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Strikers Arrested
downloadDescription:

Text courtesy of Jewish Women's Archive and Travelgoat.

Today a public library, in 1909 this handsome building served as night court for striking garment workers arrested for picketing. Once here, the strikers could expect to face unsympathetic magistrates who did not hesitate to hand down...

downloadDescription:

Text courtesy of Jewish Women's Archive and Travelgoat.

Today a public library, in 1909 this handsome building served as night court for striking garment workers arrested for picketing. Once here, the strikers could expect to face unsympathetic magistrates who did not hesitate to hand down harsh sentences.

Tammany Hall, which controlled politics in New York City, sided with the factory owners and looked the other way when they hired scabs, thugs, and prostitutes to disrupt orderly picket lines. A worker at the Triangle Factory recalled that, “you could get a man on the beat to look away by giving him a box of cigars with a $100 bill in it. Then the hoodlums hired by the company could do their work without interference. They couldn’t hit women, even on the picket line. So they brought their lady friends-prostitutes. They knew how to start fights.”

Despite the fact that it was perfectly lawful to picket peacefully, hundreds of women were fined or jailed on charges such as vagrancy, solicitation, and assault. Recognizing the abuse that strikers suffered, middle-class members of the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL) sought to publicize the plight of their working-class sisters and joined the picket lines. When police mistakenly arrested WTUL members, including the League’s president Mary Dreier, public opinion shifted to the side of the striking women.

In December 1909, the wealthy suffragist Alva Belmont spent an evening observing the proceedings. Adorned with furs and a large black hat, Belmont sat for hours on a wooden bench. Just before midnight, police began to bring in striking garment workers. Several hours later, four more strikers were brought in; their bail was set at $100 each. Belmont offered to pay the $400. Since she did not have the full amount with her, the judge was required to ask whether she had property worth at least twice that amount above and beyond any debts. Mrs. Belmont offered her Madison Avenue mansion — worth nearly half a million dollars.

Belmont’s offer to use her mansion as collateral for striking workers was a public relations triumph for the strikers. The New York World wrote, “For almost the first time women of widely different social ranks have joined forces in the common cause which, though directly for the betterment of one element, is for the ultimate political advancement of all.”

Jefferson Market Library, New York City
Crime, History, Labor, Strike, Unions