Subject of the Month: 2017

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March 2017

Historic photo of women in labor and business from Reuther Archives


Selectors: Stefanie Caloia, Meghan Courtney, and Troy Eller English

How many "trailblazing women in labor and business" can you name? How many of their stories can you tell? Who are role models for your career?

In the 1970s members of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women discovered that history textbooks discussed the accomplishments of women in just 3 percent of their pages. Members launched a Women’s History Week to teach students about all the female role models and women's history missing from their textbooks. The National Women's History Project was founded in 1980 and successfully lobbied Congress in 1987 to designate March as Women's History Month.

The 2017 theme for Women's History Month is "Honoring "Trailblazing Women in Labor and Businees." Explore these library, archival, and internet resources to expand your knowledge of female union activists and businesswomen who have both achieved personal success and worked to raise up the fortunes of others. What can you learn from their lives, careers, and actions?


Websites, March 2017


Note: Some articles may require users to log in using Access ID. 

Primary Sources

UAW Women's Auxiliary Flier

Many primary sources relating to women in the labor movement and business are available on Wayne State University's main campus in the Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs. The Reuther Library, located at 5401 Cass Ave., is open to the public Monday-Friday, 10-4. Here is just a sample of the collections available:

Trailblazing Women

Lillian Roberts just released from jail on Christmas Eve stands with her family and AFSCME President Jerry Wurf (left)

Lillian Roberts, released from jail on Christmas Eve, stands with her family and fellow AFSCME leaders

Lillian Roberts was jailed in 1968 after calling for a strike at Creedmore State Hospital, New York. NY Governor Nelson Rockefeller refused to allow state workers to choose a union for themselves. "As long as there are public employees who do not make adequate salaries...and do not have the right to vote, there will be people like me who do not mind spending 30 days in jail," Roberts said after her release (The Public Employee, December 1968). Roberts began her career as a nurse's aid in Chicago where she was active in her AFSCME local. She became an organizer in Chicago and then in New York, eventually serving as an AFSCME International Vice-President and Director of AFSCME District Council 37, New York.

AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Laura Reyes

AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Laura Reyes

"Laura Reyes is the Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, which represents 1.6 million workers. She was elected at the union’s 40th International Convention in June 2012.

A native of San Diego, California, Reyes grew up in a union family, her father and great-grandfather were both advocates for workers’ rights. Reyes taught preschool and saw first-hand the challenges faced by many education workers. Her first child, Damian, was born prematurely and with severe Cerebral Palsy.  The prognosis was that he would be unable to speak and confined to a wheelchair. Reyes gave up her job and became a home care provider to care for Damian full time. Today, Damian is a college student, majoring in biology.

In 2002, Reyes joined the United Domestic Workers (UDW) Homecare Providers Union/AFSCME Local 3930. Her leadership as a rank-and-file activist in the union led to her election as a delegate to the AFSCME convention for the first time in 2006. She became a member of the committee that modernized and wrote the present UDW constitution to make it more member-focused. Reyes worked as a union organizer helping fellow home care providers.  She was elected UDW President in 2008, and an AFSCME International Vice President in 2009." -- AFSCME

SEIU President Mary Kay Henry

SEIU President Mary Kay Henry

"Mary Kay Henry is International President of the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and her leadership is rooted in a deep-seated belief that when individuals join together they can make the impossible possible. Under her leadership, SEIU has won major victories to improve working families’ lives by strengthening and uniting healthcare, property services, and public sector workers with other working people across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. 

In 2010, Mary Kay Henry became the first woman elected to lead SEIU, after more than 30 years of helping unite healthcare workers. By 2015, she was named one of the 100 most creative leaders by Fast Company magazine and was included in the top 50 visionaries reshaping American politics by Politico magazine for SEIU’s innovative leadership in propelling the fight for living wages embodied in the historic movement known as the “Fight for $15.” -- SEIU

Rev. Addie Wyatt

Rev. Addie Wyatt was a labor leader, religious leader, and civil rights and women’s rights activist.  She was born in Brookhaven, Mississippi in 1924. In 1930, the Cameron family left Mississippi for Chicago, Illinois in search of a better racial climate, and as such, were part of the Great Migration.

In search of work to help support her family, Addie Wyatt sought employment as a typist in an Armour & Company meatpacking plant in 1941. At that time, however, black women were barred from holding clerical positions in the company and she was put to work canning stew for the army. In 1942, she joined the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA), a labor union which boasted a significant and active African American and female membership. In 1954 she became the first African American female president of a UPWA local. In 1968, her union merged with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workman of North America and Wyatt became founding director of its Women’s Affairs Department.  She later became the union’s first female International Vice President in 1976. Addie Wyatt was a founding member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists in 1972, and the Coalition of Labor Union Women in 1974. 

As a women’s rights advocate, she worked tirelessly for better healthcare, adequate child care, and equal pay for working women, as well as passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. 

In 1962 Norma Yaeger became the first woman to trade on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, which previously did not previously allow women entry. She opened her own firm, Yaeger Securities, in 1981. She also registered the first Money Market Mutual Fund in California, The Liquidity Fund. She wrote a book about her experience gaining entry into the male-dominated field of stock brokerage entitled Breaking Down the Walls, which was published in 2014.

Videos (Month)(Year)

View video of several of this year's Women's History Month honorees discussing their work and motivations.

Research and Statistics