Women began moving into the mainstream, non-agricultural labor force in Atlanta during the 1870s, particularly in the growing textile industry. By 1880, almost 15 percent of millworkers were women. That percentage grew to almost 23 percent in 1900 and about 26 percent in 1919.
Nationally, workers resumed their efforts to organize into labor organizations. In December of 1886, Samuel Gompers, who had led an early national effort, joined with several other labor leaders to form the American Federation of Labor. The AFL counted 300,000 members and 25 unions among its ranks. The organization's opening statement read: "To protect the skilled labor of America from being reduced to beggary and to sustain the standard of American workmanship and skill, the trades unions of America have been established."
The trade union movement traces its roots in Georgia to the 1860s and 1870s, when the typographers began to set up local unions in the state. Only organizations in Atlanta and Augusta managed to survive into the 1890s, when other craft organizations sprang up in many of the trades.
Nationally, early unionization efforts met with violent reaction from industrialists during the decade of the 1880s and 1890s. The most notorious occurred during a rally for locked out workers at Haymarket Square in Chicago. A bomb exploded killing several police and injuring many bystanders. The police fired on the crowd of protesters and killed many more. Eventually eight anarchists were arrested in connection with the incident and four of them were executed. The governor of Illinois later pardoned the rest, charging that their trial had been unfairly conducted.
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Special Collections & Archives
Georgia State University Library
100 Decatur Street, SE
Atlanta, Georgia 30303-3202
Library South, 8th floor