For the past year I have helped co-curate the Labor History Collections exhibit, “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America.” It has been an exciting and rewarding experience that has taught me so much about the vast history of the labor movement. One of the displays that I designed and installed was “Breaking the Gender Barrier: A Woman’s Place is in Her Union,” which focuses on how women fought to become a central part of organized labor and to make the movement a leading force for gender equality on and off the job. One of the items within this display is a button from the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) that states “A Woman’s Place is in Her Union.”
CLUW is a nonprofit organization for trade union women and their allies and is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). On March 23, 1974 in Chicago, CLUW organized its first conference which had over 3,000 women attend. They established four goals: organize the unorganized, promote affirmative action, have more women participate in their union, and increase women’s presence in political activities. Their slogan to promote these ideals was “A Woman’s Place is in Her Union” as opposed to the sexist catchphrase “a woman’s place is in the home.” CLUW wanted to use a similar phrase to promote that women belong in the work force and should be present within unions.
Program from the CLUW Biennial Convention on September 13-16, 1979, which has the “a woman’s place is in her union” slogan on the back! AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department Records, 1946-2000.
“CLUW came to be seen by the women’s movement as the voice of union feminists. It put a working-class face on the second wave of the women’s movement.” – Clara Day a founding member of CLUW, quoted in Clara Day: A Teamster’s Life by Joy M. Copeland
Today, many unions continue to use this slogan to urge women to join unions and to fight for their rights!
If you would like to learn more about the history of women in the labor movement, check out the exhibit in the Hornbake Library gallery or online! If you would like more information about the Labor History Collections, you can visit our Labor History Research Guide or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post is one of a series of Curator’s Choices, so be on the lookout for posts by other members of the Labor History Archives team at Special Collections and University Archives!
Erin Berry is a Graduate Assistant for the Labor History Collection at University of Maryland Special Collections and University Archives. She is pursuing a Masters of Library and Information Science with a concentration in Archives and Digital Curation.