Role of Women

World War 2--(1945)


Eleanor Roosevelt


Born in New York City on October 11, 1884, Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the most outspoken women in the White House. She married Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1905. During her husband's presidency, Eleanor gave press conferences and wrote a newspaper column. After his death, she served at the United Nations, focusing on human rights and women's issues.

Early Life

First lady, writer and humanitarian Eleanor Roosevelt was born Anna Eleanor Roosevelt on October 11, 1884, in New York City.In 1905, Eleanor married her distant cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who would later become president of the United States. The couple had six children: Anna, James, Franklin (who died as an infant), Elliott, Franklin Jr. and John. Despite her busy home life, Eleanor became active in public service during World War I, working for the American Red Cross.

Life After the White House

Following her husband's death, on April 12, 1945, Eleanor told interviewers that she didn't have plans for continuing her public service: "The story is over," she reportedly stated. However, the opposite would actually prove to be true. From 1945 to 1953, Eleanor served as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. She also became chair of the UN's Human Rights Commission. As a member of the Human Rights Commission, she helped to write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—an effort that she considered to be her greatest achievement.

Death and Legacy

Eleanor died of aplastic anemia, tuberculosis and heart failure on November 7, 1962, at the age of 78. She was buried at the family estate in Hyde Park. A revolutionary first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the most outspoken women to live in the White House. While she's had her share of critics, most agree that she was a great humanitarian who dedicated much of her life to fighting for political and social change.

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Eleanor Roosevelt in her group of the Women's Trade Union League
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Eleanor and her team members in their uniforms for the Women's Trade Union League.

International Events

Women's Trade Union League

Women working in factories often faced terrible working conditions and low wages. During the Progressive Era, working-class women, alone and in concert with middle-class women, fought to raise wages and improve working conditions.

The Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL) represented a partnership between middle-class reformers and working-class women to raise wages and improve working conditions. Founded in Boston in 1903, it was staffed and run by working-class women, and middle-class women served as organizational “allies.” In the early 20th century, it focused on unionizing women workers and supporting women’s strikes.

Women initiated many strikes at the beginning of the 20th century, including the “Rising of 20,000” shirtwaist workers in 1909-1910 and the famous “Bread and Roses” strike of textile workers in Lawrence, MA in 1912. Beginning in 1909, shirtwaist workers struck in New York and Philadelphia after unionist Clara Lemlich called for a general strike. Over the course of the strike, more than 20,000 workers walked out, many of them women. The WTUL provided important assistance to the strikers. Middle- and upper class women donated money, arranged for legal representation, spoke to the press, and even participated in picket lines. Although the strike was largely unsuccessful in achieving its stated goals, it served to boost union membership among women. The International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), in particular, became a force to be reckoned with.

After about 1910, the WTUL focused on enacting protective legislation for women, and, increasingly, supported woman suffrage as a means to achieve gains for working-class women. Rose Schneiderman, the renowned feminist and labor activist, became an important member of the WTUL.

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Women's Trade Union League Seal,
Library of Congress
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Women tailor strikers, New York, 1910

The Opinion Piece

Women's Trade Union League

The National Women's Trade Union League of America (NWTUL) was founded in Boston in 1903 as a coalition of working-class women, professional reformers, and women from wealthy and prominent families. Its purpose was to "assist in the organization of women wage workers into trade unions and thereby to help them secure conditions necessary for healthful and efficient work and to obtain a just reward for such work."

The NWTUL viewed women workers primarily in their capacity as oppressed workers, but also recognized that all women, regardless of class, were united by the "bonds of womanhood." Thus upper-class women joined as the allies of working-class women, donating money, serving as spokespeople to the press, and arranging for legal representation. The wealthy women members of the NWTUL were also willing to dirty their hands, and they participated in picket lines and sometimes got arrested during protests. In the process, the women of the NWTUL forged a new working-class feminism.

At a time when organized labor was devoted to a "family wage" concept that is, a wage for men at which they could support an entire family without the contribution of a working wife and when union leaders were worried that increased participation of women in labor markets would drive down men's wages, traditional unions were largely unwilling to allow women into their ranks. When women did form unions and strike, the NWTUL often provided support where other unions held back.

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Leaders of the Women's Trade Union League
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Labor Day:members of the Women's Trade Union League

The Propaganda Piece

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