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International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU)

Theresa Wolfson

Theresa Wolfson, economist and educator, taught at Brooklyn College from 1929 until her retirement in 1967. A prolific writer, she published in the fields of labor economics and industrial relations. As early as 1916, Wolfson studied barriers to the advancement of women in the workplace and the unequal treatment of women within trade unions.

Labor Movement in the United States

Jewish American women have played a central role in the American labor movement since the beginning of the twentieth century. As women, they brought to trade unions their sensibilities about the organizing process and encouraged labor to support government regulation to protect women in the workforce. As Jews who emerged from a left-wing cultural tradition, they nurtured a commitment to social justice, which would develop into what is often called “social unionism.” From their position as an ethnic and religious minority, as well as from their position as women, they helped to shape the direction of the mainstream labor movement.

Carol Weiss King

Carol Weiss King was one of the outstanding practitioners of immigration law during the period bounded by the Palmer Raids and the McCarthy era. In her thirty-year career, she represented hundreds of foreign-born radicals threatened with deportation in administrative proceedings in the lower courts and in the Supreme Court.

International Ladies Garment Workers Union

The International Ladies Garment Workers Union was founded in 1900. The eleven Jewish men who founded the union represented seven local unions from East Coast cities with heavy Jewish immigrant populations. This all-male convention was made up exclusively of cloak makers and one skirt maker, highly skilled Old World tailors who had been trying to organize in a well-established industry for a couple of decades. White goods workers, including skilled corset makers, were not invited to the first meeting. Nor were they or the largely young immigrant Jewish workers in the newly developing shirtwaist industry recruited for the union in the early years of its existence. But these women workers still tried to organize.

Fannia M. Cohn

In the first half of the twentieth century, Fannia M. Cohn was one of the leading Jewish women trade union activists in the United States. Drawing on her Russian Jewish cultural traditions, she pioneered in the development of educational programs within the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). Ultimately, however, male opposition undermined her efforts and diminished her long-term significance. Her life offers evidence of the possibilities and limitations of women’s activism in the American labor movement.

Anarchists, American Jewish women

The first Jewish anarchist organization was formally set up as a result of the Haymarket bombing in 1886 and the subsequent trial of the accused anarchists. The inception and growth of the Jewish anarchist movement in the United States were inseparable from the mass immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe starting in 1881.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU)." (Viewed on September 21, 2014) <http://jwa.org/tags/international-ladies-garment-workers-union-ilgwu>.

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