International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU)

Founded in 1900, the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) was the largest labor union to represent workers in the women's garment industry in the United States and Canada in the twentieth century. At its peak membership reached 450,000. The ILGWU records are the most extensive and heavily used collection at the Kheel Center, which has been the official repository of the ILGWU since 1987. Its digital collections include photographs, publications, and convention proceedings as well as exhibit sites that highlight ILGWU history, the needle trade unions, and the union label.

ILGWU Publications

ILGWU Digital Publications

  1. The Ladies' Garment Worker - First published in April 1910, The Ladies’ Garment Worker was the official publication of the ILGWU through 1918. The journal appeared monthly and included sections in English, Italian, and Yiddish. The Ladies’ Garment Worker was replaced in January of 1919 by the new weekly journal, Justice.
  2. Justice - Justice was the official English-language publication of the ILGWU from 1919 to 1995. Currently 1919-1965 issues are available online; additional volumes have been digitized and may be requested from the Kheel Center. Editions of Justice were published in English, Italian, Spanish, and Yiddish. When compared side by side, different language editions do not have identical content
  3. Gerechtigkeit Gerechtigkeit was the Yiddish-language version of Justice, the official publication of the ILGWU. Published from 1919 to 1958, it addresses labor and employment issues in the clothing and textile industries. It also addresses wider concerns of the workers and the communities from which they come including health and safety, working conditions, collective bargaining, strikes, and labor-management collaboration. Editions of Justice were published in English, Italian, Spanish, and Yiddish. When compared side by side, different language editions do not have identical content.
  4. ILGWU Convention Reports and Proceedings, 1900-1929 - The ILGWU 1900 founding convention included 11 local delegates representing roughly 2,000 members. Reports and proceedings of the conventions were published annually from 1900-1908, biennially from 1908-1924, then sporadically until 1937. In addition to election of officers and committee reports, topics discussed include the women’s garment industry, working conditions, sweatshops, labor unity, organizing, wages and hours, union labels, boycotts, strikes, labor relations, internationalism, labor legislation, labor education, women’s rights, member benefits, and union health centers. The best available original was selected for digitization. Occasionally the original is difficult to read, missing pages, or partially cut off.

Social Fabric: Land, Labor, and the World the Textile Industry Created

“Social Fabric: Land, Labor, and the World the Textile Industry Created,” is an exhibition currently installed in the Hirshland Exhibition Gallery at the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. Running from October 27, 2022 until September 1, 2023, this exhibition is a component of “Textiles at Cornell: a year of exhibits,” celebrating the “Threads of History” in Cornell’s collections.

The exhibition has been funded through the generous support of the Stephen E. ’58, MBA ’59 and Evalyn Edwards ’60 Milman Exhibition Fund.

Exhibit curated by Marcie Farwell, Gordon and Marjorie Osborne Textile Industry Curator; Dr. Wesley Chenault, Director of the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives; Dr. Tamika Nunley, Cornell Department of History, Associate Professor of History and Sandler Family Faculty Fellow, and Claudia Leon, Undergraduate Public History Fellow.

History of the ILGWU Exhibit Site

ILGWU Exhibit Site – This exhibit website is a selection of items from the ILGWU records representing a range of documents from the Kheel Center’s expansive archival collection. It contains historical information about the ILGWU including biographies of every president, a timeline for both the union and the union label, a bibliography of resources, and a listing of other archival repositories that include ILGWU collections. The highlights section contains historical blog posts ranging from the hit musical ‘Pins and Needles’ and the Chinatown Struggle of 1982 to noted women of the union and its role in becoming a leader in cooperative housing movement. The site also contains primary sources such as banners, broadsides, videos, television commercials, correspondence, minutes, oral histories, pamphlets, photos, and speeches.

Union-Made: Fashioning America in the Twentieth Century online exhibition

Union-Made: Fashioning America in the Twentieth Century - This joint exhibit created in 2017 by the Kheel Center and the Cornell Fashion + Textile Collection (CF+TC) focuses on the role played by two major American clothing workers’ unions, the ILGWU and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA). They’re goals were to defend the standards of living and the job security of their members through the use of the union label and the promotion of the fashion industry, while collaborating with prominent American designers. This digital exhibit contains archival materials from the Kheel Center, CF+TC, and other loaned materials. It features photos from the original exhibition, union-made garments, photographs, print advertising materials, commercials, and ephemera from the union campaigns. In 2019, this exhibition received the Betty Kirke Excellence in Research Award from the Costume Society of America.

ILGWU Photograph Collections on Flickr

These Flickr albums contain a selection of images reflecting the public face of this influential, women’s-clothing industry union as it was documented over a period of 100 years.

International Ladies Garment Workers Union Photographs (1885-1985) on Flickr

International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union Photographs on Artstor