Women’s History Month


Women’s Labor History Timeline: 1765 – Present Day


The first society of working women, the Daughters of Liberty, is organized as an auxiliary of the Sons of Liberty, a workingman’s association.


Women workers strike for the first time, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. 102 women workers strike in support of brother weavers protesting the simultaneous reduction in wages and extension of the workday.


The first union for women only formed: The United Tailoresses of New York.


February 1600 women members of the United Tailoresses of New York, strike for “a just price for our labor.”


The Female Labor Reform Association is formed in Lowell, Massachusetts by Sarah Bagley and other women cotton mill workers to reduce the work day from 12 or 13 hours a day to 10, and to improve sanitation and safety in the mills where they worked.


Antoinette Brown is the first U.S. woman ordained as a minister in a protestant denomination.


Cigar makers are the first national union to accept women and African Americans.

Daughters of St. Crispin1869

July 28, women shoemakers form the Daughters of St. Crispin, the first national union of women workers, at Lynn, Massachusetts.


Congress passes a law giving women federal employee equal pay for equal work.


Atlanta, Georgia: 3,000 Black women laundry workers stage one of the largest and most effective strikes in the history of the south.1888

NY suffragists win passage of a law requiring women doctors for women patients in mental institutions.


Jane Adams founds Hull House in Chicago to assist the poor. It becomes a model for many other settlement houses and establishes social work as a profession for women.


Mary Kenney O’Sullivan of the Bindery Workers is appointed the AFL’s first female national organizer.

Secure matrons in all police stations


Charlotte Perkins Gillman wrote Women and Economics in 1898 arguing that women need to be economically independent.


The National Consumers League is formed with Florence Kelley as its president. The League organizes women to use their power as consumers to push for better working conditions and protective law for women workers.


national women's trade union leagueMary Harris “Mother” Jones leads a protest march of mill children, many of who were victims of industrial accidents, from Philadelphia to New York.

November 14, at the AFL convention in Boston, women unionists unite to form the National Women’s Trade Union League and elect Mary Morton Kehew president and Jane Addams vice-president. The National Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL) is established to advocate for improved wages and working conditions for women.


“Uprising of the 20,000” female shirtwaist workers in New York State strike against sweatshop conditions.


The wives of striking miners arrested in Greensburg, Pennsylvania sing their way out of jail under the leadership of Mother Jones.


In Lawrence, Massachusetts the IWW leads a strike of 23,000 men, women and children to organize the Lawrence Textile Mills: The “Bread & Roses” Strike, hailed as the first successful multi-ethnic strike (see History Matters).

Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party became the first major political party to include a woman’s suffrage plank in its official platform.


Ludlow Massacre: on April 20th a small army of goons hired from the Baldwin-Felts agency backed up by the National Guard lay down a barrage of machine gun fire on a strikers’ tent village at Ludlow, Colorado, killing men, women and children.


Jeannette Rankin (R-MT) became the first women elected to the United States House of Representatives. Ms. Rankin served two terms in the House from (1916-1918 and (1940-1942)


During WWI women’s wartime work in heavy industry and public service jobs expanded women’s roles in society.


August 26, United Mine Workers’ organizer Fannie Sellins, a widowed mother of four, is shot to death by coal company guards while leading strikers in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania.


The Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor is formed to collect information about women in the workforce and safeguard good working conditions for women


September 1, Clara Holden, National Textile Workers’ Union organizer is abducted and beaten by vigilantes in Greenville, South Carolina.


Francis Perkins, the first women in a presidential cabinet, served as Secretary of Labor throughout the Roosevelt administration, 1933-1945.


Florence Ellinwood Allen becomes first woman on US Court of Appeals

mary mcleod bethune1935

Mary McLeod Bethune organizes the National Council of Negro Women, a coalition of black women’s groups that lobbies against job discrimination, racism, and sexism.


December 28th, a “sitdown strike” of auto workers (UAW) supported by the Women’s Emergency Brigade at the General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan.

President FDR appointed Ms. Bethune to serve as director or Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration in 1936 making her the first African-American women to be a presidential advisor.


The shortage of workers caused by WWII opens a wide range of high-paying jobsto women. Almost seven million women enter the workforce, including two million in heavy industry.

women wlders - world war ii


President John Kennedy establishes the President’s Commission on the Status of Women and appoints Eleanor Roosevelt as chairwoman. The report issued by the Commission in 1963 documents substantial discrimination against women in the workplace and makes specific recommendations for improvement, including fair hiring practices, paid maternity leave, and affordable child care.


June 10: Congress passes the Equal Pay Act, making it illegal for employers to pay a woman less than what a man would receive for the same job.


Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bars discrimination in employment on the basis of race and sex. At the same time it establishes the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to investigate complaints and impose penalties.


Aileen Hernandex was the first woman appointed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 1971 she was elected president of NOW.


nowThe National Organization for Women (NOW) is founded by a group of feminists including Betty Friedan. The largest women’s rights group in the U.S. NOW seeks to end sexual discrimination, especially in the workplace, by means of legislative lobbying, litigation, and public demonstrations.


Executive Order 11375 expands President Lyndon Johnson’s affirmative action policy of 1965 to cover discrimination based on gender. As a result, federal agencies and contractors must take active measures to ensure that women as well as minorities enjoy the same educational and employment opportunities as white males.


The EEOC rules that sex-segregated help wanted ads in newspapers are illegal. This ruling is upheld in 1973 by the Supreme Court, opening the way for women to apply for higher-paying jobs hitherto open only to men.

Shirley Chisholm is the first Black woman elected to U.S. Congress. In 1972, she ran for president.

In Bowe v. Colgate-Palmolive, the Supreme Court rules that women meeting the physical requirements can work in many jobs that had previously been for men only.


Mary Moultrie organizes the successful strike of 550 black women hospital workers for union representation in Charleston, South Carolina.


In Schultz v. Wheaton Glass Co., a U.S. Court of Appeals rules that jobs held by men and women need to be “substantially equal” but not “identical” to fall under the protection of the Equal Pay Act. An employer cannot, for example, change the job titles of women workers in order to pay them less than men.


Mar. 22: The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. Originally drafted by Alice Paul in 1923, the amendment reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” The amendment died in 1982 when it failed to achieve ratification by a minimum of 38 states.

Sally Priesand becomes the first U.S woman ordained as a rabbi.


May 30, Crystal Lee Jordan (aka “Norma Rae”) is fired for trying to organize a union at the J.P. Stevens plant in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina

The Supreme Court upholds the EEOC ruling banning sex-segregated help-wanted ads in newspapers.


In Corning Glass Works v. Brennan, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that employers cannot justify paying women lower wages because that is what they traditionally received under the “going market rate.” A wage differential occurring “simply because men would not work at the low rates paid women” is unacceptable.

March 22, the founding convention of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) in Chicago elects Olga Madar its first president.

November 13, Karen Gay Silkwood, a lab tech at the Cimeron plutonium plant and officer of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union local in Oklahoma City dies mysteriously en route to a union meeting with a newspaper reporter.


The Pregnancy Discrimination Act bans employment discrimination against pregnant women. Under the Act, a woman cannot be fired or denied a job or a promotion because she is or may become pregnant, nor can she be forced to take a pregnancy leave if she is willing and able to work.

100,000 women and men march in support of the Equal Rights Amendment in Washington, D.C.


Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Sally Ride was the first American woman in space.


Wilma Mankiller became the first woman Principal Chief of a major American Indian tribe, the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.


feldmanSandra Feldman succeeds Albert Shanker as president of the United Federation of Teachers, becoming the first woman to head the largest local union in New York state.

The Supreme Court declares sexual harassment is a form of illegal employment discrimination.


Women serve in combat for the first time, during the Gulf War.


Carol Moseley-Braun became the first African-American women elected to the U.S. Senate.


Arlene Holt Baker is named executive vice president by the AFL-CIO Executive Council, becoming the first African-American to be elected to one of the federation’s three highest offices and the highest-ranking African-American woman in the union movement.


Randi Weingarten, Antonia Cortese and Lorretta Johnson are elected to the top leadership positions in the American Federation of Teachers. It’s the first time three women hold the top posts in AFT, whose membership is more than 70 percent female.


Arlene Holt Baker and Liz Shuler are elected Executive Vice President and Secretary-Treasurer, respectively, of the AFL-CIO.  They join with Rich Trumka (the newly elected President) in forming a team that for the first time in history includes two women, one African American and one the youngest woman (respectively) to be elected to this the Executive Leadership.

Michelle Obama becomes the nations first African American First lady; Hillary Clinton becomes the nations Secretary of State (the first First lady to become a Senator and Secretary of State),  Hilda Solis becomes the Secretary of Labor.  Nominated by President Obama, Sonia Sotomayor becomes the Court’s 111th justice, its first Hispanic justice, and its third female justice.


Nominated by President Obama, Elena Kagan is the Court’s 112th justice and fourth female justice.

Information prepared and gathered by Genna Teitelbaum formerly of the DC Labor Chorus for the Labor Heritage Foundation; 2009/2010 addition added by Darryl! L.C. Moch