How do primary documents about the Paterson Strike represent the roles of women?
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn
This account of the strike assemblies at the home of Maria Botto and the women's meetings during the 1913 Paterson silk strike is by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a leader in the Industrial Workers of the World and leader of the Paterson strike. Flynn was 22 years old at the time of the strike. Her career as a radical began in 1906 when she was 16 and joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Flynn was especially popular among the women, for whom she held regular weekly meetings.
The life of a strike depends upon constant activities. In Paterson, as in all IWW strikes, there were mass picketing, daily mass meetings, children's meetings, the sending of many children to New York and New Jersey cities, and the unique Sunday gatherings. These were held in the afternoon in the little town of Haledon, just over the city line from Paterson. The mayor was a Socialist who welcomed us. A striker's family lived there in a two-story house. There was a balcony on the second floor, facing the street, opposite a large green field. It was a natural platform and amphitheatre. Sunday after Sunday, as the days became pleasanter, we spoke there to enormous crowds of thousands of people-the strikers and their families, workers from other Paterson industries, people from nearby New Jersey cities, delegations from New York of trade unionists, students and others. Visitors came from all over America and from foreign countries. People who saw these Haledon meetings never forgot them....
A touching episode occurred in one of our children's meetings. I was speaking in simple language about the conditions of silk workersÃ¢â‚¬"why their parents had to strike. I spoke of how little they were paid for weaving the beautiful silk, like the Lawrence workers who made the fine warm woolen cloth. Yet the textile workers do not wear either woolen or silk, while the rich people wear both. I asked: "Do you wear silk?" They answered in a lively chorus. "No!" I asked: Does your mother wear silk?" Again there was a loud "No!" But a child's voice interrupted, making a statement. This is what he said: "My mother has a silk dress. My father spoiled the cloth and had to bring it home." The silk worker had to pay for the piece he spoiled and only then did his wife get a silk dress!
We had a woman's meeting, too, in Paterson at which Haywood, Tresca and I spoke. When I told this story to the women clad in shoddy cotton dresses, there were murmurs of approval which confirmed that the child was right-all the silk they ever saw outside the mill was spoiled goods. Tresca made some remarks about shorter hours, people being less tired, more time to spend together and jokingly he said: "More babies." The women did not look amused. When Haywood interrupted and said: "No Carlo, we believe in birth control-a few babies, well cared for!" they burst into laughter and applause. They gladly agreed to sending the children to other cities and, chastened by the Lawrence experience, the police did not interfere this time.
Part A: Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Primary Source
- Why was the Botto House an ideal location for the strike rallies and meetings?
- What significant point do you think Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was trying to make to the children with her questions about their parents and silk?
- What points does Flynn make in her account about how the textile workers' lives could be improved?
In this excerpt from an article published during the 1913 Paterson Silk Strike by "Big" Bill Haywood, he comments on the women's role in the strike. Haywood was a founder and national leader of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
...The women have been an enormous factor in the Paterson strike. Each meeting for them has been attended by bigger and bigger crowds. They are becoming deeply interested in the questions of the hour that are confronting women and are rapidly developing the sentiments that go to make up the great feminist movement of the world.
With them it is not a question of equal suffrage but of economic freedom. The women are ready to assume their share of the responsibility, on the picket line, in jail, even to the extent of sending their children away. Hundreds of children already have found good homes with their "strike parents" in New York.
The Mother in Jail.
Among the strikers gathered in by the police was a woman with a nursing baby. She was fined $10 and costs with the alternative of 20 days in jail. She was locked up, but the baby was not allowed to go with her. In twenty-four hours the mother's breasts were filled to bursting, but the baby on the outside was starving. He refused to take any other form of food. In a few more hours the condition of both mother and baby was dangerous, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn went to see Recorder Carroll about the case. She told him unless the baby was allowed to have its mother it would soon die. Recorder Carroll's reply was as follows:
"That's None of My Business."
Part B: William "Big Bill" Haywood Primary Source
- For what reasons did Haywood seem to think women were involved in the labor movement?
- What was the purpose of Haywood's story about the mother and the baby? What sorts of feelings do you think he was trying to elicit from the strikers?
- Who do you think "Recorder Carroll" was?