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Monday, April 20, 2009

Last modified: Monday, April 20, 2009

'Journal of American History' examines 1937 sewing room strike, other topics

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April 20, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- In July 1937, women working in a WPA sewing room in Tampa, Fla., staged a sit-down strike over low wages, poor working conditions and a lack of job security. While short-lived and unsuccessful, the strike yielded lessons about issues of gender, race and labor in the New Deal era, Elna C. Green writes in the latest issue of The Journal of American History.

The quarterly journal is published by the Organization of American Historians, based at Indiana University Bloomington.

The March 2009 issue also features a round table on American diplomatic history including "The Diplomatic History Bandwagon: A State of the Field" by Thomas W. Zeiler, professor of history at the University of Colorado, and perspectives from four other scholars. The Journal's monthly podcast is a conversation between editor Ed Linenthal and Zeiler about the article.

Also in the issue:

In "The Tampa Sewing-Room Strike and the Right to Welfare," Green, the Allen Morris professor of history at Florida State University, describes the "relief work" that the government provided for women while men did construction work and learned trades working for the Works Project Administration and other programs. The work was a lifeboat for some women, but their pay was low and hours were unstable. Classes for women were devoted to homemaking and child-rearing skills, as men were seen as the breadwinners.

The strike accentuated the different circumstances of women in Tampa's white, African-American and "Latin" (Cuban, Spanish and Italian) communities, Green writes. And while strikers adopted the language of organized labor, they found that language unsuited to their situation.

"The sit-down strike was more closely related to the welfare rights movement of the 1960s than to the labor movement of the 1930s," Green writes. "But women in the sewing rooms in 1937 did not have the language of 'welfare rights' at their disposal. They could articulate their protest only in the terms of organized labor."

For more on The Journal of American History, including online articles from the current and past issues, please see

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