Home > Feminism/Women's Issues, Labor > Notes on the Muscatine Button Workers’ Strike

Notes on the Muscatine Button Workers’ Strike

From a letter Pearl McGill wrote home from Chicago on April 25th, 1911:

“They had all the hardest Union workers on the black list. The factory where I worked had the most. They had eight men, and me. I was the only girl in the factory they wouldn’t take back. So because there were so many discriminated against the rest of them that could have gone back wouldn’t go until the [manufacturers] will take us all back and deal fair with us. They don’t want to recognize the Union at all but they will have to before they ever start those factories up again.”

The whole factory stuck by a number of blacklisted organizers who you could count on your fingers. My how times change…

And it seems like the other “girls” in the Muscatine button factories weren’t as involved in the union as McGill was. But:

“The militia got out in the streets at Muscatine the other day to break the crowd away from one of the factories and some of the girls caught a solider boy up on fourth street and took his gun and cap and coat away from him and beat it. Ha! Ha!” (from the same letter)

It definitely wasn’t because they weren’t militant enough. I wonder what (or who) stopped them from joining?

McGill Family papers, Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City

Many thanks to Jean Burns for donating her family’s letters, and assistant curator Janet Weaver for telling me how to not break the rules.

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  1. February 22, 2012 at 7:21 PM

    I appreciate this letter about the Button Workers Strike in Muscatine in 1911. I am writing a book and need just this kind of insight from a person who was there. Many thanks to Jean Burns for donating her family’s letters. I would love to have a look at some other of the records regarding the pearl button industry and pearling in general.

    Sincerely,

    Adele Conover

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