Social History for Every Classroom


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Active Viewing: Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl

In this activity, students watch the documentary Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl in sections, with documents and exercises designed to support and reinforce the film's key concepts: workers challenging the effects of industrial capitalism, the impact on immigrant families of young women earning money in the garment industry, and the methods used by women to improve working conditions in factories during the Progressive Era.


  • Students will identify ways that women participated in movements for social change before they earned the right to vote

  • Students will explain the ways workers challenged the effects of industrial capitalism

  • Students will analyze differing conceptions of womanhood in the early twentieth century

This activity supports the following Common Core Literacy Standards in History/Social Studies:

  • RHSS.6-8.2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

  • RHSS.6-8.7. Integrate visual information with other information in print and digital texts.


Step 1: Split students into two groups and hand out Heaven Vocabulary sheet.

Step 2: Explain that we will watch the first clip twice; the first time students should take "mental notes" and the second time they should take actual notes. Hand out "Setting the Scene" Active Viewing worksheet.

Step 3: Play the introduction to Heaven (2 minutes 30 seconds). Lead a quick discussion of the students' impressions.

Step 4: Play the introduction again and have students take notes on the "Setting the Scene" Active Viewing worksheet.

Step 5: Write the following questions on the board and instruct students to keep them in mind as they watch the next chapters of the video.

  • What makes the job hard and unfair?

  • How does the fact that the girls are earning their own money create conflict for them and also give them new opportunities for freedom?

Play chapters 2-5 (2:45-16:20).

As a group discuss the two preview questions. To reinforce the topic of factory working conditions, you can use Working Conditions for Factory Girls: Matching worksheet.

Step 6: Have students read Progressive Era Activists Call for Trade Unions and complete the accompanying worksheet. As a group, discuss what the Women's Trade Union League saw as the best way to solve the problems of factory girls and how the document's language conveys its point of view. 

Step 7: Hand out and/or project the Seal of the National Women's Trade Union League and lead students in a discussion of its language, concepts, and symbols:  

  • Note that the WTUL was founded in 1903; could women vote in 1903?  

  • Review key vocabulary, ex. trade union [an organized group of workers who work in a factory or have a specific skill; they work together to protect their common interests and improve working conditions.]

Ask students to identify and discuss what images they see:

  • What do the two women represent (fighter with armor; mother with baby; two different kinds of power that women can have.)

  • Factory in the background

  • Rising sun (optimism; new day is coming)

  • Shield with the word victory

Discuss the WTUL's goals: 

  • eight hour day

  • living wage

  • to guard the home


  • How do the words and images in the seal express the organization's reform goals?

  • What ideals does it communicate about womanhood?

Step 8: View the last 2 chapters of Heaven (16:21-27:00). As a group, revisit the Women's Trade Union League seal and review how the image communicates ideals about womanhood and work. Contrast that view to the ways that male representatives of the government (i.e., the judge and the police) viewed the strike. Refer to the following quotes:

  • "To them a working girl's just another tramp."

  • "You are a criminal…. Your strike is a strike against God."

Historical Context

During the early twentieth century, millions of immigrants flooded into U.S. cities. In New York City, where the garment industry dominated the local economy, 70% of the workforce was female, and about half of those women were under the age of 20. Jewish and Italian women comprised 90% of the workers. In 1909, immigrant shirtwaist workers led a major strike – the “Uprising of the 20,000” – that revealed to the public the low pay, harsh supervision, and unsafe conditions that plagued garment workers. The Triangle Shirtwaist Company was one of the largest employers of garment workers in New York City. In 1911, a fire at the Company claimed the lives of 146 people, mostly young women, and brought renewed attention to unsafe industrial working conditions. Thus, through strikes and tragedy in the early 1900s, women laid the groundwork for further reform movements that would continue to change the workplace, and a woman’s place in it, during the course of the twentieth century.

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2012
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.Creative Commons License
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Active Viewing: Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 2, 2023,

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