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National Women's Trade Union League of America

Seal of National Women's Trade Union League, from the Proceedings of the Third Biennial Convention, 1911, Baker Library, Harvard Business School, Historical Collections
Seal of National Women's Trade Union League, from the Proceedings of the Third Biennial Convention, 1911, Baker Library, Harvard Business School, Historical Collections.

The National Women's Trade Union League of America (NWTUL) was founded in Boston in 1903 as a coalition of working-class women, professional reformers, and women from wealthy and prominent families. Its purpose was to "assist in the organization of women wage workers into trade unions and thereby to help them secure conditions necessary for healthful and efficient work and to obtain a just reward for such work."

The NWTUL viewed women workers primarily in their capacity as oppressed workers, but also recognized that all women, regardless of class, were united by the "bonds of womanhood." Thus upper-class women joined as the allies of working-class women, donating money, serving as spokespeople to the press, and arranging for legal representation. The wealthy women members of the NWTUL were also willing to dirty their hands, and they participated in picket lines and sometimes got arrested during protests. In the process, the women of the NWTUL forged a new working-class feminism.

At a time when organized labor was devoted to a "family wage" concept—that is, a wage for men at which they could support an entire family without the contribution of a working wife—and when union leaders were worried that increased participation of women in labor markets would drive down men's wages, traditional unions were largely unwilling to allow women into their ranks. When women did form unions and strike, the NWTUL often provided support where other unions held back.

The NWTUL supported the women garment industry workers in New York and Chicago when they struck in 1909 and 1910. The Uprising of the 20,000 marked a turning point for the NWTUL, when the organization gained credibility after lending important support to the strikers. In the teens, the NWTUL organized working-class women to participate in the suffrage movement. Rose Schneiderman, who became an officer of the NWTUL, was an important figure of the Jewish left, and a key organizer in the New York Women's Suffrage Party and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. The organization dissolved in 1950.

Digitized Archival Materials

Institutional Records

  • Folder 24. Industries: Household and domestic, 1915, 1919, 1928–1934. Resolutions, correspondence, printed material. Summary of 2nd conference of National Committee on Employer-Employee Relationships in the Home, April 13–14, 1931, mimeo.; and program, 1931, mimeo.
  • Folder 30. Industries: Textile, 1922–1930. Correspondence; WTUL leaflet; "Outline of Study," (of textile workers), by Ethel Smith; and reports: "Two Weeks at the Industrial Rayon Corporation in Feb. 1930," Victoria Enos; and re industrial rayon corporation in Covington, Va., 1930, both cc.
  • Folder 58. Strikes: Chicago garment workers. The strike, 1910. Correspondence; leaflet and news clipping; minutes of WTUL Chicago strike committee, 10/31/1910; statements by workers on conditions and wages in shops; pamphlet, WTUL of Chicago, re strike, [Nov.? 1910]; "Report of proceedings of Joint Conference Committee, 11/17/1910."
  • Folder 63. Strikes: Garment industry, 1917–1933, n.d. 1917 pamphlet on Chicago ILGWU strike; ILGWU Pre-General Strike Bulletins, Chicago, 1924; "Facts about the Cloak Strike," Aug. 1926 (re N.Y.); news clippings; mimeo. article and leaflet re strike of ladies' tailors, 5th Ave., N.Y. Dec. 1930; articles re strikes of Dressmakers' Union, Aug. 1933, and in Brownsville, N.Y., n.d.

Full Collection Citation

National Women's Trade Union League of America Records. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College. Unpublished finding aid.

Finding Aid

Unpublished finding aid.

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