor groups sent representatives:
Great Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, Roumania, Sweden, Cuba, United
States of America.
Countries and organizations with fraternal delegates:
Argentina, Chile, China, Hungary, Japan, Norway, International Federation
of Trade Unions, International Labor Office.



Delegates from National Women’s Trade Union League of America:
Margaret Dreier Robins, Rose Schneiderman, Maud Swartz, Mary Anderson,
Elisabeth Christman, Agnes Nestor, Mary E. Dreier, Pauline Newman
(organizer, Philadelphia League), Frieda Miller (Secretary, Philadelphia
League), Agnes Johnson (Boot and Shoe Workers, Chicago).
President elected:
Mile. Helene Burniaux of Belgium.
Action of the Congress:
(1) The report on trade union organization advocated: organization of
men and women into the same unions; an intensive campaign among
women and girl workers in each country, to be carried on with the assist­
ance Qf women speakers and organizers; development of recreation and
education in connection with the unions; and recognition of the fact that
many women do not remain permanently in industry and therefore that
no opportunity should be lost to awaken their social consciousness for
the sake of future moral support of the labor movement. The Congress
agreed that there ought to be minimum standards of work (both national
and international) such as the eight-hour day, but that the method of
obtaining them, whether by trade union agreement, by legislation, or both,
should be determined by the organized workers of each country. It there­
fore declared in favor of laws affecting women but not necessarily ai>plying
alike to men, where organized women wished to use the legislative means
of trying to improve industrial conditions.
(2) It urged the “Outlawry of War” and asked for a codification of inter­
national laws. It demanded the revision of the Treaties of St. Germain,
Trianon, and Versailles and the cancellation of inter-allied debts and
condemned the military occupation of the Ruhr basin, which had begun
January, 1923.
(3) It voted to open negotiations with the International Federation of
Trade Unions, to develop the Women’s Department at Amsterdam and
appoint a woman secretary and to organize an International Women’s
Advisory Committee,



I. Official Publications of the Women’s Trade Union League

A. National League
Convention Proceedings:
Second Biennial. Chicago. 1909.
Third Biennial. Boston. 1911.
Fourth Biennial. St. Louis. 1913.
Fifth Biennial. New York. 1915.
Sixth Biennial. Kansas City, Mo. 1917.
Seventh Biennial. Philadelphia. 1919.
Convention Handbooks:
Second Biennial Convention. 1909.
Third Biennial Convention. 1911.
Monthly Publication:
Life and Labor.
Address by Margaret Dreier Robins, June 1922.
Educational Plans of the National Women's Trade Union
League. 1914.
Self-Government in the Workshop. [Undated.]
Women in Trade Unions in the United States. 1919.
Reports of the Committees:
Women’s Work in Wartime. 1917.
Social and Industrial Reconstruction. 1919.
B. Local Leagues
Pamphlet. The History of Trade Unionism among Women
in Boston, 1915.
Pamphlet. The Women’s Trade Union League of Chicago.
Report of the Sixth Interstate and City Conference of Women
Trade Unionists of the Middle West, Waukegan, 111.
September 1921.
Report. Thirty-fifth Anniversary Dinner, February 4,1939.
New York:
Convention Reports of the Women’s Trade Union League of
New York.



II. Other Sources
Gladys Boone. The Women’s Trade Union Leagues in Great
Britain and the United States of America. New York, Colum­
bia University Press, 1942.
Elizabeth Brandeis. Labor Legislation. In History of Labor
in the United States, 1896-1932. Vols. Ill and IV, p. 479.
New York, Macmillan, 1935.
Sophonisba P. Breckinridge. Women in the Twentieth Century;
a Study of Their Political, Social and Economic Activities,
pp. 27, 62. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1933. First edition.
Mary E. Dreier. Margaret Dreier Robins—Her Life, Letters,
and Work. New York, Island Press, 1950.
Alice Henry. "Women and the Labor Movement. New York,
Doran, 1923.
Theresa Wolfson. The Woman Worker and the Trade Unions,
pp. 129-133. New York, International Publishers, 1926.
Senate Document 645, 61st Cong., 2d Sess. Condition of Woman
and Child Wage-Earners in the United States, vol. x, pp. 157­
158. Report of the United States Commissioner of Labor, 1910.