Press Perception

Publication Coverage Evolves as Strike Lengthens

"The banners in the hands of their paraders told their sentiments concisely. 'Peaceful picketing is the right of every woman.'"

--The New York Times, December 4, 1909.

These headlines come from various articles published in the New York Times, Munsey's Magazine and the New York Herald during the shirtwaist strike.


Publications reporting on the shirtwaist strike at first made light of the demonstration. A New York Times article covering the meeting of heads of the shirtwaist factories featured the headline “Girl Strikers Dance as Employers Meet,” comparing the serious meeting of the manufacturers (in which the employers decided they would not falter on their open-shop stance) to the impromptu dancing at strike headquarters. The New York Herald reported in a flattering light on November 28 on the manufacturers themselves were organizing to fight the strikers: “Representing nearly one hundred million dollars of capital, six hundred members of the Association of Waist and Dress Manufacturers, at a convention in the Hoffman House yesterday, announced that they would perfect their organization and fight the strike.” The headline? “600 Men Agree to Fight Strikers.” The article also features the employers’ threat to move manufacturing factories altogether elsewhere: “We will move our plants to Philadelphia. It is just as good a site and we can work there just as well.”

Newspaper articles described in words what photos such as this image conveyed. But coverage did not remain so skeptical of the power of the strikers. Newspapers began to report on the actions of the wealthy socialites like Mrs. O.H.P. Belmont, who headed up the Political Equality Association, a suffragist’s organization, and organized a meeting at the Hippodrome theater for strikers to meet and set the path for duration of the strike. The New York Times treated as news Mrs. Belmont’s pronouncement that she would buy only union shirtwaists, but in the same article, the Times manages to illustrate Belmont’s efforts to unite the opposing sides of the strike after its end at a dinner. As the strike wore on, the Times ran several pieces concerning the ill treatment of the strikers by police and suspected hired thugs. The silly dancing girls of November 28 become by December 5 girls capable of marching arm in arm to City Hall to boldly inform the mayor of their plight and their mistreatment by those in city uniform. When addressing the concerns of the shirtwaist makers, the Times illustrates manufacturers not as villains, but as holders of the key to the end of the demonstration. Eventually, the bigger factory heads held out long enough to maintain their stance against a closed union shop. The strikers, gaining on all other demands, also declared victory.