This Day in History

Sept. 26, 1909: International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union Strike

Time Periods: Turn of the Century: 1900 - 1909
Themes: Labor, Women's History

Pauline Newman. Source: Kheel Center.

Did you know there was a strike before the deadly Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911?

On Sept. 26, 1909, Local 25 of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) declared a strike against the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.

One of the organizers was Russian immigrant Pauline Newman (in photo at right) who began working at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1903 when she was thirteen years old. Finding that many of her co-workers could not read, she organized an evening study group where they also discussed labor issues and politics.

Newman was active in the shirtwaist strike and the Women’s Trade Union League. She became a union organizer for the ILGWU and director of the ILGWU Health Center.

By November, the strike spread to other shirtwaist manufacturers. On Nov. 22, Clara Lemlich, a 23-year-old Ukrainian immigrant, helped spark the strike with the following words,

I have listened to all the speakers, and I have no further patience for talk. I am a working girl, one of those striking against intolerable conditions. I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in generalities. What we are here for is to decide whether or not to strike. I make a motion that we go out in a general strike.

Read about Lemlich in Clara Lemlich and the Uprising of the 20,000 at PBS and read about other Women in Labor History.