An Introduction to the Study of Organized Labor in America

By George Gorham Groat | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
WOMEN AND UNIONISM

There are very good reasons for considering the relations of women to the labor movement as a separate topic. While theoretically the welfare of laborers is a question broader than sex lines, as broad as labor itself, the methods of work, the purposes and spirit vary with sex as they do with trades, nationality or territorial sections.

Women in Industry. -- It must not be supposed that the presence of women in the union movement is novel. Women in industry is a phenomenon much older than is popularly supposed. In America women in unionism is in fact about as old as is unionism itself. In the period prior to the Civil War women were appearing in one industry after another. For those who insist that the American labor movement had its beginning in 1825, the beginning of organization among women would be fixed by the same date. This should be taken to mean that women wage earners were a factor in industry, that they were assembling in organizations, asserting demands and even enforcing them by strikes. Records reveal during the first third of the nineteenth century the existence of unions among tailoresses, seamstresses and other needlewomen, cotton mill girls, women in book binderies, in boot and shoe factories, and in other trades open to women. These organizations were active and often successful in gaining their ends.

Condition of Early Unionism. -- The description of the unionism of this early period given in a former chapter will serve to recall many of the conditions of these years. Many organizations of women, transient in nature, were formed. They were turbulent or peaceful according to the character of the membership. Their immediate objects once attained, they either disintegrated or reorganized on the lines of some broader reform movement, tending toward the political activity of the day. The appearance of women in the movement was, of

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