From the Industrial Revolution to the rise of mass production in the early 20th century, women transformed their relationship with the union movement. During the 19th century, women entered factories in large numbers, working fourteen hours a day, six days a week in dangerous jobs for low pay. In response to these conditions, young female textile workers organized America’s first industrial protests, strikes, and reform groups. Despite these efforts, women were generally excluded from the larger labor movement. Conforming to the societal view that a woman’s place was in the home, the labor movement advocated for a “family wage” high enough that a husband could independently support his family.
At the turn of the 20th century, the rising suffrage movement and the influence of progressives and socialists began to challenge traditional male beliefs of women’s role in society. Inspired by liberal ideas and working under unchanging conditions, tens of thousands of clothing workers organized the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Through unity with their male co-workers, shop floor organizing, strikes, and militancy, women demonstrated that they could secure union recognition, higher wages, and shorter work hours from their employers. For the first time, women became powerful allies in a common cause with their union brothers.