Women's Trade Union League of Chicago Collection

An inventory of its records at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Collection Summary

Creator:Women's Trade Union League of Chicago.
Title:Women's Trade Union of Chicago Collection
Abstract: The collection contains newspaper clippings, correspondence and pamphlets pertaining to the political and trade union activities of the Women's Trade Union League of Chicago.
Quantity: 1 linear feet

Administrative history of the Women's Trade Union League

The Women's Trade Union League was inspired by a women's boycott of high priced kosher beef in New York in 1902. William English Walling, a wealthy native of Kentucky and a resident of a university settlement house, witnessed the event and decided to visit England to study the Women's Trade Union League founded by Mary Ann Patterson in 1873. Walling was particularly interested in how the group integrated women of different social classes into a single organization for defending the rights of women workers.

After returning to America, Walling joined forces with Mary Kenney O'Sullivan, a Hull-House resident, to form the Women's National Trade Union League in 1903. The WTUL was created when it became clear that the American Federation of Labor would not admit women. Mary Morton Kehew served as the first president of the organization with Jane Addams as vice-president and O'Sullivan as secretary. Other notable figures on the first executive board included Leonora O'Reilly and Lillian Wald, both active in New York settlement houses and local women's trade unions. Ellen Lindstrom and Mary McDowell of Chicago also sat on the board. The organization soon spread to other major cities in the United States with local branches being supported by settlement houses and an intertwining network of women's organizations.

The Women's National Trade Union League changed its name to the National Women's Trade Union League (WTUL) in 1907. The league fought for women's suffrage, better pay and working conditions for women, and supported other progressive causes, e.g., William Walling, Mary McDowell, Leonora O'Reilly, and Lillian D. Wald all helped to found the NAACP in 1909. The League was technically required to maintain a majority of women's trade unionists as members and power was to rest in their hands, but "allies," or sympathizers from other social classes often played prominent roles.

Margaret Dreier Robins served as president of WTUL from 1906-1922 and while relations with male dominated labor unions were often strained, WTUL actively contributed to new legislation such as the eight-hour day, minimum wage, and the abolition of child labor. The WTUL launched a four year investigation of the Triangle Company Shirtwaist Fire (1911) and stressed the need for safe working conditions. Robins founded a school in 1915 to train women labor leaders and organizers.

Eleanor Roosevelt became a league member in 1922 and the group's leadership had access to powerful politicians, but the Depression hit the organization hard. The group became less effective due to financial problems and declining membership rolls. The passage of New Deal legislation, the enrollment of women in mainstream labor unions, and social changes brought on by World War II made the organization less relevant and WTUL became defunct in 1950.

Scope and Contents

The Women's Trade Union League of Chicago Collection consists of the former contents of a single scrapbook now held in acid-free paper folders. Newspaper clippings and some correspondence constitute the collection.

Index Terms

This record series is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms.
Women's Trade Union League of Chicago--Sources.
Women in the labor movement--Illinois--Chicago--Sources.


See http://womenshistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa010320b.htm and related articles for information about the Women's Trade Union League.

Detailed Description/Box and Folder Listing

Women's Trade Union League Papers

11Clippings, September 1908 - May 1911
2Clippings, May 1911 - November 1911
3Clippings, September 1911 - June 1912
4Clippings, July 1912 - March 1913
5Clippings, March 1913 - June 1913
26Clippings, June 1913 - November 1913
7Clippings, November 1913 - August 1914
8Clippings, August 1914 - April 1915
9Clippings, March 1915 - December 1915
10Clippings and correspondence, February 1916 - 1944