Digital History>Voices>Social History>A Capmaker's Story
Cap Maker's Story: Rose Schneiderman
The Independent, LVIII, no. 2943 (Apr. 27, 1905), 935-38.
name is Rose Schneiderman, and I was born in some small city of
Russian Poland. I don't know the name of the city, and have no
memory of that part of my childhood. When I was about five years
of age my parents brought me to this country and we settled in
my earliest recollections are of living in a crowded street among
the East Side Jews, for we also are Jews.
father got work as a tailor, and we lived in two rooms on Eldridge
Street, and did very well, though not so well as in Russia, because
mother and father both earned money, and here father alone earned
the money, while mother attended to the house. There were then
two other children besides me, a boy of three and one of five.
went to school until I was nine years old, enjoying it thoroughly
and making great progress, but then my father died of brain fever
and mother was left with three children and another one coming.
So I had to stay at home to help her and she went out to look
month later the baby was born, and mother got work in a fur house,
earning about $6 a week and afterward $8 a week, for she was clever
was the house worker, preparing the meals and looking after the
other children - the baby, a little girl of six years, and a boy
of nine. I managed very well, tho the meals were not very elaborate.
I could cook simple things like porridge, coffee and eggs, and
mother used to prepare the meat before she went away in the morning,
so that all I had to do was to put it in the pan at night.
children were not more troublesome than others, but this was a
hard part of my life with few bright spots in it. I was a serious
child, and cared little for children's play, and I knew nothing
about the country, so it was not so bad for me as it might have
been for another. Yet it was bad, tho I did get some pleasure
from reading, of which I was very fond: and now and then, as a
change from the home, I took a walk in the crowded street.
was absent from half past seven o'clock in the morning till half
past six o'clock in the evening.
was finally released by my little sister being taken by an aunt,
and the two boys going to the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, which is a
splendid institution, and turns out good men. One of these brothers
is now a student in the City College, and the other is a page
in the Stock Exchange.
the other children were sent away mother was able to send me back
to school and I stayed in this school (Houston Street Grammar)
till I had reached the Sixth Grammar Grade.
I had to leave in order to help support the family. I got a place
in Hearn's as cash girl, and after working there three weeks changed
to Ridley's, where I remained for two and a half years. I finally
left because the pay was so very poor and there did not seem to
be any chance of advancement, and a friend told me that I could
do better making caps.
I got a place in the factory of Hein & Fox. The hours were
from 8 a m. to 6 p. m., and we made all sorts of linings or, rather,
we stitched in the linings golf caps, yachting caps, etc. It was
piece work, and we received from 3 h cents to 10 cents a dozen,
according to the different grades. By working hard we could make
an average of about $5 a week. We would have made more but had
to provide our own machines, which cost us $45, we paying for
them on the installment plan. We paid $5 down and $1 a month after
learned the business in about two months, and then made as much
as the others, and was consequently doing quite well when the
factory burned down, destroying all our machines 150 of them.
This was very hard on the girls who had paid for their machines.
It was not so bad for me, as I had only paid a little of what
bosses got $500,000 insurance, so I heard, but they never gave
the girls a cent to help them bear their losses. I think they
might have given them $10, anyway,
work went on again in four lofts, and a little later I became
assistant sample maker. This is a position which, tho coveted
by many, pays better in glory than in cash It was still piece
work, and tho the pay per dozen was better the work demanded was
of a higher quality, and one could not rush through samples as
through the other caps. So I still could average only about $5
After I had been working as a cap maker for three years it began
to dawn on me that we girls needed an organization. The men had
organized already, and had gained some advantages, but the bosses
had lost nothing, as they took it out of us.
were helpless; no one girl dare stand up for anything alone. Matters
kept getting worse. The bosses kept making reductions in our pay,
half a cent a dozen at a time. It did not sound important, but
at the end of the week we found a difference.
didn't complain to the bosses; we didn't say anything except to
each other. There was no use. The bosses would not pay any attention
unless we were like the men and could make them attend.
girl would say that she didn't think she could make caps for the
new price, but another would say that she thought she could make
up for the reduction by working a little harder, and then the
first would tell herself, "If she can do it, why can't I?"
They didn't think how they were wasting their strength.
new girl from another shop got in among us. She was Miss Bessie
Brout, and she talked organization as a remedy for our ills. She
was radical and progressive, and she stimulated thoughts which
were already in our minds before she came.
Miss Brout and I and another girl went to the National Board of
United Cloth Hat and Cap Makers when it was in session, and asked
them to organize the girls.
many of you are there willing to be organized?"
the first place about twelve," we said We argued that the
union label would force the bosses to organize their girls, and
if there was a girls' union in existence the bosses could not
use the union label unless their girls belonged to the union.
were told to come to the next meeting of the National Board, which
we did, and then received a favorable answer, and were asked to
bring all the girls who were willing to be organized to the next
meeting, and at the next meeting, accordingly, we were there twelve
strong and were organized.
Fox found out what had happened he discharged Miss Brout, and
probably would have discharged me but that I was a sample maker
and not so easy to replace. In a few weeks we had all the girls
in the organization, because the men told the girls that they
must enter the union or they would not be allowed to work in the
came a big strike. Price lists for the coming season were given
in to the bosses, to which they did not agree. After some wrangling
a strike was declared in five of the biggest factories. There
are 30 factories in the city. About 100 girls went out. The result
was a victory, which netted us- I mean the girls- $2 increase
in our wages on the average.
the time our union was progressing very nicely. There were lectures
to make us understand what trades unionism is and our real position
in the labor movement I read upon the subject and grew more and
more interested, and after a time I became a member of the National
Board, and had duties and responsibilities that kept me busy after
my day's work was done.
all was not lovely by any means, for the bosses were not at all
pleased with their beating and had determined to fight us again.
They agreed among themselves that after the 26th of December,
1904, they would run their shops on the "open" system.
This agreement was reached last fall, and soon notices, reading
as follows, were hung in the various shops:
After the 26th of December, 1904, this shop will be run on the
open shop system, the bosses having the right to engage and discharge
employees as they see fit, whether the latter are union or nonunion.
course. we knew that this meant an attack on the union. The bosses
intended gradually to get rid of us, employing in our place child
labor and raw immigrant girls who would work for next to nothing.
December 22nd the above notice appeared, and the National Board,
which had known about it all along, went into session prepared
people were very restive, saying that they could not sit under
that notice, and that if the National Board did not call them
out soon they would go out of themselves.
last word was sent out, and at 2.30 o'clock all the workers stopped,
and, laying down their scissors and other tools, marched out,
some of them singing the "Marseillaise."
were out for thirteen weeks, and the girls established their reputation.
They were on picket duty from seven o'clock in the morning till
six o'clock in the evening, and gained over many of the nonunion
workers by appeals to them to quit working against us.
theory was that if properly approached and talked to few would
be found who would resist our offer to take them into our organization.
right thinking person desires to injure another. We did not believe
in violence and never employed it.
this strike period we girls each received $3 a week; single men
$3 a week, and married men $5 a week This was paid us by the National
were greatly helped by the other unions, because the open shop
issue was a tremendous one, and this was the second fight which
the bosses had conducted for it.
first was with the tailors, whom they beat. If they now could
beat us the outlook for unionism would be bad.
were aided and we stuck out, and won a glorious victory all along
the line. That was only last week The shops are open now for all
union hands and for them only.
the strike lasted I tried to get work in a factory that was not
affected, but found that the boss was against me.
spring I had gone as a member of a committee to appeal to this
boss on behalf of a girl who had been four years in his employ
and was only getting $7 a week. She wanted $1 raise and all legal
holidays. Previously she had had to work on holidays. After argument
we secured for her the $1 raise and half a day on every legal
the strike broke out, looking for work, I went to this boss, and
he stared at me, and said: "What do you want?"
asked for a girl."
you I don't want you," said he. "Can't I have my choice?"
said I, "I could never work where I am not wanted"
suppose he expected me to revenge myself by keeping other girls
away, but I sent him others till he filled the place. He resented
my having served on the committee, and so he did not want me,
but I felt honored by the manner in which I was treated. It showed
that I had done my duty.
bosses try to represent this open shop issue as tho they were
fighting a battle for the public, but really it is nothing of
the sort. The open shop is a weapon to break the unions and set
men once more cutting each other's throats by individual competition.
there was a time in the cap trade when men worked fourteen hours
a day, and then took the heads of their machines home in bags
and setting them up on stands, put mattresses underneath to deaden
the sound and worked away till far into the morning. We don't
want such slavery as that to come back.
shops are open now for all union people, and all nonunion people
can join the union. In order to take in newcome foreigners we
have for them cut the initiation fees down to one half what we
Americans have to pay, and we trust them till they get work and
order to give the newcomers a chance we have stopped night work,
which doesn't suit the bosses, because it causes them to pay more
rent when they can't use their buildings night and day. It costs
them the price of another loft instead of costing the workers
their health and lives as in the old days.
trade is well organized, we have won two victories and are not
there is much to be done in other directions. The shop girls certainly
need organization, and I think that they ought to be easy to organize,
as their duties are simple and regular and they have a regular
scale of wages.
saleswomen on Grand and Division streets, and, in fact, all over
the East Side, work from 8 a m till 9 p. m. week days, and one-half
a day on Sundays for $5 and $6 a week; so they certainly need
waitresses also could easily be organized, and perhaps the domestic
servants. I don't know about stenographers. I have not come in
contact with them.
have proved in the late strike that they can be faithful to an
organization and to each other. The men give us the credit of
winning the strike.
our organization constantly grows stronger, and the Woman's Trade
Union League makes progress.
girls and women by their meetings and discussions come to understand
and sympathize with each other, and more and more easily they
is the only way in which they can hope to hold what they now have
or better present conditions.
there is no hope from the mercy of the bosses.
boss does the best he can for himself with no thought of the other
bosses, and that compels each to gouge and squeeze his hands to
the last penny in order to make a profit.
we must stand together to resist, for we will get what we can
take just that and no more.
York, March 20, 1905