The Consumer's League of New York City was formed in 1891 as a result of a report made in 1890 by Alice Woodbridge, secretary of the Working Women's Society, the forerunner of the Women's Trade Union League. This report enumerated the deplorable working conditions and long hours under which women engaged in the retail trade had to work. A small group of women proceeded to organize the league, whose first activity was to prepare a white list of shops paying minimum fair wages and having shorter hours and better sanitary conditions. In 1899, other leagues formed in Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago united to form the National Consumer's League. Mr. John Graham Brooks was elected president and Florence Kelley, who had worked with Jane Addams at Hull House, Chicago, was made executive secretary.
Investigations were undertaken by the Consumer's League in many areas. The first concerned the conditions of manufacture and sale of women's and children's stitched cotton underwear, and was soon extended to other branches of the needle trades. Investigations were conducted into the conditions of unsanitary tenement homework and sweatshops, laundries, restaurants, textile mills, canneries, and candy factories. Reports of the Consumer's Leagues were usually pioneer revelations of undesirable working conditions and were accepted as authoritative by legislators and educational institutions.
Reports and agitations of the league were probably more influential in the field of legislation than in any other way and effected the passage, enforcement, and defense of laws having to do with safety, sanitation, night work, maximum hours, child labor, minimum wages, social security, and fair employment practices. Investigations, reports, and publicity were made the basis of pressure on legislatures and Congress, and in these campaigns the league has frequently had the cooperation of the American Association for Labor Legislation, the League for Industrial Democracy, the National Child Labor Association, the National Women Suffrage Association, and the League of Women Voters. It has also stimulated the creation of official bodies either for special investigation or for continuous administration, as in the case of the federal and state bureaus of women in industry and the Federal Children's Bureau.
Although not always in agreement with trade unions, the league often cooperated with them in achieving ends jointly desired. It frequently obtained the active cooperation of employers in raising standards in instances where the ultimate interest of the employer coincides with that of the worker.
After World War II, the New York league called attention to the plight of migratory farm workers in the state. The league conducted extensive investigations of camp conditions, wages, and hours of migratory workers in 1945 and again in 1951.
From the guide to the Consumers' League of New York City. Records, 1896-1962., (Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library)