“Don’t Iron while the Strike is Hot!”
By Liz Marsh
During a time of revolution in the work force, Kate Mullany successfully organized a labor union and strike at only twenty-three years old. The Irish immigrant was a young collar laundry worker in Troy plagued by the injustices of the commercial laundries. With an ill mother and many siblings at home to provide for, Mullany realized that she was not making enough money. She was also wary of the dangers of laundry business, such as burning oneself or breathing in chemicals. Kate acknowledged how difficult it would be to organize a union when the women were already working long hours, and were worried about being replaced in the work force. However, she was able to convince herself and many others that the benefits of forming a union outweighed the risks.
On February 23, 1864, Kate Mullany and Esther Keegan, a co-worker, organized a strike after the formation of the Collar Laundry Union. Three hundred women joined the strike and were supported by their male-counterparts: the Iron Molders’ Union No. 2. The strike continued for almost six days and finished due to the success of Mullany and the strikers. Kate Mullany was able to negotiate a 20% increase in the wages, as well as increased safety measures regarding the starching machines. To celebrate, the strikers and unionists organized a picnic on July 18, 1864.
After the tremendous success of the Collar Laundry Union’s strike, Mullany went on to be elected as the second Vice President of the National Labor Union. However, she soon relinquished her position. Instead, she became the first female assistant secretary of the National Labor Union. Kate continued to advocate for the Collar Laundry Union until its dissipation in February of 1870.
Kate Mullany married John Fogarty in 1869, and passed away on August 17, 1906. She is buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery, located in Troy, NY. In September 1999, her grave was embellished with a Celtic Cross and benches by representatives of the community and labor movements.
Mullany’s home became a National Historical Site in 2005 after being dedicated a National Historic Landmark in 1998 by Hilary Clinton. It is located at 350 8th Street in Troy, New York. For more information, check out the website of the Kate Mullany National Historic Site http://katemullanynhs.org/.
Kate Mullany National Historic Site. “About the Kate Mullany House.” Accessed on 26 January 2015. http://katemullanynhs.org/
Kate Mullany National Historic Site. “Kate Mullany Grave Site.” Accessed on 26 January 2015. http://www.katemullanynhs.org/grave
Kate Mullany National Historic Site. “Kate Mullany: A Trade Union Pioneer.” Accessed on 26 January 2015. http://www.katemullanynhs.org/node/15
Cole, Paul. “A Fitting Tribute for Mullany.” The Troy Record, 26 February 2006. Accessed 26 January 2015. http://www.wiawaka.org/mullaney.html