Guest blog post by Alice Walkiewicz, City University of New York, on her recent visit to research women garment workers:
With the generous assistance of James and Jeff, I spent a week in January at the TUC
Library exploring their excellent holdings related to late-19th/early-20th century garment
workers’ unions. I am a doctoral candidate in Art History in the United States (at the
Graduate Center of the City University of New York), and I was at the TUC Library to
conduct research for my dissertation. My project explores the relationship between art
production and the rise of the labor movement in Britain, France, and the United States at the end of the 19th century, using the figure of the seamstress/garment worker as a case study to uncover different national, visual responses to the international call for labor reform at that time.
The TUC Library holds a large amount of material relevant to my topic, including early
union publications, like the Women’s Union Journal and the Women’s Trade Union
Review, and rich ephemeral collections related the various unions, specific labor
concerns, and general female employment (just to name a few). The TUC Library is also the repository of the Gertrude Tuckwell papers. An important early trade unionist and advocate for women’s rights, Tuckwell became secretary of the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL) in 1891 and president in 1905. In 1908, she became president of the National Federation of Women Workers (NFWW). She remained active in both the
WTUL And NFWW through World War I, retiring from public life in 1918.
Tuckwell’s papers include a wealth of material that really helps provide insight into the
interests and concerns of the women’s trade union movement around the turn of the 20th century. The collection of press cuttings amassed by Tuckwell from across Great Britain and organized by themes — like the sweating of various trades or the activities of the different unions she worked with — offers an excellent perspective into the pervasiveness of these concerns. The wealth of clippings is not only informative about what labor concerns were prevalent in the news at the time, but also helps to define the broader cultural context of the moment when late-19th-century seamstress images — which are at the center of my examination — were created. The Tuckwell papers are a truly fantastic resource for anyone exploring women’s trade unions around the turn of the 20th century.