The twentieth-century would see important changes to the working rights of women. In 1900, women make up 18.3% of the American labor force a number that would continue to rise throughout the century. In 1920 women accounted for 12% of the professional sector. Despite the increasing numbers of women wage earners, in the twentieth-century, the federal government was not doing enough promote equality for women; as a result, women would form their own organizations in the form of unions and associations to ensure full equality.
In 1903 the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL) formed to help women improve their working conditions and wages. Membership in the WTUL was open to all women, and the organization had the blessing of the powerful male-dominated union, the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Women realized that if they were going to see any changes in the workplace they would come only by joining together without regard to class.
Women dominated teaching and nursing professions. These careers were a natural fit for women who were family caregivers and educators. In the late nineteenth century women sought to improve the career of teaching, and remove some of the moral and political bureaucracy. “In Chicago, Mary Haley…organized a powerful teachers union, which removed control of appointments from local politicians.”
The most famous strike took place during the winter of 1909-1910. Local 25 of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) hit the picket line to protest working conditions and low wages in New York City’s garment industry. Their employers’ cronies and law enforcement badgered the women, and the strike was largely ignored until women of the leisure-class joined their lower-class Jewish and Italian sisters. The WTUL was slow to support the cause, but the strike finally received their support as well as the support of wealthy New York women like Anne Morgan. The strike successfully settled after three months with stipulations for a fifty-two hour workweek, ending fines for worker mistakes, employee involvement in wage setting, and paid holidays.
The laboring hours of women were regulated however child labor was not. . In 1908 the Supreme Court ruled in Mueller v. Oregon that women’s working hours could be regulated. This was a significant setback for women, as it meant that without restrictions on their working hours, men had a considerable advantage in the workplace. The Supreme Court case Adkins v. Children’s Hospital reversed the 1908 judgment and gave women equal rights to negotiate wages. Congress established a Children’s Bureau in 1912, and the organization was under the control of the Department of Labor. The Children’s Bureau received inadequate funding and as a result turned to women’s organizations to lobby on their behalf. The General Federation of Women’s Clubs was an important supporter of the Children’s Bureau. Their research and lobbying efforts resulted in Congress passing the...