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[picture: Leaders of the Women's Trade Union League in 1907] Founded in 1903 by Jane Addams, Mary Anderson and other trade unionists, the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL) devoted itself to securing better occupational conditions for women and encouraging women to join the labor movement. The WTUL had a strong reformist agenda, "sponsored a combination of vocational training and protective legislation," and quickly emerged as one of the most liberal organizations of its kind.(1)

From 1907 through 1922, the WTUL achieved a number of its legislative goals, including an eight-hour workday, a minimum wage, and the abolition of child labor. After the 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory, the WTUL took part in a four-year investigation that ultimately helped establish new industrial safety regulations. In addition, the league helped women gain access to labor unions, trained women for leadership positions within unions, and even provided temporary assistance for unemployed trade union women.

Perhaps most importantly, the WTUL emerged as the central meeting place for reform-minded women interested in labor issues, and it was through the WTUL that many of these women cultivated important political relationships. Eleanor Roosevelt became an active league member in 1922, cementing her ties to figures like Rose Schneiderman and Margaret Dreier Robins. These women eventually became staunch Roosevelt allies, providing the WTUL important access to powerful politicians and insuring that their voices would be factored into the formulation of labor policy in Washington. Despite the league's closeness to the White House during the Roosevelt years, the WTUL's role grew increasingly irrelevant once labor unions allowed women to join on a widespread basis. Mounting financial problems and declining membership numbers also hampered WTUL's effectiveness. Even though ER remained supportive of the League until the end, the WTUL closed its doors for good in 1950.


  1. Nancy Woloch, Women and the American Experience (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994), 243.


Beasley, Maureen H., Holly C. Shulman, and Henry R. Beasley, eds. The Eleanor Roosevelt Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001, 579-581.

Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume Two, 1933-1938. New York: Viking Press, 1999, 62, 65, 77, 86, 89.

Woloch, Nancy. Women and the American Experience. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994, 207-210, 243.

For more information on the Women's Trade Union League, visit the following web site: