National Women's Trade Union League of America

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The National Women’s Trade Union League of America (NWTUL) was established in Boston, MA in 1903, at the convention of the American Federation of Labor. It was organized as a coalition of working-class women, professional reformers, and women from wealthy and prominent families. Its purpose was to “assist in the organization of women wage workers into trade unions and thereby to help them secure conditions necessary for healthful and efficient work and to obtain a just reward for such work.”

The roots of the WTUL come from a British organization of the same name founded thirty years prior. The British League had originally supported the creation of a separate women’s labor movement but, by the 1890s, merged its own aims with the mainstream British labor movement and functioned as an umbrella organization of women’s trade unions. Organized in 1903 at the American Federation of Labor (AFL) convention, the WTUL spent much of its early years trying to cultivate ties with the AFL leadership. By 1907, the WTUL saw its purpose as supporting the AFL and encouraging women’s membership in the organization. In its constitution that year, the WTUL defined its purpose in assisting “in organizing women into trade unions…such unions to be affiliated, where practicable, with the American Federation of Labor.” In response, the AFL leadership generally ignored the League. When the WTUL decided to hold its annual conference at a different location than the AFL in 1905, Samuel Gompers was furious and refused to attend. Still, the League did push the AFL towards a pro-woman suffrage position and did manage to organize more women into the Federation than at any previous time.

It also drew on the earlier work of activists in the settlement house movement such as Jane Addams and Florence Kelley, and budding unions in industries with a large number of women workers, such as garments and textiles. The WTUL leadership comprised both upper-class philanthropists and working-class women with experience organizing unions, including a significant portion of the most important female labor leaders of the day, including Rose Schneiderman.

But the heyday of the League came between 1907 and 1922 under the presidency of Margaret Dreier Robins. During that period, the WTUL led the drive to organize women workers into unions, secured protective legislation, and educated the public on the problems and needs of working women.

From 1907 through 1922, the WTUL achieved a number of its legislative goals, including an eight-hour workday, a minimum wage, and the abolition of child labor. Following the Triangle Factory Fire in 1911 the WTUL took part in a four-year investigation that ultimately helped establish new industrial safety regulations. In addition, the league helped women gain access to labor unions, trained women for leadership positions within unions, and even provided temporary assistance for unemployed trade union women.

At a time when organized labor was devoted to a “family wage” concept—that is, a wage for men at which they could support an entire family without the contribution of a working wife—and when union leaders were worried that increased participation of women in labor markets would drive down men’s wages, traditional unions were largely unwilling to allow women into their ranks. When women did form unions and strike, the NWTUL often provided support where other unions held back.

Perhaps most importantly, the WTUL emerged as the central meeting place for reform-minded women interested in labor issues, and it was through the WTUL that many of these women cultivated important political relationships. Eleanor Roosevelt became an active league member in 1922, cementing her ties to figures like Rose Schneiderman and Margaret Dreier Robins. These women eventually became staunch Roosevelt allies, providing the WTUL important access to powerful politicians and ensuring that their voices would be factored into the formulation of labor policy in Washington. Despite the league’s closeness to the White House during the Roosevelt years, the WTUL’s role grew increasingly irrelevant once traditional labor unions allowed women to join on a widespread basis. Mounting financial problems and declining membership numbers also hampered WTUL’s effectiveness. Even though Eleanor Roosevelt remained supportive of the League until the end, when the NWTUL was forced to disband in 1950 due to diminished funds and personnel.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association records, 1894-1923 [microform]. Minnesota Historical Society Library
referencedIn Earl Browder Papers, 1879-1990 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
referencedIn Van Kleeck, Mary, 1883-1972. Papers, 1883-1972 Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Dreier, Mary E. (Mary Elisabeth), 1875-1965. Papers, 1797-1968 (bulk 1897-1968) Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Schneiderman, Rose, 1882-1972. [Letter], September 13, 1934, Washington, D.C. / Rose Schneiderman, President, National Women's Trade Union Leagure of America. University of Michigan
referencedIn O'Sullivan, Mary Kenney, 1864-1943. Papers, 1892-1943 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Van Kleeck, Mary, 1883-1972. Papers, 1849-1998 Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn New York (State). Division of Labor Standards. New York (State). Division of Labor Standards selected minutes and reports of Minimum Wage Boards, 1933-1962. Cornell University Library
referencedIn Newman, Pauline. Papers, 1903-1982 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf National League of Women Voters (U.S.). Women's suffrage collection, 1912-1920. Pennsylvania State University Libraries
referencedIn Margaret Dreier Robins Collection, 1876-1950, 1905-1945 Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida
referencedIn Papers of Mary Kenney O'Sullivan, 1892-1943 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Papers, 1922-1973 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf National Women's Trade Union League of America. Records, 1914-1942 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Papers, 1882-1965 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations (University of Michigan--Wayne State University). Program on Women and Work. Transcripts of oral history project, 1970-1978 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen, and Helpers of America. Records, 1904-1952. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Miller, Frieda S. Papers, 1909-1973 (inclusive), 1929-1967 (bulk). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Papers of Frieda S. Miller, 1909-1973 (inclusive), 1929-1967 (bulk) Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Anderson, Mary, 1872-1964. Papers, 1918-1960 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Switzer, Mary Elizabeth, 1900-. Papers, 1922-1973 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn National Women's Trade Union League of America collection, 1905-1950. University of Illinois at Chicago Library, UIC
referencedIn Newman, Pauline. Additional papers, 1926-1982 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Olander, Victor A., 1873-1949. Victor Olander papers, 1898-1955. Chicago History Museum
referencedIn Rose Schneiderman Collection. Photographic prints, 1909-1962. Churchill County Museum
referencedIn Marsh, Elizabeth Phillips. The uprising of the twenty thousand : a study of women and trade unionism. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn O'Reilly, Leonora. Leonora O'Reilly Collection, 1912. Western Michigan University, Dwight B. Waldo Library
referencedIn Boston Women's Trade Union League. Records, 1923-1933 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn O'Sullivan, Mary Kenney, 1864-1943. Papers, 1892-1943 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Newman, Pauline, ca. 1890-1986. Papers, 1900-1980 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Minnie Fisher Cunningham Papers Mss 0074., 1914-1944, 1914-1920 Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Libary
referencedIn Washington State Federation of Labor records, circa 1901-1967 University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
referencedIn J. B. Matthews Papers, 1862-1986 and undated David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
creatorOf National Women's Trade Union League of America. Records, 1903-1950. [microform] Cornell University Library
referencedIn Robins, Raymond, 1873-1954. Papers, 1878-1956. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
creatorOf National Women's Trade Union League of America. Records, 1903-1950 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Foley, Margaret, 1875-1957. Papers of Margaret Foley and Helen Elizabeth Goodnow, 1882-1965 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf National Women’s Trade Union League of America Records, 1903-1950 Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Rose Schneiderman Papers, Bulk, 1909-1920, 1909-1964 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn Nestor, Agnes, 1880-1948. Agnes Nestor papers, 1896-1954. Chicago History Museum
referencedIn Roscoe Pound papers, 1888-1964 Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall Cambridge, MA 02138
referencedIn United States. National Recovery Administration. National Industrial Recovery Administration (NIRA), Hearing reports, 1934-1944. Cornell University Library
creatorOf National Women's Trade Union League of America. Records, 1904-1950. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Pinchot, Cornelia Bryce, 1881-1960. Cornelia Bryce Pinchot papers, 1899-1960 (bulk 1918-1947). Library of Congress
referencedIn O'Sullivan, Mary Kenney, 1864-1943. Autobiography, ca. 1930. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Bilstein, Linda Zufall. Working women and the National Women's Trade Union League / by Linda Zufall Bilstein. University of Houston, Clear Lake, Alfred R. Neumann Library
referencedIn International Federation of Working Women. Records, 1919-1923 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Potter, Frances Boardman Squire, 1867-1914. Papers, 1879-1923 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Potter, Frances Boardman Squire, 1867-1914. Papers, 1879-1923 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Rose Schneiderman Photographs, 1909-1962 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn Records, 1923-1948 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Cornelia Bryce Pinchot Papers, 1899-1960, (bulk 1918-1947) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf National Women's Trade Union League of America. [Miscellaneous programs of conventions, anniversary dinners, etc.]. Chicago History Museum
referencedIn Committee on the Cause and Cure of War. Records, 1923-1948 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Rose Schneiderman Papers, Bulk, 1909-1920, 1909-1964, (Bulk 1909-1920) Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn Schneiderman, Rose, 1882-1972. Papers, 1909-1964 (bulk 1909-1920). New-York Historical Society
creatorOf National Women's Trade Union League of America. Women's employment collection, 1897-1980 (bulk 1900-1952). The Claremont Colleges, Claremont University Consortium
referencedIn National Women’s Trade Union League of America Records, 1903-1950 Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association. Records, 1894-1923 Minnesota Historical Society
referencedIn Winslow, Mary N. (Mary Nelson). Papers, 1923-1951 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Papers, 1919-1923 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Elizabeth Robins Papers, 1803-1963 Fales Library & Special Collections
referencedIn O'Reilly, Leonora, 1870-1927. Papers, 1886-1927 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Rose Schneiderman Papers, Bulk, 1909-1920, 1909-1964, (Bulk 1909-1920) Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn Manchester, Lee. Life and labor, a short history of the Women's Trade Union League, 1973. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Boston Women's Trade Union League. Records, 1924-1945 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Mitchell, John, 1870-1919. Papers, 1885-1919. [microfilm]. Hagley Museum & Library
creatorOf National Women's Trade Union League of America. Records of the National Women's Trade Union League of America, 1903-1950. Library of Congress
referencedIn Women's Trade Union League of America. Papers of the Women's Trade Union League and its principal leaders, 1855-1964 (inclusive), [microform]. Yale University Library
creatorOf National Women's Trade Union League of America. National Women's Trade Union Legaue of America papers of the Women's Trade Union League and its principal leaders, 1855-1964, bulk 1903-1950. [microform] Cornell University Library
referencedIn Winslow, Mary N. (Mary Nelson), 1887-1952. Papers, 1923-1951 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Dreier, Mary E. (Mary Elisabeth), 1875-1963. Papers, 1797-1963 (inclusive), 1897-1963 (bulk). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Boston Women's Trade Union League. Records, 1923-1933 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Addams, Jane, 1860-1935. person
associatedWith American Federation of Labor. corporateBody
associatedWith Anderson, Mary, 1859-1940. person
associatedWith Anderson, Mary, 1872-1964. person
associatedWith Bilstein, Linda Zufall. person
associatedWith Boston Women's Trade Union League. corporateBody
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associatedWith Boston Women's Trade Union League. corporateBody
associatedWith Boston Women's Trade Union League. corporateBody
associatedWith Brandeis, Louis Dembitz, 1856-1941. person
associatedWith Breckinridge, Sophonisba Preston, 1866-1948 person
associatedWith Breckinridge, Sophonisba Preston, 1866-1948. person
associatedWith Browder, Earl, 1891-1973 person
associatedWith Christman, Elisabeth. person
associatedWith Christman, Elisabeth. person
associatedWith Christman, Elisabeth, 1881-1975. person
associatedWith Committee on the Cause and Cure of War corporateBody
associatedWith Committee on the Cause and Cure of War. corporateBody
associatedWith Cunningham, Minnie Fisher person
associatedWith Dreier, Mary E. person
associatedWith Dreier, Mary E. (Mary Elisabeth), 1875-1963 person
associatedWith Duffy, Frank, 1861-1955. person
associatedWith Duffy, Frank, 1861-1965 person
associatedWith Duffy, Frank, 1861-1965. person
associatedWith Foley, Margaret, 1875-1957. person
associatedWith Frances Boardman (Squire) Potter, 1867-1914 person
associatedWith FRIEDA SEGELKE MILLER, 1889-1973 person
associatedWith Gompers, Samuel, 1850-1924 person
associatedWith Gompers, Samuel, 1850-1924. person
associatedWith Goodnow, Helen Elizabeth, 1894 person
associatedWith Henry, Alice, 1857-1943 person
associatedWith Henry, Alice, 1857-1943. person
associatedWith Hochstein, Irma. person
associatedWith Hoover, Herbert, 1874-1964. person
associatedWith Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations (University of Michigan--Wayne State University). Program on Women and Work. corporateBody
associatedWith International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen, and Helpers of America. corporateBody
associatedWith International Federation of Working Women corporateBody
associatedWith International Federation of Working Women. corporateBody
associatedWith James, Edward T., person
associatedWith Kehew, Mary Morton. person
associatedWith Kehew, Mary Morton Kimball, 1859-1918 person
associatedWith Manchester, Lee. person
associatedWith Margaret Foley, 1875-1957 person
associatedWith Marsh, Elizabeth Phillips. person
associatedWith MARY ELISABETH DREIER, 1875-1963 person
associatedWith MARY ELIZABETH SWITZER, 1900-1971 person
associatedWith Mary (Kenney) O'Sullivan, 1864-1943 person
associatedWith Mary N. (Mary Nelson) Winslow person
associatedWith Matthews, J. B. (Joseph Brown), 1894-1966 person
associatedWith Miller, Frieda S. person
associatedWith Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association. corporateBody
associatedWith Mitchell, John, 1870-1919. person
associatedWith Morrison, Frank, 1859-1949 person
associatedWith Morrison, Frank, 1859-1949. person
associatedWith Morrison, Frank,$d1859-1949. person
associatedWith National Women's Trade Union League of America. corporateBody
associatedWith National Women’s Trade Union League of America corporateBody
associatedWith Nestor, Agnes, 1880-1948 person
associatedWith Nestor, Agnes, 1880-1948. person
associatedWith Newman, Pauline. person
associatedWith New York (State). Division of Labor Standards. corporateBody
associatedWith Olander, Victor A., 1873-1949. person
associatedWith O'Reilly, Leonora, 1870-1927. person
associatedWith O'Sullivan, Mary Kenney, 1864-1943 person
associatedWith O'Sullivan, Mary Kenney, 1864-1943. person
associatedWith PAULINE NEWMAN, 1888-1986 person
associatedWith Perkins, Frances, 1880-1965 person
associatedWith Perkins, Frances, 1882-1965. person
associatedWith Pinchot, Cornelia Bryce, 1881-1960. person
associatedWith Potter, Frances Boardman Squire, 1867-1914. person
correspondedWith Pound, Roscoe, 1870-1964 person
correspondedWith Pound, Roscoe, 1870-1964 person
associatedWith Robins, Margaret Dreier. person
associatedWith Robins, Margaret Dreier, 1868-1945 person
associatedWith Robins, Mary Dreier. person
associatedWith Robins, Raymond, 1873-1954. person
associatedWith Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962 person
associatedWith Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962. person
associatedWith Schneiderman, Rose, 1882-1972 person
associatedWith Schneiderman, Rose, 1882-1972. person
associatedWith Scott, Melinda. person
associatedWith Scott, Melinda. person
associatedWith Smith, Ethel M. person
associatedWith Smith, Ethel Marion, 1877- person
associatedWith Swartz, Maud. person
associatedWith Switzer, Mary Elizabeth, 1900- person
associatedWith Thorne, Florence Calvert. person
associatedWith Thorne, Florence Calvert. person
associatedWith United States. National Recovery Administration. corporateBody
associatedWith van Kleeck, Mary person
associatedWith Washington State Federation of Labor corporateBody
associatedWith Winslow, Mary Nelson, 1888-1952. person
associatedWith Winslow, Mary N. (Mary Nelson) person
associatedWith Women's Trade Union League. Madison (Wis.) Committee. corporateBody
associatedWith Women's Trade Union League of America. corporateBody
associatedWith Women's Trade Union League of Boston. corporateBody
associatedWith Women's Trade Union League of Boston. corporateBody
associatedWith Women's Trade Union League of Chicago. corporateBody
associatedWith Women's Trade Union League of Illinois. corporateBody
associatedWith Women's Trade Union League of New Jersey. corporateBody
associatedWith Women's Trade Union League of New York. corporateBody
associatedWith Women's Trade Union League of Philadelphia. corporateBody
associatedWith Women's Trade Union League. Washington (D.C.) Committee. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States 00 US
Danville VA US
Boston MA US
Chicago IL US
Subject
Labor and laboring classes
Labor and laboring classes
Labor and laboring classes
Labor and laboring classes
Labor laws and legislation
Labor unions
Lobbyists
Minimum wage
Quality of work life
Social legislation
Social security
Strikes and lockouts
Sweatshops
Textile workers
Wage-price policy
World War, 1914-1918
Women
Women
Women
Women labor union members
Women social reformers
Women's rights
Work environment
Working class women
Child labor
Civil rights
Clothing workers
Eight-hour movement
Federal aid to education
Feminists
Household employees
Occupation
Activity
Lobbyists

Corporate Body

Establishment 1903

Disestablishment 1950

Female

Americans

English

Information

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