Work!: An Analysis of how Class and Gender Affected the American Labor Movement

In 1903 the Women’s Trade Union League was the first national body dedicated to organizing women workers. The organization was committed from its inception to making the workforce a fair and safe place for women. Unlike the charity organizers and settlement house workers of the period, the middle-class allies of the WTUL were advised to let their working-class colleagues take charge and avoid the temptation to force a middle-class lifestyle on them, or even use the organization as an instrument for social control. This paper is filling a gap in the literature by providing a rich comparison between different classes of women in the Labor Movement and a critical lens on middle-class women and their personal agenda of pushing for women’s suffrage over labor issues. The central primary source is the WTUL publication Life and Labor, which breathed life and passion into the movement. This paper examines the evolution of social movements and women being the center of them, the extent that working-class women and their publications gave the Labor Movement the momentum it needed for tangible change, and middle-class allies who were self interested and viewed working-class women as a “problem” even after they assisted in enfranchising all women.