Female Protective Union

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Cleveland, Ohio's Female Protective Union was a reform organization that sought to improve working conditions for women garment workers.

Throughout most of the nineteenth century, there were very few laws that protected workers. Most people in the United States -- including Ohioans -- believed that the government should not interfere in business interests. The lack of protective legislation meant that many people worked extremely long hours, often with low pay and poor working conditions.

The Female Protective Union was meant to deal with some of these problems. While most industrial states eventually saw the rise of their own Female Protective Unions, women in Cleveland, Ohio established such an organization in 1850. The union sought to improve the conditions faced by women who worked in the garment industry. These women worked approximately ninety-six hours a week, which translated into six sixteen-hour days. In spite of their long work hours, they only earned two dollars each week. The Female Protective Union hoped to improve the amount of pay and reduce the number of hours that the women worked each week.

In 1851, the Female Protective Union attempted to force Cleveland garment businesses into improving conditions by providing competition. The union opened its own establishment, known as the Female Protective Union Clothing Store, which paid its workers more money than other businesses in Cleveland. Unfortunately, the new store was unable to remain open for very long, as the other garment companies worked to put it out of business. Although the Female Protective Union was short-lived, it illustrated the need for more labor organizations and legislation. In the decades following the American Civil War, a number of labor unions emerged to vocalize their workers' needs.

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