In September 1910, young women walked off the job at clothing maker Hart Schaffner & Marx to protest wage cuts and unfair working conditions. Their action sparked a months-long strike in the Near West Side of the city that grew to more than 40,000 garment workers, half of them women, including many recent immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. The picketing workers faced harsh treatment, including the use of private police forces against them. Ultimately a deal was reached, and the strike ended on February 18, 1911.
Amid the struggle to secure women’s voting rights in the early twentieth century, women worked for wages to support themselves or their families. Yet, many earned barely enough to get by. This led labor activists and their allies to lobby for laws to protect working women’s health and safety and fight for equal pay and limits on work hours. Many of these women saw the vote as a tool to help working women create an “industrial democracy.”
Since then, economic transformations have changed the nature of many jobs, but not the underpayment and undervaluing of women. Their long fight for workplace fairness and economic justice continues. Learn more about Chicago’s women labor activists in “Underpaid, Undervalued,” the latest episode of our online experience, Democracy Limited: Chicago Women and the Vote.