Read First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's remarks at the NHL
dedication on July 15, 1998
On July 15, 1998, First Lady Hillary
Rodham Clinton dedicated the
Kate Mullany House as a National Historic Landmark
Courtesy of the Times Union
I just want to be sure that everyone can see this wonderful presentation.
It is a detachable collar and a souvenir of Troy, New York-- a postcard -- and
it's in this house probably before 1827, the shirt collars were first made and
the collar industry originated by Hannah Lord Monteague who lived between 1794
and 1878 -- the engender and manufacturer. So a woman invented the detachable
collar as well.
I am so happy to be here and to see all of you this morning. It is a great
pleasure. I want to thank you for gathering for this celebration, and Mayor
thank you for being here. I understand that Mayor Pattison is the first elected
mayor of Troy
in over thirty years and I am proud to be here with him. I want to thank you
for being part of the program this morning. I know that we all join together
with our best wishes and prayers for Congressman McNulty who was taken to the
hospital this morning, but I am sure that all will be well and I will be
calling to check in on him after the program. I want to thank Laura Kasen, this
young woman who just gave me this presentation. She claims Kate Mullany had
rushed across the stage college play. I am delighted she could be here.
I also want to thank Mrs. Mary Lou McGuirk, the owner of the Kate Mullany
house. I mean it is a little bit strange to have someone call and say would you
mind if we had a few people over and right in front of your house, because we
want to make sure that everyone knows the historic significance of it.
I want not only to thank her, but also all the residents of 8th and9th who
are out here and are being our host and hostesses. I, too, want to thank Paul
Cole, the Secretary Treasurer of the New York State AFL-CIO, his staff and all
the member unions. I know that there was a lot of work that went into this
particular day and I am very grateful to all of you. I wasn't able to hear them
play but I saw them as I came in and I want to thank the Albany Police pipes and
drums, the Bethel Baptist Church Choir and the Troy Asian Order of Hibernian
Pipe Band for their being part of the program. Let me especially thank
Josephine Sano, the President of the Albany Central Labor Council. I was
delighted when she took out that detachable cuff and collar to show us because
it is an extraordinary story that we are here to celebrate today.
You know, when a newspaper claimed, many years ago, that there weren't enough
women in New York
to be labor organizers, Kate Mullany said confidently: "You show me the
women and I'll turn them into organizers." And she did. Now we often don't
think of women, a hundred or more years ago, having that kind of confidence,
but there were many such women. Women who went out to work every day. You know,
I am so surprised when I read stories, as I often do, about how surprising it
is that so many women work. Women have always worked- inside the home, outside
the home, for as long as we have been around.
There have been very few women with the talents and vision of a Kate Mullany.
Who was not only working hard for her own family -- as all of us have done at
some point or another-- but she also worked hard to make it possible for other
women to have better wages and better working conditions so that they too could
contribute to the well-being of themselves and their own families. That is why
it is such an honor to be here to participate in this National Historic Landmark
ceremony at the home of someone literally transformed the lives of women in her
time and for all times.
It is especially fitting that we would hold this celebration today, because
tomorrow I will be in Seneca Falls to
celebrate the 150thanniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention. And I'll talk
tomorrow about how the women who gathered at Seneca Falls 150 years ago were
like Kate Mullany and like so many of us here today; women who were wives and mothers;
women who were supporting themselves; women who had nothing that their
neighbors might point to as extraordinary except they believed that they were
capable of having a dream and fulfilling it. And when they said these words:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are
created equal," they proclaimed the truth, but they were considered
radical. They were considered far ahead of their times.
That is an important chapter in American History. On this Save America's
Treasures Tour, I wanted to be sure that we included the history of all
Americans. Too often history is seen as just the stories of great military
victories, or political leaders, and of course that's important. But as the
Mayor said, it's not just the steps that are taken, the heroic measures that
determine a nation's future; we can look to these people --as I did yesterday
when I visited George Washington's Revolutionary headquarters in Newburgh -- we
can look to them with pride, and admiration, and awe, and even affection
because of what they have done for us. But we can never forget that a great
country is measured not just by its heroes, or well known people, but it is
measured by what all of us do.
I would argue that the real difference between the United States of America
and every nation that has ever existed, is not that we had great Generals
because others have as well; not that we had great political leaders, because
others have as well; not even that we had great business leaders or great
creative geniuses, because you can find those in any society, in any country
throughout time. It is because more than any other effort in the entire history
of human civilization, we have empowered average men and women -- working men
and women -- we've given them the reason to believe that they too can make
something out of their lives; that they can walk and live and work with dignity
and confidence. That is what has made America different; that is what has
A major part of that story is the history of the labor and women's movements
in our story. Because both the women's movement and the labor movement reached
out and included all Americans. Giving hope to people who were new immigrants;
giving hope to people who were former slaves and sons and grandsons and
daughters of slaves. Telling people that if you organize, if you're part of a
community, you can have a claim on the American dream.
When I think about someone like Kate Mullany, I am also just amazed. She was
only nineteen years old when she organized 200 women workers to form the Collar
Workers Union. She also understood that unless people join together and have
some common goals we could never achieve our individual dreams. And so when she
formed that union she knew she was taking a big risk. Because most of the women
who went on strike were the sole supporters of their mothers, of their younger
siblings or their children. Imagine the commitment to justice and the courage
it took to go on strike when so many family members depended on them. But
because of Kate Mullany's leadership, they succeeded. They succeeded in getting
a 25%increase in wages, putting their wages on par with men's wages--an
astonishing achievement for 1864.
In fact she used those increased wages to buy the house we're standing in
front of. What an incredible feeling that must have been for these young women
to be able to say to her mother, who was widowed, and her younger siblings,
"We're going to be able to have our own house." Now that is part of
the American dream, that is what gets so many of us up in the morning; going to
work; worrying about our families; caring about our futures. She also did
something else; she helped to improve the working conditions of women -- who
were forced at that time to stand on their feet for eleven to fourteen hours a
day, bending over washtubs and ironing tables in oppressive 100 degree heat for
about, as Josephine said, two to three dollars a week.
Kate Mullany is an example to all of us. She's one of the women who comes
from the Troy area that we've already heard
about, who is really an example not just for the past but to the present and
future. Think of all the people who have passed through this capital district
who have not only changed history here, but changed American history as well.
Harriet Tubman, the Moses of her people, helped bring the fugitive slave
Charles Nalle to freedom here. Emma Willard founded the first school to give
young women an education equal to that of young men. And I was also impressed
to learn when I was doing my research for this stop that the city of Troy raised $4,000 in
taxes to make it possible for Emma Willard to have that school. Now that shows
foresight even then that investing in education is the best investment that we
can make for people.
We already heard about Hannah Lord Monteague who invented the detachable
collar. I can just imagine what was going through Mrs. Monteague's mind, can't
you those of you who have ever ironed a shirt, men and women. It was a lot
harder in those days because you couldn't just plug in the iron, you had to
heat it up and you had to keep heating it up. And I can just imagine Mrs.
Monteague standing there ironing those shirts because she had to wash her
husband's entire shirt just to get the collar clean because lots of men's
shirts don't get as dirty as their collars do, even today, and she thought
there's got to be a better way. So she became an inventor, and a manufacturer,
again when not many women were doing that. And others saw a business
opportunity to go forward with that, and that' show we created this great
industry that stood on the banks of the river that brought so many people here.
I also heard that the first bakery, that still serves the people of Troy, was invented here
because a man named Regional Friehofer saw a business opportunity because of
the number of women who were working; they didn't have enough time to bake
bread, so he created the opportunity for them to buy the bread. Now that's the
sort of invention that all of us, who have ever been working women, really
appreciate. So there's a lot that we have to be grateful for the people of Troy.
You know, we're not just celebrating the past; we are thinking about the
lessons of the past and what they mean to us today and in the future. When the
President and I started the White House Millennium Council, we did it because
we knew that we were going to have a change of century and a change of
millennium while Bill was still president. We thought what could we do to mark
this time. Certainly they'll be room for a lot of great New Year's Eve parties
and I'm positive they'll be products like Millennium toothpaste or millennium
potato chips, but if that's all that happens I don’t think we would make the
best use of this opportunity. So in talking together, he and I thought maybe we
could use this time for all of us to reflect about what it is that made us
Americans, and why we're so grateful for the blessings and freedoms we have in
our country. So we came up with a theme: to Honor the Past and Imagine the
That is what this tour is really about. We are honoring the past—as we do
here today in front of Kate Mullany's House -- but also imagining the future.
Because the voice of Kate Mullany and all the women and men of Troy and this area continue to speak to us
today. They fought for equal pay, for equal work and we do still today. They
fought for better working conditions in the work place and we do still today.
They fought for respect at work and at home and we do still today. And the
women of Troy who worked with Kate Mullany struggled to balance the demands of
work and family and we do still today. They fought for equal opportunity for
women in places once reserved only for men as we do still today.
In 1869 another women labor leader, Augusta Lewis, president of the Women's
Typographical Union, wrote about the Troy Collar Laundry Union as a model for
working women through the ages. She wrote; "Others will be encouraged by
their success and will be stimulated by their examples to elevate their own
condition." Thanks to Kate Mullany and other brave women and men who led
the labor movement and who took their rightful places in American history, we
have examples to follow even today. All of us gathered here have many debts to
those who came before; not only to our own families but to some many others who
contributed to the improvements that we take for granted in America today.
I hope that all of us, as we move toward this new century and millennium,
will think about ways we can honor the past and imagine the future. What gifts
do we want to give to our children, our grandchildren and future generations?
Well, there may be tangible gifts like Kate Mullany's house that we would want
to pass on, that we hope that people will know and remember as a significant
place because of the woman who lived here. But there will also be intangible
gifts; the intangible gifts of courage, a search for better opportunities and a
commitment to our founding ideals: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
and to form amore perfect union. And to that end, every single one of us has a
role to play.