By Karen Pastorello
At a New York City suffrage parade in the fall of 1912, Wage Earner’s Suffrage League vice-president Leonora O’Reilly led a delegation of working women toward Union Square toting a sign that read “We Want the Vote for Fire Protection.” Other women marching held signs depicting the “Asch Building Fire” that had ripped through the Triangle Shirtwaist Company the previous year. The industrial tragedy shook the city and exposed the plight of urban immigrant workers to the rest of the world for the first time in history. For activists already engaged in working to better the lives of industrial workers, women labor activists’ reaction to the tragedy directly linked the possibility of improving working women’s lives to the vote. Women in the United States felt powerless in the workplace and the broader world around them. They did not have the right to influence legislation that would affect their daily lives. They did not have the right to vote. Suffrage would give working-class women another weapon to fight against the harsh conditions of their labor.
This is the latest in a series of posts based on the letters of the New York socialite, Julia Gardiner Gayley (1864-1937), to her eldest daughter, Mary Gayley Senni (1884-1971), a countess who lived on the outskirts of Rome. In 2010, the author purchased a trove of the letters in a Roman flea market. This mother-daughter correspondence spanned the years 1902-1936 and provides an intimate and unfiltered view of life in New York during the early twentieth century. You can find the earlier posts on our homepage.
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