Subversive Historian – 11/14/08

The Women’s Trade Union League

Exactly one-hundred and five years ago on this day in people’s history, the Women’s Trade Union League was formed. On November 14th, 1903, Mary Kenney O’Sullivan, after organizing with Socialist William English Walling, announced the formation of the union at an American Federation of Labor convention. The initial objectives of the WTUL were to draw more women into the ranks of unionism in order combat sweatshop conditions in their workplace. Throughout the early years, the organization maintained loose ties to the AFL, and even managed to draw the ire of its president Samuel Gompers by setting up its own convention in 1905. The WTUL would go on throughout the dawn of the twentieth century supporting massive strikes and they even lent their aid to the Industrial Workers of the World during the critical Lawrence strike. Outside of labor organizing, the union was also influential in pushing for women’s suffrage.

To those who said a woman’s place is in the kitchen, the WTUL proved early on that the frontlines of union organizing is where they prefer to be.

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