Women's Labor History Online

Books on Women's Labor History

Baxandall, Rosalyn, and Linda Gordon. America's Working Women: A Documentary History, 1600 to the Present, rev. ed. N.Y.: W.W. Norton, 1995. 

Revised to include more on Native American, African American, Hispanic, Asian American women, rural labor, current issues.

Cobble, Dorothy Sue.  Dishing It Out: Waitresses and Their Unions in the Twentieth Century. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991.

Deslippe, Dennis A. Rights, Not Roses : Unions And The Rise Of Working-Class Feminism,1945-80. Urbana : University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Devault, Ileen A.  United Apart: Gender and the Rise of Craft Unionism.  Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 2004.

Foner, Philip S. Women and the Labor Movement. N.Y.: Free Press, 1979.

A comprehensive history of women and trade unions in the U.S.  Two editions are available: the original 2‑volume edition, and a condensed 1‑volume version.

Jones, Jacqueline. American Work: Four Centuries of Black and White Labor. N.Y.: W.W. Norton, 1998.

Jones explores the history of labor through the lens of politics and economics that determined in different times what occupations were suitable for which group of individuals.

Jones, Jacqueline. Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work and the Family, From Slavery to the Present.  N.Y.: Vintage, 1985.

Jones wrote this book in response to the lack of material on black working women.

Kessler-Harris, Alice.  Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States.  Oxford Univ. Press:  1983, 2003.

Cited as “the single best survey of transformation of women's paid and unpaid work from the colonial period to the present” (AHR); the 2003 anniversary edition has been updated.

Kessler‑Harris, Alice. Women Have Always Worked.  N.Y.: Feminist Press, 1981.

An excellent, very readable history of women's work in and out of the home.

Murolo, Priscilla, A.B. Chitty, and Joe Sacco (illus.).  From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend: A Short Illustrated History of Labor in the United States.  New Press, 2003.

Wertheimer, Barbara Mayer. We Were There: The Story of Working Women in America. Phil.: Temple Univ. Press, 1977.  

The first readable history of working women in America, written when Barbara could not find a suitable text to use with union women.  Barbara was also the founding spirit of the UCLEA Women's Summer Schools.

White, Julie. Sisters & Solidarity: Women and Unions in Canada.  Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishers, 1993.

A comprehensive, up‑to‑date history.

Labor Heroine Biographies

Camp, Helen C.  Iron in Her Soul : Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and the American Left.  Washington State Univ. Press, 1995.

Gurley Flynn was a charismatic speaker, an IWW leader of the Lawrence and Paterson strikes.  

 Cook, Alice Hanson & Arlene Kaplan Daniels.  A Lifetime of Labor: The Autobiography of Alice H. Cook..N.Y.: Feminist Press, 1999.   

Alice Cook’s energy was legendary.  She at the age of 94, leaving behind a lifetime of labor organizing, education, and research.  Cook spoke to NE Summer School women several times; each time was inspiring.

Cordery, Simon. Mother Jones: Raising Cain and Consciousness. Albuquerque : University of New Mexico Press, 2010.

Newest biography of Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, who was instrumental in the history of both the labor movement and late-19th-century America.

 Downey, Kristen, The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR'S Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience.  NY: Doubleday, 2009.

Highly praised biography of Perkins, who was instrumental in forming the New Deal policies that changed workers’ lives during the Great Depression and after.

 Forten, Charlotte L. and Ray Allen Billington, ed.  The Journal of Charlotte Forten : A Free Negro In The Slave Era.  N.Y.: Norton, 1981 (repr. 1953).

There are several editions of the diaries of Charlotte Forten, writer, teacher, and anti-slavery activist.

 Gorn, Elliott J.  Mother Jones : The Most Dangerous Woman in America.  N.Y.: Hill & Wang, 2001.

Well-reviewed biography of Mary Harris Jones, fighter of rights for the mine workers.

 Jackson, Carlton.  Child of the Sit-Downs: The Revolutionary Life of Genora Dollinger.  Kent State University Press, 2008.

You know Genora Johnson Dollinger if you’ve seen the documentary With Babies and Banners; she helped create the Women's Emergency Brigade and became one of the strike's leaders. Her labor activism continued after the strike, and this is her story.

 O'Farrell, Brigid, and Joyce L. Kornbluh. Rocking the Boat: Union Women's Voices, 1915‑1975.  N.J.: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1996.

In 1975, Kornbluh directed an oral history project that recorded the "stories" of 54 union women pioneers.  Their voices were direct, their stories inspiring and fascinating. This book presents 11 of these stories.

O'Farrell, Brigid. She Was One Of Us: Eleanor Roosevelt and The American Worker. NY: ILR Press, 2010.

 Explores Eleanor Roosevelt’s staunch and lifelong connection to the American labor movement.

 Orleck, Annelise.  Common Sense & A Little Fire: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States, 1900-1965.  Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1995.

The absorbing story of the labor and family lives of Rose Schneiderman, Fannia Cohn, Pauline Newman, and Clara Lemlich.

 O'Sullivan, Judith, and Rosemary Gallick. Workers and Allies: Female Participation in the American Trade Union Movement, 1824‑ 1976.  ILR Press, 1975.

Excellent reference book on women's labor history.

 Painter, Nell Irvin.  Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol.  N.Y.: W.W. Norton, 1997.

A well-known historian, takes a new look at the life and the legend.

 Pastorello, Karen,  A Power among Them: Bessie Abramowitz Hillman and the Making of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.  Univ. of Illinois Press, 2008.. 

This biography rescues Hillman from the shadow of labor leader husband Sidney, and relates her limitless energy in union organizing, and civil rights activism. ,

 Perez, Frank, with Dolores Huerta.  Dolores Huerta.  Raintree, 1996.

A “young adult” book, informative and readable.

 Richards, Yevette.  Maida Springer: Pan-Africanist and International Labor Leader.  Univ. of Pittsburgh. Press, 2000.

Springer lived an amazing life as a black woman active in the ILGWU and later the AFL-CIO.  This study focuses on the latter part of her career.  (Springer visited the N.E. Summer School several years ago.)

  Seldon, Bernice. The Mill Girls: Lucy Larcom, Harriet Hanson Robinson, Sarah G. Bagley.  NY: Atheneum, 1983.  

One of the few biographies of Sarah Bagley.