The Uprising of the 20,000: The Making of a Labor Legend
ON NOVEMBER 22, 1909, Clara Lemlich rose to address a meeting of garment workers in New York’s Cooper Union building. Like Lemlich herself, the crowd were immigrant teenagers, mostly Jewish and Italian, who knew firsthand the low wages, squalid conditions, and sexual inequities of New York’s sweatshops. Two hours of cautious speeches by male union leaders were ill suited to their volatile mood, but Lemlich, her slight body still showing the effects of a beating by company thugs, went straight to the heart of the matter. Speaking in Yiddish, she said: “I have listened to all the speakers, and I have no further patience for talk. I am one who feels and suffers from the things pictured. I move we go on strike.” The crowd shouted their agreement while the chairman responded to the melee with a call for a vote and the solemn question: “Do you mean faith? Will you take the old Hebrew oath?” Three thousand hands rose and swore, “If I turn traitor to the cause I now pledge may this hand wither from the arm I now raise.” The “first great strike of women” in America had begun.1
On some level, to tell history is to tell a tale, and as historical lore, the “Uprising of the 20,000” is richly satisfying. Few events in the history of the American working class contain the drama and romance of the strike of gallant shirtwaist makers. The swearing of the oath at Cooper Union, the battered strikers’ appeal to society matrons at the Colony Club, and socialite Alva Belmont’s motorcades through the Lower East Side all ask us to believe in the unique character of the strike. The actors call attention to the female and political nature of the strike—Clara Lemlich, the fiery and impassioned worker; Anne Morgan, acting in defiance of robber baron J. P.; and Rose Schneiderman, the intense young Socialist. The temptation is great to revel in this tale of good and evil, heroism and turmoil, and to accept it as a labor legend and a feminist myth. We do so, however, at the risk of obscuring significant patterns in American labor and women’s history. The events of the strike will be briefly sketched here, followed by a discussion of the historiography of this familiar story which will illuminate the historical changes that altered work, the structures of community, and the systems of power in the early twentieth century.
The strike and the popular response to it represented more than an accumulation of grievances. By 1909 the needle trades were struggling to bring order out of a particularly chaotic industry. New York, the garment capital of the world, offered a paradigm of the structure and problems in the manufacture of women’s clothing. Two factors resulted in the rapid appearance and disappearance of garment shops—the low capital requirements for opening a shop and the sensitivity of the market to the vagaries of fashion. Despite this instability, by the turn of the century large shops employing several hundred workers began to dominate the New York trade. The subcontracting system distinguished the work in these large shops. Workers, always men, contracted with manufacturers for a certain amount of work and then distributed it to apprentices, usually women, for minimal wages.
Just as size of firm distinguished garment manufacturers, workers were sharply divided by skill, sex, and ethnicity. Men, who comprised 70 percent of the labor force, held the higher paying, more skilled jobs of cutters, pressers, and tailors. Women were finishers, operatives, and trimmers. By 1910 Russian Jews represented 55 percent of garment workers and dominated the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU); the rest of the work force consisted of 35 percent Italians and 7 percent native-born Americans. These divisions, which employers frequently played upon by placing workers who spoke different languages next to each other in the shop, hardly augered well for solidarity in a strike situation.
Accounts of the initial week of the “first great strike of women” vibrate with the enthusiastic commitment of the strikers. Union halls were mobbed with workers, while the massive response to the strike call “stunned” even the union leaders and the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL). As numerous small manufacturers capitulated to the union’s demand for higher wages, an end to harassment, and union recognition, the scent of victory filled the air. In four days, over ten thousand workers returned to work under union contracts.
By November the tide turned, however, and garment manufacturers started to fight back. They formed the Association of Waist and Dress Manufacturers and vowed to hold fast against the drive for the union shop. As New York entered a bitterly cold winter, the strikers geared up for what one historian has described as “siege warfare against larger firms.” The manufacturers’ arsenal consisted of unlimited financial resources, hired strikebreakers, imported goods, and, more important, the continued support of the courts. The brutality with which employers attacked workers, however, was publicized and won support for the strike. The image of fragile (albeit working-class) young girls being beaten by thugs moved reformers to rage and philanthropists to open their purses to support the strike. The spirit of the young women astonished observers; one of them commented: “There was never any thing like it. . . . An equal number of men would never hold together under what these girls are enduring.” Not only were countless workers beaten and mauled by police and thugs, but by December 22, 707 strikers had been arrested for vagrancy and disturbing the peace, nineteen were sent to the work house on Blackwell’s Island, and the rest were fined.
While the militance of the women formed the tenacious core of the strike, the activities of the WTUL, the ILGWU, and the Socialist Party were also essential elements in the struggle. The WTUL had actively organized in garments since its formation, and viewed the strike as an exceptional opportunity to recruit female workers for the labor movement, as well as to educate middle-class women about trade unionism. League support consisted of fund raising, aid on the picket line, and an attempt to throw the mantle of class protection over workers in the courts. League members did picket duty themselves, and they also recruited college students from Vassar, Barnard, and Wellesley to walk the line along with the working women. This strategy grew from the premise that the police would treat all pickets with more respect if there were middle-class women present and, if that tactic failed, these women would act as witnesses of police abuse. In one telling incident the arresting officer commented when WTUL president Margaret Dreier was brought before a judge: “Why didn’t you tell me you was a rich lady? I’d never have arrested you in the world.” Additionally, the league issued a brochure written in Yiddish and English entitled “Rules for Pickets” which advised strikers of their legal rights and urged them to conduct themselves with “order and decorum.” The league organized a march on City Hall in early December to protest specifically police treatment of strikers. Ten thousand marchers confronted Mayor McClellan, some carrying banners that proclaimed “Peaceful picketing is the right of every woman.” This march was followed by a mass meeting at the Hippodrome on December 5, which netted $1500 for strikers, while a smaller, more elite group of socialites, meeting on December 15 at the Colony Club, contributed $1300. In all, the league collected $20,000 for the strike fund from various women’s clubs and organizations.2 The financial involvement of the league was critical not only to the continuation of the strike, but also to its beginnings. In 1909 the ILGWU, and in particular Local 25, had a virtually empty treasury.
Local 25, the Shirtwaist Makers Union, reflected the ethnic structure and sexual politics of the ILGWU itself. Founded in 1906, six years after the parent organization, its membership in 1909 fluctuated from one to eight hundred.3 Men held all union offices and eight of fifteen executive board positions in this union representing a trade whose rank and file was 80 percent female. The ILGWU was a semi-industrial hybrid, organized by skill or job, yet striking by shop. Women in the trade consistently faced the lack of regard that male unionists had for female workers’ ability as trade unionists, plus a social ideology that defined their social role as domestic rather than industrial. WTUL organizers and the experiences of walkouts and lockouts during the summer of 1909 altered that situation. Two thousand shirtwaist makers joined the ILGWU at that time, becoming enthusiastic promoters of the union cause.
The history of the ILGWU, particularly in its formative years, is inexorably linked to Jewish socialism. The “Uprising of the 20,000” well represents this fact. American Judaism became increasingly secularized during the early decades of the twentieth century. Ideals of social justice traditionally associated with Jewish life and thought became mediated through the trade union so Jewish labor leaders embraced the concern for human dignity that was a central element in this strike. A strong radical strain also animated the Jewish labor movement before and immediately following World War I. Fueled in part by Russian émigrés who participated in the revolutionary Bund movement, these young people came to view the labor movement as the best hope of effecting social reform for the working class in America. Idealistic and sometimes unrealistic, they were part of both the leadership and rank and file of the ILGWU.4
By early December, then, each of these groups—WTUL, ILGWU, and the Socialists—was solidly behind the strikers. Sympathetic and sensational press coverage, as well as the support of prominant clergymen, lined up public opinion for the union. Faced with such support as well as with steadily declining profits, the Manufacturers Association entered its first negotiating session with the union on December 10.
From December to February negotiations between the Manufacturers Association and the union pivoted around the issue of union recognition and the closed shop. Manufacturers felt especially pressed to settle after the Philadelphia shops, where they had been subcontracting work, went on strike on December 20. On December 23 the association and union reached a compromise settlement that met virtually every union demand on wages, hours, and conditions except the closed shop. Four days later, strikers, dismayed and disappointed by this settlement, voted “overwhelmingly” to reject it. In January, the union asked the New York State Bureau of Mediation and Arbitration to arbitrate disputes between the association and the ILGWU, but the manufacturers adamantly refused to discuss union recognition in the garment trades.
January proved to be the cruelest month of the strike. Although the community rallied to make another mass meeting at Carnegie Hall on January 2 a great success, discouragement and the winter began to take their toll. The WTUL opened a soup kitchen for strikers, and the United Hebrew Trades stepped up its fund-raising efforts, but certain socialites withdrew their support, offended by the radical—and, to their minds, unreasonable—position taken by the union. Women began to go back to work as the union signed individual agreements with a number of firms. By February 1 the trade was operating at almost full production, and on February 13, 1910, the ILGWU called the strike off.
Even though the strike ended far less explosively than it began, it affected the trade in several important areas. First, it demonstrated the structural strengths and weaknesses of the garment industry, and, in particular, the shirtwaist industry. Highly sensitive to fluctuations in style and fashion, waist manufacturers maintained small inventories and so were hard hit by a protracted strike. Banding together in a manufacturers association, however, gave them the ability to control both the commodity and the labor market in such a way as to hold out against union demands.
The strike also reflected the extent of support and cooperation that trade unions could anticipate from New York’s reform community. Alliances forged during the uprising would continue through subsequent years of labor upheaval and reform activity until the New Deal. The waist makers laid the groundwork for the 1910 cloak makers’ strike, which brought the Era of the Protocol to the needle trades. Finally, during days of picketing and arrest, meetings and speeches, workers experienced true labor solidarity that cut across ethnic and sometimes gender lines. They demonstrated, in a particularly dramatic way, that the “unorganizable”—youths and immigrants and women—not only could be organized but could be effectively mobilized in a labor conflict.
In the seventy-odd years since the strike galvanized New York’s Lower East Side, historians have analyzed the event from numerous perspectives. Their interpretations roughly follow three themes: first, the changing nature and control of work and the character of the labor movement; second, feminist questions concerning the historical intersection of class and sex; third, the links among culture, community, and work. In part, the development of these various themes is connected to the way in which American labor history has evolved from the early economic and institutional orientation of the Commons-Perlman or Wisconsin school to the interdisciplinary and politically inspired research of the new social history. The strike also reflects concerns of contemporary American labor and of social and women’s historians such as: Who will control industrial work—and the rhythms and organization of the workplace in the twentieth century? What shape will the American labor movement take? How and why do labor concerns become those of the city? Can feminism as a political movement of women transcend class to form cross-class alliances? What does the collective action of women indicate about their political awareness and sensibilities?
The early institutional histories of the ILGWU written between 1920 and 1950 rarely addressed these questions. For them the strike formed a building block in the construction of the union, an event of unchallenged benefit to the worker. This was progressive history at its most basic, and reflected the influence of the Commons-Perlman or Wisconsin school. That is, when Louis Levine, Joel Seidman, Lazare Teper, Benjamin Stolberg, and Hyman Berman5 wrote of the strike, the union rather than the worker was center stage and the closed-shop demand was the dominant theme. Their work, despite its unanalytical quality, was applauded by labor historian David Brody who reminded us that they wrote in a time when labor historians “were contesting the primacy of classical economics in the academy and, in the outside world, and its pernicious message that collective action by workers constituted an inadmissible interference with the free play of the market.”6
All that is true and should be remembered. Still, these authors’ lack of concern for such issues as class, gender, and community mirrored the sexism and ethnocentrism of the ILGWU. Consider, for example, Benjamin Stolberg’s dismissal of the uprising as part of the “emotional folklore of the union” and his labeling of female activists of Local 25 as “Chickens in a China Shop.” He condemned these “rank-and-file Jeanne d’Arcs” who with their “chronic exaltation over the Class-Conscious Worker and the Toiling Masses” made “life miserable for nearly every leader in the union.” Stolberg then reaffirmed the patriarchal mentality of union leaders with the statement: “To all this transcendentalism of the girls the bureaucrats reacted with bored difference [sic] and the heavy humorists among them offered cynical advice on how to get it out of their system.”7
A new generation of historians emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, who turned the focus of labor history from the trade union toward the industry, the community, and the shop floor. In the “new labor history,” workers moved downstage to take a more active role in their own past. Economics, of course, still played a critical part in explaining why and how workers organize and strike. Melvyn Dubofsky, for example, characterizes the uprisings as “an organizational strike” but also stresses that the active reform movement in New York, the values and institutions of the Jewish community, and the chaotic situation in garments created by subcontracting all created an environment condusive to the strike. The strike threatened a key industry in a city where one-sixth of all workers were employed in garments. For Dubofsky, the strike represents a clash between the fundamental interests of capital—"industrial discipline”—and the commitment of labor to industrial democracy. The interests of employers, in other words, demanded “efficiency, economy and elimination of waste in the workplace and the right to select the most productive workers to accomplish that end.” Workers needed to limit the employer’s absolute control of production through collective bargaining.
Dubofsky makes the important point that the trade union for Jewish immigrants became a cultural institution during this period. Specifically, the ILGWU with its affinity for socialism and moral reform came to represent a secular alternative both to religious orthodoxy and radical socialist politics for working class Jewish men. In urban America, the trade union became to the Jews what urban politics had long been for the Irish. The impetus for the strike, however, as Dubofsky correctly notes, came not from the union but from the workers themselves; the combined action of skilled and unskilled workers made the general strike an effective weapon “in the needle trades decades before its appearance and triumph elsewhere in the U.S.”8 James Green, like Dubofsky, interprets the uprising as a struggle for control of work and the workplace.9 Philip Foner’s account, while comprehensive, is far less analytical than either of these two historians.10
Two specialized studies, one by John Laslett, Labor and the Left,11 and the other by Graham Adams entitled Age of Industrial Violence, 1910–15,12 emphasize prominent features of the uprising. Laslett claims that the ILGWU was an institutional expression of Jewish socialism, “a unique combination of militancy and idealism, coupled with practical trade unionism.” For Laslett, the uprising occurred at a critical moment in the ILGWU’s history. By 1909, a number of political activists committed to the Bund had their hopes of a Russian Socialist state dashed by the failure of the 1905 Russian revolution. Turning their revolutionary vision from the old world to the new, they mastered their earlier impatience with the American labor movement and channeled their energies into building strong unions in the needle trades. True to a Jewish tradition of intellectual leaders, by 1900 most of the leaders of the ILGWU were radicals who themselves had worked in the garment industry. In contrast to the “pure and simple” unionism of most other American Federation of Labor (AFL) unions, the ILGWU saw at least at this time the trade union in politicized terms, with a mission of social reform. The ILGWU enjoyed the solid support of the AFL, however, because AFL leader Gompers feared incursions by the syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World into garments between 1905 and 1909. Laslett is careful to note that neither the 1909 shirtwaist strike nor the cloak-makers’ strike the following year had a clearly Socialist impulse, the root causes being workers’ grievances. Socialist leadership and moral and financial support were nevertheless vital elements in the strike.
Graham Adams explores another facet of the uprising in his study of industrial violence based on the reports of the United States Commission of Industrial Relations. Adams points out that employers hired prostitutes and thugs with criminal records to taunt and abuse picketing strikers. The violence was so extreme, however, that newspaper accounts such as the following gained publicity and community support for the strikers.
Gangs of men used their fists against girl strikers. Two strikebreakers hurled a picket to the ground and then stamped on her. A group of thugs pounced on a strike committee chairman while he was collecting funds and injured him so badly that he had to remain in bed for three weeks. Another assailant jumped upon a 19 year old girl, smashed her side, and broke one of her ribs. He disabled her for life.13
Additionally the indifference and even participation of police in these violent activities, ostensibly in support of private property, brought to the fore the issue of “the place of the police in our modern industrial and social life.”
Moses Rischin’s rich descriptions of New York’s Jewish community between 1870 and 1914 in his seminal monograph The Promised City14 are incorporated into many of the works cited above. Rischin in particular captures the “contagious idealism” of the uprising and sets it in the context of a vibrant lower East Side Jewish culture. What was the garment workers’ world like apart from the shop? Rischin tells us there were Yiddish theater and Yiddish and English vaudeville, there were dancing academies for the moderns, newspapers for the literate—close to 150 Yiddish journals were published between 1885 and 1914—and the Educational Alliance offered classes in Yiddish. Like Dubofsky, Rischin acknowledges that the manifestation of ideals of social justice through labor activity indicated the increasing secularization of Judaism in the New World.
Rischin’s sensitivity to ethnic culture leads him to describe the way in which the uprising helped to both mend and accentuate the sharp ethnic fissures in the garment trade labor force which employers traditionally had used to divide workers. In one particularly striking example he captures the impact of the uprising on a young black worker as well as her mixed feelings toward the more activist Jewish workers:
It’s a good thing, this strike is, it makes you feel like a real grown-up person. . . . But I wish I’d feel about it like them Jew girls do. Why their eyes flash fire as soon as they commence to talk about the strike—and the lot of talk they can put up—at time they make a body feel like two cents.15
Essentially, Rischin shows us that the uprising was more than the sum of shop floor grievances and trade-union politics and that it also included the cultural environment of the immigrant workers. Rischin does not, however, explicitly identify the distinctively female dimension of the strike. It remained for feminist historians writing in the 1970s and 1980s to ask and answer pertinent questions about the connections between women and work, politics and culture.
Historians of women, in a sense, have expanded the parameters of the “new labor history” to include gender and its implications for the behavior, consciousness, and perception of the female worker. For these scholars the sexual division of labor in the garment trade—which relegated women to lower-paid, less-skilled jobs—as well as the cultural prescriptions for women—which assigned them to a subordinate social position—translated into a secondary role in the trade union. Their work has enlarged our knowledge of the WTUL, for the uprising presents a classic case study of a feminist attempt to bridge class distance between women in a united effort to improve women’s social situation. Finally, women’s historians interpret the strike in terms of its political importance for women. What does it mean when politically disfranchised women engage in collective action? Does it reflect a political consciousness? Does it structurally alter their position in a male-dominated workplace and labor movement?
Meredith Tax, a Marxist-feminist, addresses these questions in a chapter case study devoted to the “Uprising of the 30,000” (number is her estimate) in The Rising of the Women: Feminist Solidarity and Class Conflict, 1880–1917.16 Tax’s theme is that of the historically recurring “united front” of women who transcend class and social divisions in the struggle for feminist goals. In 1909, for example, the front consisted of trade unionists, Socialists, and feminists. The promise of the united front almost materialized in the uprising but was ultimately defeated by the contradictions of a male-dominated labor movement, a socialist movement that failed to acknowledge women’s unique oppression under capitalism, and a feminism that did not recognize the significance of class differences among women.
Mary Jo Buhle further explores the questions of cross-class cooperation, ideology and collective action in her history of one politicized group of women. In Women and American Socialism, 1880–1920,17 Buhle describes the ideas and personalities that led to Socialist participation in the uprising. By 1909, Socialists had come to recognize that female wage labor was a permanent feature of capitalism that defined the woman worker as a proletarian. Buhle points out, however, that in taking this stance the “special qualities of women’s lives became insignificant because they were subsumed by their new proletarian identity.” The strike, rather than addressing the demands of domesticity and workplace made upon women, offered the opportunity to test the double-barreled labor strategy of the Socialist Party, which consisted of an economic thrust through trade unions and political involvement in the party. While the strike involved socialist women through consumer boycotts, fund raising, moral uplift activities, and the formation of shop committees, often in close collaboration with the WTUL, it did not succeed in lining up large numbers of female workers under the Socialist banner. Strike activists such as Rose Schneiderman and Leonora O’Reilly joined in the Socialist Party following the strike and socialist women assumed more influential positions in both the ILGWU and the WTUL but, in general, the strike experience heightened the animosity between socialist women and what they viewed as the class collaborationists of the WTUL. A significant number of league members were Socialists; others such as Eva McDonald Valesh or Anne Morgan publicly expressed fears that Socialists would taint the league with radicalism.
The socialist-reform split is only one aspect of the history of the WTUL explored by Nancy Schrom Dye in her comprehensive history of the New York league, As Sisters and As Equals.18 While Foner evaluates the functional value of the league and Dubofsky sneers at the condescending attitude of its socialite members, Dye views the strike from the perspective of both the strikers and their middle-class “allies.” The uprising represented the culmination of five years of organizing in garments by the league. But, like any crisis, it brought long simmering factionalism to the surface. Socialist women felt that their contributions were slighted while prominent wealthy women were lauded. Such working-class activists as Pauline Newman and Rose Schneiderman chafed at the direction of middle-class “allies.” Finally, by the strike’s end, the league’s relations with the ILGWU had deteriorated, as many league members found themselves disillusioned with the union’s inherent paternalism. Through their fund raising, picketing, and legal aid they successfully educated large numbers of middle-class women about trade unionism and the plight of the working girl. Once the excitement and drama of the strike ebbed, however, they found that the average worker had learned little about union organizing and tactics. The continued male leadership of the union had, if anything, reinforced women’s marginal position in the labor movement and, paradoxically, reinforced a sexual division of labor among workers in the garment industry.
The most significant facet of the strike for feminist historians is the interplay between cultural ideals for women and the reality of working women’s lives under industrial capitalism. On the one hand, the dominant American culture dictated that female behavior be ladylike, demure, and circumspect (the advent of the “new woman” notwithstanding)—all qualities at odds with appropriate strike action. On the other hand, Jewish immigrant culture offered alternative standards that cast the shirtwaist makers in a positive, even heroic mold. As both Alice Kessler-Harris19 and Charlotte Baum20 point out, Jewish women, unlike other immigrants, frequently worked for wages in East Europe shtetls to support scholarly husbands. In the New World, as in the Old, Jewish women were expected to contribute to the family economy as daughters and as wives. This is not to say that Jewish culture encouraged careerism among women but rather that it did not censure women’s work outside the home. Furthermore young Jewish women, just as Jewish men, were exposed to the crosscurrents of modern and Socialist thought that coursed through the Lower East Side. The Bund tradition included revolutionary heroines; Rischin writes of young female workers “drowning weariness and disillusionment with nostalgic choruses of ‘O Dubinushka,’ ‘Tortured and Enslaved,’ and other Russian folk and revolutionary airs.”21 A contemporary observer wrote of women’s presence in the radical coffeehouses of the time. There, he said, “where the cigarette smoke is thickest and denunciation of the present forms of government loudest, there you find women! . . . These are the stalwarts of the radical movements, the Amazons.” Paradoxically, he continued, they are “unromantic, perhaps, and yet we hear of them toiling, slaving, denying themselves until some man has won a degree and an entry into one of the professions.”22
Finally, many young strikers in 1909 could remember mothers, aunts, and sisters who took to the streets in the violent 1902 Kosher meat riots and the 1907 rent strikes. While these events concerned consumption rather than production, they formed part of an activist community heritage for New York’s Jewish women.23
In short, as described by Kessler-Harris and Hyman, women’s public collective action met with cultural and community approval rather than censure. Buhle, in fact, makes the point that the working woman was a “central cultural figure” in Jewish community and popular literature. For inexperienced teenagers, the reference points of the Bund and the consumer riots guided their actions, while politicized women in their neighborhoods provided role models and leaders.
The historiography of the “Uprising of the 20,000” reflects the state of the art in labor history. Proceeding from the early institutional historians of the ILGWU to later attempts at workers’ history, to specialized studies, and finally to feminist concerns, one gets a sense of an ever-enlarging stage featuring the strike as a social drama. The metahistorical questions of issues, focus, and perspective that structure the drama are keys to understanding the continued fascination that the uprising had for historians. Those such as Dubofsky who provide us with information regarding changing work and its impact on workers, the drive for workers’ rights, and the context of urban politics point to the way in which labor becomes a significant factor in the equation of power in America. To explain how and why the “unorganizable” were organized, however, leads to the questions of women’s historical position of inequity both at the workplace and in the labor movement. Feminist historians have placed this issue and its implications for the history of working women high on their research agenda and have found that despite activist experience, the paternalism, even patriarchy, of the trade union reinforced women’s secondary social status. By 1909 the working-class woman could work and engage in union and political activities, but only during a limited period of her life. Those union careerists who departed from this pattern, such as Rose Schneiderman, Rose Pesotta, and Fannia Cohen, according to Alice Kessler-Harris, found personal fulfillment at the price of loneliness and social censure.24
Historical events such as the “Uprising of the 20,000” that captured the attention of numerous historians demonstrate how ongoing revision enriches and informs historical narrative, the tale that history tells. The concerns of feminist or labor history, for example, expose the limitations of the conventional narrative that accepts a shared set of assumptions by historian and audience. Traditionally, this sets women in the disadvantaged position of being absent from or unimportant in the continuing historical process. Historical reinterpretation then alters the shape of the narrative as well as adding to the information we have of an event.
The “Uprising of the 20,000” is a spirited and heroic chapter in the history of America’s working women. But its underlying historical messages are somber ones. Women are foot soldiers rather than generals in labor’s armies and, as Meredith Tax reminds us, “Only certain kinds of wars can be won by such an army, and a war for women’s liberation is not among them.”25
1. Contemporary accounts of the strike include: William Mailly, “The Working Girls’ Strike,” Independent, 67 (Dec. 23, 1909), 1416–1420. Woods Hutchinson, “The Hygienic Aspects of the Shirtwaist Strike,” Survey, 23 (Jan. 22, 1910), 541–550; Miriam F. Scott, “The Spirit of the Girl Strikers,” Outlook, 94 (Feb. 19, 1910), 394–395; Sue Ainsley Clark and Edith Wyatt, “The Shirtwaist Makers and Their Strike,” McClure’s Magazine, 36 (Nov. 1910), 70–86; New York World, Nov. 23, 1909; New York Call, Nov. 23, 1909.
2. Nancy Schrom Dye, As Sisters and As Equals: Feminism, Unionism and the Women’s Trade Union League of New York (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1980).
3. Louis Levine, The Women’s Garment Workers (New York: B. W. Huebsch, 1924), 149.
4. Melvyn Dubofsky, When Workers Organize: New York City in the Progressive Era (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1968); Melech Epstein, Jewish Labor in the U. S. A. (New York: Trade Union Sponsoring Committee, 1950–1953); Philip S. Foner, Women and the American Labor Movement: From the First Trade Unions to the Present (New York: Free Press, 1979).
5. Hyman Berman, “The Era of the Protocol: A Chapter in the History of the ILGWU, 1910–1916,” PhD diss., Columbia University, 1955. Louis Levine, Garment Workers. Joel Seidman, The Needle Trades (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1942). Benjamin Stolberg, Tailor’s Progress (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, 1944). Lazare Teper, The Women’s Garment Industry (New York: ILGWU, 1937).
6. David Brody, “The Old Labor History and the New: In Search of an American Working Class,” Labor History, 20, no. 1 (Winter 1979), 112.
7. Stolberg, Tailor’s Progress.
8. Dubofsky, When Workers Organize.
9. James R. Green, The World of the Worker: Labor in the Twentieth Century (New York: Hill and Wang, 1980).
10. Foner, Women.
11. John Laslett, Labor and the Left: A Study of Socialist and Radical Influences in the American Labor Movement, 1881–1924 (New York: Basic Books, 1970).
12. Graham Adams, Age of Industrial Violence, 1910–15: The Activities and Findings of the U. S. Commission of Industrial Relations (New York, 1966).
13. Ibid., 106–107.
14. Moses Rischin, The Promised City: New York’s Jews, 1870–1914 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962).
16. Meredith Tax, The Rising of the Women: Feminist Solidarity and Class Conflict, 1880–1917 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1980).
17. Mary Joe Buhle, Women and American Social Socialism, 1870–1920 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980).
18. Dye, As Sisters, esp. chap. 4, “Revolution in the Garment Trades, 1909–1913.”
19. Alice Kessler-Harris, “Organizing the Unorganizable: Three Jewish Women and Their Union,” Labor History, 17 (Winter 1976), 5–23.
20. Charlotte Baum, et al., The Jewish Woman in America (New York: Dial Press, 1976).
21. Rischin, Promised City, 70.
22. Charles S. Bernheimer, ed., The Russian Jew in the United States (Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Co., 1905), 225.
23. Paula Hyman, “Immigrant Women and Consumer Protest: The New York City Kosher Meat Boycott of 1902,” American Jewish History, 70 (1980), 91–105.
24. Kessler-Harris, “Organizing.”
25. Tax, Rising of the Women, 240.