Cornell University

April 20 2012

Union Legacy

Century of garment worker history digitized by Kheel Center

The Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation & Archives has launched a website dedicated to the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.

The site features highlights from the union's archives, which includes materials in English, Yiddish, Italian, Spanish, Chinese and Korean spanning the group's 1900 to 1995 history.

Photos, broadsides, films and videos, oral histories and other materials tell the story of the ILGWU. A force in establishing the right to unionize, bargain collectively and work in safe conditions, the union helped shape the work, cultural, educational and social lives of thousands of families.

Membership peaked at 450,000; it influenced domestic and international affairs, and impacted thousands of families through health care, immigration stances, classes in the arts, history and languages, even a union-sponsored vacation spot in the Pocono Mountains.

More is being prepared for the website by Kathryn Dowgiewicz. She began in March as project archivist, with the support of a gift from the 21st Century ILGWU Heritage Fund.

Dowgiewicz previously worked as a digital image project manager at General Motors and as an archivist at directory publisher R.L. Polk & Co.

She also held positions at the Reuther P. Library of Labor and Urban Affairs of Wayne State University, where she earned her bachelor's degree and master’s of library science and archival administration.

Many of the files Dowgiewicz will digitize and share with researchers and other members of the public were collected by Cheryl Beredo beginning in 2010, when Beredo became project archivist. On Jan. 1, she became director of the Kheel Center.

In 1987, the Kheel Center was named the official repository of the union’s archival collection. The records are the most extensive and most heavily used collection at the Kheel Center, which is part of ILR’s Catherwood Library.

In 1995, the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union merged with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers' Union to form UNITE!, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.