Assignment 1 – HST 372: Newspaper story about the Uprising of the 20,000, which took place in New York City from 1909 to 1910



Your task is to write a newspaper story about the Uprising of the 20,000, which took place in New York City from 1909 to 1910. Imagine that you are a New York City journalist who has been following the strike since it began, and the now it has now ended.

Your editor has asked you to write about the strike and to evaluate its effectiveness. Remember, you must describe the female strikers, their demands, allies and opponents, and their gains once the strike concluded.

Focus on the human interest angle of the strike, but provide background information for readers who may be clueless about these workers, their conditions, and concerns.

Please read this entire handout before you begin. I have provided you with scholarly (secondary) and historical (primary sources). Please also use the “News Report Planning Worksheet,” attached to this assignment, to plan your story and to check whether you have covered your bases. You may turn in the worksheet for extra credit.


By 1900 America’s industrial growth had transformed the U.S. into a world power. The nation’s wealth and population were growing rapidly. Yet poverty, corruption and economic instability were widespread. Responding to these problems, Americans created a new and more active form of government that would shape American life for the next 100 years.

The importance of reform efforts from the 1890s through the 1910s has led historians to call this period “the Progressive Era.” History texts often focus on Presidents and exceptional individuals who sought to “clean up” the cities and modernize government. Immigrants are usually shown only as passive recipients of – or even obstacles to – reform and change, but recent research suggests that immigrants also played active roles in reform campaigns. Collective action between immigrants and middle-class activists created new solutions to social problems, and thereby changed the way in which the government related to society.

In the autumn of 1909, the New York garment industry was in crisis. On one hand, the industry was booming, with consumers grabbing up ready-made clothing that was finally available to mass markets. Among the new fashions was the shirtwaist—stylish blouses cheap enough for working women to buy and wear. On the other hand, companies that made shirtwaists tried to cut wages, and this, added to other grievances, sparked a series of small strikes by the women workers who made the clothes

In November, there was a mass meeting of workers from many different companies. Male union leaders dithered on the stage, debating what to do. Like many men in their position, they did not believe that women could be trusted with a strike. From the audience, a 15-year-old Ukraine-born Jewish woman stood up and demanded, in Yiddish, that workers take control and go on a general strike. Leading the gathered workers in a traditional Jewish oath of solidarity, Clara Lemlich started what became the Uprising of the 20,000.

Within two days, between 20,000 and 30,000 workers went on strike. The workers demanded overtime pay, 52-hour work week, and a 20% raise. A month later, workers in Philadelphia factories followed suit. Although many of the workers were Jewish, other ethnic groups and cultures were represented, including some African-American women.

Facing police intimidation, the women requested aid from the National Women’s Trade Union League of America (NWTUL), The League was not a trade union; rather, it was a reform organization whose members ran the gamut from working girls to wealthy socialites. Their differences aside, these women were similarly committed to improving the working conditions of women and children. League members raised funds to support striking workers and generated publicity for their demands. This assistance not only helped the strikers, but enabled the League to increase in size and visibility.

Thousands of strikers joined the decade-old International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU), a trade union. The term “ladies” in the union’s title refers to the types of the garments manufactured by its members, not to the gender of the workers. In February 1910, the ILGWU came to an arbitrated settlement with most of the factory owners that improved wages, conditions, and hours. While the companies still refused to recognize the union, they agreed that should there be future disputes, they would arbitrate with community leaders.

One of the companies that refused to sign the agreement was, ironically, the very factory in which Clara Lemlich worked: the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. A year later, a disastrous fire at Triangle would remake the industry.

Please watch this 4-minute video: Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl: Immigrant Women in the Turn-of-the-Century City


The readings are available online (see URLs below):

  1. Elaine Tobyn, “Starting the Fire” (6 pages
  1. Miriam Frank, “Before Triangle: The Uprising of the 20,000 (1909-1910)” (7 pages.)
  1. Bob Squillace, “New York Factory a Trap for Panic-Stricken Girls” (10 pages)
  1. 3 primary sources on pages 3 and 4.

Additional Files: