Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca: Women Clothing Workers And the Runaway Shops
The Board of Trade and the Chamber of Commerce of Scranton [Pennsylvania] boost their thriving city as a “cheap labor” town. They extend alluring invitations to eastern manufacturers to come to Scranton and enjoy the benefits and profits to be derived there. They guarantee protection from labor agitation and they proclaim their American belief in the “open shop.”1
IN 1920 Ansorge Brothers, a New York clothing manufacturing firm, moved to Scranton to escape union agitation. The firm and other clothing manufacturers had prospered during World War I and consequently had agreed to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America’s (ACWA) standards of wages, hours, and conditions rather than risk wartime profits in industrial conflict. By 1920, as demand for clothing declined, manufacturers resorted to cutting labor costs. As unionized workers struggled to retain improvements achieved during the war, such firms as Ansorge Brothers began to seek “open shop” communities such as Scranton, with many unemployed women and children.
This chapter will focus on the particular problems of organizing women in the men’s clothing trades of the Northeast. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca are central to such a study. Half of the membership represented by the ACWA was female, while Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca, a committed trade unionist, devoted her life to unionizing women garment workers. Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca’s career as an organizer and vice-president of the ACWA exemplifies the challenges and contradictions faced by women organizers, and sheds light on the union’s impact on women workers. The runaway shop was of particular concern to Dorothy Bellanca and to the ACWA, inasmuch as women composed the primary work force.
The phenomenon known as the “runaway shop” was peculiar to the labor-intensive clothing and garment industries, where capital costs were relatively low, and employers could easily move their plants to escape the unions. Moreover, because clothing work was seasonal, the employer could wait until orders arrived to commence production and hire workers. Since most small-scale clothing manufacturers operated on a low profit margin, they were anxious to secure cheap labor. This labor was available in abundance in the economically depressed communities penetrated by the runaway or “outside” shops. Manufacturers customarily represented their arrival as a boon to such communities, because the employment they offered enabled women and children to contribute to family incomes.
Mining and farming communities drew runaway shops like magnets. During the 1920s, the male breadwinner in these communities often did not earn enough to support his family. The perils of coal mining also often killed or crippled adult males. Thus, although many wives believed that work outside the home was inappropriate, they were willing to labor fourteen hours a day inside their homes on work sent to them by the garment manufacturers.2
Ansorge Brothers’ move to Scranton was typical of runaway shops. Scranton’s location in the anthracite-coal-mining region of eastern Pennsylvania made it a good target for fleeing manufacturers. Ansorge employed the children of immigrant miners as well as “an abnormally large percentage of widows of miners,” all with large families of young, dependent children to support on salaries ranging from $9.20 to $15.20 a week.3
These people needed a strong union to help them, but the drive to reach workers in such small, isolated shops required enormous energy. Eventually, the ACWA brought unionism and better conditions to workers in Scranton and in other, similar communities. Employers throughout the ACWA’s history, however, continued to run away and to resist. Unionizing the runaway shops required the tireless efforts of just such an organizer as a Baltimore buttonhole sewer named Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca.
Born in Latvia in 1894, Dorothy Jacobs was the youngest of four daughters of Bernice and Harry Jacobs.4 In 1900 Dorothy and her family immigrated to the United States. They settled in Baltimore, where the father found work as a tailor and Dorothy attended the Baltimore public schools. Bernice Jacobs died a few years after their arrival.
Dorothy was thirteen years old when she took her first job, as a hand buttonhole sewer on men’s coats. After a four-week training period, during which she received no wages, she earned $3 a week for a ten-hour day. Her wages were never steady, because her index fingers often became infected, causing her to lose a week’s work without compensation.5 From her vantage point, it seemed logical to join a union, and she tried to organize the other workers. Her employer, who regarded Dorothy as no more than a child, responded to her activities in a cavalier fashion, often firing and then rehiring her with only a warning against further union agitation. In 1909, when she was fifteen years old, she succeeded in organizing the Baltimore buttonhole makers into Local 170 of the United Garment Workers of America.
In December of the same year, two thousand clothing workers from three large shops in Baltimore walked out on strike, to protest the discharge of a union member. The central point of contention was the attempt by the Clothiers’ Board of Trade to blacklist all union members. The Clothiers’ Board of Trade had been organized in 1870 by several of the large companies in Baltimore to resist unionization of their shops, for the skilled cutters had recently joined together to win some control of the workplace; the board responded by firing all involved workers.6 Although the board had smashed the workers’ attempt at unionizing by 1873, it remained on guard against further union agitation. The 1909 Baltimore strike was yet another effort by the workers to gain union recognition from their antiunion employers. It was also part of a larger unionizing drive. In the same year in New York City, over 20,000 women’s garment workers had walked out of their shops to protest wages and working conditions. The news of these New York strikers reached Baltimore, encouraging young clothing workers, such as Dorothy Jacobs, to form trade-union locals and to strike.
What sort of people were these Baltimore clothing workers? Why did they respond as they did? The Baltimore clothing workers’ community was not as large or as radical as its counterpart in the Jewish ghettoes of New York City. In some ways, however, the communities had developed along similar lines, and union activity in New York City had parallels in Baltimore. As in New York City, Baltimore’s Jewish immigrants had flocked to clothing shops to secure employment. The early or “old” wave of immigration introduced German Jews to Baltimore clothing production. A group of these early arrivals (in the 1840s) achieved some mobility, and purchased small clothing shops in time to greet the “new” wave of immigrants arriving between 1880 and 1920. Although Italians, Poles, Lithuanians, and other South and East Europeans entered Baltimore’s clothing center at this time, the overwhelming majority of workers were Russian Jews. They also predominated in other key clothing centers, such as New York City and Chicago. The more skilled and fortunate among them secured work in the large “inside” shops, or factories, while others were left to work on the “outside,” in sweatshops. Baltimore, however, had fewer of the latter and more of the former than New York City.
The Eastern European Jews had characteristics that distinguished them from other newcomers to America. First, the Jews fled persecution in Czarist Russia and did not plan to return; they had to succeed in the new milieu. Second, Jews had acquired easily marketable skills, since in Europe they were forbidden to own land. Third, Judaism forbade Saturday work, fostering a dependence on other Jews for employment. Fourth, the Eastern European Jews placed a high value on education; as a consequence, they were more literate than many other new immigrants. Finally, some Jewish immigrants were already Socialists, with previous experience in trade-union activities.
Jews, compared to other immigrants, were well prepared for the clothing trade that awaited them. Over one-third of the Jewish men entering the United States between 1909 and 1910, for example, claimed they were tailors while over one-tenth of the Jewish women said they were seamstresses.7 It has been estimated that 70 percent of the Jews in Baltimore lived directly from the clothing industry. This fostered a sense of ethnic solidarity within the industry.
By 1900 competition among the numerous small-scale clothing manufacturers was intense. Their ability to survive under the conditions described above—low-profit margins and seasonal trade—depended on reducing costs, primarily in wages. In the large factories, where all phases of clothing production were performed, wages and working conditions were fairly tolerable. The large factories, however, found themselves under attack by outside shops, whose contractors imposed a minute division of labor. These contractors employed family groups in a sweatshop or homework setting. The group divided the work, and labored prolonged hours to perform its task.8
The revival of the contract system added new recruits to the work force. Married women and small children labored in tenements for a pittance. Single women preferred factory work if it was available. Although they too, labored long hours under deplorable conditions, work in a factory offered a means of moving beyond the traditional home setting and into a changing society. In the factory, young women sometimes learned the lessons of socialism and trade unionism. Although most women workers expected to marry and escape from factory toil, some were radicalized by their experience. These women would form the core of the trade-union groups, often led by young Jewish radicals.
Jews had proved to be good strikers but not strong trade unionists.9 Although they had participated in numerous strikes before 1905, the seasonal nature of the trade produced seasonal unions. Hence Jewish workers had established a pattern by 1900 which was described as follows:
In July there is a strike. In August it is settled. . . . A walking delegate is chosen to collect dues. In October it becomes known that there are more unsettled shops than union shops. In November wage rates were reduced. Then they begin to scold the bosses for breaking the agreements. In December it becomes apparent that the agreements are not worth a whiff of tobacco. In January dues are no longer paid. In February the walking delegate is tossed out of the shop. In March mass meetings are called to revive the union. In April the union ceases to exist . . . and in June they decide to strike. And strike they do.10
Despite their anarchist character, these strikes broadened the social experience of many garment workers and altered their consciousness. As Moses Rischin noted, “Few immigrants would forget the exhilaration of the first shop strike, vivid testimony to the grandeur of American freedom.”11
It remained, however, for the Jewish immigrants who fled Russia after the abortive 1905 Revolution to provide leadership in constructing more permanent labor organizations. This new group of immigrants had participated in Russia and Poland in economic and political action as members of the Bund, and they brought a socialist-radical consciousness to the American shores. The Bund, a trade-union-like organization, attempted to organize Jews for secular political action. It emphasized “the unity of politicial and economic efforts, operating simultaneously for material betterment and political reform,” and it attracted many male and female Russian Jewish revolutionaries.12
These more radical Russian Jews, like their other immigrant Landsleit (people from the same town or region, who share ethnic and cultural ties), accepted employment in the clothing trades and were welcomed into the local Jewish community. Their pleas for a more humane world fell on receptive ears. The radical but practical ideology that the Bundists provided served as the catalyst necessary for strengthening the Jewish trade-union movement.
In 1910 the population of Baltimore was 558,485, of which approximately 50,000 were Jewish.13 By 1914 this number climbed to roughly 65,000.14 The growing Baltimore Jewish community, closely tied to the clothing industry, had a radical heritage that was reinforced continually by the new Russian Jewish arrivals. They often challenged the wage rates and working conditions awaiting them, but found it difficult to build a durable trade union. The clothing manufacturers in Baltimore had organized to combat unionization, and the union with jurisdiction in the clothing industry, the UGWA, evinced a lack of interest in immigrant workers. The UGWA had scored a few early victories in organizing the industry. During the 1893–1897 depression, however, the UGWA suffered setbacks. The moderate leadership then chose to place greater emphasis on selling union-label work clothing (overalls and workshirts) not produced on the East Coast, than on striking for union recognition and increased wages. In every issue of the weekly union paper an advertisement appeared picturing the union label and proclaiming, “Insist on this label when buying clothing. Discriminate against unclean inferior sweat-shop goods. Union label used by leading manufacturers.”15 There were instances of manufacturers unionizing their own plants in order to tap the market for union-label clothing.16 The union willingly sold its label, since it was the union’s greatest source of income and power.
The UGWA leadership showed scant interest in organizing the mass of semiskilled immigrant garment workers, many of whom were female. In fact, the union president, Thomas Rickert, sought to protect his skilled workers by favoring immigration restriction, in line with AFL policies. Rickert and the other AFL officials also believed that women belonged in the home, not in the labor movement. These divisive tactics deeply antagonized the more radical Jewish tailors, who had hoped to organize the entire industry. Upon numerous occasions between 1894 and 1904 the more radical rank and file confronted the leadership and found it lacking. Joseph Schlossberg, one of the founding officers of the ACWA, characterized those years as follows:
During all those years there was no point of friendly contact between the International officers of the clothing workers’ union and the [immigrant] rank and file; no sympathetic understanding on the part of the former for the latter, and no desire for such understanding. The two belonged to different worlds . . . where the officers are unable to understand the member’s cooperation is out of the question.17
Therefore 1909 was a significant year. The ILGWU, the women’s clothing union, grew substantially through the addition of immigrant women to its ranks. The immigrant men’s clothing workers hoped that they, too, could organize and receive UGWA recognition. The Baltimore clothing workers succeeded in having the discharged union member reinstated, and thus protected their right to join a union, but the clothing firms refused to recognize the union as the bargaining agent for the workers.
Then in 1910 all eyes turned to the long and bitter struggle of the clothing workers in Chicago (see Chapter 4 above). There, on September 22, 1910, a small group of women led a spontaneous protest over the arbitrary drop in the piece rate for seaming pants, from 4 cents to 3 3/4 cents. Within a month, 18,000 Chicago clothing workers had joined the walkout for decent wages and union recognition. Finally, on October 27, 1910, between 35,000 and 40,000 men’s clothing workers began a city-wide general strike.
The Chicago strike illustrated the mounting hostility between the UGWA leadership and the garment workers. Most of the strikers were new immigrants who were not members of the union. The UGWA’s leadership could have seized this opportunity to increase its membership, since the semiskilled strikers turned to it for assistance. But Rickert feared the “greenhorns” who, he contended, could not be organized. Rickert attempted to negotiate a settlement with Hart, Schaffner & Marx which was rejected by the majority of strikers because it did not grant union recognition to the semiskilled workers. Rickert obviously doubted whether he wanted these workers in his union and whether they could be good trade unionists.
In this five-month strike the foreign-born clothing workers recognized their need for a more responsive union. The long and bitter Chicago struggle proved to be decisive in the relationship between UGWA leaders and the rank and file:
The outlook, philosophy and tactics of the two became irreconcilable. The workers demanded a fighting organization which would improve their conditions; the officers considered the union a store for the sale of labels, the returns from which were to be used not for organization work but to maintain union office payrolls.18
Dorothy Jacobs and other Baltimore clothing workers were asked to donate clothing to help the Chicago strikers. Jacobs contended that it was “the irony of asking a family of [clothing] workers for clothing for other workers who made clothes” that started the sixteen-year-old Dorothy thinking that something was very wrong.19 The Jacobs family, after all, lived in a tenement in the poor Jewish section of Baltimore. That they, and their neighbors, shared what little they had with the strikers convinced Dorothy Jacobs that collective action was possible and necessary. She credited the clothing donation incident with directing her toward a career as a trade-union activist.
In 1914 the immigrant men’s clothing workers, tired of President Rickert’s discriminatory practices, sought more responsive leaders. At the UGWA’s October 1914 convention in Nashville, Tennessee, one hundred and thirty men and women delegates, representing 75 percent of the union’s membership, were denied seats in the main hall. They held a rump session at which they elected the Jewish Socialist Sidney Hillman their president. These immigrant trade unionists had taken the first step toward forming a new, more powerful union in the men’s clothing industry—the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.
Dorothy Jacobs’ participation in the 1909 Baltimore strike and a subsequent 1913 organizing drive provided valuable trade-union schooling for the young woman. By 1914 she had emerged as one of the leaders of the ACWA in a crucial struggle with the UGWA in Baltimore.
The conflict in Baltimore began in early October 1914, at the beginning of the slack season. The large inside shop of Henry Sonneborn and Company planned to modernize its machinery, discharge many workers, and renew production with a smaller, lower-paid work force, once the busy season began. Its 3,000 garment workers, some of whom had been organized into the UGWA, walked out between October 1 and 3, 1914, when they discovered the company plan.20 Under normal circumstances, a strike of primarily unorganized workers is difficult for a union to coordinate. The workers at Sonneborn, however, were faced with not one organization, but two union factions, both unprepared to lead a strike.21 The strike progressed with the two rival factions in conflict, one representing the skilled cutters (about 10 percent of the work force), and the other representing the semiskilled tailors and operators.
Dorothy Jacobs, who had led her buttonhole-makers local into the secessionist camp, served as one of the four leaders of the strike. She worked alongside Hyman Blumberg and the Bellanca brothers, Frank and August, both of whom went to Baltimore to help in the campaign against Sonneborn.
For Dorothy Jacobs and the other immigrant clothing workers, joining the insurgents made sense. Jacobs remembered the reports of the Chicago 1910 strike, and the treatment the nonunion semiskilled workers received from the UGWA. In contrast, the insurgents had fought for the semiskilled and immigrant workers, and thus offered hope to the majority of Baltimore’s clothing workers. If some semiskilled workers had short memories, or chose to ignore Jacobs’ warnings, the tactics of the UGWA’s leadership provided a reminder. The UGWA dispensed substantial strike benefit checks to the loyal cutters, but refused to offer any aid to the tailors or operators. The insurgents tried to muster financial aid to the semiskilled strikers, but they lacked the resources of an established AFL union. Then, in November, the strikers learned that, just as in Chicago, the UGWA had negotiated a secret settlement for the cutters. Sonneborn agreed to reinstate all the cutters with pay increases, if the UGWA allowed the semiskilled strikers to return to work without union recognition.
This attempt at a settlement by the UGWA hierarchy hardened the insurgents’ desire to hold out for recognition of their union. Sidney Hillman, president of the insurgents, initially had hoped to compromise with Sonneborn, but encountered rank-and-file resistance after the tailors learned of the UGWA’s actions. In this instance, the militancy of the rank and file prevailed. The cutters attempted to resume work, but without the tailors and machine operators, the UGWA agreement settled nothing. Finally, because the company was anxious to resume production, Sonneborn negotiated a settlement with Sidney Hillman. The agreement granted union recognition to almost 3000 new ACWA members.
Dorothy Jacobs was in large part responsible for the success of the 1914 Baltimore strike. The local of women’s hand buttonhole sewers she organized in 1909 had continued to grow in membership. Jacobs might very well have stopped her organizing there. After all, as she observed, “no matter how little work there was, buttonholes had to be made. The coats could not be held together by means of pins.”22 She realized, however, that the machine buttonhole makers must also be organized. Women and girls performed the hand buttonhole sewing, but oftentimes men were machine buttonhole makers. Jacobs had been extremely effective in organizing women workers, but now, at age twenty, she embarked on a new, more challenging campaign.
Dorothy Jacobs and a few other women formed groups and visited the homes of the unorganized men. They worked quietly since “talking union” was grounds for dismissal. Jacobs described their campaign this way:
Night after night was given up to the cause by energetic committees, who met with little success at the beginning, but who never lost hope. We found the men were quite ignorant of organization and very much afraid of what their fellow-workers would do and say. Some of them also objected to organization, because the work had been commenced by women. Our work was kept up, however, despite all difficulties. While visiting the men’s homes, we would appeal to their wives, or any member of their families who were open to argument and conviction.23
In this case, Jacobs had to educate and organize the men. Other times she stressed committing union money and effort toward educating women workers. In either case, her practice consisted in months of hard work teaching women and men the benefits of unionization and collective action.
During this campaign, Jacobs succeeded in organizing the buttonhole makers from the inside shops or factories. They then demanded and won pay increases. Dorothy Jacobs learned the need for solidarity between male and female workers during her early organizing work in Baltimore, and taught collective action to many clothing workers. Her words became more sophisticated with time, but her ultimate goals remained unchanged.
Jacobs had emerged as a popular leader among immigrant clothing workers by the time of the 1914 Nashville convention. She then faithfully served on the picket line at the Sonneborn factory during the thirteen-week strike. She addressed numerous strike meetings, and won the respect of the Baltimore tailors and operators. Philip DeLuca has described the strikers’ reaction to Dorothy Jacobs when she addressed the first meeting of the Sonneborn workers:
The chairman gave the floor to a young, slender and attractive girl, a buttonhole maker and secretary of the council. She rose, waving a telegram in her hand and smiling. It was a contagious smile, and her voice was like a bell, sweet and most effective. A murmur of approval went over the hall. The next instant it became so quiet that one could hear a pin drop.24
Jacobs read a telegram from Sidney Hillman in which he encouraged the strikers and promised his support. The workers burst into cheers. Then Jacobs again began to speak: “A new era is beginning for the people of the clothing industry. As we fight, so shall we make history. Our example will be followed by our brothers and sisters in other cities.”25 Moved by Jacobs’ bearing and her invocation of history, the crowd responded by cheering and applauding. The audience also affectionately called out, “Our Dorothy!"
Her enthusiasm, confidence, and energy, coupled with her warm personality and “vibrant and magnetic speaking voice,” aided Dorothy Jacobs in assuming the role of a female leader in a male-dominated trade-union structure.26 Working consciously at times to prove her worthiness, she accepted the conditions thrust upon her by union leadership. She attempted to balance the dictates of a trade union with women’s needs as both workers and organizers. She was successful, and rose rapidly within the Amalgated Clothing Workers of America.
At the founding convention of the ACWA in December 1914, at New York’s Webster Hall, Dorothy Jacobs was thrilled to be one of two delegates sent by the buttonhole makers’ Local 170. Only five women, however, sat among the 175 delegates to the convention.27 Jacobs prepared and proposed a resolution calling attention to the need for a woman organizer. Resolution Number 20 read as follows:
Whereas, there are 19,784 workers engaged in the garment industry in the city of Baltimore, 10,183 of whom are women, and of whom only 800 are organized and
Whereas, with this preponderous majority of unorganized women in the trade the struggle for the maintenance of unions by the small organized minority is wrought with tremendous difficulties, and
Whereas, experience has shown that with such a majority of unorganized women in the trade, strikes have few chances of being won, unions are always in danger of their existence, and wages consequently low, hours long, and conditions of work generally very unsatisfactory,
Be it therefore resolved:
That we the Button Hole Workers Union, Local 170, call upon you to provide the City of Baltimore with at least one woman organizer.
Yours in the struggle for organization of the working class.28
The resolution employed language appropriate to the day. Jacobs appealed to the vast majority of male unionists not as a feminist, but as an advocate of a stronger trade-union movement. The 1914 convention passed the resolution; but the General Executive Board was not to appoint a full-time woman’s organizer until 1917, when Dorothy Jacobs accepted the position.
Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca served the ACWA in various positions between 1914 and her death in 1946 at 52. She served as Local 170’s representative to the Baltimore Joint Board (the ACWA’s central body in Baltimore), and on October 21, 1915, became its secretary. In this capacity, she established the Educational Department, participated in all Baltimore strikes, traveled to assist in organizing campaigns and strikes in other cities, helped settle disputes in organized shops, and occasionally negotiated contracts with employers. Her primary interest, however, remained the organization of women, as well as addressing their specific needs within the trade-union framework. She used her post on the Baltimore Joint Board to monitor the treatment of female trade unionists, winning the support of her male colleagues.29
Jacobs was selected as a delegate to the ACWA’s Second Biennial Convention in Rochester, New York, in 1916. There she continued to champion the cause of trade-union women by appealing to the delegates to establish a Women’s Department within the union.30 Her efforts on behalf of women clothing workers, as well as her tireless service to the ACWA, did not go unrecognized. The May 1916 ACWA Convention accepted Jacobs’ name as one of the nineteen nominated for the Union’s seven-member General Executive Board. In July 1916, before her twenty-second birthday, Dorothy Jacobs was elected to the General Executive Board (GEB). She was then the only woman vice-president of a major trade union.
The year 1916 was a critical and decisive one for the ACWA in Baltimore. It was still battling the rival UGWA, and was simultaneously under attack by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, also known as “Wobblies”). Union and antiunion violence permeated Baltimore, where AFL and IWW loyalists physically attacked Hyman Blumberg and August Bellanca. The ACWA had hoped to organize the inside shop workers of Baltimore, the nation’s fifth largest men’s clothing center. After concluding an agreement with one of the three big companies in Baltimore, the ACWA learned that John Ferguson, the president of the Baltimore Federation of Labor, had negotiated a substitute contract that recognized the UGWA cutters and permitted the far more radical IWW to organize the semi-skilled immigrant workers. Ferguson and the UGWA leaders felt that the ACWA was their real threat in the Baltimore markets, and therefore willingly entered into an “unholy” alliance with their ideological enemy, the Wobblies, to destroy the ACWA in Baltimore.31
The ACWA’s leaders appealed to the IWW and to the Baltimore Central Committee of the Socialist Party for solidarity. The ACWA pointed out that the IWW workers were crossing union picket lines, and were demonstrating a lack of sensitivity to the plight of the majority of men’s clothing workers (who were ACWA members). Ultimately, the Socialist party ruled in favor of the ACWA, and persuaded the Wobblies’ rank and file to honor the ACWA protest. In this instance, and in other challenges by the UGWA throughout 1916, the ACWA emerged victorious. In these cases it demonstrated its unique ability to work with capitalists while simultaneously retaining its “radical-progressive” credentials and appealing to the majority of semiskilled and immigrant workers.
In her capacity as secretary of the Baltimore Joint Board and also as a GEB member, Jacobs was at the center of the 1916 maelstrom. A careful reading of her correspondence to General Secretary Joseph Schlossberg at ACWA headquarters demonstrates Jacobs’ devotion to the ACWA struggles, the hard work she performed, and her reminders to the leadership of the ongoing participation of women in the ACWA-UGWA-IWW conflicts. Jacobs apologized to Schlossberg for not writing more frequently, but added, “We have been very busy and most all of my time was taken up in the [Joint Board] office and at Strouse’s.”32 Her activities included addressing many meetings at Strouse and Sonneborn, in which she reported “a wonderful spirit prevailing, especially among the girls.”33 At one meeting organized by Jacobs for the women workers at Sonneborn and Strouse, she spoke on the topic “The Present Labor Troubles in the United States.” That meeting, which two hundred and fifty women attended on August 16, 1916, was only one of many to which she attracted women workers. In fact, the women present requested that she hold similar meetings “at least twice a month.”34 Recognizing the importance of Jacobs’ efforts, the women workers encouraged and supported her as best they could.
Jacobs was not called upon to serve only women workers, however. She confided to Schlossberg that during the 1916 struggle: “[I] took charge of settling disputes between our members and the manufacturers. To my surprise, the manufacturers received me with courtesy and it was not hard for me to straighten out every case.”35 She understood the value of such work, and was not above pointing it out to ACWA officials.
Yet on various occasions Jacobs asserted that the fighting among the rival unions in Baltimore, although important, was interfering with the real work of unionizing the women: “I am anxious for this affair to be over, so that I can start work among the women.”36 Jacobs realized that these crisis activities made small contribution to creating real trade unionists among the women workers. She reported: “These past few weeks I have been meeting with continual riots of the I.W.W. and the A.F. of L., and in order to keep up the courage of our girls, I have spent a good part of my time in the Strouse building.”37
She continued to emphasize to Schlossberg, whenever possible, the spirit and accomplishment of the women:
Most of my time now is spent in keeping in touch and encouraging the Strouse girls and as far as they are concerned, I can guarantee you that these girls will continue to meet the situation. This affair has brought more spirit into the girls than I expected. It seems as though nothing [not even the threat of violence] can frighten them our of the building.38
I am proud to say . . . that in this fight, the girls . . . have not only contributed morally and financially, but were also the first in line.39
I feel that a wonderful spirit can be brought out in our girls and I intend to call these [shop meetings for women workers]. . . . I only hope to have the cooperation of the organization at large.40
Jacobs’ membership on the GEB also provided her with access to the more influential members of the union. She continued her crusade to organize women, and warned the male GEB members that the “men in the industry must take an interest in the organization of their women fellow workers, or some day be punished for their neglect.”41 When the board finally established the post of women’s full-time organizer in 1917, Jacobs accepted appointment to the position.
In an interview published in the ACWA’s official newspaper, the Advance, Jacobs discussed her new assignment and the problems to be confronted in organizing women:
The terrible plight of the unorganized women workers has been ignored by the men. Organization of women has been neglected, although they are as important to the industry as the men workers. I am greatly pleased with the decision of the general executive board to extend organization work among the women. Of course it will be harder to organize the women now than it would have been when they were beginning to enter the industry in large numbers. But I am sure the campaign will be successful, and know that when the women are once organized, and have been shown the worth of the organization in bettering conditions of work for them, they will remain loyal members.
I have found women slower to organize than the men, because they have so little experience in the labor movement. But when they are organized and educated I have found them the best workers for the organization there are.42
Jacobs said that she remained hopeful that the union men would embrace the female members and allow women to emerge as equals within the ACWA. She went on to observe, however:
A great deal of fault lies with the men for the lack of organization among women workers. It is time for the men to realize that women is [sic] their competitor in all industries. The men are not doing anything to keep away the menace of the cheaper job brought about by the introduction of women. The men always have looked upon the women workers as jokes. They believe they are waiting to get married and soon will leave the industry. For those who do leave the industry there are hundreds waiting to come in. The women are in the industry to stay. Unorganized they are a menace to the men. They must be organized to protect every labor organization in this country.43
In these concluding words, Jacob’s dilemma as a female trade unionist is painfully apparent. Although obviously angry with the men for their neglect of women workers, she was unable to condemn them, since she desperately needed their cooperation to further her union campaign among women. She therefore began by indicting men for their behavior, and then proceeded to debunk the traditional myths regarding women’s future as workers. Yet she concluded by stressing what would benefit the male workers. Jacobs thus chose to aid women workers primarily by emphasizing the theme of class rather than the issue of gender.
Still, Jacobs encouraged women to organize separately. In her capacity as the women’s organizer in 1917 she participated in the ACWA’s organizing campaigns in New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, and as she traveled the northeast corridor, articulating the problems of women workers, she encouraged them to form separate women’s branches. These organizations were needed, Jacobs argued, to unite women in a campaign to investigate their own needs and to improve their specific conditions.44 She was quick to emphasize, however, that women should not withdraw from their respective mixed-sex locals. She saw the separate branches as necessary to help the women achieve “a better understanding of the labor movement.”45 In order to benefit from trade unionism, women had to become active members. Jacobs believed that special women’s meetings would attract the less receptive women, thus spreading the trade-union message among a wider female audience.
In 1917 Dorothy Jacobs brought the union message to the female military-uniform factory workers. During 1913 and 1914, the United States economy experienced a recession. Clothing workers, along with others, struggled merely to keep wages from falling. But soon Europe’s misfortune brought relief to the American worker. Industry after industry saw prosperity return, as the United States supplied a war-torn Europe. The wages paid by military-uniform factories, however, were half those paid by unionized firms. Jacobs and the ACWA launched an organizing drive to help these workers share in the wartime prosperity. More than half of the military-uniform workers were female, and that percentage rose as more men left for military service.
Jacobs spoke “daily at strike meetings and mass meetings arranged by the Organization [ACWA] to bring the uniform workers into the movement for better working conditions.”46 She directed her efforts toward the women workers who, by her estimate, had never before been exposed to trade unionism. These women were toiling more than sixty hours a week instead of the forty-eight hours established by the ACWA. Furthermore, they were earning only $4 to $6 a week for their efforts.47 Jacobs challenged the employers’ patriotic rhetoric, whereby female volunteers were “enlisted” into sweatshops and were criticized if they organized for higher wages, while American soldiers died on the battlefields. In the Advance, Jacobs stressed the opportunity and the need to organize the women workers: “There is sentiment for organization among the women in the clothing industry. All that they need is someone to show them the light, to show them what organization has done for their sisters in the organized factories. The women workers of America are becoming more class conscious every day.”48
Jacobs argued that women must fight to better their working conditions during the war. What better time than the present, she asked, to stand up for democracy, in the country and on the job? With men away fighting and dying, more and more women would be expected to fill their places in the work force. She warned women that they would not be able to escape the factory through marriage during wartime—and perhaps not after the war, either. With the deaths of so many young men on the battlefields, she noted, fewer women would be able to marry. Thus, more women would remain in the clothing industry. They should therefore work to improve conditions while they could.49 This last argument was also directed at male clothing workers. By emphasizing women’s permanent role in the clothing industry, Jacobs hoped to move male trade unionists to a commitment to organizing their female coworkers. Indeed, Jacobs rarely missed an opportunity to point out the benefits of working-class cooperation between men and women. Jacobs and the ACWA achieved success in their wartime organizing campaign. Overall, workers on the United States home front experienced prosperity, and trade union membership soared. Labor was scarce, and employers who had shunned union representatives in the past were frequently willing to negotiate rather than lose precious production time. Trade union bargaining therefore brought improved contracts to the rank and file.
By 1918 Jacobs was working simultaneously on preparations for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America convention and on vigorous organizing campaigns in Baltimore. She taxed her frail body beyond its capacity. Thus, although she was reelected to the GEB in 1918, she was forced to withdraw from union responsibilities. In her resignation letter dated August 20, 1918, she wrote: “Owing to my state of health I was unable to attend the meeting of the GEB in Rochester at the beginning of this month. . . . For the same reason I am unable to continue longer in my capacity as member of the GEB and as General Organizer.”50 That same month, however, Jacobs married August Bellanca, with whom she had worked during the early Baltimore struggles. He, too, was an organizer and a GEB member. There is little reason to suppose that Jacobs’ resignation from the GEB was prompted by her marriage with a fellow board member, for far from decreasing her union activities at that time, Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca expanded them. The couple had no children (though this was probably not their choice) and devoted their lives to the ACWA.51 Although for many women, marriage was the time to sever all union ties, in the case of Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca (hereafter Bellanca), marriage further intensified an almost total devotion to the cause of working-class women. Alice Kessler-Harris has suggested that women who married outside their ethnic or religious group, as Jacobs did, remained involved in trade-union activities more frequently than women who followed more conventional paths.52 Certainly Dorothy’s marriage to August did not force her into a traditional role; in fact her rebellious spirit probably was responsible for both her marriage to an Italian American and her lifelong commitment to the cause of women workers. She remained particularly concerned with the role and treatment of immigrant women workers in the men’s garment industry and in the ACWA itself.
Throughout her life, Bellanca struggled with the conflict between her sensitivity to sex discrimination and her devotion to working-class and union solidarity. She posed the dilemma particularly in the following two quotations:
Women have been organized but with all restrictions of sex prejudices, being considered as dues payers and competitors and never as organization units with all the rights of initiative, cooperation, leadership and struggle enjoyed by men,53 [and]
Women came into the trade and into the organization on grounds that were already established and fought out. One cannot expect equal consideration from men members . . . where such conditions exist without being patient and waiting for proper opportunities.54
What were the proper opportunities? How were women best organized? Bellanca counseled women to exploit the ACWA milieu to build strong, durable locals and become committed trade unionists. In that way, she reasoned, women would earn the respect of male unionists. Female trade-union leaders constantly made compromises to secure better treatment for working women within the male-dominated trade-union structure. Amalgamated women were not unconcerned with their own advancement; rather, the union was the best vehicle available to them. Although working-class men resisted female initiatives, the ACWA compelled men to work with women unionists.
These women had to be encouraged to join in trade-union activities, since they believed that union work was “man’s sphere.” Bellanca knew that women needed this special encouragement, and she understood that while they hoped to better their condition through the union, they were influenced by the dominant cultural norms, as well as by ethnic traditions, which dictated that women were to serve primarily as wives and mothers—and that, in fact, most working girls were destined for a domestic future. She was aware, as few male organizers were, of the sexual exploitation of women at home and on the job and understood women’s double burden of industrial work and family responsibility. She did not, however, face male unionists with these issues; rather, she relied on class solidarity in her quest for recognition of women as valuable trade unionists.
Bellanca also attempted to break down the barriers between female and male workers. For example, while women felt it “unladylike” to enter a union hall where they would encounter cigar smoke and beer, they were willing to attend union gatherings at which they were welcomed with food and entertainment. Bellanca changed the character of ACWA meetings by her own presence as a speaker at thousands of union gatherings, and by encouraging or providing an atmosphere acceptable to women. At the Third Biennial Convention of the ACWA in Baltimore in 1918, Dorothy Jacobs offered the women delegates an alternative to the “smoker” for men: she took the women delegates to the theater.55 Recognizing that the union message could be brought to many “unorganizable” women simply by changing the social environment, she promoted union gatherings that could be experienced as friendly and pleasant occasions by women and men alike.
The ideas and techniques Bellanca developed in the early Baltimore struggles were tested in the organizing crusades of the 1920s. Her popularity among the women ACWA members increased as she chased the runaway shops and helped to organize the Women’s Bureau of the union. She became the most requested ACWA organizer and speaker and gave of herself unselfishly wherever she was needed. Mamie Santora, a personal friend who had been Bellanca’s coworker in Baltimore and her successor on the GEB, frequently consulted her on matters pertaining to organizing women. The 1920s, a prosperous time for sectors of American society, were generally disastrous for organized labor. During World War I, the government policies stimulated by wartime needs assisted workers to unionize more successfully than at any time before, but employers resented the workers’ newly gained power. Employers used the postwar Red scare to smash many unions and launched a campaign to “inform” their workers that trade unions and the closed shop were “un-American.” Large manufacturers in the rubber, electric, and steel industries substituted company unions and various benefits for trade unions. Many manufacturers in the clothing industry, however, could not afford to participate in the welfare capitalism of the 1920s. Instead they packed up their shops and moved away from the unionized regions. Whether companies avoided trade unions by running away or through establishing company unions, organized labor suffered.
The ACWA’s leaders fought the paternalism and welfare capitalism of employers. They argued that what the boss gave he could also take away: Workers could retain what they achieved only through their collective strength. For the ACWA, the 1920s were not a period of retreat, as for other unions. Instead, the ACWA emerged as a progressive trade union, one of the most notable practitioners of the so-called new unionism. The ACWA pioneered cooperative housing, unemployment insurance, and one of the first successful labor banks; and, to some extent, it encouraged greater participation by its female members. Women represented 50 percent of the ACWA’s membership; and during the 1920s, 25 percent of the organizers hired were female.56 Although not representative of their relative numbers in the clothing industry, the presence of so many women organizers indicated a recognition of trade-union women absent from other major unions.
Women organizers were essential in the drive to unionize the runaway shops. The unionization of these shops presented a special problem for the ACWA. The workers, primarily women, were scattered in small shops throughout New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. They had no trade-union experience, moreover. The ACWA established the Out-of-Town Organization Committee in 1920 to coordinate the campaign. Dorothy and August Bellanca helped to lead it.
Bellanca immersed herself fully in the runaway shop drive, which perfectly complemented her goal of organizing women. In the runaway campaigns during the 1920s and 1930s, she addressed thousands of meetings in an effort to bring women into the ACWA. Wherever an organizing drive or strike was in progress, Bellanca defended the rights of workers and encouraged the women to participate. These campaigns brought into clear and dramatic relief her unique philosophy and approach to the organization of the female worker, as she argued the importance of involving the women employed in the runaway shops in the union’s mission:
Women in the Amalgamated should be grateful that they have a union. Never before was it needed as much as now. . . . A great duty develops on the women to assume responsibility in their union, to help educate the girls who came to us, to enlighten those who have no previous knowledge of the history of labor, its problems, hopes, and aspirations. Most of these girls entered the industry with the expectation that it will only be temporary, and thus not in a frame of mind to take seriously the problems of the industry. It is the duty of the unions to bring the workers close to the problems of the industry and to bring out the latent power of the girls for united union activity and the advancement of the ultimate aims of the movement.57
When Bellanca could not personally lead a local drive, she sent suggestions such as these to the organizers:
It is advisable that you throw yourself into the organization campaign and form a committee of the active girls, . . . to help you in shop meetings, visiting homes and so on. The committee should be made part of the organization campaign and make it appear as though the responsibility for the local situation depends on their help and on them directly.58
Bellanca was particularly successful in bringing the trade-union message to otherwise uninformed women clothing workers in the runaway shops. These new female recruits, previously judged as inferior union material, responded favorably to a woman organizer. Bellanca hoped to prove that women, if approached correctly, could be excellent trade unionists. Women clothing workers met women ACWA members at various concerts, picnics, dances, and other social activities.59 There, these women discussed social and trade union issues in a more relaxed setting than the conventional union meeting. These informal networks helped to introduce women to the ACWA in their respective cities.
Long an advocate for a separate Women’s Department within the union, Dorothy Bellanca envisioned a department that would develop more effective means of organizing women and creating “a closer relationship between our women members and the organization.”60 She believed that the Women’s Department would benefit the ACWA by attracting more women into its ranks and encouraging their active union participation. As the department addressed women’s specific needs, she reasoned, female workers increasingly would recognize the value of trade-union activity. In 1924 the Women’s Department was established, with Bellanca as its first director.
Between July 1924 and the end of 1925, Bellanca made numerous trips to clothing-center cities and towns to address meetings and lead strategy sessions. She went out of her way on various occasions to address women’s gatherings, but she also spoke to mixed meetings, discussing other ACWA campaigns, and appealing to all members to recognize and support the efforts of the Women’s Department.61 Bellanca continued to “sell” the Women’s Department as a way of serving the entire trade-union movement.62 She always stressed the permanence of women in industry. The woman worker, she asserted, was “lending a willing ear to the principles of organized labor in order to protect her job and in spite of tricks played by employers, women are organizing in great numbers and developing to be good fighters in the cause of labor rights.”63 By recognizing and stressing the need of twentieth-century women to operate within their own trade-union network, Bellanca exposed women who otherwise might have shunned trade union meetings to working-class ideology in a painless, “socially approved” manner. In this way, Bellanca’s Women’s Department helped further the cause of women clothing workers.
Such dual unionism was resented by some trade-union men. The men objected to the different treatment, private meetings, and entertainment that women trade unionists sponsored.64 Ironically, for many years men held private trade-union meetings without considering women’s feelings. Now these union men feared women’s power as an autonomous group within the ACWA. They claimed the Women’s Department divided the working class. So Bellanca abandoned it. A feminist as far as understanding the specific needs of working women and believing that they deserved special attention, whenever conflict arose between male and female organizers, Bellanca suggested compromise. Yes, women’s issues were important, she argued, but, “very often one has to do things against one’s self for the benefit of the organization. What I see always is the organization first and the individual second.”65 Bellanca had hoped her Women’s Department would have educated both women and men, but since it did not, she was willing to sacrifice it rather than divide the mass of organized men’s clothing workers in the ACWA. She continued to advocate separate women’s activities for organizing women, and she continued to speak at women’s functions, but without the fanfare associated with the Women’s Department.
The defeats suffered by trade unionists during the 1920s followed by the onset of the Great Depression caused increasing sexual divisions, as employers forced workers to view each other as competitors for the few available jobs. Clothing manufacturers turned to hiring primarily women and children (by 1930, 37 percent of all working women were under twenty-five years of age), in preference to unionized male workers.66 The clothing employers set up production in small towns where the ACWA had not yet penetrated, and exploited the population, most of whom were American born. The new recruits, lacking other options, were willing to accept substantially less than union wages. Thus, the runaway shop problem which emerged in the 1920s continued to flourish in the depression era. In Pennsylvania, for example, 200,000 women and children labored under illegal and deplorable conditions for wages below $4 for a work week of between fifty and ninety hours.67
The ACWA leaders, aware of such abuses, embarked upon a huge campaign to organize shirtworkers and men’s clothing workers in the depths of the depression. The union followed the runaways to small towns in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. The drive began in January 1933 and continued throughout the decade, the ACWA sending its “seasoned fighters,” many of them women, to aid in the shirtworkers’ organizing drive.68
Bellanca threw herself into the shirtworkers’ drive with her usual enthusiasm. Convinced that her efforts would improve the lot and “conditions of the workers,” she derived genuine satisfaction from her difficult task. Yet Bellanca admitted that the work of a union officer was “not a bed of roses.” In her travels throughout the northeastern states, she endured extreme physical exertion and stress.69 Despite the personal costs, however, Bellanca continued to address groups of women workers to inform them of the benefits of organizing.
The New Deal legislation favoring trade unions had meanwhile granted workers the right to organize, and provided a catalyst for new unionization campaigns led by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The CIO offered new hope for workers in mass-production industries and, because the CIO emphasized organizing workers of an entire industry, it encouraged men and women to work together. This differed dramatically from the divisive policies of the craft-based AFL. The ACWA, which had always advocated industrial unionism, participated actively in CIO organizing. Although the male trade unionists in such industrial unions as the ACWA and other CIO affiliates were bound by the same traditions as the AFL men, the CIO’s goal of organizing all workers had important mitigating effects. The motivating philosophy of an industrial union was solidarity. A cornerstone of this philosophy was that skilled workers should help the less skilled, for the benefit of all. If the union did not intend to quibble over jurisdiction for specific workers, why should women be neglected?
Women probably benefited from the philosophy of industrial unionism by default. The CIO men generally had no wish to change societal roles; they did not doubt that women, ultimately, belonged in the home. Yet they needed solidarity, and strength in numbers. Thus they accepted women into their organization as junior partners. Carole Turbin has suggested that since workingmen’s fears of women’s competition was strong, they could only cooperate in trade unions if one or more of the following conditions existed: The men did not perceive the women as threats to their jobs; the women had demonstrated that they, too, had power; and, most important, the men and women both benefited from the collective action.70 Many working women understood these conditions, and acted accordingly. Demonstrating their strength, they won the respect of their fellow workers in the CIO by first organizing as workers, and only later seeking gender-specific recognition within the trade union. In the 1930s, Bellanca traversed the nation spreading the CIO message to women. Pleased that the New Deal had sanctioned unions, she nonetheless warned workers to secure their rights through organization, not the state, because changes in the government could eradicate the New Deal reforms.
Bellanca helped the CIO staff in the Textile Workers Organizing Committee (TWOC) in the South. She was well prepared for this campaign because like the other shops she campaigned to organize in the 1920s, many of these shops had been moved south by the textile firms to escape the union. Bellanca was well received by the southern textile workers, most of whom were female, and had no trouble convincing them of her sincerity. The textile workers had only to observe her hands, gesturing as she spoke. Her crooked index fingers demonstrated that she had worked in the clothing industry, validating her plea for improved conditions so others would not suffer as she had.71
Bellanca recounted the history of the ACWA and of organized labor in general when she addressed meetings of working women. She stressed the need for their involvement in the union, although she cautioned:
In the Amalgamated, as everywhere else, there exists some jealousy sometimes between men and women. But as the union has been the protector of both, so both serve it loyally, each giving first thought to the welfare of the union as a whole. In this way, women have been really the equals of men in the Amalgamated. They have received no favors for being women; they have won their places in the union on their record as union members. This is as it should be. A voice in leadership is the reward of active service in the cause.72
Once again, Bellanca tried to reconcile the contradictions faced by female trade unionists. Aware of the ever-present tension between male and female workers, she chose to stress the ideal: Male workers would learn the value of cooperation and reward the active women unionist with leadership positions.
Those positions went to only a few of the more outspoken women, however, those who either did not marry or did not have children. Those women who had family obligations, who worked a long day and then served time doing “women’s work” at home, had to remain silent partners—paying dues, performing clerical functions for the union, and participating in strikes without receiving recognition. Fifty years later, unions had still not solved this problem.
The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America even responded condescendingly to the class loyalty and exceptional leadership of Bellanca herself. For example, at the Twelfth Biennial ACWA Convention in 1938, Alex Hoffman announced: “We have on the GEB of the Amalgamated one woman and in appreciation of what women have done in the labor movement generally, and members of the Amalgamated particularly, we choose at this time to present that member of the GEB, Sister Dorothy Bellanca, with a bouquet of flowers.”73 The bouquet of flowers and words bore weak testimony to the role Bellanca and other women had played in organizing women within the union, and to its many female rank-and-file members. While Bellanca was in the struggle for more than ACWA recognition, one wonders how she kept such petty annoyances at bay and retained her optimism. At the same 1938 meeting, Sidney Hillman, president of the ACWA, admitted the important position of women in the union:
First of all, this is a man’s world. It appears even in an organization that represents so many women, and in pointing out the leadership that has taken charge of the activities, I failed to mention that the staff of women organizers grows larger and larger, and that is why we are making so much progress in fields where we have not been successful before. On behalf of the National Office, we have had Dorothy Bellanca participate in all the activities.74
ACWA rhetoric encouraged women to expect better treatment from their union comrades, yet the contributions of women organizers and members were frequently ignored.
A more subtle indication of union attitudes toward women appeared in a cartoon in the ACWA newspaper Advance. The man in the cartoon inquires of the woman, “Are you coming to the dance tonight?” She replies, “I’d love to, but I’m working late.” The man then exclaims, “Good lord: haven’t you joined a trade union yet?"75 The assumption that women would value trade unions if they shortened the work day to provide time for social activities is implicit in the unionist’s statement.
Such patronizing messages made it difficult to convince women that male members sincerely wanted them in the union. Women members often appealed to the union leadership for better representation of the needs of the female rank and file. For example, they demanded additional official female leaders. In a November 1935 letter to the Advance, two women suggested that the General Executive Board be enlarged to include more women. Complimenting the current GEB and singling out Bellanca for specific praise, the letter nevertheless stressed that the special concerns of female workers required special attention.76 In other letters addressed to Bellanca and the Advance, women voiced concern over the discrimination they experienced as female trade unionists.77 Appreciative of the need for class solidarity, these women nevertheless sought to improve the position of women within the union. If they, and Bellanca, and other women organizers tolerated the patronizing stance of the male-dominated ACWA, it was not because they failed to understand its implications, but because they realized that the ACWA accorded women relatively better treatment than that offered by most other unions.
The ACWA hierarchy did appear to make a greater effort to treat women as partners than did such traditional unions as the AFL. In 1934, for example, while most United States workers were suffering the effects of the Great Depression, the Tenth ACWA Convention rejected a resolution calling for the hiring of men and self-supporting women in preference to married women.78 This action was in clear contrast to positions of other trade unions which, in company with employers, forced married women to bear the brunt of depression layoffs. In the midst of the suffering caused by the depression, the ACWA did not accept restrictions on the employment of married women as a sound approach to economic recovery. Rather, it held to the principle that the working class must stand together.
Bellanca took further and still more positive action on behalf of women. She appealed to the Federal Emergency Relief Administration in Washington
on behalf of the unattached women who are and have been unemployed for years. Due to the fact that they are unattached, it is hard for them to obtain relief, preference being given to people with families, . . . I therefore urge you to do everything possible in order to set aside a substantial amount to be used for providing work for the unattached women of the country.79
It was Bellanca’s belief that aid to single women was to the benefit of the entire working class.
Throughout her career, Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca gave foremost importance to a strong, united working class, while consistently striving to improve the lives of working-class women. Her vehicle for both objectives was the industrial union. Successful within the trade union movement, she was able to rise in the union hierarchy. She was reelected to the ACWA’s GEB in 1934, and remained on it until her death in 1946.
Despite her belief that unions offered the best alternative for working women, Bellanca worked with reformers outside the union. In the 1930s, she served on state and federal advisory committees, was an active member of the Consumers League and the Women’s Trade Union League, and helped found the American Labor Party. Although an unsuccessful candidate for Congress, she was twice elected state vice-chairman of the American Labor Party, Nonetheless, most of her considerable energies were devoted to building the ACWA into a powerful union and to making a place for women within it.
In some respects, Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca was typical of the female union organizers of her day. She understood the American capitalist system and operated within it. She was able to deliver some of the benefits of the system to women workers, and they appreciated her services to them. Her example provided women workers with a model, encouraging in them the hope that through their own efforts, they could live decent, self-respecting lives. Female members of the ACWA filled the Advance with letters and articles describing Bellanca’s visits and requesting return engagements. Yet, the distance between Bellanca and the rank and file was considerable. She was one of only a few female organizers who achieved real prominence in the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Although she worked to improve the conditions of women within the male-dominated union, her achievements were limited. That Bellanca herself was not more successful in achieving her goals for working women points to the limits of both the ACWA and the society in which it operated.
Bellanca left a good deal of unfinished work for the generation of women trade unionists that followed her. Today’s female trade unionists also must pursue the runaway industries as they flee south, southwest, and overseas. The inducements that drew Ansorge Brothers to Scranton in 1920—a willing Chamber of Commerce and other civic business groups, a large, exploitable, young and female work force, and community antagonism to trade unions—still attract the 1980s-style runaways. And although the feminism of the 1980s is increasingly applied by working-class women to their own lives, and affects working-class men to some extent as well, problems of class and gender remain endemic to labor union struggles. The experience and career of Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca, her triumphs and her failures, are pertinent and worthy of study by today’s women organizers.
1. Ann Washington Craton, “Ansorge Bros. Goes to Scranton,” Advance, 4, no. 28 (Sept. 10, 1920), 6.
2. Documentary History of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, 1922–1924, Sixth Biennial Convention, May 1924 (New York: The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, 1924), 45–49.
3. Craton, “Ansorge Bros.,” 6.
4. A detailed biographical sketch of Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca can be found by Herbert Gutman in Notable American Women, 1607–1950, ed. Edward James (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971), 124–126, and by Melvyn Dubofsky in Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 4, 1946–1950, eds. John A. Garraty and Edward T. James (New York: Scribner’s, 1974), 69–70.
5. Interview with Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca in Woman’s World, Jan. 1941.
6. Sherry H. Olson, Baltimore (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 176.
7. Samuel Joseph, Jewish Immigration to the United States, 1881 to 1910 (New York, 1914), table 59.
8. Moses Rischin, The Promised City (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962), 64–65, and John Laslett, Labor and the Left (New York: Basic Books, 1970), 101.
9. Melvyn Dubofsky, When Workers Organize (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1968), 46.
10. Rischin, Promised City, 181.
11. Ibid, 183.
12. Dubofsky, When Workers Organize, 17.
13. United States Bureau of the Census, no. 43, 1920, 50: Olson, Baltimore, 280.
14. Olson, Baltimore, 279.
15. The Garment Worker; the advertisement appeared in numerous issues in 1902 and 1903, for example.
16. Joel Seidman, The Needle Trades (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1942), 89.
17. Documentary History of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, 1920, xvi–xvii.
18. Jack Hardy, The Clothing Workers (New York: International Publishers, 1935), 82.
19. Advance, 30, no. 8 (June 1, 1944), 19.
20. Matthew Josephson, Sidney Hillman: Statesman of American Labor (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1952), 111–115.
21. At about this time the radical immigrants at the UGWA Convention in Nashville had withdrawn to their own meeting. They represented a vast majority of the unionized Baltimore tailors and had plans to organize further.
22. Advance, 1, no. 18 (July 6, 1917), 6.
24. Advance, 32, no. 18 (Sept. 15, 1946), 7.
26. Documentary History of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, 1946–1948, Sixteenth Biennial Convention, May 1948 (New York: The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, 1948), xx–xxii.
27. Barbara Wertheimer, We Were There: The Story of Working Women in America (New York: Pantheon, 1977), 330.
28. “Resolution for a Woman Organizer,” Proceedings, Founding Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, Dec. 1914.
29. Hyman Blumberg to C. W., 1961, in ACWA files, Labor-Management Documentation Center, Martin P. Catherwood Library, New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. Hereafter cited as ACWA Files.
30. Documentary History of ACWA, 1914–1916, 195.
31. Ibid, 168.
32. Dorothy Jacobs to Joseph Schlossberg, July 20, 1916, ACWA Files.
34. Dorothy Jacobs to Joseph Schlossberg, Aug. 20, 1916, ACWA Files.
35. Dorothy Jacobs to Joseph Schlossberg, July 20, 1916, ACWA Files.
36. Dorothy Jacobs to Joseph Schlossberg, July 27, 1916, ACWA Files.
37. Dorothy Jacobs to Joseph Schlossberg, Aug. 13, 1916, ACWA Files.
38. Dorothy Jacobs to Joseph Schlossberg, July 20, 1916, ACWA Files.
39. Dorothy Jacobs to Joseph Schlossberg, Aug. 13, 1916, ACWA Files.
40. Dorothy Jacobs to Joseph Schlossberg, Sept. 17, 1916, ACWA Files.
41. Advance, 1, no. 25 (Aug. 24, 1917), 1.
42. Ibid., 6.
44. Advance, 1, no. 36 (Nov. 9, 1917), 6.
45. Dorothy Jacobs to Joseph Schlossberg, Dec. 10, 1916, ACWA Files.
46. Advance, 1, no. 29 (Sept. 21, 1917), 6.
48. Advance, 1, no. 28 (Sept. 14, 1917), 6.
50. Dorothy Jacobs to Joseph Schlossberg, Aug. 20, 1918, ACWA Files.
51. Personal interview, June 7, 1980.
52. Alice Kessler-Harris, “Organizing the Unorganizable: Three Jewish Women and Their Union,” Labor History, 17 (Winter 1976), 5–23.
53. Proceedings, Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, May 1918.
54. Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca to Bessie Malac, Sept. 2, 1925, ACWA Files.
55. Proceedings, ACWA, May 1918, 206.
56. Wertheimer, We Were There, 334.
57. Advance, 19, no. 10 (Oct. 1933), 13.
58. Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca to Hortense Powdermaker, Feb. 3, 1925, ACWA Files.
59. Advance, 8, no. 35 (Nov. 7, 1924), 2.
60. Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca to Mary Anderson, Feb. 3, 1925, ACWA Files.
61. For an example, see Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca to Hilda Shapiro, June 1, 1925, ACWA Files.
62. Advance, 8, no. 37 (Dec. 5, 1924), 1.
63. Advance, 9, no. 12 (June 19, 1924), 2.
64. Mamie Santora to Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca, Sept. 2, 1924, ACWA Files.
65. Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca to Mamie Santora, Aug. 5, 1925, ACWA Files.
66. Advance, 21, no. 1 (Jan. 1935), 19.
67. Irving Bernstein, The Lean Years: A History of the American Worker, 1920–1933 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960), 329.
68. ACWA General Executive Board Report, 1930–1934, 51–62.
69. Advance, 16, no. 43 (Oct. 24, 1930), 6.
70. Carole Turbin, “And We Are Nothing but Women,” in Carol Ruth Berkin and Mary Beth Norton, eds., Women of America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979), 216.
71. Interview with Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca in Woman’s World, Jan. 1941.
72. Advance, 22, no. 5 (May 1936), 5.
73. Proceedings, ACWA, May 13, 1938.
74. Proceedings, ACWA, May 16, 1938.
75. Advance, 22, no. 3 (March 1936), 8.
76. Advance, 20, no. 12 (Nov. 1935), 19.
77. See for example, Advance, 12, no. 14 (Apr. 8, 1927), and ibid., no. 5 (Feb. 4, 1927).
78. Proceedings, ACWA, May 17, 1934.
79. Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca to Helen Woodward, May 2, 1935, ACWA Files.