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University of Connecticut University Libraries


May 26 - October 9, 2009

A worker for the New Haven, Connecticut, clothing industry.


New Haven's Garment Workers: An Elm City Story

Homer Babbidge Library West Alcove
Curators: Joan Cavanagh and Dennis Hamilton

In 1932 and 1933, to combat sweatshop conditions in the clothing industry in New Haven, Connecticut, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union cooperated in an organizing campaign. Their efforts resulted in large-scale unionization of the industry and improvements in wages, working conditions, and hours.

The unions formed two locals, ACTWU 125 and ILGWU 151, which continued to organize together until the demise of the garment industry in New Haven in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The two locals became centers of social and political activities, involving members in decision-making and in cultural and sports activities.

New Haven’s Garment Workers: An Elm City Story paints a vivid portrait of the lives, victories and defeats of this courageous group of working people, many of whom were the parents and grandparents of today’s workers. Photographs, artifacts, and documents highlight their work, labor struggles, and social and political lives.

Initial panels depict the evolution of the clothing industry, conditions in New Haven’s sweatshops, and the meteoric rise and dramatic victories of the unions in 1933. Subsequent panels show the continued growth of the unions and their involvement in political issues from the 1940s through the 1990s. Four panels depict garment workers’ lives at home and the many social activities—dances, sports, picnics and holiday parties— sponsored by the locals.

The Great New Haven Labor History Association produced this exhibit. Joan Cavanagh, archivist/executive director of the Association, and the late Dennis Hamilton served as curators, with C.M. Carton and Julie Hamilton as creative consultants.