What the Knights of Labor
are Doing for Women
March 28, 1888 — International Council of Women, Assembled by the National Woman Suffrage Association, Washington DC
The Knights of Labor are a body of men organized for protection and education, that they ay be the better able to cope with the scheming means resorted to by those who live upon the proceeds of their toil, and subtract from labor so large a portion of labor’s rights. The Knights of Labor were organized openly in 1879. For several years they existed in secrecy, because they feared that terrible weapon so unmercifully used upon the employees — the black list. Fearing that, they kept many years in secret; but after having become so compact and strong, after having the gospel of the Knights of Labor taught from Maine to Oregon, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and over in the Old World, they then made known their aims, which were to abolish poverty, to demand that moral and industrial worth and not wealth be made the standard of national and individual greatness. Those poor working men, the tin-pail brigade, the seventy-two thousand miners of Pennsylvania, the hundreds and thousands of unskilled workmen, those people recognized what your legislators, what your pulpits, what your press have failed to recognize within all the years of your agitation — woman’s right to equitable consideration by the side of men in the nation’s government. Having recognized this, they inserted in the platform of principles that plank which demands equal pay for equal work; and ere many more years have passed over our heads, there will be another plank inserted not only in the platform of the Knights of Labor, but upon the statute-books of our country, making it a criminal offense for any man to dare employ a woman at less remuneration for labor than will enable her to procure the comforts of life without necessitation temptation to sin. The Knights of Labor are elevating the conditions of men; teaching them self-respect; their duty to themselves and each other. We are building around our working girls a wall of protection to defend them from the indignities which heretofore they have been subjected to, such as making the price of their honor the possibility of a place to earn their livelihood. . .
Seven years ago I was let without knowledge of business, without knowledge of work, without knowledge of what the world was, with three fatherless children looking to me for bread. To support these children, it became my duty to go out in the army of the employed and in one of the largest factories in central New York. I went, and for four years and seven months remained a factory woman for the support of my little ones. Four years ago this spring I became knight of Labor. I became a member of an assembly of 1,500 women from the withdrawing of what id called trades assembly — women of one particular trade or calling — I became the master workman of an assembly of 927 women, ranging from 14 years of age to 60. And let me say to you here that although there was no one amongst them could boast of more than a minor part of a common school education, yet in that body of women there was more executive ability, more tact, more shrewdness, more keen, calculating power than could be found in twice that number of men in the United States.
I was sent from my assembly, composed entirely of women, to the District Assembly, No. 65, which met in the city of Albany; from the district I was sent to Richmond, Va., a delegate to the General Assembly, and from there I was sent into the world to educate my sister working women and the public generally as to their needs and necessities. We are instituting cooperative industries throughout the breadth and length of our land — the industries in which women are engaged — taking those we find in the most helpless condition, and form becoming operatives in those factories they eventually become shareholders. In the city of Chicago, a tailoring establishment was started. A few girls were locked out because they went to a labor parade. It was a breach of discipline, but they did not deserve so severe a punishment. They came back, and by soliciting subscriptions by every means in their power they raised $400, with $100 of which they paid a month’s rent and started with $300 capital. Inside of nine months those few men and women in that co-operative tailoring establishment at 884 Fifth avenue, Chicago, Ill., have done $36,000 worth of business. We have our co-operative shirt factories in Baltimore and New York, conducted solely by women; we have our collar and cuff factories in Waterford, N.Y.; we have our co-operative knitting mill at Little Falls, N.Y., and many other industries. And I am at this time negotiating with Nashville, Tenn., for the institution of co-operative industry for the manufacture of women’s and children’s underwear, at which our poor unfortunate sisters in New York suffer more than can be imagined any human being might suffer under a slop-shop system of work in New York city.
I have, during my connection with the organization, instituted what is known as the Working Women’s National Beneficial Fund. This gives to women in sickness not less than $3 nor more than $5 per week, and in case of death not less than $75 nor more than $100. It gives protection to every woman, whether she be a Knight of Labor or not, for it is the duty, the aim, and the object of Knights of Labor to elevate woman, no matter what her nationality, her creed, her color, or her position in life. The Knights of Labor are taking the little girls from the factory, the workshop, and the mines, and educating them, because we know that the little child of to-day is the mother of the future. As these are the children of to-day, and as these shall be the working women of the future, we demand that they shall be taken from the workshop, factory, and the mine and put into the schoolrooms to be educated. If there is any one State for which I might make a special plea it is that monopoly-bound state of Pennsylvania, with her 125,000 children under the age of fifteen employed in the workshops, factories and mines.
While you are . . . mounting to your position at the top of the ladder, do not, I ask you, in the name of justice, in the name of humanity, do not forget to give your attention and some of your assistance to the root of all evil, the industrial and social system that is so oppressive, which has wrought the chain of circumstances in which so many have become entangled, and which has brought the once tenderly-cherished and protected wife, the once fondly-loved mother to the position of the twelve or fourteen-hour toiler of to-day. If you would protect the wives and mothers of the future from this terrible condition we find these in to-day, give them your assistance. The Knights of Labor may have made mistakes, but they are the mistakes of those who started out with a dim knowledge of their object before their eyes and do not see their way clear to reach it, but by education and by help, the black list, the boycott, the strike, and the lock-out shall soon be swept away into the dark ages where they belong, and no longer be found under the stars and stripes of our American flag.
Source: Report of the International Council of Women, Assembled by the National Woman Suffrage Association (Washington DC: Rufus H. Darby) 1888, pp. 153-156.