Supporters of the American Federation of Labor Felt That

Supporters of the American Federation of Labor Felt That.

Women’southward Trade Spousal relationship League

Women’s Trade Union League

Founded 1903
Dissolved 1950
  • United States

Fundamental people

Margaret Dreier Robins, President

Parent system

American Federation of Labor

Women’s Trade Marriage League
(WTUL) (1903–1950) was a U.S. arrangement of both working class and more well-off women to support the efforts of women to organize labor unions and to eliminate sweatshop weather condition. The WTUL played an of import part in supporting the massive strikes in the beginning 2 decades of the twentieth century that established the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and in candidature for women’s suffrage amongst men and women workers.



The roots of the WTUL come from a British organization of the same name founded thirty years before. The British League had originally supported the creation of a carve up women’south labor movement but, by the 1890s, merged its own aims with the mainstream British labor movement and functioned as an umbrella organization of women’s trade unions. Its get-go American supporter was the socialist William English Walling who met with British WTUL leaders in 1902. He returned to the United States and began to generate support for a similar American organization.[
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Organized in 1903 at the American Federation of Labor convention, the WTUL spent much of its early years trying to cultivate ties with the AFL leadership. Its showtime president was Mary Morton Kehew, a labor and social reformer from Boston.[ane]
By 1907, the WTUL saw its purpose as supporting the AFL and encouraging women’s membership in the organization. In its constitution that year, the WTUL defined its purpose in assisting “in organizing women into merchandise unions…such unions to be affiliated, where practicable, with the American Federation of Labor.” In response, the AFL leadership more often than not ignored the League. When the WTUL decided to hold its annual conference at a different location than the AFL in 1905, Samuel Gompers was furious and refused to attend. Nonetheless, the League did push the AFL towards a pro-suffrage position and did manage to organize more women into the Federation than at any previous time.

Information technology likewise drew on the earlier work of activists in the settlement house motion, such as Jane Addams and Florence Kelley, and budding unions in industries with a large number of women workers, such as garments and textiles. The WTUL leadership comprised both upper-class philanthropists and working-grade women with experience organizing unions, including a significant portion of the nigh important female labor leaders of the solar day, including Mary Kenney O’Sullivan and Rose Schneiderman.

The heyday of the League came between 1907 and 1922 under the presidency of Margaret Dreier Robins.[two]
During that menstruation, the WTUL led the drive to organize women workers into unions, secured protective legislation, and educated the public on the problems and needs of working women.[3]

Support for union organizing


WTUL float, Labor Day parade, New York, 1908

The League supported a number of strikes in the first few years of its existence, including the 1907 telegrapher’s strike organized past the Commercial Telegraphers Union of America. The WTUL played a critical role in supporting the Uprising of the 20,000, the New York City and Philadelphia shirtwaist workers’ strike, by providing a headquarters for the strike, raising money for relief funds, soup kitchens and bail for picketers, providing witnesses and legal defence force for arrested picketers, joining the strikers on the sentinel line, and organizing mass meetings and marches to publicize the shirtwaist workers’ demands and the sweatshop conditions they were fighting. Some observers fabricated light of the upper-form women members of the WTUL who picketed alongside garment workers, calling them the “mink brigade”. These distinctions carve up strikers from their upper-class benefactors as well: a contingent of strikers challenged Alva Belmont apropos her reasons for supporting the strike.[
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The strike was, however, less than wholly successful: Italian workers crossed the sentry lines in big numbers and the strikers lacked the resources to concur out longer than the employers. In add-on, although activists within the WTUL, including William E. Walling and Lillian D. Wald, were besides amid the founders of the NAACP that year and fought the employers’ plan to use African-American strikebreakers to defeat the strike, others in the black community actively encouraged black workers to cross the sentry lines. Even and so, the strike produced some limited gains for workers, while giving both the WTUL and women garment workers a practical educational activity in organizing.[
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1st International Congress of Working Women called past the National Women’s Trade Wedlock League of America, Washington, D.C., Oct 28, 1919

The WTUL played a similar part in the strike of more often than not male person cloakmakers in New York City and men habiliment workers in Chicago in 1910, in the 1911 garment workers strike in Cleveland and in many other actions in Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri and Wisconsin. By 1912, nonetheless, the WTUL began to distance itself from the labor movement, supporting strike action selectively when it approved of the leadership’s strategy and criticizing the male-dominated leadership of the ILGWU that it saw as unrepresentative of women workers. The WTUL’due south semi-official relationship with the American Federation of Labor was also strained when the United Textile Workers, an AFL chapter, insisted that it terminate providing relief for Lawrence, Massachusetts cloth workers who refused to return to work during the strike led by the Industrial Workers of the World; some WTUL leaders complied, while others refused, denouncing both the AFL and the WTUL for its acquiescence in strikebreaking activities.

The League had a closer relationship with the Confederate Clothing Workers of America, the matrimony formed by the most militant locals of more often than not immigrant workers in the men’s wearable industry in Chicago, New York and other eastern urban centers, which was outside the AFL. The WTUL trained women as labor leaders and organizers at its school founded in Chicago in 1914 and played a key role in bringing Italian garment workers into the union in New York.[4]

Support for legislative reforms


At this time the WTUL also began to work for legislative reforms, in particular the viii-hour day, the minimum wage and protective legislation. Because of the hostility of the United States Supreme Courtroom toward economic legislation at the time, but legislation that singled out women and children for special protections survived challenges to its constitutionality. Ironically, Samuel Gompers and the conservative leadership of the AFL likewise viewed such legislation with hostility, but for a dissimilar reason: they believed by that bespeak that legislation of this sort interfered with commonage bargaining, both by usurping the role of unions in obtaining better wages and working weather and in setting a precedent for governmental intrusion into the area.

The WTUL was likewise active in demanding safety working conditions, both before and after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 in which 146 workers were killed. That fire, which had been preceded by a like fire in Newark, New Bailiwick of jersey in which 20-five garment workers were killed, not just galvanized public stance on the field of study, only also exposed the fissures between the League’s well-heeled supporters and its working grade militants, such as Rose Schneiderman. As Schneiderman said in her speech at the memorial coming together held in the Metropolitan Opera House on Apr 2, 1911:

I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk skilful fellowship. We have tried you expert people of the public and we have found you wanting. The old Inquisition had its rack and its thumbscrews and its instruments of torture with atomic number 26 teeth. We know what these things are today; the fe teeth are our necessities, the thumbscrews are the high-powered and swift machinery close to which we must work, and the rack is here in the firetrap structures that will destroy usa the infinitesimal they grab on burn down.
This is non the beginning time girls have been burned alive in the city. Every week I must larn of the untimely expiry of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is and so inexpensive and holding is so sacred. In that location are so many of us for one task it matters petty if 146 of the states are burned to death.
We accept tried you citizens; nosotros are trying you at present, and you have a couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers, brothers and sisters by way of a charity souvenir. But every time the workers come up out in the only way they know to protestation against conditions which are unbearable the stiff hand of the police is immune to press downwards heavily upon u.s.a..
Public officials have only words of alarm to us – alert that we must be intensely peaceable, and they have the workhouse simply dorsum of all their warnings. The potent hand of the law beats us back, when we rising, into the atmospheric condition that make life unbearable.
I can’t talk fellowship to yous who are gathered here. Also much claret has been spilled. I know from my feel it is upward to the working people to save themselves. The only way they tin save themselves is by a stiff working-form movement.

The WTUL also began to work actively for women’s suffrage, in close coalition with the National American Woman Suffrage Clan, in the years before passage of the Nineteenth Subpoena to the The states Constitution in 1920. The WTUL saw suffrage every bit a way to gain protective legislation for women and to provide them with the dignity and other less tangible benefits that followed from political equality. Schneiderman coined an evocative phrase in campaigning for suffrage in 1912:

What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, non simply be — the right to life as the rich adult female has the correct to life, and the sun and music and art. You take cipher that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, likewise. Assistance, you women of privilege, give her the ballot to fight with.

Her phrase “bread and roses”, recast as “We want staff of life and roses also”, became the slogan of the largely immigrant, largely women workers of the 1912 Lawrence fabric strike.

The WTUL was, on the other hand, mistrustful of the National Woman’s Party, with its more individualistic, rights-oriented arroyo to woman’s equality. The WTUL was strongly opposed to the Equal Rights Amendment drafted by the NWP afterwards the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment on the ground that it would undo the protective legislation that the WTUL had fought and then hard to obtain.

The WTUL focused increasingly on legislation in the 1920s and thereafter. Its leadership, in item Schneiderman, were supporters of the New Deal and had a specially close connection to the Roosevelt assistants through Eleanor Roosevelt, a member of the WTUL since 1923. The WTUL dissolved in 1950.

A related organisation was the Women’southward Teaching and Industrial Wedlock (WEIU), which employed female researchers such every bit Louise Marion Bosworth to research the working conditions of women.

See also


  • Josephine Casey, lease fellow member[5]
  • Julia O’Connor, President of Boston WTUL (1915-1918)
  • Emma Steghagen, officer of WTUL in Chicago
  • Timeline of women’s suffrage
  • Timeline of women’south rights (other than voting)
  • Women’due south suffrage organizations



  1. ^

    Commire, Anne, ed. (1999).
    “Kehew, Mary Morton (1859–1918)”.
    Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia.
    HighBeam Research. Waterford, CT: Yorkin Publications, Gale Group. ISBN0787640808.

    {{cite book}}: CS1 maint: url-condition (link)

  2. ^

    “Women’s Merchandise Union League (WTUL) | American organization”.
    Encyclopedia Britannica
    . Retrieved

  3. ^

    Payne, Elizabeth Anne (1988).
    Reform, Labor, and Feminism: Margaret Dreier Robins and the Women’s Trade Union League. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. pp. ane–3. ISBN0-252-01445-6.

    Run across likewise:
    Jacoby, Robin Miller (1994).
    The British and American Women’s Merchandise Union Leagues, 1890–1925. New York: Carlson. ISBN0-926019-68-6.

  4. ^

    “About the Women’s Merchandise Union League (WTUL): Pro-Labor Feminists”.
    . Retrieved

  5. ^

    Hoy, Suellen (2015).
    Casey, Josephine. Oxford University Printing. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.commodity.1501376.

Further reading


  • Amsterdam, Susan (1982). “The National Women’s Merchandise Marriage League”.
    Social Service Review.
    (ii): 259–272. doi:10.1086/644012. JSTOR 60000117. S2CID 143603111.

  • Foner, Philip S. (1979).
    Women and the American Labor Movement: From Colonial Times to the Eve of World War I. New York: The Costless Press. ISBN0-02-910370-3.

  • Norwood, Stephen H. (2009). “Organizing the neglected worker: the Women’due south Merchandise Union League in New York and Boston, 1930–1950”.
    Labor History.
    (2): 163–185. doi:10.1080/00236560902826071. S2CID 144446956.

  • Orleck, Annelise (1995).
    Common Sense and a Little Fire: Women and Working-Grade Politics in the Us, 1900–1965. Durham, NC: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN0-8078-2199-three.

  • Plumb, Milton M. (1951). “Records of the National Women’s Trade Union League of America”.
    Quarterly Journal of Current Acquisitions.
    (4): 9–16. JSTOR 29780637.

Supporters of the American Federation of Labor Felt That