How Women’s Role in the Labor Movement Helped Create Labor Day

Filed in American Culture by on August 31, 2018 0 Comments


Each year on the first Monday of September, the United States celebrates Labor Day. Considered to be the official end of the summer season, many Americans spend the holiday gathering with family, swimming, or barbecuing. But Labor Day is far more than just a Monday off from work—in fact, it honors the very people who fought to ensure Americans even had days off from work in the first place.

Labor Day was created in response to the growing trade union and labor movements of the nineteenth century. Workers in these movements were concerned about the strenuous, intensive demands seen throughout the U.S. workforce. Many were required to work 70 or more hours per week.

By the time Labor Day was recognized as an official holiday in 1887, the labor movement had successfully negotiated for less time on the job and safer conditions. What some fail to realize, however, is that many of those who fought for the rights of laborers were women.

Women’s roles in the U.S. workforce began to shift during the Industrial Revolution, when many families were forced off their farms and into the cities to find employment. Instead of the traditional homemaker role, women began to take on jobs in factories, mills, and coal mines to support themselves and their families. They were often given roles that were more dangerous than male workers and paid less for them, as well as treated harshly by prejudiced male employers.

Women were some of the first to unionize in support of safer, more humane working conditions. Because women were not allowed to vote at this time, unionizing allowed them to speak out in a way they were not afforded otherwise.

They organized strikes to demand more reasonable hours (many were required to work 14-hour days with no breaks). Women also organized men to participate in massive walk-outs calling for safer working conditions after a preventable factory fire killed nearly 150 female workers in 1911.

Their early and passionate involvement helped to energize and publicize the labor movement. Women continued to work for decades to call for better hours, safer work environments, and eventually equal pay to their male coworkers (something women are unfortunately still striving for today).

While honoring Labor Day, it’s important to remember the women who fought for workers’ rights. Their position in the movement is frequently downplayed, but the United States celebrates Labor Day largely because of women’s involvement in workers’ advocacy.

How do you plan to celebrate Labor Day? Tell us in the comments below.