Monday, September 6, 2010

Kate Mullany

TODAY'S AWESOME WOMAN is Kate Mullany (1845-1906), who founded the Collar Laundry Union in 1864. This was the first bona fide female union in the United States. Mullany had moved from Ireland to Troy, New York as a young girl, and at age 19 went to work in the local laundry after her father died. Compensation was $3 per week for 12-14 hour days, six days a week.

Only months after beginning her job, the young Mullany decided to stand up against the low wages and unsafe conditions. She organized 300 women into the union and led a successful strike that resulted in pay increase and an improved workplace.

The word about Kate got around, and in 1868, she was appointed as assistant secretary of the National Labor Union, making her the first female to hold a national labor position. Later, she led an effort to create worker-owned cooperative shops, which failed due to economic pressures but she remained a prominent labor union leader.

As such, she fought to improve the lives of working-class people in her country, while her generally more patrician sisters took up the fight for voting rights. Mullany recognized the ties between economic justice and political power, and she collaborated with suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony in order to further the interests of America's workers.

The Kate Mullany House, at 350 8th Street in Troy, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1998, and became a National Historic Site in 2008. In 2000, Mullany was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. She has been honored by the New York State Senate, and her home is on the Women's Heritage Trail.

It is Labor Day today in the United States. Kate Mullany was one of the first of many women who, over many decades, risked their livelihood and even their lives to stand up and fight the exploitation of the country's workers.