WST 2250 University of South Florida Female Experience in America Discussion

WST 2250 University of South Florida Female Experience in America Discussion WST 2250 University of South Florida Female Experience in America Discussion ORDER NOW FOR CUSTOMIZED AND ORIGINAL NURSING PAPERS Unformatted Attachment Preview Relief from Relief: The Tampa SewingRoom Strike of 1937 and the Right to Welfare Eina C. Green In July 1937 Mabel Hagan and her co-workers in a Tampa, Florida, sewing room went on strike. The sit-down was short-lived and unsuccessful. In a week’s time, the workers were back at their machines, the leaders had been fired, and the entire event quickly disappeared from historical memory.’ In Tampa, a city with an impressive history of labor activism, strikes were common events, and this one seemed a minor skirmish. But the event was notable. The women involved were relief workers who made clothing and other items to be distributed to nonprofit organizations; their jobs had been created by the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA). Although relief workers had staged other strikes across the country, very few had taken place in the South, and in 1937 Florida had yet to see one. Even rarer was a relief strike conducted by women workers. So the Tampa sit-down was intriguingly unusual. Tampa was itself unusual, one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the South. Its immigrant residents did not easily fit into the region’s racial binary system. Cuban, Spanish, Italian, and Bahamian immigrants, along with native-born whites and African Americans, provided the labor to make Tampa Florida’s premier industrial city. Still largely an agricultural state, early twentieth-century Florida was beginning to show signs of its fiiture service-sector economy. Already tourism had become a significant industry, and within a very few years the Sunshine State would seem far removed from its Old South history, as it laid the foundations for the post-1940 economic revolution that the historian Gary R. Mormino has called “Florida’s Big Bang.”^ So this was an unusual strike in an unusual city in an Increasingly unusual “southern” state. How then can the strike have any relevance to the larger histories and historiographies of labor, race, gender, or region? As Christine Stansell once noted of antebellum Elna C. Green is Allen Morris Professor of History and department chair at Florida State University. She would like to thank several peopte who gave advice and assistance on this project: Nancy Hewitt, Georgina Hickey, David J. Neison, Tamara Spike, Chriscopher Wilhelm, archivist Gene Morris, and the anonymous readers for thcJAH, Readers may contact Green at [email protected] ‘ The terms “poor relief” and “relief” originated in the colonial era and generally indicated government aid to the poor as opposed to privare charity or alms. Work relief wa.s public assistance obtained by doing work. In the rwencieth cencury, rhe word “welfare” came to replace “relief,” and it referred primarily to assistance from public funds. Scholars generally use the phrase “social welfare” inclusively, to indicate both public aid and private charity. WST 2250 University of South Florida Female Experience in America Discussion The only puhlished article on the strike is James Tidd, “Stitching and Striking: WI’A Sewing Rooms and the 1937 Relief Strike in Hillsborough County,” Tampa Bay History, 11 (Spring/Summer 1989), 5-21. Mabel Hagan’s surname is spelled variously in different documents; her own signature on a petition from 1935 is the source of the spelling used throughout this essay ^ Gary R. Mormino, Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida (Gainesville, 2005), 2. On the Old South history of Florida, see Edward E. Baptist, Creating an Old South: Middle Florida’s Plantation Frontier before the Civil War (Ghape! Hill, 2002). 1012 The Journal of American History March 2009 The Tampa Sewing-Room Strike and the Right to Welfare 1013 New York City, unusual does not mean irrelevant. The failed sit-down of 1937 offers historians a unique opportunity to examine the complicated labor relations of the New Deal-era South, a region suddenly feeling the impact of Federal labor legislation, national unionization drives, and the emerging welfare state. The sit-down strike and its unsuccessful conclusion also open an entirely new vista from which to view women and work in twentieth-century America. But most important, the sit-down highlights the contests over welfare in early twentieth-century America. I will argue that a belief in the right to relief, or entitlement to public support, had a long history in the United States but that by the New Deal era the old “settlement rights” inherited from the English poor law had disappeared while no replacement ideology had yet emerged. Women therefore struggled to find ways to stake their claims to a right to public support. Women in the Tampa sitdown attempted to use the language and tactics ofthe labor movement, only to learn that work relief was more relief than work. It would take another generation to articulate a right to welfare.^ The Tampa sewing-room strike meant different things to different constituencies, each framing the sit-down from its own perspective. In the politically charged climate ofthe 1930s, Tampa’s business classes saw the event as a potential threat to the manufacturing economy they dominated. Although the strikers were ail women, the press coverage focused on a man identified as the instigator ofthe strike—Eugene Poulnot. By 1937 Poulnot was famous {or infamous) in Tampa for his role in the city’s labor contests and radical politics; his activities had dominated the Front pages ofthe local papers For several years. Thus to many observers the sit-down in the sewing room seemed a product of Communist agitators, another worrisome sign oFthe successful expansion of radicalism during the country’s greatest economic crisis.”* To Tampa’s labor community, the sit-down suggested the possibility of bringing new members into the house of labor and thereby helping bolster a troubled movement. For a southern city, Tampa had a remarkably vibrant labor movement, but one that found itself on the ropes in the 1930s. The city’s tobacco workers had lost a major strike in 1931, as the Great Depression took its toll on unions and workers.^ A successful sit-down—still a very new tactic in 1937—might energize Tampa’s labor movement. Effectively mobilizing the unemployed might also provide a new base of strength For organized labor. Tampa’s “Latin” workers saw the strike as an opportunity to reach across ethnic barriers in the city and make an alliance with the Anglo labor movement, a goal made all the more immediate by depression conditions.*’ {“Latin” had a locally specific meaning. In ‘ Christine Stansell, City of Women: Sex and Class in New York. ¡789-1860 (New York, 1986). On similar struggles to articulate a right to public assistance elsewhere, see, for example. Lisa DiCaprio, “Women Workers, State-Sponsored Work, and the Right to Subsistence during the French Kcvolmion,” Journal of Modem History 71 (Sept. 1999), 519-51. On the English poor laws, see George R. Boyer, An Economic History ofthe English Poor Law, ¡750-1850 (Cambridge, Eng., 1990); and Steven King, Poverty and Welfare in England, ¡700-1850- A Regional Perspective (Manchester, 2000). •* On radicalism in the South, see Mark Fannin, Labor’s Th-omised Land: Radical Visions of Gender, Race, and Religion in the South (KnQxv\c,imyi;KohmV.Mimn, Howard Kester and the Strudle for Social JusHce in the South, ¡904-77 (Charlottesville, 1991) ; Robin D. G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression (Chapel Hill, 1990); and Anthony P Dunbar, Against the Grain: Southem Radicals andT’rophets. ¡929-¡959 (Charlottesville, 1981 ). On fears of Communism in the 1930s, see M. J. Heale, American Anticommunism- Combating the Enemy Within, /530-/970 (Baltimore, 1990). ^ On the tobacco workers’ strike, see Robert R Ingalts, Urban Vigilantes in the New South: Tampa. ¡882-¡936 (Gainesville, 1988), 152-56. ” On labor In Tampa and in Florida, see ibid; Paul Ortiz, Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Eloridafrom Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of ¡920 (Berkeley, 2005); Nancy 1014 The Journal of American History March 2009 the early twentieth century, Tampa’s immigrant community consisted of Cuban, Spanish, and Italian residents. Contemporaries used the term “Latin” to describe the three groups collectively. It is not to be confused with “Latino,” a term that does not apply in this context.) Tampa’s Latin workers had a strong tradition of labor activism, but one informed by radical ideologies that native-born whites tended to resist. The two groups of workers often cooperated only uncomfortably. WST 2250 University of South Florida Female Experience in America Discussion To relief recipients, the strike offered a chance to draw attention to the conditions of work relief. Relief workers had legitimate grievances. Work relief jobs were sometimes offered only during off-seasons, on the assumption that the unemployed would find jobs in seasonal work. Such an assumption neglected entirely those workers not suited to agricultural labor. Other relief workers complained about the challenges of getting to and from their assigned posts: they lived at a distance from the nearest “WTA project and had “to get there the best way we can.” Relief workers also suffered from low wages and often dismal working conditions in outdoor labor. A county commissioner from nearby Tarpon Springs condemned the low wages given WPA workers, comparing them unfavorably to what he spent on his mules each month. In addition, relief jobs seemed to disappear overnight, and the unreliable income was unnerving to families hovering on the edge of poverty.’^ For women “reliefers,” the sit-down might promise an opportunity to draw attention to the special needs and circumstances of women in the Great Depression. They understood all too well the gendered nature of poverty and poor relief. Women had fewer opportunities for employment, and the jobs open to them paid less than those reserved for men. Often dependent on someone else for all or part of their support, women felt keenly the vulnerability that dependence created. Both state and federal welfare programs assumed that married women were supported by their husbands and thus provided them no aid, but a jailed, bedridden, or long-absent spouse did not provide that support regardless of the government’s assumptions. Women faced challenges that were unique to women, as the sewing-room workers tried to make clear to policy makers.** From the perspective of the WPA officials, the sit-down threatened the stability of the New Deal in Tampa and perhaps elsewhere. Tampa’s sit-down was one of a growing number of relief strikes across the country. Workers in other cities in Florida were watching the events carefully, planning to base their own labor actions on the outcome of the sit-down in Tampa. A success in the Cigar City would undoubtedly provoke more strikes elsewhere, and WPA officials therefore saw it as a threat to the success of the relief program.^ A- Hewitt, Southern Discomfort: Women’s Activism in Tampa, Florida, 1880s-1920s (Urbana, 2001); and Gary R. Mormino and George E. Pozzetta, The Immigrant World ofYbor City: Italians and Their Latin Neighbors in Tampa. 1885-1985 (GainesviUe, 1998). ^ Martha Ghestnut to David Sholn, Nov. 29, 1935, folder 7, box 17, series 278 (Sholtz), Governors’ Papers, RG 102 (State Archives of Florida, Tallahassee). Martha Ghestnut traveled twelve miles to the sewing room. “W.P-A.’s Minimum Wage $29 a Month Is Insufficient to Keep Mules, E. H. Beckett Asserts in Attack upon Scale,” St. PetersburgTimes.]ny%, 1937, p. 14. A representative headline read: “FERA Workers Goncinue with Jobs Uncenain; Have No Assurance of Future Allotments,” Tampa Tribune. Nov. 2, 1935, p. 9. ‘ On women and the gendered nature of poverty, see Sharon Hays, Flat Broke with Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Rrform {New YOTÍ. 2003); Susun L Thomas, Gender and Poverty (New York, 1994); Linda Gordon, ed.. Women, the State, and Welfare {Madison, ! 990); and Mimi Abramovitz, Regulating the Lives ofWomen: Social Welfare PolicyfromColonial Times to the Present (Boston, 1988). ” On the unemployed movement, see James J. Lorence, Organizing the Unemployed: Community and Union Activists in the Industrial Heartland (Albany, 1996); Franklin Folsom, Impatient Armies of the Poor: The Story of Collective Action of the Unemployed, 1808-1942 (Niwot, 1991); Ghad Alan Goldberg, “Gontesting the Status of Relief Workers during the New Deal: The Workers AJHance of America and the Works Progress Administration, The Tampa Sewing-Room Strike and the Right to Welfare 1015 A study of the sewing-room sit-down adds to the remarkably thin literature on working-class women and the New Deal. It also adds complexity to our understanding of women in the South during this era.WST 2250 University of South Florida Female Experience in America Discussion And it uncovers a lost chapter in southern labor history.’” Finally, the relief strike permits an analysis that includes both labor history and social welfare history, two streams of historiography that need to be more integrated. Often studying the same populations, historians of the working class and historians of social welfare need to look to each other’s work. As social welfare historians have begun to realize, individuals move back and forth across the lines that demarcate poverty and employment, and charity and welfare payments frequently supplement a working family’s wages. An analysis of working-class life that includes visits to the welfare office can only strengthen our understanding of the various strategies working families used to survive.” In the 1930s Tampa was an extraordinary setting for labor history. Several historians, including Robert Ingalls and Louis A. Pérez Jr., have recounted the city’s turbulent early decades. The cigar industry, founded in the 1880s, had relied heavily on the skills of cigar workers from Cuba. Those workers brought with them a tradition of labor radicalism unusual in their New South setting. They settled in what would soon be the Latin quarter of Tampa: Ybor City. Although the cigar industry had moved from Cuba to Florida partly to avoid labor troubles on the island, in Cuba skilled cigar workers had been accustomed to a great deal of control over the manufacturing process, and they brought their expectations and their commitment to organized labor with them when they immigrated. Tampa saw its first cigar strike in 1887, just months after the advent of the industry.’^ In subsequent years, strikes became almost commonplace in Tampa. Major citywide efforts by cigar workers in 1910, 1920, and 1931 were particularly important to the labor movement in Tampa, and dozens of smaller actions took place in other 1935-1941,” Social Science History, 29 (Fall 2005). 337-71; Roy Rosenzweig, “‘Socialism in Our Time’; Tlie Socialist Party and the Unemployed, 1929-1936,” Labor History, 20 (Fall 1979), 485-509; and Roy Rosenzweig, “Organizing the Unemployed: The Early Years of the Great Depression, 1929-1933,” Radical America, 10 (IUIV-AUE. 1976), 37-60. ^ } h “‘ Scholars have concentrated more on middle-class than on working-class women in the New Deal. Important recent work on middle-class women includes Julie Novkov, Constituting Workers, Protecting Women: Gender. Law, and Labor in the Progressive Era and New Deal Years (Ann Arbor, 2001); Landon R. Y. Storrs, Civilizing Capitalism: The National Consumers’ League. Women’s Activism, and Labor Standare in the New Deal Era (Chapel Hill, 2000); and Suzanne Mettler, Dividing Citizens: Gender and Federalism in New Deal Public Policy (Ith^a, 1998). On women in the South during the New Deal, see Landon R. Y Storrs. “Gender and Sectionalism in New Deal Politics: Southern White Women’s Campaign for Labor Reform,” in Searchingfor Their Places: Women in the South across Four Centuries, ed. Ihomas H. Appleton Jr. and Angela Boswell (Columbia, Mo., 2003); and Sarah Wilkerson-Freeman, “The Creation of a Subversive Feminist Dominion: Interracialist Social Workers and the Georgia New Dcal.”/ff«rnalofWomen’s History. 13 (Winter 2002), 132-54. On labor in tbe South in the 1930s, see Vincent J. Roscigno and William F. Danaher, The Voice of Southern Labor Radio, Music, and Textile Strikes. ¡929-1934 (Minneapolis, 2004); Janet Christine Irons, Testing the New Deal- The General Textile Strike of 1934 in the American South (Urbana, 2000); and Bryant Simon, A Fabric of DefeatWST 2250 University of South Florida Female Experience in America Discussion The Politics of South Carolina Millhands, 1910-1948 (Chapel Hill, 1998). ‘ ‘ Pioneering work that connects labor and welfare history includes Patricia Fumerton, Unsettled: Vie Culture of Mobility and the Working Poor in Early Modem England (Chicago, 2006); Jane Long, Conversations in Cold Rooms: Women. Work, and Poverty in Nineteenth-Century Northumberland (Rochester, 1999); Timothy A. Hacsi, Second Home: Orphan Asylums and Poor Families in America (Cambridge, Mass., 1997); and Beverly Ann Stadum, Poor Women and Their Families: Hard Working Charity Cases. 1900-1930 (Albany, 1992). ” On the 1887 strike, see Ingalls, Urban Violantes in the New South. 32-36. See also Durward Long, “Labor Relations in the Tampa Cigar Industry, 88’j-*)\” Labor History. 12 (Fall 1971), 551-59. Louis A. Pérez Jr., “Cubans in Tampa: From Exiles to Immigrants, 1892-9O,” Florida Historical Quarterly. 57 (Oct. 1978), 129-40; Mormino and Pozzetta, Immigrant World of Ybor City: Patricia A. Cooper, Once a Cigar Maker: Men. Women, and Work Culture in American Cigar Factories, / 9 0 0 – / 9 / 9 (Urbana, 1987). 1016 The Journal of American History March 2009 years. Organized labor in industries other than cigars also contributed to the strike-prone environment. A year before the sewing-room strike, Tampa’s overall union membership was estimated at 9,500 members {more than 20 percent of the city’s 1930 work force of 46,000), most of them seasoned veterans of the city’s labor wars.’^ The backbone of organized labor in Tampa was the Latin community. Cubans, Spaniards, and Italians joined labor unions, social clubs, and mutual aid organizations. In addition to industry-specific unions where the ethnic groups mixed {such as the Tobacco Workers Industrial Union) and ethnically specific social organizations where they did not {such as the Club Beneficio Público), Cubans also built political organizations devoted to ending colonial control of their homeland. Both Cubans and Spaniards from Tampa joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigades during the Spanish civil war. Similarly, Italians joined local organizations but also stayed involved in political movements in Europe. These internationally oriented workers linked their efforts in Tampa to other labor struggles across the world.’^ Parallel to, but usually separate from, those efforts were the organizational activities of the city’s African American population. Tampa was the home to multiple black social and political organizations, such as the Knights of Pythias, the Order of Calanthe, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, the Prince Hall Masons, the black Young Women’s Christian Association, and the City Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. Unlike the largely anticlerical Latin immigrants, blacks in Tampa made churches important sites of community building. Instead of international politics, their efforts remained focused on ending racial discrimination and racial violence at home. The socialist, anarchist, and Communist ideologies that inspired activism among Latins had less resonance for their black neighbors. Although Tampa’s black workers were willing to join unions and strike, many labor unions, especially those affiliated with the American Federation of Labor {AFL), either excluded or segregated black workers, making organized labor less central to black aspirations. The Tampa Urban League and the Helping Hand Day Nursery, both founded in the 1920s, better expressed the political and social ideals of black Tampa.’”^ As Nancy A. Hewitt has recently explained, women were centrally important to Tampa’s cigar industry, its labor movements, and its social organizations. Unlike employed … Purchase answer to see full attachment Get a 10 % discount on an order above $ 100 Use the following coupon code : NURSING10

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