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The Brooklyn Consumers' League Takes on Sweatshops

Women, who did most of the shopping in turn-of-the-century households, used their purchasing power to push forward many Progressive reforms. They organized local and national consumers' leagues to boycott businesses that employed unfair labor practices, such as child labor or tenement sweatshop labor. Consumers leagues also "rewarded" good businesses with their patronage and with labels and signage that indicated that a shop met fair labor standards. Though working-class women were involved in similar measures, the Brooklyn Consumers' League reveals its middle-class biases in its views on immigrant sweatshop workers and the idealization of "home" as a place of rest, not work.

. . . The Consumers' League of Brooklyn was organized four years ago with Mrs. Ruth Huntington Sessions as president, and did quietly persistent work in furthering the objects of the league . . . to secure the best possible conditions in the stores of Brooklyn.. . . In the large department stores the conditions that prevail are better than those in any other line of business in which women are engaged and the league now proposes . . . to turn its attention to the product of the sweat shop and to protect its members from the purchase of sweat shop goods.

In order to do this, it has decided to accept the guarantee of any firm name after the place of manufacture has been visited by a paid inspector employed by the league. The Consumers' League label and the Labor Union label are recognized standards, but, as both of these are limited in the possibilities of use, the Brooklyn League has decided that, until the moral sentiment of the manufacturer equals the apprehension of the consumer, every method of protection must be tried.

It is also the purpose of the league to compel the enforcement of law whenever the violation in the manufacture of garments is discovered. The present labor laws regulate the making of garments in living rooms. The Consumers' League hopes to secure the passage of a law which will abolish the making of garments in living rooms. . . . So long as it is possible to secure a license for the manufacture of goods in living rooms, says the Consumers' League, so long will such distribution of garments be possible. The sweat shop is responsible for bringing to this country the least desirable emigrants and it is the sweat shop that makes and keeps them the worst class of citizens. The sweat shop in a tenement makes home impossible. It is the most prolific source of child labor and it is the worst enemy of the working man. A law which will eliminate the sub-contractor will eliminate the sweat shop, and this is the ultimate aim of the Consumers' League.

Source | "Consumers League Plans; The Sweat Shop to Be Considered at Public Meeting to Be Held April 10," Brooklyn Eagle 6 March 1901; from Brooklyn Daily Eagle Online (1841-1902),
Creator | Brooklyn Eagle
Item Type | Newspaper/Magazine
Cite This document | Brooklyn Eagle, “The Brooklyn Consumers' League Takes on Sweatshops,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 1, 2023,

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