This modest three-story brick house
is the only surviving building
associated with Kate Mullany,
a young Irish immigrant laundry
worker who in 1864 organized and
led the all-female "Collar Laundry Union"
Even though the women laborers of Lowell, Massachusetts and elsewhere
had been organizing unions to protest working conditions and wages since
the 1840s, early women's unions often only lasted as long as the
particular issue under debate.
The Collar Laundry Union, unlike so many other unions, remained an
organized force in the industries of Troy, New York more than five years
after its inception. The origins of Kate Mullany's union date back to
the 1820s, when entrepreneurs established the nation's first commercial
laundry in Troy to wash, starch, and iron a local invention, the
"detachable collar." By the 1860s, Troy supplied most of America's
detachable collars and cuffs, employing over 3,700 women launderers,
starchers, and ironers. Working 14 hour days for $2 a week, the women
launderers labored in oppressive heat. When owners introduced new
machinery that increased production, but worsened working conditions, a
young woman named Kate Mullany organized a union to demand change. In
February of 1864, Mullany and 200 other workers formed the Collar
Laundry Union. The well organized union struck and demanded a 25 cent
raise, and the laundry owners capitulated a week after the strike began.
The Collar Laundry Union remained active in Troy, often assisting other
unions, and even attempted to establish an employee cooperative.
Mullany herself gained national recognition in 1868, when National Labor
Union President William Sylvis made her the first female appointed to a
labor union's national office. One of the American labor movement's
earliest women leaders, the home of Kate Mullany exemplifies a strong
tradition of women's union activity.