“Jesus, Mary Joseph!” exclaimed Police Officer Flannery.
“I ain’t never seen thousands of dames on the streets,” yelled another policeman.
“This ain’t County Down or a village in Poland or Sicily. These dames are on the streets of New York."
Fifty thousand working women and housewives had taken to the streets of New York.
There was rage and impotence and despair. It was molded and sculpted in each and every face. These were women who each day screamed and wept in silence, poor and rich alike. Trapped in male chauvinistic/sadistic notions, in hypocrisy, drudgery and slavery.
Sultry Italians from Sicily, Calabria and Naples. Dusky Jewesses from Poland and Russia. Red haired Irish and Welsh women. Blonde Poles and Ukrainians. Some carried placards on one hand and held on to their children on the other. Others yelled and screamed their rights, which heretofore had been rigorously denied them. Still others walked grimly with infants suckling at their breasts. These women could not live their lives in femininity.
So long as they trudged and drudged on and survived 85 hour work weeks, YES! Week after week, seven days a week they could dedicate what was left of their time and their lives to their families. Tuberculosis stalked them. Malnutrition was ever present. Accidents in the work place were an everyday occurrence. Their male employers did not care.
“There are thousands more waiting in line to take their place,” they reasoned.
It was common for the pretty girls to be raped by their managers and employers. Most girls and women fully expected to be raped or assaulted. Sometimes the horror of the abuse rendered the women depressed. Somehow most overcame these continuous sexual and physical assaults. Whenever possible, they passed off the child as their husbands. One in a while a women would feel so strongly about carrying a child of rape that she would risk it all and go to an abortionist.
The chemicals they used on the textiles burned their hands and arms. It gave them chronic asthma and bronchitis. The bitter cold (for the factories did not have any heating, what for? Workers are not human anyway) gifted them with pleurisy and galloping pneumonia.
"Desist! Stop this! We have had enough!" Decided the women.
“We want better working conditions for all working women.”
“First of all, we are not sexual toys. “
“We say No to Rape.”
“No more slaving for 85 hours a week and receiving wages for 10.”
“We ask for our rights to be recognized.”
“Our working hours must be paid.”
“We need at least two weeks leave after childbirth.”
“So many of us are bleeding to death by returning to work the day after childbirth.”
But where were the fathers, husbands, brothers, and boyfriends of these warrior women?
In cemeteries, in coalmines, in shipyards, in hospitals, insane asylums. Some dragged their poor pain-wracked bodies to bars and drank themselves to death.
On that historic day, March 8, 1908, no one in authority in the city of New York dared to stop or interfere in any way with the MARCH OF THE WOMEN.
Most probably the element of surprise caught them off guard. Let us also consider the possibility that they did not take the women seriously. Someone at Tammany Hall, perhaps a lover? A relative? Thought women needed to let off steam once in a while. After all, their lives centered on unceasing work in the work place, more work in the house, chores to do in the market, church on Sundays if their Bosses allowed it and twenty hours or so allotted to bring forth a child into their anguished life.
By the time the Dominators and the Alpha Males reacted it was too late. Thousands of women, richly dressed, swathed in sables; poorly dressed, covered in patched clothing and raggedy coats, had reached Fifth Avenue. One of the Vanderbilt women who was marching alongside an anarchist Italian called Nuse from the hypotenuse in triangle yelled out to one of the policemen on horseback who was doing his best (and failing) to turn back the tide of women.
“Damn it Officer. Don’t you dare hurt any of us. There’s rich and poor in here and there will be hell to pay if female blood flows that is not menstrual.”
This marked the first organized demonstration by women and for women to stand up for their inalienable rights. It is a memorable date. This year marks the centenary of that first demonstration and uprising by our fellow Sisters.
The whole world will commemorate this day. Women like us will ensure that our sons and daughters will continue the struggle. We have won only piddling battles. We are not yet Victors. We have yet to win the War.
For More Photos of this strike, I recommend going to: http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/trianglefire/photos/photo_display.html?sec_id=8