Labor Unions

Labor Unions

The ILGWU- it was so much more than labor protections…

Labor Unions in US History

I’m up in New York this week visiting family for two weeks. Yesterday, I got to enjoy a fantastic day in the city with my sister. We visited the Tenement Museum to start research for my next book and got to mozey around the Lower East Side. I even got to visit the Brown Building (aka the site of the Triangle Fire.) It was bittersweet to see it again after spending so much time writing about it these past few years.

One thing that really struck me as I went on this past tour and learned about the next phase of history for immigrants on the Lower East Side, was the rising role the International Ladies’ Garment Worker’s Union played for workers and their families.

When we think of labor unions. we think of the role they play in protecting workers’ rights. Negotiating fair pay and hours, protections etc. However, the ILGWU did FAR more than that.

One thing to remember was the Lower East Side of Manhattan was the Garment District. So, a large majority of residents had someone in their family working in a garment factory and therefore an affiliation with the union.

In the aftermath of the Garment Worker’s Strike and the Triangle fire in 1911 the union strengthened substantially. For one, it grew in its reach across other urban areas across the country. And as its reach and membership numbers grew, the union was able to focus on improving other quality of life issues for members and their families.

In 1913 they opened the first Union Health Center in NYC. They soon opened additional centers in other cities across the county and eventually offered mobile health centers to workers in smaller towns and rural areas. At the centers they offered dental care, check ups, and prescriptions to workers and their families.

By 1915 the union began to offer educational opportunities to its members. They offered coursework ranging from English classes to labor history classes. They partnered with high schools and colleges to offer incentives for members to earn credits and diplomas and eventually even offered scholarships for college education.

By 1919, there were even vacation getaways available in the Poconos and Catskills for families to escape busy city life.

These safety net offerings were integral to survival for many of these families. This was especially evident during the Depression era where many men were unable to find jobs and women stepped up to provide the bread-winning role and support for the family. 

It’s always interesting to me to look back in history and see how a story changed. Seeing what labor unions offered and how accepting people were of these offerings, it is difficult to imagine how far in opinion and reputation the pendulum could swing in its depiction of labor unions. How and when did that occur? And why? Fear? Slander?

It makes you wonder how fifty years from now our current times will be depicted. ..

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U.S. Immigration History

U.S. Immigration History

U.S. Immigration History

Are You Aware of our TRUE U.S. Immigration History?

If you’ve gotten a copy of The Girl From Saint Petersburg, you’ve seen I included Emma Lazarus’s famous poem, The New Colossus, in the beginning. I’ve always been intrigued by the poem. It’s welcoming, yet imposing nature. Just like the Statue itself. It’s also struck me how early the country’s split personality nature began when it comes to our acceptance of immigrants on our shores.

As a nation- most of us think of the poem’s famous lines when we think of U.S. immigration history. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” We’re the Melting Pot nation, right? We had open shores and accepted everyone. Not exactly.

Our nation’s complicated welcoming/exclusionary stances go far further back than many of us realize. Immigration exclusionary proclamations began as far back as 1790. That is when Congress passed the first law dictating that only free white people of “good character” living in the U.S. for two years or longer could apply for citizenship.

The years following kept immigration in the forefront as Europeans continued to arrive. By 1849, America’s first anti-immigrant political party was formed. They drummed up support for the states to pass their own anti-immigration laws. But the Supreme Court overturned them in 1875, declaring that only the federal government could make and enforce immigration laws.

In 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed. This was the first in U.S. immigration history to place broad restrictions on a certain group. It was far from the last. By 1891, it was expanded to exclude polygamists, people convicted of certain crimes, and the sick and diseased. This was also when the Federal Office of Immigration was created along with a corps of immigration inspectors stationed at all ports of entry.

Xenophobia reached new heights at the start of the World Wars. The Immigration Act of 1917 established a literacy requirement for all immigrants and halted almost all immigration from Asian countries completely.

By May of 1924, the U.S. established a new nationality quota system. The law heavily favored Northern and Western European countries with immigrants from Great Britain, Ireland and Germany accounting for 70% of the issued visas. This was also when U.S. Border Patrol was established to crack down on illegal immigrants crossing the borders from Mexico and Canada.

The quota system remained in place until 1965 when Lyndon Johnson overturned it with a new seven-category preference system. He called the old quota system “unAmerican,” and said the new bill would correct a “cruel and enduring wrong in the conduct of the American nation.”

My last installment of Ruth’s story will take place during the time of this quota system. As I’ve begun research for it, my stomach has turned at the horrors we allowed in refusing refugees from Holocaust concentration camps etc.

I’m appreciative of Johnson’s apology, but I find myself still wondering at the complexities of our system. Are we embracing the Statue’s message? Will we ever have an immigration system that is truly equitable and fair? And most importantly, will we ever have an agreed upon definition of what it means to be an American?

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Women Revolutionary War Heroes

Women Revolutionary War Heroes

We hear about the Founding Fathers, but what about the Founding Mothers? Check out this book list about Women Revolutionary War Heroes!

Women Revolutionary War Heroes

Let’s Talk About Women Revolutionary War Heroes!

Happy 4th of July everyone! In a year fraught with debate over so much when it comes to the true meanings of liberty and independence, it seems more than ever that it’s important to take a deeper look at what brought us here.

We ALWAYS here about the Founding Fathers and the brave men involved in the Revolutionary War. Paul Revere’s ride, George Washington’s brilliance etc. But you know how the saying goes, behind every great man there is a….? Even more amazing woman!! Sure enough, there were some absolutely pivotal women revolutionary war heroes as well! Let’s do as Abigail Adams once said- “Remember the Ladies!” Check out this book list below to celebrate these ladies!


Women Revolutionary War Heroes

From #1 New York Times bestselling author, Cokie Roberts, comes New York Times bestseller Founding Mothers, an intimate and illuminating look at the fervently patriotic and passionate women whose tireless pursuits on behalf of their families—and their country—proved just as crucial to the forging of a new nation as the rebellion that established it.

While much has been written about the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, battled the British, and framed the Constitution, the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters they left behind have been little noticed by history. #1 New York Times bestselling author, Cokie Roberts, brings us women who fought the Revolution as valiantly as the men, often defending their very doorsteps. Drawing upon personal correspondence, private journals, and even favored recipes, Roberts reveals the often surprising stories of these fascinating women, bringing to life the everyday trials and extraordinary triumphs of individuals like Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, Deborah Read Franklin, Eliza Pinckney, Catherine Littlefield Green, Esther DeBerdt Reed and Martha Washington— proving that without our exemplary women, the new country might have never survived.


“Not since I read Erik Larson’s Dead Wake have I had such an edge-of-my-seat immersion into historical events. […] No study of Alexander Hamilton would be complete without reading this book.”-Karen White, New York Times bestselling author

From the New York Times bestselling authors of America’s First Daughter comes the epic story of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton–a revolutionary woman who, like her new nation, struggled to define herself in the wake of war, betrayal, and tragedy. In this haunting, moving, and beautifully written novel, Dray and Kamoie used thousands of letters and original sources to tell Eliza’s story as it’s never been told before–not just as the wronged wife at the center of a political sex scandal–but also as a founding mother who shaped an American legacy in her own right.

A general’s daughter…

Coming of age on the perilous frontier of revolutionary New York, Elizabeth Schuyler champions the fight for independence. And when she meets Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s penniless but passionate aide-de-camp, she’s captivated by the young officer’s charisma and brilliance. They fall in love, despite Hamilton’s bastard birth and the uncertainties of war.

A Founding Father’s wife…

But the union they create–in their marriage and the new nation–is far from perfect. From glittering inaugural balls to bloody street riots, the Hamiltons are at the center of it all–including the political treachery of America’s first sex scandal, which forces Eliza to struggle through heartbreak and betrayal to find forgiveness.

The last surviving light of the Revolution…

When a duel destroys Eliza’s hard-won peace, the grieving widow fights her husband’s enemies to preserve Alexander’s legacy. But long-buried secrets threaten everything Eliza believes about her marriage and her own legacy. Questioning her tireless devotion to the man and country that have broken her heart, she’s left with one last battle–to understand the flawed man she married and imperfect union he could never have created without her…


Women Revolutionary War Heroes

Every schoolchild knows about Paul Revere’s 20-mile ride to warn that the British were coming. Far fewer know that 16-year-old Sybil Ludington rode twice as far to help her father, Colonel Ludington, muster his scattered troops to fight a marauding enemy. Few know about Martha Bratton, who blew up a supply of gunpowder to keep it from approaching British troops and boldly claimed, “It was I who did it!” Susan Casey gives Ludington, Bratton, and 18 other remarkable girls and women of the Revolution the spotlight they deserve in this lively collection of biographical profiles. Drawing on interviews with historians and descendants as well as primary source material, this is an invaluable resource for any student’s or history buff’s bookshelf.


“When Harry Met Sally” is only the most iconic of popular American movies, books, and articles that pose the question of whether friendships between men and women are possible. In Founding Friendships, Cassandra A. Good shows that this question was embedded in and debated as far back as the birth of the American nation. Indeed, many of the nation’s founding fathers had female friends but popular rhetoric held that these relationships were fraught with social danger, if not impossible.

Elite men and women formed loving, politically significant friendships in the early national period that were crucial to the individuals’ lives as well as the formation of a new national political system, as Cassandra Good illuminates.

Abigail Adams called her friend Thomas Jefferson “one of the choice ones on earth,” while George Washington signed a letter to his friend Elizabeth Powel with the words “I am always Yours.” Their emotionally rich language is often mistaken for romance, but by analyzing period letters, diaries, novels, and etiquette books, Good reveals that friendships between men and women were quite common. At a time when personal relationships were deeply political, these bonds offered both parties affection and practical assistance as well as exemplified republican values of choice, freedom, equality, and virtue. In so doing, these friendships embodied the core values of the new nation and represented a transitional moment in gender and culture.

Northern and Southern, famous and lesser known, the men and women examined in Founding Friendships offer a fresh look at how the founding generation defined and experienced friendship, love, gender, and power.


“An engrossing look at the human side of Benjamin Franklin . . . Using a post-feminist lens that’s critical of gender essentialism, Stuart rescues these women from obscurity . . . This is a terrific read: poignant, provocative, and probing.”
—Library Journal, Starred Review

A vivid portrait of the women who loved, nurtured, and defended America’s famous scientist and founding father.

Everyone knows Benjamin Franklin—the thrifty inventor-statesman of the Revolutionary era—but not about his love life. Poor Richard’s Women reveals the long-neglected voices of the women Ben loved and lost during his lifelong struggle between passion and prudence. The most prominent among them was Deborah Read Franklin, his common-law wife and partner for 44 years. Long dismissed by historians, she was an independent, politically savvy woman and devoted wife who raised their children, managed his finances, and fought off angry mobs at gunpoint while he traipsed about England.

Weaving detailed historical research with emotional intensity and personal testimony, Nancy Rubin Stuart traces Deborah’s life and those of Ben’s other romantic attachments through their personal correspondence. We are introduced to Margaret Stevenson, the widowed landlady who managed Ben’s life in London; Catherine Ray, the 23-year-old New Englander with whom he traveled overnight and later exchanged passionate letters; Madame Brillon, the beautiful French musician who flirted shamelessly with him, and the witty Madame Helvetius, who befriended the philosophes of pre-Revolutionary France and brought Ben to his knees.

What emerges from Stuart’s pen is a colorful and poignant portrait of women in the age of revolution. Set two centuries before the rise of feminism, Poor Richard’s Women depicts the feisty, often-forgotten women dear to Ben’s heart who, despite obstacles, achieved an independence rarely enjoyed by their peers in that era.


Hope these empowering list of books about Women Revolutionary War Heroes provides you some inspiration this summer. Enjoy!

Looking for other book recommendations? Check out Joyana’s Book Lists page!

The Shakespeare Mystery

Shakespeare Mystery

Analyzing the Shakespeare Mystery– Was Shakespeare REALLY the true author of his plays and sonnets?

Shakespeare Mystery

The Shakespeare Mystery

There are so many questions asked when analyzing the Shakespeare Mystery. Did he really exist or was he a pen name? Was he really a Catholic hiding in Protestant England? And one of the most elusive of all- were his first sonnets published with his permission?

Alive or Dead? Permission or Not– That is the Question.
On May 20th 1609, the first folio of Shakespeare’s sonnets was published. A man named Thomas Thorpe was listed as the publisher. However, there was no dedication written by Shakespeare and no mention of him involved in the editing or acknowledgements. How could that be?

Critics and historians have analyzed and debated this for hundreds of years, if Shakespeare was still supposedly alive for this publication, why was he not involved in it? And an even bigger question- why were the publication and proceeds not listed in his estate or will?

Some use this as evidence to prove that William Shakespeare really wasn’t the author of the famous plays and sonnets. Others argue that it proves Thorpe published without Shakespeare’s permission. But if that was the case, why didn’t Shakespeare contest it after the fact?

I’ve always found the Shakespeare Mystery intriguing. Personally, I hope we never find real answers to these questions. I hope this for a few reasons.

One- I think I’d be heartbroken if he was ever truly discredited. I’ve been to Stratford Upon Avon, I’ve walked where he walked, seen his grave etc. And I love the idea of a self-taught author who was able to express his genius without any formal training.

And Two- I think the not knowing honestly adds to the romance and mystery of his works. I mean, combined with the magic of Macbeth or Midsummer Night’s Dream– how could you not appreciate the added mystery surrounding the author? The potential suspension of disbelief or acceptance of the unknown?

To me, these swirling mysteries regarding Shakespeare allow him to be held as this almost mythical figure apart from us mere mortals. I applaud the critics and historians who want to crack the case. But for me, I’m content with leaving this as one of life’s great mysteries and perhaps even chalking it up to– magic.

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The History of Mother's Day

The History of Mother’s Day

Believe it or not, Mother’s Day was not always about cards or brunch celebrations.

The History of Mother's Day

The History of Mother’s Day

Do you know the real history of Mother’s Day? It might surprise you!

We assume Mother’s Day was created as a legal holiday to honor mothers signed into effect by a President. Well, that did happen. (Thanks President Wilson!) But that was not the true origin of the holiday. The first Mother’s Day origins came much earlier and for very different reasons. Read on to learn about the true history of Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day began as a women’s movement to repair the nation after the Civil War. Two incredible women led the way: Ann Reeves Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe.

The History of Ann Reeves Jarvis

Known as “Mother Jarvis”, – Ann Reeves Jarvis was an Appalachian activist, who wanted to find ways to bridge the gaps between the two sides during the war. She created women’s brigades to help any women and children in need regardless of which side they supported. After the war, she continued bringing people together by organizing Mother’s Clubs dedicated to helping newly widowed mothers (again from both sides) better their living conditions.

The History of Julia Ward Howe

Julia Ward Howe was another formidable force during the Civil War. She was a famous poet. In addition, to penning the Battle Hymn of the Republic, she also used her writing gifts to encourage thought and pacifism. She penned a proclamation, dedicated to celebrating peace and ending the war. She believed mothers, in particular, were key to preventing future cruelties and lives lost in war. She called for an annual Mother’s Day for Peace where women could gather and further their cause. After all, every soldier has a mother.

Howe’s version of Mother’s Day was held in Boston and other locations for over 30 years. However, it fell apart during World War I.

Mother’s Day and any forms of its celebration was forgotten until Jarvis’s daughter brought it back to life. After her mother’s death in 1905, Anna Jarvis wanted to memorialize her mother and honor her legacy. She believed establishing a national day to commemorate mothers would be the perfect way to do that.

She began campaigning and lobbying national groups for support. And on May 10, 1907 she held the first Mother’s Day ceremony. The city of Philadelphia repeated the ceremony the following year and the mayor soon declared it a public holiday.

From there, appeals continued for national support and in 1914, Mother’s Day was declared a federal holiday.

Some would say we’ve lost sight of the original sentiment behind the day over the years. We’ve allowed it to get commercial and be another excuse for cards, gifts and obligation. Yes, we should most definitely pamper our mothers on this day. (Seriously guys, get that massage gift card to honor their hard work, please!)

But let’s take a moment to remember the original intent behind the day as well. The original founders recognized something sacred about the bonds of motherhood. Let’s face it, there is a lot of ugliness in the world. And it often feels we have more differences than things in common. But there is one bond that transcends all the differences in the world. Across cultures, socioeconomic status etc.,. – there is no more common bond than the bond of motherhood.

So, on this upcoming Sunday- while you toast at brunch or whatever you’re doing to celebrate, perhaps take a moment to remember that original intent to repair and further the efforts for peace. Mothers, we all want what’s best for our children. So, let’s work together and do what we can to make this world a better place for them.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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The History of Unions in America

The History of Unions in America

What’s the story with unions?

The History of Unions in America

The History of Unions in America

Unions– love them, hate them– they’re an integral part of our labor history in America. And they’ve been in the news a lot recently. Between the fights with teacher unions and return to school plans last year to now Starbucks and Amazon locations voting to unionize– there are a lot of big feelings on this topic. But why is it so controversial?

Some Background History of Unions in America

The early forms of unions were craft guilds or mutual aid organizations working to protect workplace entry and conditions for skilled artisans. It didn’t raise too much resistance because these artisans were small in number as were the organizations who hired them. It wasn’t until industrialization that more of a gap between the workforce and employers came to be. Soon, workers began to see a threat emerging against both their wage and status.

The mid to late 1800s became a violent time in labor history. Unions utilized general strikes and rallied for standards like an eight-hour work day and livable wages. However, big businesses were heavily involved in government and local law enforcement as well as cohesive in supporting their own common interests. It was also socially accepted for employers to use brutal violence against striking workers. Therefore they succeeded in limiting the growth of trade unions and quashing most of their efforts at the time.

The turn of the century brought a new approach to union efforts. The American Federation of Labor was founded with the belief that individual unions were too fragmented to withstand the violence orchestrated against them. Instead, they recruited unions to band together under one large organization. Under AFL support, they were able to withstand the onslaught of retaliation from employers with unemployment pay and benefits.

The National Civic Federation (NFL) went one step further and brought leaders from both the trade unions and corporations together. Their explicit goal was diplomacy and with them the premise of collective bargaining was born.

Where the Controversy Comes In

On paper, unions appear to be entirely altruistic and no-brainers. However, as with everything in life– nothing is that simple. With larger organizations there are compromises in the name of the greater good at the expense of the individual. There are also politics that come into play.

Over the years, workers have rebelled against the idea of wages being garnished to support the union for what they felt was little return for their own individual benefits. Right to work laws came into play to support worker’s individual choice to opt out of union protection.

Some feel this has hampered unions and limited their protections and is why we have seen a downfall in their involvement and popularity in the last thirty years. We are a capitalist society that is run by the bottom-line. Both in our own households and in keeping a business running. But there are always two sides to every story.

When you’re arguing against an employer’s whim to fire or downsize without merit– you are also going to get an underperforming worker who is difficult to fire. You’re also going to get employers needing to make the difficult decision to raise prices for consumers to pay for a livable wage for their employee.

But on the other side, is it fair for a worker to be forced to choose between their safety, health or newborn infant and their paycheck? Or for an employer to mislabel a worker as an independent contractor to avoid paying benefits and taxes?

Just as the girls in the Triangle were fighting against the injustice railed against them– there are still many employees in this country with the deck stacked against them. Whatever the answer is– unionizing, legislation, or consumer support against corporations– we must be aware. The job is not done. Support is still needed– the fight for Worker’s Rights is far from over.

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