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words of encouragement, however small the visible results of her
efforts might be.

But towards those set in high places she could be intensely scornful,
as for instance when she is found appealing to the order itself,
asking that "more consideration be given, and more thorough
educational measures be adopted on behalf of the working-women of our
land, the majority of whom are entirely ignorant of the economic and
industrial question, which is to them of vital importance, and they
must ever remain so while the selfishness of their brothers in toil
is carried to such an extent as I find it to be among those who have
sworn to demand equal pay for equal work. Thus far in the history of
our order that part of our platform has been but a mockery of the
principle intended."

Mrs. Barry started out to make regular investigations of different
trades in which women were employed, in order that she might
accurately inform herself and others as to what actual conditions
were. But here she received her first serious check. She had no legal
authority to enter any establishment where the proprietor objected,
and even in other cases, where permission had been given, she
discovered afterwards to her dismay that her visits had led to the
dismissal of those who had in all innocence given her information,
as in the case quoted of Sister Annie Conboy, a worker in a mill, in
Auburn, New York. But little was gained by shutting out such a bright
and observant woman. Mrs. Barry's practical knowledge of factory
conditions was already wide and her relations with workers of the
poorest and most oppressed class so intimate that little that she
wanted to know seems to have escaped her, and she was often the
channel through which information was furnished to the then newly
established state bureaus of labor.

Baffled, however, in the further carrying out of her plans for a
thorough, and for that day, nation-wide investigation, she turned her
attention mainly to education and organizing, establishing new local
unions, helping those already in existence, and trying everywhere
to strengthen the spirit of the workers in striving to procure for
themselves improved standards.

In her second year of work Mrs. Barry had the assistance of a most
able headquarters secretary, Mary O'Reilly, a cotton mill hand from
Providence, Rhode Island. During eleven months there were no fewer
than three hundred and thirty-seven applications for the presence
of the organizer. Out of these Mrs. Barry filled two hundred and
thirteen, traveling to nearly a hundred cities and towns, and
delivering one hundred public addresses. She was in great demand as a
speaker before women's organizations outside the labor movement, for
it was just about that time that women more fortunately placed were
beginning to be generally aroused to a shamefaced sense of their
responsibility for the hard lot of their poorer sisters. Thus she
spoke before the aristocratic Century Club of Philadelphia, and
attended the session of the International Women's Congress held in
Washington, D.C., in March and April, 1887.

The wages of but two dollars and fifty cents or three dollars for a
week of eighty-four hours; the intolerable sufferings of the women and
child wage-earners recorded in her reports make heart-rending reading
today, especially when we realize how great in amount and how
continuous has been the suffering in all the intervening years.
So much publicity, however, and the undaunted spirit and unbroken
determination of a certain number of the workers have assuredly had
their effect, and some improvements there have been.

Speeding up is, in all probability, worse today than ever. It is
difficult to compare wages without making a close investigation in
different localities and in many trades, and testing, by a comparison
with the cost of living, the real and not merely the money value of
wages, but there is a general agreement among authorities that
wages on the whole have not kept pace with the workers' necessary
expenditures. But in one respect the worker today is much better off.
At the time we are speaking of, the facts of the wrong conditions,
the low wages, the long hours, and the many irritating tyrannies the
workers had to bear, only rarely reached the public ear. Let us thank
God for our muck-rakers. Their stories and their pictures are all the
while making people realize that there is such a thing as a common
responsibility for the wrongs of individuals.

Here is a managerial economy for you. The girls in a corset factory in
Newark, New Jersey, if not inside when the whistle stopped blowing (at
seven o'clock apparently) were locked out till half-past seven, and
then they were docked two hours for waste power.

In a linen mill in Paterson, New Jersey, we are told how in one branch
the women stood on a stone floor with water from a revolving cylinder
flying constantly against the breast. They had in the coldest weather
to go home with underclothing dripping because they were allowed
neither space nor a few moments of time in which to change their
clothing.

Mrs. Barry's work, educating, organizing, and latterly pushing forward
protective legislation continued up till her marriage with O.R. Lake,
a union printer, in 1890, when she finally withdrew from active
participation in the labor movement.

Mrs. Barry could never have been afforded the opportunity even to set
out on her mission, had it not been for the support and coöperation of
other women delegates. The leaders in the Knights of Labor were ahead
of their time in so freely inviting women to take part in their
deliberations. It was at the seventh convention, in 1883, that
the first woman delegate appeared. She was Miss Mary Stirling, a
shoe-worker from Philadelphia. Miss Kate Dowling, of Rochester, New
York, had also been elected, but did not attend. Next year saw two
women, Miss Mary Hannafin, saleswoman, also from Philadelphia, and
Miss Louisa M. Eaton, of Lynn, probably a shoe-worker. During the
preceding year Miss Hannafin had taken an active part in protecting
the girls discharged in a lock-out in a Philadelphia shoe factory, not
only against the employer, but even against the weakness of some of
the men of her own assembly who were practically taking the side of
the strike-breakers, by organizing them into a rival assembly. The
question came up in the convention for settlement, and the delegates
voted for Miss Hannafin in the stand she had taken.

It was upon her initiative, likewise, at the convention in the
following year, that the committee was formed to collect statistics
of women's work, and in the year after (1886), it was again Miss
Hannafin, the indefatigable, backed by the splendid force of sixteen
women delegates, who succeeded in having Mrs. Barry appointed general
investigator.

One of the most active and devoted women in the Knights of Labor was
Mrs. George Rodgers, then and still of Chicago. For a good many years
she had been in a quiet way educating and organizing among the girls
in her own neighborhood, and had organized a working-women's union
there. For seven years she attended the state assembly of the Knights
of Labor, and was judge of the district court of the organization.
But it is by her attendance as one of the sixteen women at the 1886
National Convention, which was held in Richmond, Virginia, that she is
best remembered. She registered as "housekeeper" and a housekeeper
she must indeed have been, with all her outside interests a busy
housemother. There accompanied her to the gathering her baby of two
weeks old, the youngest of her twelve children. To this youthful trade
unionist, a little girl, the convention voted the highest numbered
badge (800), and also presented her with a valuable watch and chain,
for use in future years.

One cannot help suspecting that such an unusual representation of
women must have been the reward of some special effort, for it was
never repeated. Subsequent conventions saw but two or three seated to
plead women's cause. At the 1890 convention, the occasion on which
Mrs. Barry sent in her letter of resignation, there was but one woman
delegate. She was the remarkable Alzina P. Stevens, originally a mill
hand, but at this time a journalist of Toledo, Ohio. The men offered
the now vacant post of general investigator to her, but she declined.
However, between this period and her too early death, Mrs. Stevens was
yet to do notable work for the labor movement.

During the years that the Knights of Labor were active, the women
members were not only to be found in the mixed assemblies, but between
1881 and 1886 there are recorded the chartering of no fewer than one
hundred and ninety local assemblies composed entirely of women. Even
distant centers like Memphis, Little Rock and San Francisco were drawn
upon, as well as the manufacturing towns in Ontario, Canada. Besides
those formed of workers in separate trades, such as shoe-workers, mill
operatives, and garment-workers, there were locals, like the federal
labor unions of today, in which those engaged in various occupations
would unite together. Some of the women's locals existed for a good
many years, but a large proportion are recorded as having lapsed or
suspended after one or two years. Apart from the usual difficulties in
holding women's organizations together, there is no doubt that many
locals, both of men and of women, were organized far too hastily,
without the members having the least understanding of the first
principles of trade unionism, or indeed of any side of the industrial
question.

The organizers attempted far too much, and neglected the slow, solid
work of preparation, and the no less important follow-up work; this
had much to do with the early decline of the entire organization. The
women's end of the movement suffered first and most quickly. From 1890
on, the women's membership became smaller and smaller, until practical
interest by women and for women in the body wholly died out.

But the genuine workers had sown seed of which another movement was to
reap the results. The year 1886 was the year of the first meeting
of the American Federation of Labor as we know it. With its gradual
development, the growth of the modern trade-union movement among women
is inextricably bound up.




III

THE BEGINNINGS OF MODERN ORGANIZATION


As the Knights of Labor declined, the American Federation of Labor was
rising to power and influence. It was at first known as the Federation
of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada,
and organized under its present name in 1886. For some time the
Knights of Labor and the younger organization exchanged greetings and
counsel, and some of the leaders cherished the expectation that the
field of effort was large enough to give scope to both. The American
Federation of Labor, being a federation of trade unions, kept well in
view the strengthening of strictly trade organizations. The Knights,
as we have seen, were on the other hand, far more loosely organized,
containing many members, both men and women, and even whole
assemblies, outside of any trade, and they were therefore inclined to
give a large share of their attention to matters of general reform,
outside of purely trade-union or labor questions. It was the very
largeness of their program which proved in the end a source of
weakness, while latterly the activities of the organization
became clogged by the burden of a membership with no intelligent
understanding of the platform and aims.

But although the absence of adequate restrictions on admission to
membership, and the ease of affiliation, not to speak of other
reasons, had led to the acceptance of numbers of those who were only
nominally interested in trade unionism, it had also permitted the
entry of a band of women, not all qualified as wage-workers, but
in faith and deed devoted trade unionists, and keenly alive to the
necessity of bringing the wage-earning woman into the labor movement.
The energies of this group were evidently sadly missed during the
early years of the American Federation of Labor.

The present national organization came into existence in 1881, under
the style and title of the Federation of Trades and Labor Unions of
the United States and Canada. It reorganized at the convention of
1886, and adopted the present name, the American Federation of Labor.
It was built up by trade-union members of the skilled trades, and to
them trade qualifications and trade autonomy were essential articles
of faith. This was a much more solid groundwork upon which to raise a
labor movement. But at first it worked none too well for the women,
although as the national organizations with women members joined the
Federation the women were necessarily taken in, too. Likewise they
shared in some, at least, of the benefits and advantages accruing from
the linking together of the organized workers in one strong body. But
the unions of which the new organization was composed in these early
days were principally unions in what were exclusively men's trades,
such as the building and iron trades, mining and so on. In the trades,
again, in which women were engaged, they were not in any great numbers
to be found in the union of the trade. So the inferior position held
by women in the industrial world was therefore inevitably reflected in
the Federation. It is true that time after time, in the very earliest
conventions, resolutions would be passed recommending the organization
of women. But matters went no further.

In 1882 Mrs. Charlotte Smith, president and representative of an
organization styled variously the Women's National Labor League, and
the Women's National Industrial League, presented a memorial to the
Convention of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (the
Federation's name at that time), asking for the advice, assistance and
coöperation of labor organizations. She mentioned that in 1880, there
were recorded 2,647,157 women as employed in gainful occupations. A
favorable resolution followed. At the convention of 1885, she was
again present, and was accorded a seat without a vote. On her request
again the delegates committed themselves to a resolution favoring the
organization of women.

In 1890 Delegate T.J. Morgan, of Chicago, introduced, and the
convention passed, a resolution, favoring the submission to Congress
of an amendment extending the right of suffrage to women. At this
convention appeared the first fully accredited woman delegate, Mrs.
Mary Burke, of the Retail Clerks, from Findlay, Ohio. A resolution was
introduced and received endorsement, but no action followed. It
asked for the placing in the field of a sufficient number of women
organizers to labor in behalf of the emancipation of women of the
wage-working class.

In 1891 there were present at the annual convention of the American
Federation of Labor Mrs. Eva McDonald Valesh and Miss Ida Van Etten.
A committee was appointed with Mrs. Valesh as chairman and Miss Van
Etten as secretary. They brought in a report that the convention
create the office of national organizer, the organizer to be a woman
at a salary of twelve hundred dollars a year and expenses, to be
appointed the following January, and that the constitution be so
amended that the woman organizer have a seat on the Executive Board.
The latter suggestion was not acted upon. But Miss Mary E. Kenney of
the Bindery Women (now Mrs. Mary Kenney O'Sullivan) was appointed
organizer, and held the position for five months. She attended the
1892 convention as a fully accredited delegate. Naturally she could
produce no very marked results in that brief period, and the remark
is made that her work was of necessity of a pioneer and missionary
character rather than one of immediate results - a self-evident
commentary. Later women were organizers for brief periods, one being
Miss Anna Fitzgerald, of the National Women's Label League.

As years passed on, and the American Federation of Labor grew by the
affiliation of almost all the national trade unions, it became the one
acknowledged central national body. Along with the men, such women
as were in the organizations came in, too. But it was only as a rare
exception that we heard of women delegates, and no woman has ever yet
had a seat upon the Executive Board, although women delegates have
been appointed upon both special and standing committees.

The responsibility for this must be shared by all. It is partly an
outgrowth of the backward state of the women themselves. They are at
a disadvantage in their lack of training, their lower wages and their
unconsciousness of the benefits of organization; also owing to the
fact that such a large number of women are engaged in the unskilled
trades that are hardest to organize. On the other hand, neither the
national unions, the state and central bodies, nor the local unions
have ever realized the value of the women membership they actually
have, nor the urgent necessity that exists for organizing all
working-women. To their own trade gatherings even, they have rarely
admitted women delegates in proportion to the number of women workers.
Only now and then, even today, do we find a woman upon the executive
board of a national trade union, and when it comes to electing
delegates to labor's yearly national gathering, it is men who are
chosen, even in a trade like the garment-workers, in which there is a
great preponderance of women.

Of the important international unions with women members there are but
two which have a continuous, unbroken history of over fifty years.
These are the Typographical Union, dating back to 1850, and the Cigar
Makers' International Union, which was founded in 1864.

Other international bodies, founded since, are:

Boot and Shoe Workers' Union. 1889
Hotel and Restaurant Employés Union. 1890
Retail Clerks' International Protective Association. 1890
United Garment Workers of America. 1891
International Brotherhood of Bookbinders. 1892
Tobacco Workers' International Union. 1895
International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. 1900
Shirt, Waist and Laundry Workers International U'n. 1900
United Textile Workers' Union. 1901
International Glove Workers' Union of N. America. 1902

One group of unions, older than any of these, dating back to 1885, are
the locals of the hat trimmers. These workers belong to no national
organization, and it is only recently that they have been affiliated
with the American Federation of Labor. They are not, as might be
judged from the title, milliners; they trim and bind men's hats. They
coöperate with the Panama and Straw Hat Trimmers and Operators. In New
York the hat trimmers and the workers in straw are combined into one
organization, under the name of the United Felt, Panama and Straw Hat
Trimmers' and Operators' Union of Greater New York. The Hat Trimmers
are almost wholly a women's organization, and their affairs are
controlled almost entirely by women. The various locals coöperate with
and support one another. But in their stage of organization this group
of unions closely resembles the local unions, whether of men or
women, which existed in so many trades before the day of nation-wide
organizations set in. Eventually it must come about that they join the
national organization. Outside of New York there are locals in New
Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The parent union is that of
Danbury, Connecticut.

The girl hat-trimmers, under the leadership of Melinda Scott, of
Newark and New York, have during the last ten years improved both
wages and conditions and have besides increased their numbers and
aided in forming new locals in other centers. They are known in the
annals of organized labor chiefly for the loyalty and devotion they
showed during the strike of the Danbury hatters in 1909. They not only
refused, to a girl, to go back to work, when that would have broken
the strike, but time after time, when money was collected and sent to
them, even as large a sum as one thousand dollars, they handed it
over to the men's organizations, feeling that the men, with wives
and children dependent upon them, were in even greater need than
themselves. "Seeing the larger vision and recognizing the greater
need, these young women gave to the mother and the child of their
working brothers. Although a small group, there is none whose members
have shown a more complete understanding of the inner meaning of trade
unionism, or a finer spirit of self-sacrifice in the service of their
fellows."

When we try to estimate the power of a movement, we judge it by its
numbers, by its activities, and by its influence upon other movements.

As to the numbers of women trade unionists, we have very imperfect
statistics upon which to base any finding. If the statistics kept by
the Labor Bureau of the state of New York can be taken as typical of
conditions in other parts of the country, and they probably can,
the proportion of women unionists has not at all kept pace with the
increasing numbers of men organized. In 1894 there were in that state
149,709 men trade unionists, and 7,488 women. In 1902 both had about
doubled their numbers - these read: men, 313,592; women, 15,509. By
1908, however, while there were then of men, 363,761, the women had
diminished to 10,698. Since then, we have to note a marked change,
beginning with 1910, and continuing ever since. In 1913 the unionized
men reached 568,726, and the women 78,522. The increase of men in
the organized trades of the state during the twelvemonth preceding
September 30, 1913, was twenty per cent., while of women it was
one hundred and eleven per cent. This enormous increase, more than
doubling the entire union strength among women, is mainly due to the
successful organization in the garment trades in New York City.

So far there has been no adequate investigation covering the
activities of women in the labor world during the last or modern
period. We know that after the panic of 1893, which dealt a blow to
trade unionism among men, the movement among women was almost at a
standstill. We may feel that the international unions have failed to
see the light, and have mostly fallen far short of what they might
have done in promoting the organization of women workers; but we must
acknowledge with thankfulness the fact that they have at least kept
alive the tradition of trade unionism among women, and have thus
prepared the way for the education and the organization of the women
workers by the women workers themselves.

As to legislation, the steady improvement brought about through the
limitation of hours, through modern sanitary regulations, and through
child-labor laws, has all along been supported by a handful
of trade-union women, working especially through the national
organizations, in which, as members, they made their influence felt.

There were always brave souls among the women, and chivalrous souls,
here and there among the men, and the struggles made to form and keep
alive tiny local unions we shall probably never know, for no complete
records exist. The only way in which the ground can be even partially
covered is by a series of studies in each locality, such as the one
made by Miss Lillian Matthews, through her work in San Francisco.

In this connection it must be remembered that those uprisings among
women of the last century, were after all local and limited in
their effects and range. Most of them bore no relation to national
organization of even the trade involved, still less to an
all-embracing, national labor organization, such as the American
Federation of Labor. In these earlier stages, when organization of
both men and women was mainly local, women's influence, when felt
at all, was felt strongly within the locality affected, and it is
therefore only there that we hear about it.

Still, twenty-five years ago, the day of national organization had
already dawned. To organize a trade on a national scale is at best a
slow process, and it naturally takes a much longer time for women to
influence and enter into the administrative work of a national union,
than of a separate local union, which perhaps they have helped to
found. They are therefore too apt to lose touch with the big national
union, and even with its local branch in their own city. It is almost
like the difference between the small home kitchen, with whose
possibilities a woman is familiar, and the great food-producing
factory, run on a business scale, whose management seems to her



Online LibraryAlice HenryThe Trade Union Woman → online text (page 4 of 24)