Memory in Cloth

Safety and Solidarity for New York City Garment Workers

1940. Courtesy of Tamiment Library, Special Collections, New York University.

Our City, Our Union featured on the cover of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union’s 40th convention booklet, pays tribute to the sewing skills of NYC immigrants. In 1900 New York City garment workers produced 37 percent of the nation’s ready-to-wear clothing, mostly in small shops. For much of the century the garment industry provided jobs for immigrants—first Eastern European Jews and Italians, followed by Puerto Ricans and Blacks from the American south in mid century, and then a wave of Asian and Latinx immigrants after changes in immigration laws in 1965. It is no wonder the ILGWU was founded here in NYC in 1900. Though often underestimated, immigrant women were always essential to the factories, to the union and to the fight for safety laws.