Today in labor history: Activist Agnes Nestor born

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On June 24, 1880, labor and women's rights activist Agnes Nestor was born in Grand Rapids, Mich. She moved to Chicago in 1897 and started working at the age of 14 in the glove industry  In 1901 Nestor was the leader of the successful Chicago glovemakers strike over the constant harassment and injustices the women workers experienced; that would lead to formation of the International Glove Workers Union of America (IGWU). Thus she became the first female president elected to head an international labor union -

The leadership role Nestor played in the women's trade union movement lead her to spend time in Springfield, Ill., lobbying the state government to establish a "maximum work hours for women" law. After some years of lobbying, a law was established in 1909 that limited the work hours of women in factories to ten hours a day. In 1911 Nestor's work was able to get the law extended to all women workers.

In 1913 Agnes Nestor became the president of the Chicago branch of the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL). Through her work in the WTUL, Nestor created educational courses for workers. Nestor believed that workers needed education to counteract the mind numbing work they did.

At the same time Agnes Nestor was fighting for better working conditions for women workers, she was also an articulate supporter of the establishment of a minimum wage and women's suffrage.

The lobbying and educational work that Nestor did as a leader of the WTUL eventually lead to an expanded political role. In the late 1920's prior to the great depression she ran for the Illinois state legislature on the Democratic Party ticket. The campaign was unsuccessful, but it was an example of the amount of political support she had gained over the years.

During the depression years of 1932-34 when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, Agnes Nestor was a member of the Illinois Commission on Unemployment and Relief.

Nestor continued to play a leadership role with in the labor movement throughout her life, even while experiencing serious health problems. She remained president of the Chicago branch of the WTUL until her death in December of 1948, at the age of 68.

Photo: Agnes Nestor, Wikimedia Commons

 

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