The Irish Girls’ Rising

People all over the world are celebrating St. Patrick's Day today. Brush up on your Irish history with Suellen Hoy's "The Irish Girls' Rising: Building the Women's Labor Movement in Progressive-Era Chicago" from Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas (volume 9, issue 1; Spring 2012).

Read an excerpt:

Ddlab_9_1Hannah O’Day was the thirty-year-old Irish 'girl' who, with red flag raised, led a march of approximately seventy-five young women out of the canning department of the Chicago packinghouse of Libby, McNeill & Libby on February 5, 1900. Although hardly a girl, O’Day was not married and lived, as did many single Irish women, with her family (a brother and his wife, in this case). She was an old-timer who had worked at the yards since she was eleven years old and at the Libby plant for the past twelve years. While it is not known if she had walked out before, there is no doubt that on this cold, cloudy February morning O’Day led a group of coworkers, most of them Irish and likely Catholic, in a ragtag parade through the yards and into the street. They acted spontaneously and boldly. They clearly had had enough.

This incident is one of many strikes in the first decades of the twentieth century that demonstrate a concerted resolve by working women to secure economic and social justice for themselves and those who came after them. However, the stockyard strike of 1900, the earliest of many that would follow, was a pivotal event that has been neglected in the histories of women, labor, and Chicago. Prompted by an abrupt wage slash, this strike solidified the identity of these women as workers. Although the strike failed, it became a platform leading to the first women's local in the stockyards in 1902, which by 1904 was a durable organization, the Chicago branch of the national Women's Trade Union League (WTUL). When Hannah O'Day, friends Maggie and Annie Condon, neighbor Annie Killeen, and their coworkers marched out of the Libby plant 'without even a parley,' as Upton Sinclair noted, they were immediately dismissed, blacklisted, and replaced by eager applicants. In time, a 'new union' emerged, which helped lay the foundation for a much larger organization of wage-earning women seeking better working and living conditions. As for the rebellious strikers, the stockyard rising would transform them from exploited canners into women workers with a collective consciousness of themselves as trade unionists and participants in 'women's public culture,' though which conditions of working-class and middle-class activists sought economic and social justice.

For more of "The Irish Girls' Rising," click here.


B2_31_01_prBrowse the introduction and table-of-contents of the following special issues on Ireland and Irish culture:

"Contemporary Irish Culture and Politics," a special issue of boundary2, edited by Seamus Deane and Kevin Whelan (Spring 2004)

RHR_104_pr"The Irish Question," a special issue of Radical History Review, edited by Van Gosse and Donal Ó Drisceoil (Spring 2009)


Heading to the OAH annual meeting in Atlanta this April? Duke University Press will be there with Labor giveaways! Stop by the booth to pick up your Labor supplies.

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