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AFL-CIO - Women

For Every Woman Who Wants to Make Changes on the Job.

Go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Women's Bureau

A Look Back... continued

Leonora O'Reilly

Born to Irish immigrants in New York City, O'Reilly (shown on right) worked in a collar factory when only 11 years old. She joined the Knights of Labor at 16 and later organized a female chapter of the United Garment Workers of America. Earning the friendship of wealthier reformers, she received help that enabled her to attend Brooklyn's Pratt Institute. She underscored her conviction that women needed to improve their skills to advance by teaching in the Manhattan Trade School for Girls from 1902 to 1909. When O'Reilly joined the Women's Trade Union League, she won the enduring affection of her upper-class allies as the organization's "great stump orator." A source of strength during the "Great Uprising" among garment workers in 1909-10, she later led an investigation into the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire that took 146 lives. Concluding that women could never obtain legislation improving the conditions of their work without the vote, she presided over the Wage Earners' League, which campaigned for woman suffrage.

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