Women and Work

History of Women in the Labor Movement

“We are starving while we work; we might as well starve while we strike!” — 1909 Garment Workers’ Strike Banner


Women have worked for ages in industrial, clerical, and service work and the professions in the United States, laboring under harsh conditions. The reality for many working women in the early 20th century was confinement to jobs where they were routinely exploited – especially those who worked in factories and mills up to 70 hours a week for three dollars or less.

In 1911, 154 workers, mostly young women, died in the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire in New York City’s garment district – leading Rose Schneiderman, a seamstress, to proclaim, “Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves.” Schneiderman had helped to establish the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

The history of America’s working women is a history of advocating for the abolition of slavery, the right to vote, the right to unionize, the welfare of children and the extension of human rights to all. Despite the obstacles, despite the stereotypes imposed by society, America’s working women have persevered. Theirs is a revolution still in the making.

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