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The League of Women Shoppers and Women Workers, 1935-1948

Based on document project, "How Did the League of Women Shoppers Use Their Privilege to Act in Solidarity with Workers, 1935-1948?" by Beth Robinson, 2014.

The document project on which this lesson plan is based is available by subscription only from Alexander Street Press.

Jessica Derleth
Binghamton University

Introduction

Founded in 1935, the League of Women Shoppers (LWS) aimed to remedy the ills associated with industrial capitalism by serving as an ally to workers actively engaged in labor disputes, contract negotiations, and union organizing. Though members of the LWS were primarily middle-class women, they were part of the Popular Front of the 1930s who sought to act in solidarity with workers across racial and class divisions. Rather than organize workers or seek legislative change, the LWS focused on pressuring employers to improve their treatment of employees and customers. Capitalizing on their elite status, LWS members drew mainstream media attention to working-class pickets while serving as a deterrent to police violence and arrests.

Objectives

Lesson Ideas

Read documents 4, 8, 14, and 22. How did the League of Women Shoppers define and understand consumer rights? What are the rights and obligations of consumers? Are consumer rights different from worker rights? How are the two related?

Read documents 1, 2, and 15. What was the role of celebrities in the League of Women Shoppers? Why would the LWS mention famous figures in their pamphlets? Based on what you have learned in this and other American history courses, did other social movements recruit celebrity activists?

When discussing and studying United States women's history we often think of activism for women's rights occurring in two "waves": the first wave covering 1848 to 1920 when women sought civil and political rights ranging from property ownership to suffrage; and the second wave that stretched from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s and broadened the notion of equality to reexamine men's and women's social roles. In much of their literature, published between 1935 and 1948, the League of Women Shoppers expressed concern for the "well-being of women and children." To see this, read documents 4, 6, 13, 16, and 23. How did the LWS discuss women workers? What political concerns are portrayed as especially relevant to women? Does this material from the LWS support or complicate the idea of "waves?"

Consider the role of class in labor and consumer rights activism by reading documents 8, 15, and 9 (p. 5, and pp. 63-66). According to League of Women Shoppers promotional material, why should middle- and upper-class Americans care about others' working conditions? How is "the worker" portrayed?

Read documents 3, 4, 8, 10, and 11. How did the League of Women Shoppers describe their activism in their publications? What tactics did the LWS use to gain supporters and increase membership? Are there similarities or differences in how the LWS publicized their activism versus how they recruited members? Is this similarity or difference significant?

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