Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

MARGARET DREIER ROBINS
(1868-1945), rhetorical link between two great social movements

Margaret Dreier Robins was president of the National Women's Trade Union League (NWTUL) from 1907 to 1922, as well as a primary force in its activities during that period. She was a speaker of national prominence whose rhetoric addressed the tension between the woman suffrage movement, with its middle- class orientation, and unionism, with its working-class, masculine orientation. In addressing reform and labor groups, she attempted to expand the masculine definition of work and employment to include the experience of working women. She helped middle-class audiences, particularly women, to understand the problems of working women and inspired sympathetic middle- and working-class women to join together to solve those problems. Her rhetoric was an important link between the woman suffrage and the union movements.


BACKGROUND

Margaret Dreier was one of five children born to middle-class German immigrant parents. The Dreier children were well educated. German was spoken in the home; they were taught by an English governess and in private schools; the equivalent of higher education came through private tutoring and other educational opportunities. In work that would be invaluable later, Margaret Dreier studied public speaking with Lucia Gilbert Runkle, the first woman to write for the editorial page of a major newspaper ( Biographical Cyclopedia, 113). Moreover, the Dreiers recognized a tradition of female independence and social involvement that encouraged their daughters to pursue careers outside the home. Margaret Dreier's mother was involved in developing industrial education and day-care programs for indigent children and in supporting a vacation and recreation house in Brooklyn for indigent mothers. Dreier's religious upbringing in the German Evangelical Church, which emphasized religious experience, moral earnestness, and social service, was another important basis for her work.

Dreier joined the NWTUL in 1904, believing that it could address the root causes of poverty and prostitution. She served as its treasurer and as president of the New York chapter. In 1905, she met and married Raymond Robins, an ordained minister and a respected member of the Chicago settlement and reform community. She moved to Chicago and became president of the NWTUL and of its Chicago branch in 1907. Her husband's reform activities gave her entrée to labor circles rarely given a female reformer, particularly a suffragist. She was a member of the executive council of the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL), 1908-1917, and found a sympathetic ear for the problems of working women in its president, John Fitzpatrick. By contrast, her relations with American Fed

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