Farrell chronicles Fannie Sellins’ life as a garment worker, organizer, and martyr for workers’ rights at the turn of the 20th century.
After Fannie’s husband died, leaving her with four children, she sewed in a St. Louis sweatshop. Women and girls worked 10 to 14 hours daily, six days a week, locked in deafening factories where tuberculosis ran rampant. Hearing of the United Garment Workers of America’s successes elsewhere, Fannie began organizing co-workers during breaks. In 1902, she helped form the Ladies Local 67 of the UGWA. In 1909, a worker’s punishment engendered a walkout, a lockout, a strike, and a boycott. As the local’s president, Sellins traveled on the workers’ behalf, raising strike fund money in union halls and successfully advancing the boycott. Next, Sellins helped coal miners fight brutal owners in West Virginia, where she was arrested and jailed. Organizing in western Pennsylvania, she was murdered during a fight between strikers and armed deputies. Farrell’s text and annotated timeline demonstrate that the early struggle for fair wages, hours, and benefits was rife with setbacks and bloodshed, as owners, government officials, and law enforcement colluded to break strikes and unions. Acknowledging the paucity of material on Sellins, Farrell includes well-captioned period photos and primary documents that deepen readers’ context for the workers’ exploitation and resistance.
A cogent, well-documented, handsomely designed treatment of a heretofore forgotten hero of labor. (author's note, glossary, timeline, quotation notes, sources, websites, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10-14)