Abstract

Pearl McGill's path from an officer in a union affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) to an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) offers an alternative lens through which to view industrial unionism at the critical juncture of the legendary “Bread and Roses” strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Her role in the strikes of button workers in Iowa and textile workers in New England between 1911 and 1913 shines a light on the ways in which grassroots activists invested hope that AFL “federal labor unions” (local unions directly affiliated with the national AFL) might serve as a vehicle for their inclusive union aspirations. Her contribution enhances our understanding of the strategies of the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL) and the contested terrain of ethnicity and gender on which its leaders sought to organize women factory workers, constrained as they were by their loyalty to the AFL.

“I could never tell you all about this big fight for justice and the cause of my Class, the Working Class,” wrote Iowa button worker and union activist Pearl McGill to her family from Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912.1 The “big fight for justice” McGill referred to was the uprising of twenty-three thousand textile workers in Lawrence supported by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). It also embraced the yearlong strike of twenty-four hundred button workers in Muscatine, Iowa, supported by the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL), in which she played a key role. And, by implication, it was the numerous labor uprisings that had swept the country since 1909. In the eyes of the seventeen-year-old McGill, these struggles were part of “one big fight for justice,” and inclusive unionism was the common thread that connected them. Because McGill did not distinguish the impulse for inclusive unionism within the AFL from the efforts of the IWW, she invites us to revisit the boundaries of industrial unionism that shaped the labor movement of the Progressive Era.2

McGill's advocacy for both the AFL-affiliated but industrially organized button workers in Iowa and the 1912 campaign of textile workers in Lawrence to organize on an industrial basis shines a light on the predicament faced by WTUL leaders. Her short but prominent career as a youthful leader of the Muscatine button workers, an officer in a “federal labor union” (a local union directly affiliated with the national AFL), a spokesperson for the WTUL, an advocate for women strikers, and a leading activist with the IWW in Lawrence illuminates the appeal of industrial unionism for young wage-earning women as well as the limitations of progressive reform. This essay addresses the paradox that AFL and WTUL support of workers to organize through federal labor unions (FLUs) also limited the ability of these workers to achieve lasting success by rarely permitting them to form national AFL unions.

A central problem facing the AFL was that it was ideologically forged in an era that pre-dated the transformation of manufacturing. Grasping the breadth of and enthusiasm for general unionism reflected in FLUs, which often represented workers in new mass production industries, is central to understanding the labor movement of the Progressive Era and its limitations. While providing a safe haven by which unorganized workers could easily form a union, FLUs helped the AFL to uphold its formal commitment to unionize the entire working class “without regard to color, sex, nationality or creed.” At the same time, FLUs ensured that these workers did not join a competing federation and did not provide a robust general union alternative to the AFL's primary commitment to craft unionism. In the end, McGill provides a compelling example of how, as the Federation succeeded in achieving its goal of becoming the bona fide voice of the American working class, it actively worked to suppress organizations or individuals who might challenge its structure.

The responses of the AFL and WTUL to strikes led by mass production workers in the textile, garment, and button industries between 1909 and 1913 exposed the industrial union fissures within their ranks. These strikes shared many characteristics, not the least of which was the leadership role of working-class women and their enthusiasm for industrial unionism.3 They differed greatly, however, in the support they received from their local central bodies and state federations, the WTUL, and the national AFL. All of the strikes are better understood within the framework of the AFL's ongoing anxiety over the burgeoning numbers of unskilled and semi-skilled mass production workers, many of them women, new immigrants, and workers of color, and the potential threat that their advocacy for industrial unionism posed to the hegemony of white, male-dominated craft unionism within the AFL.

The WTUL walked a fine line between its loyalty as a non-voting affiliate of the AFL and the demand of working women for new, inclusive forms of organization. As union activist and WTUL leader Rose Schneiderman succinctly put it, “One of our greatest contributions was to the small unions who either had no parent organizations or whose international unions had set them adrift.”4 Here Schneiderman referenced how the League had often helped women organize FLUs, as in the case of the button workers, or mitigated the damaging effects of hostile national unions, as in the case of the garment unions whose leaders ignored the needs of the majority of mass production workers within their jurisdiction. WTUL leaders understood the boundaries between craft and industrial unionism, sanctioned and unsanctioned strikes, internal AFL industrial unionism and rogue organizations such as the IWW. And they carefully navigated those boundaries.5

Thousands of federal labor unions existed during the Progressive Era, yet they remain understudied within the scholarship on the AFL. While scholars have studied FLUs in institutional accounts of AFL policies and examined how national unions representing workers in steel, meatpacking, textile, and garment industries denied representation to “unskilled” workers, they have yet to adequately address the organizing aspirations and obstacles confronted by workers in midsize industries, many of whom organized, often repeatedly, under the umbrella of AFL-affiliated FLUs. Dorothy Sue Cobble is one of few scholars to assess the significance of Progressive Era FLUs. Her work draws attention to the central importance of FLUs in affording countless workers an opportunity to quickly and easily gain union membership and participate in the labor movement.6 However, by focusing mainly on the large numbers of FLUs as evidence of success, Cobble stops short of addressing the impact of limitations imposed on FLUs by AFL policies that protected craft autonomy, thwarted wider organization of industrial unions, and contributed to the underlying weakness inherent in what often became short-lived and isolated locals. By broadening her analysis to incorporate case studies, my work reveals the crucial role of city centrals, state federations, and community activists in nurturing these isolated, fledgling locals that were often numerically powerful. Pearl McGill and the button workers of Muscatine become significant when we consider their experience as emblematic of thousands of mass production workers who formed industrially organized FLUs during this period. These workers exemplify the strength of a rank-and-file impulse for inclusive unionism and its potential to disrupt the status quo of the US labor movement during its formative years when the AFL was relatively fragile.

The lack of source materials relating to FLUs in the records of the AFL has limited scholars’ ability to fully grasp the extent and sophistication of FLUs. Evidence is at best fragmented and hidden within the records of the AFL; often it does not exist at all. The 18,273 directly affiliated local unions in the AFL that existed between 1886 and 1933 are difficult to see—in part because they were short-lived and their surviving records are few, and in part because the AFL itself did not deem them to be of great significance.7 Before donating its records to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, the AFL-CIO decided to cull the records of thousands of inactive federal labor unions from its files. As a result, their history remains scattered in local newspaper articles, in the resolutions they brought to national AFL conventions, in the records of the city centrals and state federations with which they were affiliated, and in their limited correspondence with Samuel Gompers and national AFL secretary Frank Morrison. The dearth of scholarship on FLUs during the pre-1933 period reflects this lack of historical documentation within the AFL's own records.8

Finding alternative sources in newspapers and local repositories allows us to situate the button workers and their FLUs as representative of thousands of ordinary workers and their extraordinary impulse to organize on an industrial basis. These sources ask us to consider more precisely: Who were these workers? How did they organize? What were the strategies of FLUs and their allies? What impact did AFL and WTUL policies and ideologies have on grassroots industrial unionists in this period? What opportunities and obstacles nurtured their successes or limited their aspirations? McGill's letters are a significant point of entry and lead us to the heart of these crucial questions.

McGill and Her World

Pearl McGill grew up in a log cabin on a Louisa County, Iowa, farm on the banks of the Mississippi River in a poor family of Scottish descent. Born in 1894, she left home at sixteen to work in one of Muscatine's numerous button factories, intent on saving her wages to advance her education. By 1911, she held the elected positions of recording secretary and executive board member of an industrially organized federal labor union of button workers in Muscatine, Iowa, representing twenty-four hundred workers, one-third of whom were women. When a 1911 lockout initiated by the city's leading button manufacturers developed into a protracted labor dispute, McGill quickly became a spokesperson for the men and women in the BWPU, traveling widely under the auspices of the WTUL to raise money for her fellow unionists in Muscatine. Letters to AFL affiliates across the country went out over her signature with full consent of the AFL. She astutely appealed to the common bonds between workers, deploying a rhetoric of manliness by signing off on a circular fundraising letter, “We are making a clean manly fight for the right to organize and deserve the support of the trade unions of America. . . . Fraternally yours, Miss Pearl McGill, Secy.”9

Popular with WTUL and AFL leaders, McGill was a skillful orator and passionate advocate of industrial unionism, frequently quoted by journalists. Writing to her family about a banquet in Chicago, she captured the city's spirit of progressivism and the WTUL's approach to bridging class divisions. “Gee, all the dress hats and paint and powder you ever saw in your life was there. The city mayor's wife . . . and some of the Big Manufacturers [sic] wives and all the aristocrats in Chicago were there. They treat me just like I was as fine as they were. I am right at home here lately with tramps, beggars, millionaires and common folks.”10 Yet her letters also reveal a questioning attitude about the ambiguities of cross-class alliances. As she explained to her parents, the University of Chicago was “a school for people with lots of time and money” with each building donated “by someone like J. D. Rockerfellow [sic].”11

McGill was born into a rapidly industrializing world in which the reality of wage labor and unbridled industrial capitalism elicited a wide range of responses from workers, labor leaders, and reformists. Although the aspirations of inclusive unionism that had propelled a previous generation of industrial union activists were not her personal experience, they shaped the world she had inherited.

The labor movement of the 1890s, particularly west of the Mississippi, was a world in flux in which it was by no means clear that the AFL held the power or credibility to promote the interests of an increasingly diverse working class. Few wage earners in Iowa belonged to craft labor unions in the 1880s and 1890s. Indeed, they were more likely to have joined a local assembly of the Knights of Labor (KOL) than to have been a member of an AFL-affiliated local union, and the origins of the state's labor movement reflect continuity in leadership and ideology carried over from the KOL. With 188 local assemblies and thirty thousand members in 1888, the KOL was by far the largest labor organization in Iowa. James Sovereign, who succeeded Terence Powderly as leader of the national order, had previously worked in Muscatine and served as the state labor commissioner of Iowa.12 Between 1883 and 1889, Muscatine laborers and sawmill workers organized two KOL local assemblies, while the formation of a “mixed” AFL-affiliated FLU in 1894 reflected the persistence of the collective aspirations of the KOL.13

Although denied admission to the conventions of the Iowa State Federation of Labor (ISFL) in 1893 and 1894, the Knights remained an essential part of the fabric of the organized labor movement in Iowa.14 Looking back on his years as secretary of KOL Local Assembly 885 in Cedar Rapids, W. H. Winsor noted in a 1915 interview, “All of us who were prominent in the Knights of Labor got offices in the new [labor] organizations.”15 A network of former KOL activists in Iowa, such as ISFL secretary Arthur Holder and Edwin Perry, president of District 13 of the industrially organized United Mine Workers, were supportive of the FLU approach to the broader organization of the working class in the tradition of the Knights. By 1903, FLUs accounted for nearly one-third of the affiliates of the ISFL, with eighty-three UMWA locals scattered across the state.16

The year McGill was born, the Pullman strike and boycott, led by Eugene V. Debs, had grown to such massive proportions that it heightened a renewed sense of insecurity among AFL leaders. Widespread enthusiasm for the boycott signaled the continuing vitality of the producerist aspirations the KOL had embodied. Gompers's refusal to call a general strike on behalf of the American Railway Union (a national organization not affiliated with the AFL) revealed his fear of losing control of the labor movement and his willingness to side with corporate and reform interests that upheld the status quo. The same year, the consideration of the Plank 10 referendum at the AFL's national convention, which called for “collective ownership by the people of all means of production and distribution,” contributed to the first and only defeat of Gompers for the presidency of the AFL, marking a decisive shift in AFL policy. Those who had supported Gompers and opposed Plank 10 came from the elite craft unions in eastern cities, while the delegates who unseated Gompers and supported the original version of Plank 10 came from industrially organized unions or unions with tendencies toward general unionism. Although Plank 10 went down to defeat, Gompers would never forget those who had opposed him.17

The year 1894 marks a significant juncture in the American labor movement, after which the AFL retreated more rigidly to its narrowly circumscribed craft-centric vision. In the ensuing years, as the technological innovations that accompanied industrial growth increasingly blurred the boundaries between craft and industrial unions, the AFL played a central role in adjudicating industrial disputes while upholding craft autonomy. By 1901, with the passage of the “Scranton Declaration” at its national convention in Rochester, the AFL had formalized its rigid commitment to the fundamental principle of craft autonomy organization along trade lines and the dominance of its affiliated national unions. The confluence of the Scranton Agreement with Gompers's decision to take a seat alongside leading industrialists (including J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie) in the National Civic Federation together with US Steel's announcement of its open-shop policy foreshadowed the entrenched positions that would define the AFL's posture into the 1930s.18 When the AFL responded to the impulse for organization from women workers and their allies by inaugurating the WTUL at its annual convention in Boston in 1903, it was on the condition of the League's obedience and conformity to the AFL's rigid hierarchical structure with craft unions at the helm. AFL leaders could thus be assured that, at least among women workers, the impulse for inclusive unionism might be contained. But more widely, in an increasingly racially and ethnically diverse workforce of men and women employed in rapidly expanding mass production industries, the threat to the AFL's commitment to craft autonomy remained. By 1903, the path forward for the country's most vulnerable and poorly paid workers, many of whom were African Americans, Latinos, women, and new immigrants, had been predetermined as separate and unequal. It was against this backdrop that the organizing impulse of ordinary workers played out in communities across the United States; and it is in this context that McGill's experience in an industrially organized FLU of button workers—Button Workers Protective Union (BWPU) #12854—must be understood.

The Case of Pearl Buttons

Concurrent with McGill's birth, the freshwater pearl button industry was slowly gaining a foothold in the United States. Small factories sprang up in Muscatine and other inland river towns wherever the mussels proliferated that provided the shells for the manufacture of pearl buttons. Buoyed by a combination of favorable tariffs, technological innovation, and a flourishing fashion industry hungry for large quantities of cheap buttons that adorned the popular shirtwaist blouses of the day, Muscatine would quickly become a major center for this new and rapidly developing industry with Iowa factories producing over half of the national product by 1905.19 The freshwater pearl button industry, which did not exist before 1890, stretched from the upper Midwest to New England. By 1910, it employed approximately 10,500 workers on a piece-rate basis in a highly mechanized production process with a gendered division of labor in which men cut blank disks from clamshells, while women operated technologically sophisticated machines to grind, drill, and face the blanks into finished buttons.20

The Muscatine button union exemplified the aspirations of inclusive unionism emanating from the Knights of Labor that persisted in cities across the Midwest in this era. There was nothing new here—neither in the impulse of wage-earning women to organize and hold leadership roles in FLUs, nor in the awareness on the part of mass production workers of the urgent need to organize and form national unions. Muscatine button workers had organized the country's first button worker FLU in 1897 (BWPU #6861). Its leaders helped organize new locals in Davenport (BWPU #8789) and Dubuque (BWPU #10789).21 As early as 1903, two women held elected offices in the Davenport BWPU.22 Keenly aware of the national structure of the pearl button industry and its leading employers’ growing affinity with the open-shop drive, Muscatine button workers twice attempted to organize a national union—in 1903 and 1909. But the AFL's executive committee, ever vigilant of the tendency of national industrial unions to develop quickly and attain numerical power through voting rights within the AFL, easily deflected these efforts. The Muscatine button workers strike of 1911 to 1912 failed in part because their FLU was isolated and lacked a national union through which to fight the nationally organized and well-financed button industry on a competitive footing.23

McGill quickly became involved in an organizing drive that was underway among Muscatine button workers in 1910. It was the fourth time in twelve years that the city's button workers had successfully formed an industrially organized, AFL-affiliated FLU. By February 1911 nearly all of Muscatine's button workers had joined the union, making it by far the largest local union in Iowa, with twenty-four hundred unskilled and semi-skilled workers represented on an industry-wide, cross-gender basis within the city. Manufacturers responded to the growing threat of a unionized workforce by collectively shutting down the majority of the city's button factories on February 25, 1911, locking out the workers and initiating a fifteen-month labor dispute that quickly became known as the “Labor War of Muscatine.”24 At the time of the lockout more than eight hundred women belonged to the union; three held elected offices. Their involvement was critical because women operated the expensive finishing machines in the large factories and their work could not easily be outsourced. The lockout became a strike when manufacturers reopened the plants and, to their surprise, found that the women refused to denounce the union and return to work. Throughout the conflict BWPU leaders sustained an effective strike effort that included parades, picketing, and growing support for socialism in the city, backed by their allies in the Muscatine Trades and Labor Assembly, the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL), the Iowa State Federation of Labor, the WTUL, and the AFL.

The leadership and resilience of young women proved key to the union's ability to sustain the strike and signaled the potential power of inclusive unionism. On April 13, 1911, a parade of over fifteen hundred unionists revealed the depth of cross-gender solidarity in the city's labor movement and the extent of community support for the cause of the workers.

Several hundred girls were in the procession and their presence was the occasion for the greatest cheering. . . . As the head of the parade reached the front of Hare's hall, the marchers halted and then formed in single lines on either side of the street while through the lane of the brother workmen thus formed, the girl workers, the greater part of them wearing the Button Workers’ Union hats of gaudy colors, marched into the hall, the men paying tribute to them with bared heads and greeting them with cheers.25

Manufacturers could not let this powerful spectacle of peaceful unity go unchallenged. The disruption caused by the manufacturers’ imposition of special officers to provoke violence that day heightened the public profile of the dispute and brought a new sense of urgency to the situation. Telegrams to Iowa governor Beryl Carroll from the national Socialist Party and the Chicago Federation of Labor protested his failure to hold the imported special officers for trial and his eagerness to send troops to Muscatine to “quell their manufactured riots.” Muscatine County Sheriff David Vanatta now took charge as the button manufacturers achieved their long-standing objective of bringing the militia to Muscatine to patrol their factories at state expense.26

McGill rapidly emerged as a prominent leader in the fight for inclusive unionism among semi-skilled and unskilled mass production workers in Iowa and New England. She continued raising funds for button workers back in Muscatine as she traveled from St. Louis to Chicago, New York, and Boston, where she was welcomed and mentored by leaders of the WTUL. They gave her center stage at their third biennial convention in Boston, transcribed her speech in its entirety, featured her in their monthly Life and Labor articles, and nominated her to the executive council of the National Women's Trade Union League of America (NWTUL). On learning that she would turn seventeen during the convention, they celebrated her birthday with a picnic, toasting the girl “known to fame as the youthful leader in the strike of the Muscatine Button Workers.”27 Her astute observations and quick wit, coupled with her passion for the struggle, drew attention and respect from key leaders in the organizations with whom she interacted. Whether they represented the WTUL, the AFL, or the IWW, leaders of these organizations were drawn to McGill as a courageous and outspoken leader.

WTUL branches in Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, New York, and Boston all hosted young women strikers from Muscatine while they were on the road raising funds to sustain workers and their families during the strike.28 WTUL leaders connected visiting strikers with a network of local and regional trade unionists, such as District 12 of the UMW, which hosted McGill during her visit to St. Louis, where she likely met socialist, working-class WTUL leader Fannie Sellins.29 Progressive city centrals such as the powerful CFL, led by John Fitzpatrick, had the capacity to influence the character of local and regional labor movements and provide critical support to WTUL organizing efforts. Both the CFL and Fitzpatrick were descendants of a powerful vision of class-wide organization in which the syndicalist tendencies of the 1880s continued to be manifest. These networks proved essential to working-class radicals within the WTUL who pushed the boundaries of AFL craft unionism, seeking to transform it from within. But the WTUL remained too tightly bound by its inherent biases and loyalty to the AFL to risk ceding power to working-class radicals within its ranks.

The WTUL and the Ambiguities of Industrial Unionism

McGill's experience helps crystallize the ambiguities inherent in the WTUL, the boundaries of industrial unionism, and the centrality of race in the dynamics of union organizing in the Progressive Era. The League's reliance on upper-class philanthropy from its leaders, including its national president Margaret Dreier Robins, meant that it remained mired in an ideology of social uplift and reform through philanthropy, which prevented it from fully embracing its core philosophy of “industrial feminist reform.”30 Within the WTUL, attitudes of social reformers reflected the eugenic beliefs that permeated Progressive Era society and racialized the newest immigrants.31 The upper-class allies of the WTUL, like many conservative unionists and middle-class reformers, expressed doubts that new immigrants—whether organized or not—could assimilate into the fabric of US society and become upstanding citizens. Thus, the WTUL remained fundamentally out of step with the workers it sought to help, its dependence on philanthropy and reform as much an anachronism in its time as the AFL's dependence on craft unionism.

By 1911, the organizing priorities of WTUL leaders and working-class members reflected a growing polarization. In January 1911, New York WTUL secretary Helen Marot had appalled working-class Jewish organizers and Pauline Newman and Rose Schneiderman when she announced, “The time has come when the League must spend the greater part of its budget on American girls.”32 The outbreak of the labor conflict in Muscatine the next month created an opportunity for the WTUL to extend a hand to the American-born women employed in the freshwater pearl button industry. These American-born women who were also semi-skilled industrial workers fit the profile of the WTUL's new organizing objective perfectly.

From the start of the button strike, the WTUL appealed to nativist sentiment for support of the rights of women button workers. Although an advocate for organizing immigrant workers, Newman recognized the value of extending organization to native-born workers. After visiting Muscatine, she highlighted the fact that the button strike had not been started by a “foreign element” and was not “being led by a foreigner.” She continued, “all of the strikers without exception are western americans, which is a rather encouraging fact to bear in mind” (emphasis in the original).33 “No foreigners here—American men and women striking against intolerable conditions,” quipped Miles Franklin in an article for Life and Labor.34

Robins used the example of Muscatine to seek support from conservative men for the rights of working-class women and children. Her remarks at the national AFL convention in 1911 had been inspired by her recent impromptu visit to Iowa after Muscatine officials had jailed the popular WTUL organizer Catherine Finnegan.35 Robins informed convention delegates of the need to “put a stop to the bottomless pit of wages for women and children” by describing the poor labor conditions endured by American-born button workers in Muscatine:

And this is happening in the corn belt of the great state of Iowa, where there are no foreigners! It is not only the foreigners who are at the bottom of our difficulty. We know that coming in from the small towns are the strong, healthy, capable, self-respecting women of the farmers’ families who have been taught to believe in honest work and who believe that honest work and faithfulness to an employer brings adequate payment. We have this great influx, not only of foreign girls but of country girls.36

The racist sentiment and craft union loyalty that would preclude national AFL and WTUL organizers from intervening in the Lawrence textile strike (where largely foreign-born workers had initiated an unsanctioned strike and engaged in what the AFL regarded as dual unionism) invited their participation in Muscatine. In this case, the AFL actively solicited the involvement of the WTUL and contributed to its expenses. In the absence of a pre-existing national union of button workers, AFL and WTUL organizers collaborated harmoniously to support the button workers: the AFL contributed $21,618 in strike benefits and a further $57,489 from its affiliates across the country.37 WTUL leaders were likely grooming McGill for a future role as an organizer in either the WTUL or the AFL. But the outbreak of the Lawrence textile strike irrevocably altered that trajectory for McGill when she resolutely took her place with the rank-and-file women of Lawrence and the IWW—a rival federation to the AFL and the only organization that was providing effective help to the striking women and men in Lawrence. McGill “disappeared” from WTUL records after her high-profile participation in the strike of textile workers in Lawrence.

Pearl McGill and the Lessons from Lawrence

By December 1911, McGill had moved from New York to Boston, where she continued to raise funds to send home to support the ongoing button workers’ strike in Muscatine. From her base in Boston, she had met with IWW leaders in Lawrence before the outbreak of the strike. When the strike erupted, she moved quickly to speak publicly to support twenty-three thousand textile workers involved in the famous “Bread and Roses” strike.38 As journalists flocked to Lawrence to cover the strike, they reported on McGill in major publications such as Collier's magazine and the Chicago Daily Socialist. “ ‘It is slavery, it is!’ said one of [the Lawrence strikers]. ‘Haywood and Ettor and Pearl McGill—that wonderful little girl that speaks—and Trautman the anarchist don't need to tell me that.’ ”39 Exuding the brash confidence and determination of youth, McGill took her place, albeit briefly, beside the leading lights of the radical branch of the industrial union movement—William D. Haywood, William Trautmann, Carlo Tresca, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. Years later, as she wrote her autobiography, Gurley Flynn would remember the “girl organizer” from Iowa who had rallied the rank and file in Lawrence from January to March 1912.40

An important reason for studying McGill is that her activism and perspective straddled two trade union cultures, those of inclusive unionism and the AFL. They had roots in the industrial union culture she had learned from her experience in Iowa. The radical ideas of socialism and industrial unionism that she encountered in New England were familiar to her in many respects. While the WTUL served as a vehicle for her efforts to build support for the striking button workers, she discovered in the Lawrence strike the limits of the AFL's trade unionism. When WTUL ties to the AFL constrained its ability to act during the Lawrence strike and its aftermath, McGill moved readily to support and ultimately affiliate with the IWW. Despite the shifting institutional and trade union contexts in which she found herself working, McGill remained consistent in her underlying commitment to industrial union principles.

The Lawrence strike brought to the surface deep and long-standing divisions within the US labor movement.41 Its lessons are sharply etched in the varying responses to the strike by the AFL, the United Textile Workers (UTW), the WTUL, and Pearl McGill. A letter written by NWTUL president Robins shortly after the Lawrence strike demonstrated her understanding of AFL policy: “Just one more word in regard to the AF of L National Union [i.e., the AFL-affiliated UTW]. All the AF of L can do is bring moral persuasion to bear upon the National Union. Officially the AF of L has no jurisdiction over them.” To be sure, the constitution of the AFL limited its president's authority over its affiliated national unions, thus Gompers had little control over the actions of national unions within the Federation. But as Robins was fully aware, the power wielded by Gompers through “moral persuasion” remained considerable, as did the potential role of the city centrals in Lawrence and Boston.42 In considering the workers’ revolt that swept the country between 1909 and 1914, the outcome of strikes was determined not only by the nature of the strike, whether it was sanctioned or unsanctioned, but also by the character of the regional labor movement as defined by its city centrals and state federations. These organizations and their allies could mobilize powerful networks of support or they could stifle that support. In some cases, as in the garment workers strikes in Chicago and New York, there was considerable latitude in which city centrals might and did act autonomously in the interests of unorganized mass production workers.43

In the case of Lawrence, the League faced a predicament that was not entirely unpredictable. In the mills of Lawrence in 1912, the AFL-affiliated UTW represented just 208 skilled male workers out of a workforce of over twenty thousand.44 The UTW had little interest in organizing unskilled immigrant workers and responded with predictable outrage when Lawrence strike leaders called in the IWW. To UTW president John Golden, the Lawrence uprising was an unsanctioned strike, and he opposed it from the start. Adhering to the principles of conservative craft unionism, Golden claimed jurisdiction over the entire textile industry in Lawrence and interpreted the IWW's presence as dual unionism and an infringement on his territory. Like many AFL leaders, he considered the radical tactics of the IWW revolutionary and anarchistic, and many WTUL organizers, their middle-class allies, and reformist supporters agreed.45

The Boston WTUL had a close and long-standing relationship with Golden. Throughout the Lawrence strike, the WTUL's Warrenton Street headquarters in Boston served as the UTW headquarters for Golden.46 When Golden advised the League to stay out of Lawrence, many of its members agreed with him. As BWTUL president Sue Ainsley Clark explained, “Many of the most ardent sympathizers with the strikers believed no definite good could be achieved through this group [the IWW]. . . . This belief was most firmly held by the UTW, the Central Labor Union of Lawrence and many staunch trade unionists.”47 With the Boston and Lawrence city centrals and their UTW affiliate opposed to the strike—and the IWW playing a crucial role in it—it seemed a foregone conclusion that if the League valued its relationship with the “respectable” branch of the American labor movement, the Boston WTUL could not act. Yet the line that determined the acceptable boundaries of industrial unionism seemed far from clear to WTUL leader Elizabeth Glendower Evans. Writing to Robins after the strike had ended, Evans observed that many city centrals across the country had donated directly to the IWW strike committee rather than the Lawrence CLU, “showing that they did not all draw the line that it was an I.W.W. affair with which they could not affiliate.”48 Evans could not understand why the line was drawn so rigidly for the WTUL in Boston, when it appeared to be somewhat flexible for city centrals in other parts of the country. Nonetheless, although Clark focused on the IWW as the reason for her opposition to the strike, there is no evidence to suggest that the Boston WTUL supported or ever would have supported the actions of rank-and-file immigrant women to organize before, during, or after the strike.

The Boston League's loyalty to the AFL is tellingly revealed in its initial hostility to the Lawrence strike. Anne Withington, a middle-class ally and member of the Boston WTUL, believed the strike to be “led by the enemies of organized labor.” In an article written on January 30 and published in the March edition of the national WTUL journal Life and Labor, Withington said that in her opinion Joseph Ettor, the IWW leader of the Lawrence strike, had “attacked the trade union leaders with even more virulence than the capitalists.” Empathizing with the manufacturers she continued, “Instead of being able to deal with authorized representatives of the workers, they [the manufacturers] have been obliged to treat with a mob.” When William Wood, the president of the American Woolen Company, finally agreed to meet with Ettor, Withington faulted Wood for “recognizing self-appointed leaders who have no means of enforcing any agreement made.” After the UTW tardily entered the strike, she noted with satisfaction, “Organized Labor is now in charge. The International Textile Workers’ Union is cooperating with the Lawrence Central Labor Union and the Boston Women's Trade Union League to support the strikers.”49

Withington's article is one of the few accounts by a WTUL member of the early stages of the strike and thus is of special value in providing a candid snapshot of WTUL attitudes before public opinion had shifted to support the strikers. An official addendum to the article by Boston WTUL president (and Wellesley graduate) Clark underscores the League's allegiance to the AFL and its hostility to the IWW: “The Women's Trade Union League which is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor could not at first take part in the Lawrence strike because it was conducted by the Industrial Workers of the World, a hostile organization. The methods of the two groups are fundamentally different so that effective cooperation was impossible.”50 Historians have been slow to recognize that much of the documentation of the role of the WTUL in Lawrence is based on the League's words and actions after the strike's surprising success. In comparison to its highly visible stand in the earlier garment and button strikes, the League was conspicuously silent while the Lawrence strike was in progress. That few contemporary sources exist reflects the League's passive wait-and-see approach. Hamstrung by its close association with the AFL and a reactionary central labor union that lacked the ability to lead, the League held back, hedging its bets because no one expected the strike to stick. Only after the strike was settled—in a stunning victory for the overwhelmingly female rank-and-file textile workers and their IWW allies—did New York WTUL president Mary Dreier characterize the role of the WTUL in Lawrence as “a general smash-up.”51 Likewise, her sister, Margaret Dreier Robins, waited until the strike was over to express her appreciation for the role played by the IWW in Lawrence: “Grim and terrible as a strike may be as an expression of protest, it is nevertheless the outward and visible sign of a miracle in the human soul.”52 Not until the strike ended did WTUL leaders regroup to try to come to terms with how, despite professing to represent the interests of unskilled industrial women workers, the League had failed to reach out to over twenty thousand members of the constituency it professed to serve. A deluge of meetings, letters, and articles in progressive magazines proved insufficient to exonerate its failure to act.

The League's reluctance to enter Lawrence, as historians Kathleen Banks Nutter and Elizabeth Anne Payne have shown, stemmed from its subordinate and complex position within the AFL. Two years earlier, Robins had turned down an offer of $25,000 from Boston residents to organize mill workers in New England because of the jurisdictional concerns of the UTW.53 Faced with division and frustration in a polarized environment, the WTUL in Boston and elsewhere were creatures of and dependent on the AFL. Just months before the Lawrence strike, the state federation had finally admitted a Boston WTUL representative as a fraternal delegate. Further complicating the picture, WTUL vice president Sara Conboy also held the position of paid organizer with the UTW and served as a delegate to the Boston CLU. The summer before the strike, League representatives had joined Conboy and Golden to walk the streets of Lawrence as “sandwich advertisers” in an incongruous and ineffective attempt to attract unskilled, non-English-speaking immigrant workers to the UTW.54 Conboy's position with the national UTW prevented her from assisting in Lawrence until the executive committee of the UTW officially endorsed the opening of a joint UTW-WTUL relief center. Even then its endorsement stipulated that WTUL aid was “only for the support of textile workers not in alliance with the Industrial Workers of the World” and severely limited the impact of its relief effort.55

Pearl McGill neither waited nor asked for WTUL and AFL permission to go into Lawrence. Having previously met Haywood in Muscatine at the start of the button strike and Ettor in Lawrence just two days before the Lawrence strike broke out, McGill was no stranger to IWW rhetoric and organizing principles.56 Consistent with her own beliefs based on her personal experience of industrial unionism in Muscatine, she offered her support directly to local IWW strike leaders, arriving in Lawrence independent of the organizations to which she was affiliated. On January 25, when McGill addressed the Lawrence strikers, she “vied with Haywood in the radical character of what she had to say and the reception given to her was tremendous.”57

Tellingly, in the numerous articles, meetings, and correspondence that followed the strike, WTUL leaders refrained from comment on McGill's high-profile role in Lawrence. The last mention of her name in WTUL records appears in a letter from Robins to her sister in New York in October 1911 asking, “Have you heard anything of Pearl McGill? I hear she is in New York City.”58 Fortunately, an abundance of newspaper reports offsets this lack of WTUL sources. A trail of articles documenting her activism from Iowa to New England belies one historian's assertion that “Pearl never carried enough political power to earn the attention of journalists.”59 To the contrary, whether she spoke on behalf of Muscatine button workers or Lawrence textile workers, the press found her eminently quotable. Reporters variously called her McGill or “Magill” and said that she was from Iowa, the far West, New York, or “Muxatoon, Ohio.”60 The reports of these journalists have much to tell us not only about Pearl McGill but also about the WTUL and AFL in Lawrence.

As an officer in an AFL union with strong ties to the WTUL, McGill's decision to ally herself with the rival IWW by aiding striking textile workers in Lawrence could not have been easy. Yet she did not hesitate to reach out to new-immigrant women operatives through the IWW. Perhaps naively, for a while she believed she could support the AFL button and IWW textile strikes simultaneously. AFL unionists in the textile town of Manchester, New Hampshire, not far from Lawrence, responded enthusiastically to McGill. On the morning of February 1, she spoke on behalf of striking Muscatine button workers on the west side of town, and she planned to speak on behalf of Lawrence textile strikers at the Polish hall that evening. The AFL cigarmakers union of Manchester had booked and paid for the halls for both events with the expectation that Ettor would also speak at the evening event. That plan changed when, on the evening of January 29, striker Anna Lopizzo was killed as police tried to break up a picket line in Lawrence. Authorities arrested Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti as accessories to murder and held them without bail for the next eight months, hoping to crush the strike by removing its leaders.

The IWW quickly arranged for McGill and IWW strike leaders Robert Laurence and Thomas Holliday to take Ettor's place in Manchester that evening. Given the events of the previous day, the atmosphere they encountered in Manchester was tense. No one disrupted the morning fundraiser, where six hundred supporters contributed a total of $300 to support the button strike and no mention was made of the Lawrence strike.61 Yet when McGill, Laurence, and Holliday approached the Polish hall that evening, Police Chief Michael J. Healey prevented them from entering and arrested Laurence when he attempted to speak despite their warnings.62 When denied the right to speak, McGill “offered several suggestions as to the running of the city by the chief of police” and noted it was the first time she had been stopped from making a public speech.63 Questions of divided institutional loyalty constrained McGill's ability to continue to raise money for the AFL-led button strike as her role in the IWW-led textile strike expanded. Her keynote speech at the Twentieth Century Club in Boston on February 10 was likely her last major public event on behalf of the button workers. But her efforts on behalf of textile strikers continued to draw media attention, casting her as a national IWW leader.64

During the nine-week Lawrence strike, McGill assisted William Yates, the secretary of the textile workers’ branch of the IWW, and Holliday, who provided a street-level understanding of Lawrence without which the national strike leaders could not have succeeded.65 McGill brought to the struggle her firsthand experience as a factory operative and knowledge of grassroots organizing tactics among women workers, learned through her AFL and WTUL experience. Long months on the road and countless speaking engagements had given McGill an opportunity to hone her message. She understood all too well the strategies enlisted by management to create division in the ranks. The dynamite, the bombing, the militia, and even the conspiracy charges in Lawrence repeated on a larger scale a pattern she had seen before in Iowa. But perhaps most importantly, Pearl McGill brought to Lawrence the perspective of a young and outspoken working-class woman.66

McGill communicated effectively to a broad range of audiences, whether her listeners were AFL craft unionists, industrial unionists, young immigrant women operatives, or IWW strike leaders. Her prior connections with AFL-affiliated locals in New England through her work for the button strike provided a valuable network that she developed to support Lawrence strikers. Just days before the Lawrence strike erupted McGill had been in Manchester, New Hampshire, raising money for the button strike. She would return to New Hampshire in February and March to raise money for Lawrence strikers from members of AFL-affiliated locals such as the Cigarmakers and Papermakers.67

A skillful orator at seventeen, McGill “shot the truth right out.” Her personal affiliation with the AFL did not prevent her from speaking her mind; an outspoken critic of Gompers, she parted company with the AFL and the WTUL in Lawrence. Appearing with Trautmann at a March 4 rally to support the Lawrence strikers, McGill denounced the actions of the UTW in Lawrence: “If this fight is lost, and I know it won't be, it will be because the American Federation of Labor is scabbing it.”68 Here she accused Golden of undercutting the IWW. Earlier that day he had negotiated a separate settlement for skilled UTW members and initiated a back-to-work movement. As historian Melvyn Dubofsky explains, “For a price—company recognition of skilled workers—Golden practically offered to break the strike.”69 To the silent fury of the WTUL, he was also accused of misappropriating $1,000 of strike relief funds, much of it donated by WTUL supporters.70

Building on the momentum of the Lawrence victory, McGill turned to Lowell, where, by March 26, thirteen thousand striking cotton mill operatives were on strike.71 McGill's excursions to Lowell during the Lawrence strike had made her a familiar figure to textile workers there. At the start of the Lowell strike, McGill urged striking operatives to “make the most of your power. . . . Don't take what they offer you. Tell them what you want.”72 She served on the strike committee of IWW Local 436 in Lowell, working with Elodre Coppens, the wife of the committee chairman, to organize and lead parades and build solidarity. McGill addressed IWW members on March 25, prior to the arrival of Haywood, Gurley Flynn, and Trautmann, at the IWW meeting before the massive parade through the mill district. According to one reporter, at the IWW hall in Lowell that evening “Miss Pearl McGill, one of the organizers for the IWW, was one of the best known speakers.” On March 27, the front page of the Boston Globe featured a photograph of “Miss Pearl McGill, Miss Elodre Coppens, national and local leaders of the IWW.”73

Assertive, smartly dressed, and defiant, McGill found a style that was entertaining and upbeat. She instilled confidence in the young women immigrants who heard her speak and whom she sought to help. Her confident demeanor in Lowell helped maintain strike momentum and assuage fears as she calmly applied organizing tactics she had learned through her WTUL and AFL experience. At one public forum, fifteen- and sixteen-year-old mill operatives, not much younger than McGill, wore “Don't be a scab” badges as they told reporters of their wages and working conditions. McGill's statement to the press emboldened rank-and-file operatives: “I think the mill owners here have learned a lesson from Lawrence. They practically confessed their fear and weakness when they shut down the mills. The strikers are absolutely confident of success.”74

McGill helped arrange for a contingent of one thousand striking Lowell operatives to travel to Lawrence and welcome the returning children of the Lawrence textile workers.75 Among the IWW leaders at the front of the parade were Haywood, Gurley Flynn, McGill, and Yates. The Lowell strikers who now marched in Lawrence carried banners reading, “Scabs wanted at Lowell. Apply John Golden, President, Agency for Strike Breakers.” In a stunning victory, after just three weeks, striking immigrant women operatives in Lowell settled the strike by agreeing to a 10 percent wage increase.76

That Pearl McGill never publicly criticized the League's role in Lawrence suggests a sophisticated understanding of the conundrum the strike presented for WTUL leaders. Shortly after McGill publicly accused the AFL of scabbing, Mary Kenney O'Sullivan resigned from the League and stayed on in Lawrence. Perhaps her decision to break with the AFL and the WTUL was in part inspired by the principled words of Pearl McGill rising above the “muddle” that constituted the response of the WTUL.77 Both women experienced the consequences of the stand they took in Lawrence. Neither would work again for the AFL or WTUL. In contrast to the experiences of McGill and Kenney O'Sullivan, Sara Conboy reaped the benefits of her loyalty to the AFL. Advancing to the position of secretary-treasurer of the national UTW in 1915, she became the top-ranking female official in the US labor movement and an effective organizer in the textile mills of the South.78

Far from signaling the “virtual collapse” of the Boston WTUL, the Lawrence strike solidified its loyalty to the AFL and the Boston CLU. The strike did not mark a shift away from organizing women factory workers toward a preference for achieving reform through legislative change.79 The Boston League remained committed to organizing women workers through AFL-approved channels, particularly FLUs. Just two weeks after the Lawrence strike ended, Conboy, with help from Withington and the Boston WTUL, turned to a campaign to organize telephone operators as directly affiliated FLUs.80 After the IWW victory, the League continued to maintain a healthy distance from the IWW, cementing its alliance with the AFL, the UTW, and the Massachusetts State Federation of Labor by offering to pay Conboy's salary out of its own funds.81 By contrast, McGill's IWW involvement effectively barred her from the AFL and WTUL. She returned to Iowa in 1913 to become a schoolteacher and settled in the small town of Buffalo, where she married button cutter Edward Vance in 1917. Her life was tragically cut short when her estranged husband murdered her in 1924, just before her thirtieth birthday.82

Conclusion

The broader context of the impulse of unskilled workers toward industrial unionism is essential to understanding the postures of the AFL and WTUL. When a teenage Pearl McGill entered the button factory in 1910, the outcome of the struggle that she would embark on had been largely forecast by factors that had shaped the labor movement a decade earlier through the AFL's rigid adherence to craft unionism coupled with corporate allegiance to the open-shop drive. Nonetheless, the strength of industrial unionism among Iowa button workers upheld their ability to sustain a prolonged and bitterly contested struggle. The central role of women coupled with crucial support from city centrals, state federations, and the WTUL provide compelling evidence of how extensive grassroots support for industrial unionism flourished within and alongside the bounds of the AFL's entrenched craft union ideology.

The Lawrence and Muscatine strikes sharply exposed pre-existing fault lines within the AFL and WTUL over industrial unionism. While the two organizations cooperated effectively and harmoniously to support the strikers throughout the protracted Muscatine labor dispute, they “adjusted” their perspective to accommodate the circumstances they confronted in Lawrence in deference to the jurisdictional claims of Golden and in their outrage at the dual unionism of the IWW. Although the WTUL supported McGill's organizing on behalf of the Muscatine button workers, its muted response to Lawrence reflects the limitations of the trade union culture of the AFL and its influence within the WTUL.

McGill reminds us that the inspired leadership of the labor movement, at moments of crisis and new departures, is often channeled through the audacious voice of youth. The enduring legacy of her stand in Lawrence is that as she navigated the disparate cultures of the AFL and IWW at the critical juncture of the “Bread and Roses” strike, she did not falter in her adherence to the principles of industrial unionism. She enhances our understanding of how lessons of grassroots organizing learned in a radical, industrially organized but AFL-affiliated Iowa union were carried over by her into Lawrence, even as the WTUL remained on the sidelines. Her story speaks not only to the limitations of progressive WTUL reformism and AFL craft unionism, but also the ways in which industrial unionism, practiced within and outside the AFL, challenged those limitations.

Tracing McGill's brief arc to prominence leads us to interrogate silences in the archival records of the WTUL and AFL. By broadening our gaze to encompass the varied character of city centrals and state federations that shaped the complex terrain of regional labor organizing, McGill lends clarity to the Lawrence story and enables us to question what we know about the trajectory of the US labor movement in the early twentieth century. When situated within the context of the policies and practices of the national AFL, McGill's experience draws us to the heart of crucial questions surrounding the making—and unmaking—of an American working class in the Progressive Era. It enables us to see more clearly the importance of rank-and-file support for a community-based, inclusive form of rank-and-file industrial unionism that proliferated during this period. It underscores the centrality of gender—and particularly youth—in shaping outcomes for workers in labor disputes and the fundamental transformation of the working class they engendered. Finally, by shining a light on what it meant to be a member of an FLU, McGill helps us understand how the thousands of AFL-affiliated FLUs that existed between the 1890s and 1920s bridged the general unionism of the Knights of Labor and provided a precedent for the industrial unions of the early 1930s. Understanding the scope and sophistication of FLUs provides another gauge for determining the strength of grassroots industrial unionism in the Progressive Era and links these unions to later successes that culminated in the formation of the CIO. McGill draws our focus to these ambiguities, compelling us to reconsider the making of an American working class in the Progressive Era in which race and gender were centrally situated but which fractured around institutional loyalties and systemic nativism.

Further exploration of FLUs will yield a more expansive and inclusive narrative of the Progressive Era labor movement. Identifying hidden FLUs in existing local scholarship should further illuminate the proliferation of the vital impulse to organize among unskilled and semi-skilled workers in mass production and agricultural industries. Synthesizing new scholarship with earlier studies will shine a light on the extent and persistence of ideals of general unionism carried forward from the Knights of Labor in progressive city centrals and state federations that supported FLU members as they struggled to win rights and representation within the AFL. Framing the union aspirations of semi-skilled and unskilled mass production workers within the scope of the AFL's policies and institutional structure will advance a sharper interpretation of industrial unionism and the AFL that situates federal labor unions—and gender—more centrally.

I thank Shelton Stromquist for his close reading and rigorous criticism of this article and the dissertation that preceded it. I am grateful to Linda Kerber, Marc Linder, Merle Davis, and the editors and anonymous reviewers of Labor who gave generously of their time and expertise. From our first meeting in 2004 until her death in 2019, Jean Burns inspired and encouraged this work through her unerring belief in the importance of her aunt Pearl McGill's contribution to the labor movement and her commitment to the urgent need to preserve her papers and understand her legacy.

Notes

1.

Pearl McGill to home, March 5, 1912, McGill Family Papers, Louise Noun—Mary Louise Smith Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City (hereafter McGill Papers).

2.

I use the terms inclusive unionism and industrial unionism interchangeably because they were synonymous with the broad-based spirit of general unionism that proliferated during this period.

3.

For an analysis of “cross-gender” strikes, in which both women and men participated, between 1880 and 1910, see DeVault, United Apart. On the New York shirtwaist strike of 1909–10, see Enstad, Ladies of Labor, chaps. 3–4. On the Lawrence textile strike of 1912, see Cameron, Radicals of the Worst Sort; and Tax, Rising of the Women, chap. 9.

5.

On WTUL accommodation to AFL policies, see DeVault, United Apart, 215–21. For further discussion of ways in which the WTUL navigated this terrain, see Weaver, “Pearl McGill and the Promise of Industrial Unionism.” 

6.

Cobble, “Lost Ways of Organizing”; Cobble, “Pure and Simple Radicalism” and responses, 61–115. For an example of an early work that does examine a specific FLU—the Ladies’ Federal Labor Union organized by Mary Kenney in Chicago—see Tax, Rising of the Women, 54–65. Yet even Tax fails to identify the Chicago women she finds organizing across a range of occupations as members of specific FLUs (Rising of the Women, 91).

7.

Martin Schipper, “American Federation of Labor Records, Part 1: Strikes and Agreements File, 1898–1953,” vii. According to Schipper, by 1933 the AFL had chartered 18,273 FLUs (aflcio_rg1_009m_033, George Meany Memorial Archives, University of Maryland).

8.

William Schnitzler to Clifford Lord, November 9, 1955, donor correspondence, State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

9.

Iowa Unionist, April 7, 1911; Chicago Daily Socialist , April 8, 1911.

10.

Pearl McGill to Eliza McGill, April 25, 1911, McGill Papers.

11.

Pearl McGill to Eliza McGill, April 25, 1911, McGill Papers.

12.

First Biennial Report, Bureau of Labor Statistics for the State of Iowa, 1884–85, 55; Muscatine Daily News-Tribune, “Sovereign's Speech”; Scharnau, “Workers and Politics,” 353–77.

14.

Stuckey, “Iowa State Federation of Labor,” 9–19, 29; Proceedings Iowa State Federation of Labor, 1894.

15.

W. H. Winsor interview with Stuckey, ca. 1915, cited in Stuckey, “Iowa State Federation of Labor,” 12.

16.

Holder, “Report of President,” Iowa State Federation of Labor convention proceedings, Davenport, Iowa, May 12–15, 1903, Official Gazette and Directory, 1903, 194–206; District 13 UMWA locals, Official Gazette and Directory, 1903, 145–47.

18.

On the limitations of the new CIO, see Lynd, “We Are All Leaders.” 

19.

“Manufactures by Specified Industries,” table 30, Iowa State Census, 1905, 692–93; table 11, “Buttons by States,” in Josephsson, “Manufacture of Buttons,” Manufactures, part III of the 1900 US census, 315–27.

20.

Farrell-Beck and Meints, “Role of Technology”; “Manufacture of Buttons,” Census of Manufactures, 1914, 2:839–45.

21.

Muscatine Saturday Mail, September 1, 1902.

22.

Davenport Democrat, May 28, 1903; Muscatine Journal, June 1, 1903; Muscatine Journal, July 29, 1903. Marcella Hunter held the office of vice president, and Sara Eberle was the recording secretary.

24.

Rousmaniere, “Muscatine Button Workers’ Strike,” 243–62. For a more detailed account of the strike, see Weaver, “Pearl McGill and the Promise of Industrial Unionism,” part 3, “The Labor War of Muscatine,” 264–420.

25.

Muscatine Journal, April 14, 1911.

26.

Nockels to Carroll, April 14, 1911; Barnes to Carroll, April 14, 1911, Muscatine strike folder, RG43, Iowa State Archives.

27.

“Secretary's Report, the Third Biennial Convention,” 230. Transcript of McGill's speech, NWTUL convention proceedings, 1911, 15–16, Papers of the Women's Trade Union League and its Principal Leaders, microfilm edition, collection 9, reel 1. As a delegate to the convention, McGill was appointed to the NWTUL's Organization Committee and nominated by Leonora O'Reilly as “the best fighter” for a position on the NWTUL's Executive Council (reel 20, NWTUL records, Library of Congress).

28.

See, for example, Louisa Mittelstadt, Kansas City WTUL, to Miss Franklin, October 4, 1911, reel 1, NWTUL Records, Library of Congress.

29.

Cassedy, “Bond of Sympathy,” 34–44; McGill to home, June 2, 1911, McGill Papers.

31.

On the centrality of race among Progressive reformers, see Roediger, Working toward Whiteness, 69–72.

35.

Margaret Dreier Robins to Mary Dreier, October 11, 1911, Margaret Dreier Robins Papers, Microfilm Edition, University of Florida, Gainesville, reel 22, frames 762–67 (hereafter MDR Papers).

36.

AFL Convention Proceedings, 1911, 177–80.

37.

AFL Convention Proceedings, 1912, 122.

38.

New York Call, January 25, 1912; Boston Globe, “Saw Strike Leader Arrested.” 

42.

Margaret Robins to Mary Dreier, March 18, 1912, reel 22, MDR Papers; Greene, Pure and Simple Politics, 42.

43.

For examples of the power that moral suasion could yield, see Roediger's description of the importance of John Fitzpatrick's leadership in Working toward Whiteness, 86, and Steven Fraser's biography of Sydney Hillman, Labor Will Rule, 57–113.

45.

Dubofsky, We Shall Be All, 233–35. For background on conservative business unionism of the UTW and John Golden, see Arnold, “Row of Bricks,” 279–84, 331n23.

46.

Boston Globe, “Lawrence Union Officials Arrange with President Golden,” February 14, 1912.

47.

Sue Ainsley Clark to Margaret Robins, undated letter, Reel 1, NWTUL records, Library of Congress. The letter was written after March 7, 1912, by which time the strike was nearly over.

48.

Elizabeth Evans to Margaret Robins, March 25, 1911, MDR Papers, reel 23.

49.

Withington, “Lawrence Strike,” 73–77; the precise date of writing (January 30) is included in the body of the article on the last page.

51.

The quotation “a general smash-up” is from a letter from Mary Dreier to Margaret Robins written on March 15, 1912, after the Lawrence victory. See Nutter, Necessity of Organization, 159, chap. 5.

52.

Payne, Reform, Labor and Feminism, 78. The quotation is from the March 18, 1912, letter from Margaret Robins to Mary Dreier, MDR Papers.

54.

Mary Kenney O'Sullivan autobiography cited in Nutter, Necessity of Organization, 160.

55.

Payne, Reform, Labor and Feminism, 106; Nutter, Necessity of Organization, 167. The statement of the UTW executive committee is published in the Manchester (NH) Union, February 4, 1912.

56.

Boston Globe, “Saw Strike Leader Arrested.” This observation formed part of testimony given by John J. Mullen of the Stove Workers’ Protective Union of Haverhill (an FLU) during Ettor and Giovannitti's arraignment in Lawrence in which, according to this article, Mullen testified that he had seen Ettor with Pearl McGill in Boston on January 9, 1912.

58.

Margaret Robins to Mary Dreier, October 6, 1911, MDR Papers.

60.

These names and places were reported in articles in the New York Call, the Lowell Sun, the Chicago Daily Socialist , and the Manchester (NH) Union between 1911 and 1912.

61.

Manchester (NH) Union, “Some Talk about Lawrencizing Manchester.” I thank Scott Roper for bringing this and other articles to my attention.

63.

Manchester (NH) Union, February 2, 1912.

65.

Yates and Pearl McGill addressed a meeting of sections hands at the Needham hall in Lawrence Massachusetts; Lawrence Evening Tribune , February 19, 1912; Dubofsky, We Shall Be All, 241.

66.

On the importance of working-class women as leaders and the tactics they deployed in Lawrence, see Cameron, Radicals of the Worst Sort, 124–40. On the competence of young women organizers in the uprisings in the garment industries, see Orleck, Common Sense, 53–80.

67.

McGill to home, January 6, 1912, McGill Papers; report by Franklin, NH, Local 31, Paper Makers’ Journal, Albany, New York, March 1912, 15.

77.

Glendower Evans to Margaret Robins, March 25, 1912, MDR Papers.

79.

Payne, Reform, Labor and Feminism, quotation at 106; Norwood, “Reclaiming Working-Class Activism,” 21. An example of a previous assertion that after 1912 the WTUL shifted away from a position of organization to legislation is found in Kessler-Harris, Out to Work, 205.

80.

Boston Globe, “Telephone Operatives Are Organized.” On the Boston League's organizing efforts with telephone operators, see Norwood, Labor's Flaming Youth. 

82.

Muscatine Journal, “Buffalo Teacher Slain.” Newspapers reported that Edward Vance murdered McGill shortly after his release from the Mount Pleasant Insane Asylum and then died by suicide.

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