Striking for Wages, Not Marriage: How Middle-Class Ideologies of Gender and Whiteness Shaped the Plight of Tailoress Activists

Proceedings of ‏The 4th International Conference on Research in Humanities and Social Sciences

Year: 2021

DOI:

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Striking for Wages, Not Marriage: How Middle-Class Ideologies of Gender and Whiteness Shaped the Plight of Tailoress Activists

Karina Sumano

 

ABSTRACT: 

In the early 19th century, working-class women organized and formed The United Tailoresses Society in New York. This movement arose in response to unfair wages, bad working conditions, and labor exploitation. The tailoress were holding meetings as early as April 1825 and went on strike starting June 1831. Through labor strikes and protests, white working-class women demonstrated their ability to advocate for themselves economically, politically and socially in public places. While white, working-class labor activists strived for economic independence, benevolent middle-class members of society grew sympathetic toward the plights of the tailoress.  Instead of advocating for solutions that would alter the struggling tailoresses’ material conditions, benevolent middle-class reformers constructed solutions centered around heteronormative ideals of marriage and domesticity that would place women laborers from the public sphere into the private sphere. I argue the notion behind marriage and domesticity as solutions to white tailoress activists’ economic struggles stem from middle-class ideologies of whiteness, which work to place white women from the public sphere to private sphere, diminishing chances of class solidarity across racial lines.

Keywords: Textual Analysis; U.S. Labor movements; United Tailoresses Society; White Supremacy; Women’s Labor movements.