The Women’s Trade Union League Training School for Women Organizers, 1914–1926
Robin Miller Jacoby
The history of educational programs for women workers in the United States effectively begins with the efforts of the National Women’s Trade Union League (NWTUL generally known as the WTUL) in the early twentieth century.1 The pioneering ventures of the WTUL, of which its Training School for Women Organizers was the most influential, reflected a combined commitment to principles of feminism and trade unionism as well as a profound belief in the efficacy of educational solutions to social problems. Moreover, the WTUL’s educational activities and especially its training school embodied many of the goals, tensions, limitations, and achievements that characterized subsequent programs developed to offer women workers specific skills and general enrichment.
When the WTUL was founded in 1903, women workers were characteristically young and single and tended to think of themselves and to be regarded by others as only temporary members of the work force. As both a cause and an effect of this pattern, women workers were overwhelmingly clustered in the least skilled and lowest paying jobs and were almost totally ignored by the labor movement.2 The WTUL, whose membership consisted of leisure-class and working-class women brought together by a shared concern for the plight of women workers, responded to the situation of women in the industrial labor force through three different but chronologically and conceptually overlapping sets of activities. It sought to organize women workers into trade unions; it lobbied for legislation that would regulate the hours, wages, and working conditions of women; and it developed educational programs aimed at women workers, trade union men, and nonworking women on the special problems of women workers and the value of organization and legislation on their behalf.
Within this tripartite program of unionization, legislation, and education, for reasons both external and internal to the WTUL, education emerged by 1913 as the WTUL’s dominant focus. From its inception and throughout its existence, the WTUL sought to identify and respond to the educational needs of women workers, and it was in this arena that the league had its most prominent successes and its greatest impact. Its programs for women workers were designed to imbue working women with the motivation to unionize and to provide them with the skills necessary to function effectively in the labor movement. To this end, local leagues offered instruction in parliamentary procedure, public speaking, and the writing of business letters; several leagues developed libraries of works on industrial questions; and most local leagues sponsored periodic lecture series on trade union practices. One of the WTUL’s earliest and most innovative educational ventures was the formation of free English classes for immigrant women, accompanied by the creation of a special primer so that the women could learn the value of trade unionism along with English.3
Most local leagues also sponsored various social, recreational, and cultural activities, and these were seen as part of the WTUL’s educational program of enriching the lives of women workers while winning them to the cause of trade unionism. Local league meetings usually included refreshments and entertainment, such as music, dancing, travel slides, and literary recitations. Leagues often sponsored annual balls, and in the summer months most of them organized picnics and excursions. The Chicago WTUL even ran a small summer camp for its trade union members. Various leagues offered music, drama, art, and creative writing classes, and the Chicago WTUL’s chorus, which performed at Hull House functions and at WTUL national conventions, was reported to be one of that league’s most successful activities. Despite some instances of class and political tensions that developed, these activities were vital and important aspects of WTUL programs. They met real needs of women workers, they humanized the labor movement for many women, and they reflected the WTUL’s commitment to a world of “bread and roses” for women workers.
Within this context of perceived needs and attempted responses, the WTUL’s most ambitious and historically significant educational program was the Training School for Women Organizers it began in 1914.4 The league had few models for any of its activities, but in this case it was truly a pioneer, for the school was the first residential workers’ education program established in the United States. Even after other similar programs were begun in the early 1920s, the WTUL school remained unique because its curriculum included fieldwork as well as academic classes.5 The school did not have a very long history; financial programs and the disruption caused by World War I led to its temporary suspension in 1915 and again in 1918, and it was permanently closed in 1926. Nevertheless, despite its limited existence and achievements, the WTUL’s training school occupies an important place in the history of workers’ education, for its goals and residential format provided an influential model for subsequent programs.
The impetus for the school was the need for more female labor organizers. WTUL leaders, especially the league’s leisure-class president, Margaret Dreier Robins, had come to see the creation of a larger pool of women organizers as an essential prerequisite for increasing the number of unionized women workers. The fact that the WTUL national office received requests for women organizers from groups in nineteen states between 1911 and 1913 made the WTUL leadership feel there was not only a need for women organizers, but a greatly increased demand for them as well. Ten years of organizing work had also shown WTUL members that the scarcity of female organizers contributed to the tendency of gains won by women workers through strikes to disappear, because solid unions were not sustained in the aftermath of the crises that produced the strikes.
With these perceptions in mind, Robins introduced a proposal at the WTUL’s 1913 convention to create a training school for women organizers. In her presidential address she stressed her conviction that “the best women organizers without question are the trade union girls.”6 The problem was that “many a girl capable of leadership and service is held within the ranks because neither she as an individual nor her organization has money enough to set her free for service.”7 Grandly characterizing the WTUL as “representing . . . the hope and aspirations of the great women’s working group of America, organized and unorganized,” Robins urged that “if we are to serve our time as we ought to serve it,” the league should undertake to provide the funds and training necessary to enable more women with leadership potential to become organizers and labor leaders.8
The proposal met with an enthusiastic reaction, and Robins immediately appointed a committee to formulate plans for instituting a training program for women organizers. To head the committee, Robins appointed Mary Anderson, a member of the Boot and Shoe Workers’ Union who had left her factory job in 1910 for a full-time position with the Chicago WTUL as an organizer (and who eventually became the first director of the Women’s Bureau when it was created as part of the Department of Labor in 1920). The full planning committee consisted of three other trade unionists and three “allies,” as leisure-class members of the WTUL were called.9
Once the committee had worked out a preliminary plan, the WTUL wrote to trade unions and labor federations throughout the United States, soliciting their reactions to the proposed school, whose students would be selected by the WTUL national executive board on the basis of recommendations from unions and local leagues. The responses were uniformly enthusiastic, and the training program advocated by the planning committee became the basis of the school’s curriculum throughout its history. The training was to consist of a year’s residence in Chicago, where the students would be instructed in labor history, industrial relations, labor legislation, the theory and practice of trade agreements, English, public speaking, and parliamentary procedure. Fieldwork was to be divided between organizing and administrative activities. Under the supervision of the WTUL and union officers, the students were to gain experience in the planning, conducting, and publicizing of union meetings, the recruitment of unorganized workers, the handling of employee grievances and negotiations with employers, and the writing of reports, articles for the press, and business letters. The students would spend time in the offices of the WTUL and the Chicago Federation of Labor, where they would be exposed to basic bookkeeping procedures and general office practices. This aspect of their fieldwork was to give them insight into the bureaucratic functioning of labor organizations.
It was understood from the beginning that the program would be one of full-time study and fieldwork. Financially, this meant that all students would have to be on full scholarship, for the WTUL realized that the wage levels of women workers made it inconceivable that applicants would have savings to cover a year of unemployment. Since operating the school would involve overhead costs as well as the student scholarships, the decision to institute the training school signified the willingness of the WTUL to make it a major financial priority in the league’s budget. This decision was yet another demonstration of the WTUL’s optimistic belief in the connection between education and unionization.
The school actually began in the winter of 1914 with the arrival of the first three students: Louisa Mittelstadt, a brewery worker from Kansas City; Myrtle Whitehead, president of a 400-member, all-female local of the Crown, Cork and Seal Operatives’ Union in Baltimore; and Fannia Cohn, a garment worker from New York, who was president of her ILGWU local (Local 41 of the Kimona, Wrappers, and House-dress Workers’ Union).
Louisa Mittelstadt, who was secretary of the Kansas City league and a member of the WTUL national executive board, was a very capable but extremely diffident young woman.10 Upon hearing of her selection as one of the first students in the program, she wrote a short letter conveying her “appreciation and thanks for giving me this honor” and earnestly promised to make “every effort to realize your hopes.”11 The Kansas City Industrial Council, a local federation of trade unions, subsidized the first four months of Mittelstadt’s year in Chicago, and the WTUL was quite pleased by this indication of support for its school from an American Federation of Labor body.
Myrtle Whitehead, who had been working in a bottling plant since she was eleven years old, was partially sponsored by the Baltimore WTUL, She was eighteen or nineteen when she arrived at the school and was characterized by Stella Franklin, the national WTUL secretary-treasurer, as “a splendid girl with plenty of go and good humor and common sense.”12 Margaret Dreier Robins shared Franklin’s positive response to Whitehead, but she revealed her deeply paternalistic attitudes toward young women workers when she described Whitehead to an important WTUL benefactor as “one of the dearest children, spontaneous, and full of spirit and an ardent little Methodist.”13
It may be because she was a Socialist, but it is nonetheless surprising to find virtually no mention of Fannia Cohn in WTUL documents concerning the school at its inception or assessing it in retrospect, for of all the students who attended it throughout the years, she was the one who achieved the greatest prominence in the labor movement.14 She has been described as “a sensitive, slightly irritable woman,” and compared to the other students, her personality and her politics may have made her more aloof and independent, not as openly grateful to the WTUL for the opportunity it was offering her, and less accepting of the WTUL values and attitudes she encountered at the school.15
An indication of the atmosphere in which Cohn found herself and the only comment about her in WTUL records during the period she was at the school comes from the minutes of a staff meeting held shortly after she arrived in Chicago. Presumably in response to a request from her, the staff delegated Alice Henry, the editor of Life and Labor, to put Cohn in touch with leading Socialists in Chicago. This prompted Margaret Dreier Robins to make a series of remarks that “dwelt upon the necessity of getting our revolutionary spirits to do constructive work.”16 Robins, who had a very proprietary attitude toward the WTUL in general and the school in particular, was willing to have Socialists in “her” organization, but she was skeptical of their revolutionary theories and accepted them as colleagues only when they proved their willingness to do what she considered to be constructive work. By 1918, Cohn had apparently met Robins’s criteria, for in a fund-raising letter she praised Cohn as “among the finest of our women leaders . . . a woman who is able to move to the best possibilities in them the rank and file of our poorest workers.”17
WTUL allies provided much of the instruction during this first year, with supplementary sessions on trade agreements and judicial decisions affecting labor conducted by Chicago area (male) labor leaders. A University of Chicago professor taught a class on public speaking one evening a week, and this class and the sessions on trade agreements and labor legislation were open to other women workers as part of the educational program of the Chicago WTUL. The public speaking class was especially popular, attracting more students than could be accommodated. A sense of the way this particular class offered relaxing camaraderie along with serious skill building comes from the following account:
Mr. Nelson is a modern, up-to-date man with no professional taint. . . . He makes the girls really get on their feet and say something clearly and to the point. He is death on digressions and long-windedness and altogether the class is a splendid thing. . . . Not only are the new speakers developed but the practiced ones are corrected. Miss Henry has been rebuked for lack of clearness, Mrs. Robins for being too tense and Agnes Nestor for being too talky. You can imagine how this is enjoyed by the lesser mortals and how it encourages them.18
As part of their fieldwork, Mittelstadt, Whitehead, and Cohn attended shop stewards’ meetings, distributed leaflets for a union organizational drive, and participated in a meeting at Hull House called by “the women of Chicago” to protest police treatment of picketing waitresses on strike at Henrici’s, a well-known Chicago restaurant. WTUL leaders felt this Hull House meeting was an especially valuable experience for the students, for it “gave the girls a particularly fine opportunity of seeing the League getting that publicity and cooperation with citizens which is one of the distinctive features of our work in labor troubles.”19
Even though the WTUL had been able to accept only three students for the first year, there was a general sense that the school had gotten off to an encouraging start. All three young women completed the course and went on to become full-time organizers. Fannia Cohn initially remained in Chicago, working as a general organizer for the ILGWU, and she was instrumental in unionizing striking workers at the Herzog Garment Factory into Local 59. She subsequently returned to New York, serving as a member of the ILGWU national staff until her death in 1962.
The other two had much shorter careers as labor activists; by 1918 both had given up their organizing work for marriage and motherhood. Myrtle Whitehead spent 1915 as an apprentice organizer in New York under the supervision of Melinda Scott, who was then president of the New York WTUL and had had considerable organizing experience with garment workers in New York and New Jersey. Whitehead then spent most of the following year as an organizer for the Philadelphia and New York leagues. She also, however, became engaged that year and resigned her position with the WTUL in November 1916, just prior to her marriage.20 Louisa Mittelstadt returned to Kansas City, where she worked as an organizer for the Kansas City Industrial Council and the Brewery Workers’ Union until her marriage in 1917 or 1918. By 1922 she was the mother of three children and was very pleased to be living in a home on the outskirts of Kansas City where her children “could grow up in the open air.”21 Because of the demanding nature of labor organizing, it is not coincidental that over the years the women most active in the WTUL and in the labor movement were almost invariably single, either by choice or by happenstance.
The school staff consistently attempted to devise programs of study and fieldwork that took into account each student’s previous academic background and her experience in the labor movement. In 1916 the school’s year-long program was divided into four months of academic work and eight months of fieldwork. This plan was followed until 1922, when financial problems caused the WTUL to reduce the training program to a six-month course—three months of classes and three months of fieldwork. A few students who did not need the fieldwork component of the program came only for a period of academic study. One such student was Julia O’Connor, who was president of the Boston WTUL and of the Telephone Operators’ Union of Boston when she came to the school for four months of academic work in the fall of 1916. A few others did the reverse and participated only in the fieldwork program; one of these was Irene Goins (who Margaret Dreier Robins, in another unconsciously patronizing comment, characterized as “an extremely fine colored woman”), who in 1917 worked under Mary Anderson’s direction organizing black women workers in the Chicago stockyards.22
In response to a suggestion in 1920 from Julia O’Connor and Rose Sullivan, another telephone operator who attended the school in 1919, the school staff decided to add a “short course” to the school’s program. Five students came for an intense three-week session in January 1921; shortly after returning to her job, one of them wrote the director of the school that what she had learned in the three weeks had enabled her to settle “an organizational dispute” that she would not have been able to handle previously. Explaining the effect of being at the school for even this short time, she wrote, “It put pep and some very vital facts into my head at a time when I sure needed it.”23
After the experience with the first group of students in 1914, it was decided that the school’s academic goals would be best served by having the students take classes at local educational institutions whenever possible. The WTUL broached this idea to administrators at schools ranging from the University of Chicago to Crane Junior College and generally met with a favorable response. Most of the schools were willing to allow WTUL students to attend as auditors, but the University of Chicago stipulated that they would have to enroll as special students, which meant taking courses for credit. Not knowing whether their students could handle the pressures of examinations and grades, WTUL officials were annoyed at the University of Chicago’s insistence on this policy.24 However, since of all the schools in the area, only the University of Chicago offered a course on “Trade Unionism and Labor Problems,” which the school staff felt would be useful to the WTUL students, it was decided to try placing selected students in the course.
Dora Lipschitz, a garment worker from Philadelphia, and Julia O’Connor, the telephone operator from Boston, enrolled in the course for the fall quarter of 1916, and there was great rejoicing at the league when they passed their first exam with grades of C + and B +, respectively. A WTUL staff member wrote the news to Margaret Dreier Robins, jubilantly pointing out that the college students had averaged a C on the same exam.25
The presence of WTUL students in classes at the University of Chicago provided an additional dimension for the regular students’ study of labor problems. Professor Paul Douglas, the instructor of the “Trade Unionism and Labor Problems” course, reported in 1920 that not only were the WTUL students taking his course that year doing “distinctly creditable work thus far,” but furthermore:
I am very glad that they have been in the class. They have brought a reality into the discussions which has enlivened the subject for the other students and had. enabled the college students better to understand the point of view of the working woman. It is an excellent thing for our students to have two such intelligent women with first hand knowledge of the facts, associated with them.26
Another professor’s report on the same two students (Bella Caspar, a feather worker from New York, and Kathleen Derry, a boot and shoe worker from Canada) indicated that while their work showed “the lack of an early education,” they were both “good, earnest students, thoroughly intent upon their work”; in fact, he wished his regular University of Chicago students “were half as much in earnest as they are.”27
After 1920, virtually all the WTUL students took some courses at the University of Chicago. However, since most of them had very limited educational backgrounds, their attendance in college classes was supplemented by intensive tutorials with WTUL staff members. Of the four students who attended the school in 1923, one had gone through the tenth grade, another had reached the seventh grade, and the other two had not finished elementary school.28 Prior to each class the students would meet with the director of the school, and together they would go over the reading assignment paragraph by paragraph, discussing the meaning of individual words and summarizing the main points of the assignment. As a result of these sessions, the students were able to participate in classroom discussions “on about the same level as students who have had a great deal more schooling.”29
The same intensive tutoring was given to help students prepare term papers and English compositions. The combination of these tutorials, the student’s native intelligence, and a lot of hard work on their part enabled all four of the 1923 students to write term papers for the University of Chicago course on labor problems that received B’s and to move from initial grades of D’s to B’s on themes written for an English class. Taking these college classes expanded the students’ intellectual horizons, and discovering that they could do college level work gave them a new confidence in their own abilities.
The high point of academic achievement by a WTUL student was an independent study of Canadian minimum wage laws done by Kathleen Derry, the Canadian boot and shoe worker who attended the school in 1920–1921. The project was suggested to her by Professor Paul Douglas after she had taken his labor problems course in the fall. He supervised her research, and they produced a coauthored article that was published in the April 1922 issue of the Journal of Political Economy. The WTUL extended Derry’s scholarship to allow her the time necessary to complete this work, and the league’s pride in her accomplishment was echoed by Douglas, who remarked, “If anyone needed an argument for workers’ education, it was at hand in this piece of work, done by a girl who left school early and had but scant advantages afterwards.”30
Despite the WTUL’s pride in the student’s academic achievements, it always kept firmly in mind that the goal of the school was to train young women for leadership positions within the labor movement, not to make them into college students. The league encouraged the students to keep in touch with their own trade by attending meetings of Chicago locals of their unions. It also stressed the educational value of attending meetings of the Chicago WTUL, the Chicago Federation of Labor, and various public lectures and forums on topics relevant to the labor and women’s movements. The WTUL considered these meetings and the sessions with WTUL personnel and male labor activities on industrial relations and union practices to be as important as the students’ course work in more academic settings.
Despite valiant fund-raising efforts, inadequate finances hindered the school from its inception. In the ten and one-half years it was in operation, the league spent approximately $50,000 on the training program, virtually all of it donated by people outside the labor movement.31 Most of these sympathetic individuals were women, and WTUL fund-raising appeals stressed the notion of cross-class sisterhood in requesting contributions. In a typical fund-raising letter describing the school, Margaret Dreier Robins wrote:
I am very happy to be able to add that all the money which we have received for this work has come to us from women. It seems to me so significant of our time that women of all groups should get together, should learn to understand each other and should be of service one to another.32
Some of the fund-raising letters also mentioned the need to provide health care for the students. As Robins wrote to one WTUL benefactor, “No one who does not know intimately the terrible drain upon the physical strength and vitality of our young girls can have any conception of the universality of ill health among them.”33 The league did what it could to arrange for medical and dental care for the students, but serious health problems caused the premature departure of three students who began the training program.34 Robins felt it would have been beneficial for all the students to have a month’s rest before coming to the school and deeply regretted that such an arrangement was “of course quite out of the question.”35
One of the ways the WTUL provided for the physical well-being of the students was to include recreational activities in the school’s program. It was grateful to the YWCA for allowing WTUL students to take swimming and exercise classes free of charge, and in the summer months the school staff arranged excursions such as picnics in Chicago parks and boat rides on Lake Michigan. An indication of the league’s continuing concern with the students’ health and of the school’s precarious financial status is that in 1922 an arrangement was made with a “first class” woman physician who would see WTUL students for the special rate of $3.00 for a full examination and $1.00 to $2.00 for ordinary office consultations; the school staff was pleased with this arrangement and hoped “that somehow we can meet these small bills.”36
Given the limited financial resources of the school, the WTUL national executive board took very seriously the process of awarding the few scholarships it could offer. The board, guided by recommendations from members of local leagues and union officials, based its selections on its assessment of the applicants’ intellectual abilities, union experience, leadership potential, and seriousness of purpose. The league’s desire not to antagonize the AFL was a major factor in the board’s decision not to award a scholarship to one of the 1923 applicants who was a member of the United Shoe Workers of America, a group that had seceded from the AFL-affiliated International Boot and Shoe Workers’ Union.37
The board did, however, refuse to go along with racist tendencies in the AFL. One of the 1923 applicants it did accept was Marjorie Kemp, a black post office worker from Chicago; league officials recognized that racial prejudice might make finding fieldwork placements for her difficult, but they considered her a “splendid” young woman, one who had taken “exceptional interest” in the activities of her union and who, with the benefit of training, would be in a position to do “pioneering work among a group as yet scarcely touched by organization.”38
Predictably, the students did not always fulfill expectations, despite the care that went into their selection. Two students were asked to leave the program in 1917: one partly because of health problems but largely because she did not “give evidence of possessing the qualities of leadership” considered essential;39 the other because her prior experience in union activities proved too limited to give her the “background to profit by the course of training as outlined for the School.”40 The Boston WTUL, having highly recommended this student, protested the decision to remove her from the program after four months, but the school officials stood by their negative assessment.41
A compromise was offered to another student who told the school director that she had recently become engaged and was to be married the following month. Upon hearing this news, the WTUL executive board decided it could not justify continuing her scholarship after her marriage. The board acknowledged that “being a married women is not in itself any disqualification for either an organizer or student organizer,” but it felt it must anticipate the reality that “very few young brides care to face the great amount of evening work that organizing involves, or the possibility of being sent away from home at short notice and for indefinite periods.”42 The student, Margaret Haray, an Hungarian immigrant garment worker from Chicago, was told that her scholarship would be continued for another month and that she could use the last two weeks of her grant for her honeymoon. She was invited to return to the training program after her marriage, but at that point it would have to be at her own expense, an option WTUL officials must have realized she was unlikely to be in a position to accept.43
On the basis of past experience, WTUL leaders were being realistic; but at the same time, this case illustrates their tendency to accept prevailing views about the incompatibility of careers and marriage for women. As single women, most of the WTUL’s most active and committed members often had ambivalent feelings about women who gave up active roles in the WTUL and/or the labor movement for marriage. News of such “defections” tended to produce mixed feelings of pleasure and regret in WTUL leaders. When reporting that Alexia Smith, a student at the school in 1923–1924 and subsequently an organizer for the WTUL, was resigning her position with the league in order to marry, WTUL national secretary-treasurer Elisabeth Christman commented, “While I adore brides and weddings, I find myself wishing that Alexia could have remained with us a while longer!”44
Another problem that emerged was conflict over the orientation of the fieldwork program. Although the stated goal of the school was to train women to be union organizers, the fieldwork assignments in fact emphasized bureaucratic and administrative skills and did not provide the students with much supervised experience in day-to-day organizing work.
Dissatisfaction with the fieldwork program was first expressed by the six students at the school in the fall of 1916. The students, in a memo to the national executive board, affirmed their belief in the “purpose and the possibilities of the School,” stated that they considered “the academic work valuable and entirely worthwhile,” but asserted that they found “the opportunities for experience and practice in field work, the most important phase of the School’s work . . . to be practically negligible.”45 As far as they were concerned:
Not a piece of work has been done by the students who are partly or entirely on field work that can be construed as experience in organizing work. We submit that office routine work is distinct from organizing work and that training in the former makes no contribution to the value of the latter.46
This astute and pointed criticism did not, however, lead to lasting changes. The WTUL national executive board discussed the memo and decided to ask Mary Anderson, a WTUL organizer, to direct the student fieldwork.47 She took charge of this aspect of the training program in 1917, adding the students to the group of women she was coordinating in an attempt to unionize the approximately 15,000 women workers in the Chicago stockyards.48 Anderson, however, left Chicago the following year, and the changes she had effected in the fieldwork program apparently did not survive her departure.49
In 1925 Helen Hill, an ally who served as director of the school in 1924—1925, voiced reservations quite similar to those expressed by the 1916 students, claiming it was a “farce” to think the fieldwork was providing the students with experience in organizing. Her year as director had convinced her that “office and academic work we can do and have to some extent done; insofar as whatever we have taught is transferable, we may have increased the potentiality of whoever from our students may become an organizer, but we are not training organizers.”50
Hill felt the WTUL would be justified in claiming it was training organizers only if the fieldwork actually required the students to attempt to unionize a group of unorganized workers. “Real training,” from her point of view, would consist of picking a target group of workers and then having the students go through the following procedures: exploring legislation and union practices pertinent to the industry in question, making a preliminary survey to obtain names of workers in a given shop or shops, visiting them to discuss the advantages of unionizing, producing and distributing leaflets, and conducting a series of meetings. Such a program would provide the students with genuine organizing experience and, ideally, would produce a new, viable group of trade unionists.
As these perceptive assessments of the training program indicate, there was a serious gap between the WTUL’s professed goals for the program and the kind of training it was actually providing. The league was not consciously betraying its commitment to organizing; the bureaucratic emphasis of the fieldwork program simply reflected the current orientation of the WTUL. By the time the school was established, the league, locally and nationally, had come to focus its time and money on educational programs and legislative activities it hoped would move women workers toward unionization, rather than on the actual unionization of women workers. Accordingly, the students at the school were being taught those skills which would be useful in these activities; the fieldwork program, reflecting the background and the experiences of the school’s leaders, was producing women better trained to be labor union administrators than militant organizers of other working women.
A final problem worth noting was at least one instance of considerable student dissatisfaction with the attitudes of the school staff. The 1916 memo mentioned above, in addition to its criticism of the fieldwork program, indignantly complained about the staff’s patronizing attitudes. Contending that “the School as it is being administered at present must fail of its avowed purpose—the training of trade union girls for leadership among their fellow workers,” the students listed the following practices as reasons for their point of view:
1. Because initiative and the qualities that make for leadership are neither permitted nor encouraged to develop.
2. Because past experience and knowledge of the movement are discounted and ignored; we resent being made over.
3. Because the treatment accorded us as students in the School has not been that of equals and co-workers in a great sense, but rather that of distrust and condescension.
4. Because on no matter, great or small, are we considered capable of making a decision for ourselves, although every one of us has for many years been not only permitted but forced by circumstances to meet her own problems and make her own decisions.51
It is especially interesting to note that these complaints were directed at women who had once been in the position of these students, women whose leadership potential had been developed through their involvement with the WTUL. These complaints, then, were not an instance of class tension between middle-class allies and working-class unionists, for the WTUL personnel most closely involved in the administration of the school at the time were primarily trade unionists who now held staff positions with the league.52 The charge of patronizing behavior, which the students had no reason to invent, undoubtedly reflects in part inevitable generational differences, but more important, it also reveals a tendency of league leaders, whatever their class backgrounds, to develop the self-righteous attitudes that characterize most social reformers.
The financial problems that beset the school from its inception in 1914 ultimately made it too great a drain on WTUL resources. The combination of a steadily decreasing budget and the development of other worker education programs in the 1920s led the 1926 WTUL convention to vote to discontinue the school. The league came to this decision reluctantly and expressed hope that some of the school’s functions would be carried out less formally by the local leagues.
Financial constraints had allowed the WTUL to accept a total of only forty-four students into the training program. Of these forty-four, however, at least thirty-three went on “to serve the labor movement in some capacity.”53 Information about the specific career patterns of individual students is incomplete, but of the twenty-three about whom some information exists, sixteen worked as organizers for trade unions or for the WTUL for at least some period of time. The seven others may also have done some organizing work, but they are known to have been union staff members, government officials in labor-related agencies, and/or active in local leagues of the WTUL. While league leaders deeply regretted the limited number of scholarships they were able to offer, they were extremely proud of the school and considered it a significant aspect of the WTUL during the years it was in operation and in retrospect.
Overall, the school should be regarded as a qualified success. It served only a small number of students, and the fieldwork program was not designed to provide them with the best possible training in organizing skills and techniques. Nonetheless, as the first full-time, residential workers’ education program, its establishment was an important event in the history of workers’ education in the United States, and the WTUL school influenced the design of subsequent programs.54
In terms of the WTUL’s history, the decision to establish the school and to devote to it the resources that it did signifies the WTUL’s increasingly indirect approach to the unionization of women workers, an orientation that strengthened the league’s identity as a social reform organization but weakened its links to the labor movement. However, the fact that 79 percent of the students who attended the school attained positions of greater responsibility and prestige within unions or related organizations is an indication that the school, albeit in a very limited way, did indeed serve to increase the pool of women labor leaders and thereby to improve the status of women in the labor movement.
Hundreds of young women needle workers on strike in East Coast and Midwest cities recounted their experiences to Women’s Trade Union League members and supporters. In 1914, Life and Labor, the journal of the NWTUL, published these two reports of sexual harassment and the need for union organization under the heading “Girls’ Stories.”55
The boss from our shop was always fresh with the girls. He liked to see us blush, so we made a society, called “The Young Ladies’ Educational Society,” and we was not to stand the freshness of the boss. But we was afraid of him, and so we couldn’t help each other. Once he touched me, very fresh like, and I cried, and he said, “Let’s be good friends, Rosie, and to show you how good I means it, you take supper mit me in a swell hotel, with music and flowers, see?” And I says, “So! Supper mit you—swell hotel! Well, I ask my ma,” and he said, “Don’t you do it. You say you going to sleep at a friend’s house,” and I was scared and I said, “Oh! What you mean,” and I was trembling so I couldn’t nearly do my work, and when my ma sees me, she says, “What’s the matter, Rosie?” and I says, “Nothing,” because she’s sad, my ma is, ’cause I have to work so hard and can’t have no education, and she says, “Rosie, you got to tell your ma what’s gone wrong,” and we both cried together, and so the next day I went to another shop, and I told the first lie I ever told in my life. I told the boss I come from another city. I liked this new boss; he was not so fresh and I had a seat by a window, and my ma and me, we was so happy we laughed and I told her about the nice shop and fresh air, and then the next day the boss he come to me and he says, “I’m sorry, Rosie; we like your work, but your other boss telephoned he no discharged you and so we can’t keep you here.”
Well, we had troubles in our shop. The boss, he put a girl at a padding machine, which is awful hard work, the needles they break all the time, and, mind you, a $9.00 job it is, and he only gives her $6.50. Then there is another girl, a pale, quiet kind, and she doing a $6.00 job and gets only $4.00. And this quiet girl, I know just how she feels in her heart, as she sits there sewin’—it’s so hopeless, it is—such poor pay, and a big family at home needin’ money—and then when the boss comes around, he says to her, cross-like, “Thinkin’ of the boys again? You girls can’t work, thinkin’ of the boys. Out late last night, was you?” And I know just how she feels when she hears that, and so I says to him, “Those two girls in this shop got to have more pay,” and he says to me, “You mind your own business, making trouble here. You’re satisfied with your pay, ain’t you?” and I says, “Yes, I’m satisfied with my pay, but the other girls’ pay is my business, too.” He got mad, and he says to me, “Get out.” And so I quit workin’ and go home, and they told me after I was gone everybody in that shop quit workin’, too, and says they won’t do a stitch until I comes back. And so the boss he had to send for me, and we had a shop meetin’ and a committee goes to the boss, and he raises the wages of the girls. Now we’re organized fine, and everybody in our shop belongs to the union. But I know a shop where the girls don’t belong to the union and my friend, she tells me the conditions is awful bad in her shop. So we are going to change places. She gets $8.50 and I get $10.00, but I don’t care. I want to help organize these girls and see what’s wrong in that shop. And besides, my boss, he hates me so. Gee! did you ever see a boss smile? He smiled at me today! Ain’t it cute! Don’t it just make you sick!
Submitted in 1914 to Life and Labor by a reader, this life history underscored the need for “the strong organization of the women and girl workers” supported by the WTUL. The editors also applauded the young writer’s call for the vote.56
Grammar school had just closed for the usual summer ten weeks’ vacation, and I entertained fond hopes of entering the high school at the close of the vacation, having passed my examinations successfully, but hopes of a high school education for me were soon to explode like bubbles.
My father, who had been employed as a machinist in a large factory had the misfortune of having several pieces of lead and steel enter his eyes, and the doctors were of the opinion that he would never be able to see again, and for weeks lay on a bed while my mother, sisters and brother took turns of supplying ice cold compresses to the almost sightless eyes.
My father recovered his eyesight, however, and because of the enormous expenses incurred, and loss of work, it was necessary for me to help finance the family.
I was about fourteen years of age and the oldest of five.
I shall never forget the day my father came to me and told me he had secured a job for me in the same factory in which he was employed, and expected me to be ready in the morning to go to work at 6:30 A.M.
I had been sitting on our front door step, quietly dreaming and planning my future career as a professional nurse with a high school diploma.
After my father proceeded to leave me, I got up too stunned to reply. It seemed as if an iron clamp had suddenly been pressed around my head. I said, “Alright, father,” and walked and walked, not knowing or caring where the walk might lead.
Finally I arrived at the dark winding river which flowed near our large manufacturing concerns, and came very near wishing the river would swallow me up, so filled was I with disappointment, and so weary and tired trying to think this new thing out.
I managed to get back home about eight o’clock and, going straight to bed, gave vent to my disappointment by sobbing bitterly, until from sheer exhaustion I went to sleep.
The following morning mother came and woke me up at 5:30 A.M. I immediately arose, trying to conceal from mother and father just how badly I felt, but I couldn’t deceive mother. She knew my ambitions and plans, I felt her ever watchful eyes on me all the time I ate breakfast. I had the feeling that she would question, but she very wisely said nothing. Just before leaving for work, however, she gave me a new sailor hat to make me feel brave I suppose. At another time I would have been delighted, but I was still too grieved and dazed, and the sailor hat brought no comfort.
Father and I walked to the factory together, and I was on the verge of tears all the way. I had hard work to keep from sobbing. I had never seen the interior of a factory, and upon entering, the machinery seemed so large, formidable and black, the floors so black, too, and the walls and ceilings so dirty and dusty that it satisfied my ideas of a prison.
I was assigned to a printing office, connected with the factory. The odor of poisonous inks and oils was unendurable.
I was immediately set to work running a Gordon press at slow speed for about a week, and learned to feed the machine so accurately and well that the very next week I was put on full speed, receiving the sum of three dollars a week.
The actual work was not hard; the hours were very long. Just as soon as an order had been printed, we would sit down in some uncomfortable corner and wait half an hour or an hour for another order to be printed.
After a few months the factory went into a trust, and we all felt the change before three weeks had gone.
We found, for instance, that we had departed from the old system into one of speed, speed, speed. We also had a timekeeper over us, which meant we were to have printed by 6:00 P.M. twelve thousand to fifteen thousand envelopes a day. This meant that we must repeat the one and same motion twelve or fifteen thousand times a day.
I used to be tired and weary about two in the afternoon, with energy and snap all gone. This was partially due to the poor ventilation we had.
There were about forty of us in all, men and women, boys and girls in this printing room breathing this bad air.
The only ventilation we had was open windows; but most people are aware that open windows give haphazard ventilation. We couldn’t have even so much ventilation in winter. When one of the girls opened a window for a breath of fresh air, someone would surely call out, “Close that window. Do you want to freeze us to death?” So the windows generally remained closed. The air we breathed as a result was a mixture of carbonic gas and paper dust and floor dust. The floor was swept daily with a broom, never dampened, though we often begged the sweeper to “please dampen the broom.”
Many of the men chewed tobacco, and would usually expectorate on the floor. If we admonished them they swore at us.
During my observation of them, two of these men, who were in the habit of thus expectorating on the floor or in the sink, were obliged to lay off on account of tuberculosis.
One day I plucked up courage enough to ask the boss for a “raise.”
I was granted $3.60 a week. I thought I ought to have more, and upon saying so, “the boss” informed me that, since we were working for a trust, it was up to him to run his department as economically as he could.
That meant, I inferred, getting as much speed as he possibly could out of us—as reports and figures had to go to headquarters and be compared with reports and figures of the other five factories in the trust.
With the increase in speed, the dispositions of the girls changed. We became, as a whole, an irritable, unhappy company.
One day a paper came amongst us for our signatures. The paper agreed to give us Saturday afternoons for a holiday every week if we would agree to come back a quarter of an hour earlier each noon to work.
We all signed, for we all wanted Saturday afternoons off.
I never counted the cost of signing that paper then, but I did later.
Three quarters of an hour for a dinner hour. Think of it! It meant rushing home, swallowing your food whole and rushing back.
My home was a mile away from the factory, and I had to climb a hill to reach it, but a great many of the girls had farther than that to go.
I used to have severe attacks of indigestion; and the weariness and headaches began to tell. I grew thin, pale and lifeless and had all I could do to keep up with the speed.
When I could manage to work all day, I could hardly walk home at night. The hill climbing became almost an impossibility. Many times I prayed to die; I was too miserable to live.
I managed to plod along this way about three months when one day an accident occurred to one of the boys.
The young fellow was an apprentice, and had just “set up” a press for printing labels. Some of the labels, dropping on the floor, he stooped to pick them up, when the flesh of the upper part of his arm was drawn into the machinery and ground to pieces between two unprotected gears. I saw the accident, and went to his assistance with the result that a week from the day the young man was injured I entered a hospital, not as a nurse, but a general helper.
The interns of the hospital noticed my transparent, colorless appearance, and took a blood count and found I was on the verge of serious anaemia. Therefore my work was made lighter and a diet prescribed. I took walks in the open air, took the prescribed tonics and today I am a full-fledged state registered nurse, happy and well.
I never pass a factory without thinking and praying for those employed there. Women in industry are increasing faster than their birth rate, and girls are becoming unfit for motherhood because of the speed and grind of factory life.
Give the working girls pure air to breathe, give them a living wage, and less hours of labor.
I often wonder whether we are always going to have laws in the interests of workers combatted by capitalists. So many courts are in the habit of declaring laws in the interests of workers unconstitutional.
There are eight million women today working for wages. They are not working for starvation wages because they want to; women are not working ten hours a day because they want to.
Speed the day when we shall have the minimum wage, eight-hour law, compensation and liability act, and the righting of an unjust industrial situation and the vote giving the working girl the chance to voice her own sentiments.
My experience as a factory girl has convinced me that women in industry need the vote for their protection.
Written by a student at one of the early sessions of the WTUL’s Training School for Women Organizers, and published by Life and Labor in 1916, this essay reflects a rarely articulated concern for both women in industry and women “working in the homes of union men.” Organized under labor’s banner, the author argues that women could become a powerful political and economic force.57
“SCHOOL FOR WOMEN ORGANIZERS.”
Up I sprang from the dining-room floor where I was engaged in putting down a carpet. I was all excitement, for here was something valuable—a golden opportunity, perhaps—and how near I had come missing it! For that copy of the “Mine Workers’ Journal” which contained the article under the caption “School for Women Organizers” was about to be hidden away. Clearly opportunity had knocked more than once, for the paper was an old copy and this article had missed my eye before.
“* * * If we are to serve our time as we ought to serve it, representing as we do the hope and aspirations of the great working women’s group of America, organized and unorganized, we have to make possible an equipment to train and send forth organizers. * * * Will it be possible for the National Women’s Trade Union League to establish a training school for women organizers, even though in the beginning it may be only a training class, offering every trade union girl a scholarship for a year? The course of study ought to include the philosophy of trade unionism, the history of trade unions in America, England and Europe, a study of all current labor legislation, current history of the woman movement and the need of full citizenship for women, lessons in parliamentary law, a study of the methods of trade union offices, including the office of the American Federation of Labor at Washington, and field practice in more than one city under the leadership of the trade union organizers of the Women’s Trade Union League. Am I right in thinking that this is the great need of the hour in the industrial development of America? If I am right surely the delegates to this convention will find the means to establish a training school for women organizers so that we may be equipped to do our work. * * *”
At once I clipped the article and went on about my many Saturday duties, but all through the day the thought of that woman, of whom I had never heard before, was uppermost in my mind. Was it that through this bit of news, found by the merest accident, I was to gain the opportunity I had long desired? I, too, had felt the need, in a somewhat different way, of women trained for service in the industrial world; and here was a woman who had expressed this need excellently, and from her words surely this thing could be done.
But who was this Mrs. Raymond Robins and where could she be found? The writer evidently took it for granted that his readers knew all about the Women’s Trade Union League. I agree that they should.
When my father came home from the mine that evening, I shared the news with him, saying, “If I only knew of such a school, I’d go there.”
“Would you quit teaching?” he asked.
“I would go to that school,” I declared, evading the question. “I would go as soon as school closes this spring for I can’t help but feel that such a school would offer more of the vital things of life than we get at the Normal University.”
But would it mean the end of my teaching profession? Would it mean giving up all that that had meant and might mean to me? I was not talking now, I was dreaming—dreaming of another school in which I might some day come to teach.
“Oh, I must learn more about it,” I presently exclaimed.
It must seem strange indeed to you who have long been familiar with “Life and Labor,” to know that it was a very difficult thing for me to get information about the Women’s Trade Union League and to locate that woman, Mrs. Robins. But life in the coal camp and mining town, even in Illinois, affords little opportunity for one to come in touch with the big movements of the day. The “Mine Workers’ Journal” was the only trade union publication with which I was familiar. My reading was largely confined to educational journals which give nothing, of course, of the activities of the big school of industrial democracy.
It was John Mitchell, a former leader of the mine workers, who put me on the track of the woman I was seeking. Without delay I began to bombard the National League headquarters with letters. We got acquainted.
The opportunity was given me, at the League’s national convention in New York City last summer, to tell those present about the women I know. I was afraid I could not make the women of the League understand. The working women in the larger industrial centers had always claimed their thoughts and energies. Could I get them to see that the women in the isolated mining camp or small industrial communities were a large and important part in the development of an industrial democracy?
How happy I was to learn that another had been dreaming dreams akin to mine. Mrs. Robins could see the women of whom I spoke and she could see them in the future, intelligently active in labor affairs.
As I look back upon it now that wee, but valuable, bit of news I had read that Saturday was the key which unlocked to me a big new world, the world of women in industry, and led me on to that splendid New York convention which sent me back into my little world with a larger, a clearer and a richer vision. I saw my work before me and I must make ready for it. Would the word come, would I be given that opportunity?
October 1, 1915, it came. That scholarship, that wonderful opportunity, was mine.
And I am here in Chicago. And how happy and proud I am. I feel that there must be hundreds, yes, thousands, who if they knew, would envy me. I am here, for the present the lone student in this “School for Active Workers in the Labor Movement,” as it has since been renamed, for we know that some of us will be organizers, some writers or lecturers, some will use their talents in other ways. This big work of women and labor needs many sorts of service.
We must gather into our movement the women working in small groups in the towns and the women, who, though they can hold no union card, are working in the homes of union men, and have a voice in political affairs; for all these women constitute a potential force both in the political and economic world, and organized, they will contribute much of strength and value to the cause of labor. We need them and they need us. Think what it would mean if when our representatives appear before the state legislature asking for such legislation as the eight-hour day and the minimum wage, we could have the voice of all these women heard in the legislative halls. The “doubting Thomases” would be convinced that women want these things and I feel sure that these women will be instrumental in the passage of such laws.
My field work in the fall came to a sudden close after I had been in Chicago only two weeks and it became necessary for me to go to a hospital for an operation. But with the beginning of the new year I began my studies at the University of Chicago. I am now getting the background, the setting, if you will, of present day labor activities and I am coming to have a more wholesome regard for history than ever before. And following this will come the study of labor problems. Besides this work at the university there is a wealth of material in the League’s very valuable library. I cannot read these books fast enough. Then there are night classes for all the League girls in Chicago, one of these being a very interesting and important class in industrial history. And among the most interesting meetings I attend are the meetings of the Chicago Women’s Trade Union League once a month, and the bi-monthly meetings of the Chicago Federation of Labor.
And now that I am here I cannot feel that I have lost any of the value of the teaching profession nor have I sacrificed any of its possibilities. Many there are to teach in that great institution, the public school, but to some of us it is given to teach in this equally great institution, the school of industrial democracy.
—Agnes Burns, 1916.
1. Modeled on a British organization with the same name, the American Women’s Trade Union League was founded in 1903 by a coalition of social reformers and trade unionists. It remained in existence until 1950, but the steady decline in its membership and financial base that began in the mid-1920s makes the organization’s first two decades the most interesting and important part of its forty-seven-year history. Its headquarters were in Chicago until 1930 and after that in Washington, D.C., and while the number of branches or local leagues fluctuated over the years, they were consistently concentrated in the East and Midwest. The New York, Chicago, and Boston leagues, the first ones to be established, were the strongest and most active locals throughout the WTUL’s history.
For a fuller discussion of the WTUL, see Robin Miller Jacoby, “The British and American Women’s Trade Union Leagues, 1890–1925: A Case Study of Feminism and Class” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1977); Nancy Schrom Dye, As Equals and as Sisters: Feminism, Unionism, and the Women’s Trade Union League of New York (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1980); and Philip S. Foner, Women and the American Labor Movement, 2 vols. (New York: Free Press, 1979 and 1980).
2. For further discussion of this pattern and the position of women in the industrial labor force in the early twentieth century, see Alice Kessler-Harris, “Where Are the Organized Women Workers?” (Feminist Studies 3 [Fall 1975]: 92–110), and Leslie Woodcock Tentler, Wage-Earning Women: Industrial Work and Family Life in the United States, 1900–1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979).
3. Rich and reasonably accessible primary sources describing these local and national programs are the WTUL-written “Women’s Department” in the Union Labor Advocate, a monthly labor journal published in Chicago, and, from 1911 to 1921, Life and Labor, the WTUL’s own monthly journal. A complete copy of the primer may be found in the WTUL papers at the Schlesinger Library of Radcliffe College; excerpts from it were published in the January to April 1912 issues of Life and Labor.
4. The name was changed in 1915 to the School for Active Workers in the Labor Movement. The school’s goals did not change, but the new name more accurately reflected the kind of training the school offered.
5. By the time the WTUL school closed in 1926, some of the resident worker education programs which had come into existence were: summer schools for women workers at Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Sweet Briar; a summer program for women and men at the University of Wisconsin; and year-round sessions at Brookwood Labor College in Katonah, New York, and Commonwealth College in Mena, Arkansas. For brief surveys of these and other workers’ education programs, see Spencer Miller, “Summer Schools for Workers” (American Federationist 32 [July 1925]: 569–71), and Mark Starr, Workers’ Education Today (New York, 1941).
6. “The Fourth Biennial Convention,” Life and Labor 3 (July 1913): 210.
9. They were Melinda Scott, who was national vice-president and a member of the New York WTUL and the United Hat Trimmers Union; Leonora O’Reilly, a working-class member of the New York WTUL; Stella Franklin, a Chicago league activist, who was national secretary-treasurer and a member of the Stenographers and Typists Union; Laura Eliot, a New York ally; Amy Walker, a Chicago ally; and Mrs. Henry D. Faxon, an ally who was president of the Kansas City WTUL.
10. Mittelstadt had been secretary of the Kansas City league since its inception in 1911 and was elected to the WTUL national executive board at both the 1911 and 1913 conventions. The characterization of her as diffident is based on letters written by her between 1911 and 1914; these are in the WTUL papers in the Library of Congress and the Schlesinger Library.
11. Mittelstadt to Stella Franklin, December 6, 1913, NWTUL Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
12. Franklin to Executive Board members, February 27, 1914, Rose Schneiderman Papers, Tamiment Library, New York University, New York, N.Y.
13. Robins to Mrs. Willard Straight, February 15, 1916, NWTUL Papers, Schlesinger Library, Cambridge, Mass.
14. Cohn became a member of the ILGWU staff in 1919 and worked for the union until her death in 1962. She served as education director for most of that time, but was also the executive secretary and a vice-president in the course of her career. She gained a national reputation for her role in the development of workers’ education programs, founding the Workers’ Education Bureau of America and helping to establish Brookwood Labor College.
15. See Alice Kessler-Harris, “Organizing the Unorganizable: Three Jewish Women and Their Union,” Labor History 17 (Winter 1976): 14. (Kessler-Harris’s discussion of Cohn does not include mention of her attending the WTUL school.)
16. “Staff Meeting Held March 12  to discuss work of National League and especially plans for the National Training School,” Rose Schneiderman Papers.
17. Robins to Straight, February 22, 1918, NWTUL Papers, Schlesinger Library.
18. Franklin to Executive Board Members, February 22, 1918, NWTUL Papers, Schlesinger Library.
20. Whitehead’s life had a tragic ending: her husband was killed in an accident a few months after their marriage, and she died very unexpectedly shortly after the birth of a child in May 1917. Her mother took the baby to raise, and WTUL members kept in periodic touch with the grandmother throughout the 1920s. At the time of Whitehead’s death, the WTUL established a fund for the child’s education, but, like so many of the league’s undertakings, the fund proved to be one of those good intentions that was never very fully realized, for only about $200 was accumulated.
21. Alice Henry to the Alumnae of the Training School, June 29, 1922, Rose Schneiderman Papers.
22. Robins to Straight, February 22, 1918, NWTUL Papers, Schlesinger Library.
23. “Report from Secretary of Educational Department,” February 11, 1921, NWTUL Papers, Library of Congress.
24. See “Report of Associate Director of the School for Active Workers in the Labor Movement” (pp. 3–5), June 1917, NWTUL Papers, Schlesinger Library.
25. Olive Sullivan to Robins, October 27, 1916, Margaret Dreier Robins Papers, University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla.
26. “Extracts from Reports of Professor Douglas and Professor Nelson,” NWTUL Papers, Schlesinger Library.
28. See Elisabeth Christman and Penn Shelton Burke to Members of the Executive Board, November 30, 1923, NWTUL Papers, Library of Congress. This information on the educational backgrounds of these students in 1923–1924 was the only indication of the prior schooling of students who attended the WTUL school.
30. Quoted by Alice Henry, “Report of the Education Department” (p. 3), June 5, 1922, NWTUL Papers, Schlesinger Library.
31. This estimate is based on reports indicating that the WTUL had spent slightly over $28,000 on the school by 1920 and over $35,000 by early 1923. These figures were found in untitled, undated documents in the NWTUL Papers at the Schlesinger Library. Since twelve more students attended the school between 1923 and 1926, another $8,900 was spent on scholarships ($750 per student). Taking into account overhead costs, as well as this sum expended on scholarships, $50,000 is probably a conservative estimate. While the WTUL never received much financial assistance from the AFL, its policy was to use AFL contributions only for WTUL organizing work.
32. Robins to Mrs. William Cochran, August 31, 1916, Margaret Dreier Robins Papers.
33. Robins to Straight, October 5, 1916, Margaret Dreier Robins Papers.
34. In one case the student was able to return to the school several months later, and there was a dramatic change in her after she had had the operation she needed and some time to rest. According to Robins, “It is almost impossible to realize that this healthy, quiet, and serene young woman is the same human being who was up in the heights and down in the depths, high strung and physically and nervously ill when she came to us!” (ibid.).
36. “Distribution of the Scholarship Fund,” NWTUL Papers, Schlesinger Library.
37. See Christman to Maud Swartz, April 12, 1923, NWTUL Papers, Library of Congress.
38. Ibid. See also Christman to Members of the Executive Board, July 5, 1923, NWTUL Papers, Schlesinger Library.
39. Emma Steghagen to Members of the Executive Board, January 9, 1917, NWTUL Papers, Library of Congress.
40. Steghagen to Members of the Executive Board, January 11, 1917, NWTUL Papers, Library of Congress.
41. See ibid.; Mabel Gillespie to Steghagen, January 27, 1917; and Steghagen to Gillespie, n.d.; NWTUL Papers, Library of Congress. Florence Adesska, the student in question, returned to Boston, where she did very effective organizing work for the ILGWU, an indication that the school staff was not always correct in its judgments.
42. Christman to Members of the Executive Board, July 12, 1922, NWTUL Papers, Library of Congress.
43. The letter cited in n. 42, which is an explanation of the situation and of the action taken in regard to this case, was written while the student was on her honeymoon. It is the only document referring to the case, and the fact that it does not indicate that she was planning to return is probably a good indication that she did not complete the training program. There is unfortunately no evidence of her reaction to the executive board’s decision.
44. Christman to Members of the Executive Board, May 23, 1927, Margaret Dreier Robins Papers.
45. Agnes Burns, Dora Lipschitz, Lilly Brzostek, Mary Thompson, Florence Adesska, and Julia O’Connor to the Executive Board of the National Women’s Trade Union League, November 1916, WTUL Papers, Library of Congress.
47. The minutes of the executive board meeting simply state that a “full discussion” of the memo took place and that it was decided to appoint Mary Anderson as head of the fieldwork program (“Minutes of the Executive Board Meeting,” November 4–5, 1916, NWTUL Papers, Library of Congress).
48. See Robins to Straight, February 22, 1918, NWTUL Papers, Schlesinger Library.
49. Anderson moved to Washington, D.C., in early 1918 to accept a government appointment to the Women’s Division of the Ordnance Department, and she remained in Washington to become head of the Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor when it was created in 1920.
50. Helen D. Hill, “Report on Training School,” n.d. (summer 1925, from internal evidence), NWTUL Papers, Schlesinger Library.
51. Burns et al. to Executive Board, November 1916, NWTUL Papers, Library of Congress. Despite their complaints, these students were not fundamentally alienated from the WTUL, for all six of them remained active in the organization in the years that followed.
52. The associate director, however, was an ally who had formerly served as head resident of a settlement house in Baltimore, and it may well be that she was the primary target of the students’ criticisms, even though they do not explicitly say so in their memo.
53. National Women’s Trade Union League, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Program (Chicago, 1929), p. 15. This summary indicates that, by 1928, three of the forty-four students who had attended the school had died and that thirty-two (or 78 percent) of the remaining forty-one had been active in the labor movement. Of the three deceased students, I can identify only Myrtle Whitehead, but since it is known that she worked as an organizer for a period prior to her death, I am counting her in the total of activists. Discounting the other two who died, then, 79 percent (actually, 78.57 percent) of the students went on to serve the labor movement.
54. There were especially close ties between the WTUL and the Summer School for Women Workers established at Bryn Mawr College in 1921. The program was run by a joint administrative board consisting of an equal number of college and industrial women, and most of the latter were trade union members of the WTUL. The Bryn Mawr school, which ran for eight weeks and accepted about 100 students each summer, offered an academic program similar to that of the WTUL’s school, but it did not include fieldwork and it was not nearly as trade union oriented as the league’s school in Chicago. The Bryn Mawr Summer School remained in existence until 1938, when it moved to New York to become the Hudson Shore Labor School, a coeducational institution with year-round programs.
For further information, see Helen D. Hill, The Effect of the Bryn Mawr Summer School as Measured in the Activities of its Students (New York: American Association of Adult Education, 1929); Gladys L. Palmer, The Industrial Experience of Women Workers at the Summer Schools, 1928–1930, Bulletin no. 89 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau, 1931); and Hilda Worthington Smith, Women Workers at the Bryn Mawr Summer School (New York: Affiliated Schools for Women Workers in Industry, 1929).
55. Both from Life and Labor 4, no. 8 (August 1914), pp. 243–44.
56. From Life and Labor 4, no. 9 (September 1914), pp. 268–70.
57. From Life and Labor 6, no. 3 (March 1916), pp. 38–39.