The women's protective union : union women activists in a union town,1890-1929

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Women have organized into representative bodies to fight workplace oppression since the eighteenth century. Often the victims of abuse and exploitation, the positive attributes of collectively organizing were attractive to women. While many working-women found union membership alluring, few held positions of power within unions and many were denied entrance to unions altogether. In Butte, Montana, however it was a different story. Butte was a union town to the very core. Almost everyone who worked in Butte was a union member in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Although initially denied entrance into male trade unions, women took it upon themselves to organize their own womenαs union for white and black women workers in Silver Bow County in 1890. The Womenαs Protective Union founded and run by women, allowed for an organization that was exclusively gender segregated. Women were organizers, business agents, and delegates to the local Silver Bow Trades and Labor Council and Montanaαs State Federation of Labor. The unique attributes of the all womenαs union extend beyond its composition and leadership. By analyzing the WPU in the context of Butteαs labor community, this study attempts to illustrate the activism of the union women. The womenαs union used direct action methods to achieve change for its membership. Through boycotts and strikes, the WPU demonstrated its willingness to participate in the local labor movement. Its activism and membership in the Silver Bow Trades and Labor Council further illustrates the womenαs commitment to the labor community. This study focuses on the early activities of the Womenαs Protective Union and its navigation in the local and state labor movement. It highlights the activities of the womenαs union between the years 1890-1929, including the womenαs efforts to fight amalgamation with the male culinary union and the month long strike for higher wages in 1920. Ultimately successful in its fight against merging with the male culinary union, the WPU maintained gender segregation and emerged from the early twentieth century a cohesive womenαs union.




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