The Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL) began as a collaboration of working class and well-off women that began in 1903 to support the efforts of women to organize labor unions and to eliminate sweatshop conditions.
The WTUL played an important role in supporting many strikes in the first two decades of the 20th century. They also played an important role in establishing the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.
The Women’s Trade Union League began to work actively for women’s suffrage. The organization worked in coalition with the National American Woman Suffrage Association in the years before passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
The WTUL saw suffrage as a way to gain protective laws and regulations for women to better provide them with the dignity and other (less tangible) benefits come with political equality.
Rose Schneiderman coined an evocative phrase in campaigning for suffrage in 1912:
“What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist — the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too. Help, you women of privilege, give her the ballot to fight with.”
Her phrase “bread and roses”, recast as “We want bread and roses too”, became the slogan of the largely immigrant, largely women workers of the Lawrence textile strike.
Along side the work of the WTUL, Harriot Stanton Blatch (Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s daughter), founded the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women (later the Women’s Political Union) in 1906. Her goal was to organize working-class suffragists in New York City. In 1910, they organized the first large-scale suffrage march in the United States, in New York City.
Blatch was right on the money in her focus on working women. Male and female laborers alike understood the need for the vote as a way to represent their interests and concerns through elections and referendums.
The Labor World, July 9, 1910