The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union at AJHS

November 3, 2022
by Elizabeth Hyman

Our Collection of International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union Educational Materials

Cover illustration of the 1934 pamphlet “How to Conduct a Union Meeting,” issued by the ILGWU Educational Department. AJHS Collection I-309.

The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, or ILGWU, was founded on June 3, 1900 by labor representatives from New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Newark. The new union, comprised primarily of Jewish immigrants, campaigned for improved work and safety conditions for its members.

After a 1907 walkout, the ILGWU won its workers the right to a 55 hours work week, jobs which provided workers with necessary supplies, and an arbitration board to manage worker complaints.

1924 ILGWU handbook, printed in Yiddish. From Collection I-309.

In 1909 and 1910, ILGWU shirtwaist makers, with the active involvement of such young Jewish women as Clara “A Pint of Trouble for the Bosses” Lemlich and Rose Schneiderman, led two massive strikes (for more on this, see Daughters of the Shtetl by Susan Glenn, AJHS Call Number HD6073.C62 U54 1990; and Common Sense and a Little Fire by Annelise Orleck, YIVO Call Number 000089260); the 1909 “Uprising of 20,000” was, at that time, the largest strike by women workers in the United States. They demanded better hours, safer conditions, and fair pay.

After the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of March 25, 1911, the ILGWU worked together with government officials and social reformers to institute workplace inspection and regulation measures.

First page of the ILGWU Health Services informational handbook, 1950. Collection I-309.

As it grew, the ILGWU developed several elements of “social unionism,” meaning that it provided services to its working-class members, such as educational lectures and seminars, instruction in union organizing, health care, housing, and recreation. Its membership grew by more than 100% between the 1930s and the 1960s.

AJHS holds a small, but important collection of ILGWU publications in our archives. It contains handbooks, event programs, rights disclosures, and educational materials published for ILGWU members.