By the early twentieth century, criticism of industrialization had spurred various reform movements to advocate improved working conditions and benefits for industrial workers. Women, due to social constrictions, played a limited role in labor unions in this period. During the 1909-1910 Shirtwaist Strike in New York, however, women and their allies dominated reform efforts. Women from varied backgrounds worked together to aid women garment workers, but the relationship was fraught with tension. The documents in this section explore the women's alliances, and examine how socialism and class concerns affected those relationships.
- To explore the nature of women's alliances during the Shirtwaist Strike in New York.
- To understand the divisions within the alliances.
- To consider the role of socialism as a division among the women in leadership.
Read document 1. What appear to be the major concerns of working women? What threat did unionizing pose to women workers?
Compare documents 6, 7, and 22. Who were the "allies"? How did the Socialist leaders view the help of the allies? What did the Socialists believe the allies? agenda was?
Read documents 10 and 13. What did the leaders of the allies consider to be the "threat" of socialism?
Compare documents 4, 5, 12, and 14. Did any one side appear to be insincere in its efforts to help the cause? What actions did both sides take to help the cause of the striking women?
Read documents 16 and 18. What do these documents demonstrate about the response Jewish women had towards wealthy allies? Which side of the women's alliances would they be more likely to favor? What role did class play in determining sides, and how did the Jewish participation reflect this?
Using the information taken from the documents, write an essay answering one of the following questions.
- Describe the efforts of women's alliances in bringing about change during the Shirtwaist Strike. What issues did they agree on, if any? Identify the major points of disagreement, and explain how they affected the overall strike.
- What interest did the allies have in the outcome of the strike? How did the suffragist agenda affect their participation?
- In your opinion, who had the female strikers' best interests in mind, the socialist leaders or the allies? Use the documents to explain your answer. Consider class concerns in your ultimate analysis.