Cover image for Sewn in Coal Country: An Oral History of the Ladies’ Garment Industry in Northeastern Pennsylvania, 1945–1995 Edited by Robert P. Wolensky

Sewn in Coal Country

An Oral History of the Ladies’ Garment Industry in Northeastern Pennsylvania, 1945–1995

Edited by Robert P. Wolensky

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$99.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-08490-9

$39.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-08498-5

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416 pages
7" × 10"
84 b&w illustrations/1 map
2020

Sewn in Coal Country

An Oral History of the Ladies’ Garment Industry in Northeastern Pennsylvania, 1945–1995

Edited by Robert P. Wolensky

“A detailed yet readable study of the lives of the garment industry. This is a fine social history of ordinary people that brings the past to life.”

 

  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Subjects
By the mid-1930s, Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal industry was facing a steady decline. Mining areas such as the Wyoming Valley around the cities of Wilkes-Barre and Pittston were full of willing workers (including women) who proved irresistibly attractive to New York City’s “runaway shops”—ladies’ apparel factories seeking lower labor and other costs. The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) soon followed, and the Valley became a thriving hub of clothing production and union activity. This volume tells the story of the area’s apparel industry through the voices of men and women who lived it.

Drawing from an archive of over sixty audio-recorded interviews within the Northeastern Pennsylvania Oral and Life History Collection, Sewn in Coal Country showcases sixteen stories told by workers, shop owners, union leaders, and others. The interview subjects recount the ILGWU-led movement to organize the shops, the conflicts between the district union and the national office in New York, the solidarity unionism approach of leader Min Matheson, the role of organized crime within the business, and the failed efforts to save the industry in the 1980s and 1990s. Robert P. Wolensky places the narratives in the larger context of American clothing manufacturing during the period and highlights their broader implications for the study of labor, gender, the working class, and oral history.

Highly readable and thoroughly enlightening, this significant contribution to the study of labor history and women’s history will appeal to anyone interested in the relationships among workers, unions, management, and community; the effects of economic change on an area and its residents; the role of organized crime within the industry; and Pennsylvania history—especially the social history of industrialization and deindustrialization during the twentieth century.

“A detailed yet readable study of the lives of the garment industry. This is a fine social history of ordinary people that brings the past to life.”
“An important contribution to US labor history and twentieth-century US history. The interviews offer nuanced views and multiple perspectives on labor struggles in the region, offering particularly new and valuable views of the influence of geography on industrial development and the growth of the trade union movement and showing why we need a broad view to understand even local industrial history.”

Robert P. Wolensky is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point and Adjunct Professor of History at King’s College, Wilkes-Barre. He is the coauthor of Fighting for the Union Label: The Women’s Garment Industry and the ILGWU in Pennsylvania, also published by Penn State University Press.

List of Illustrations

Preface

Acknowledgments

List of Abbreviations

Introduction: Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Garment Industry

1. Dorothy “Dot” Ney: Garment Worker, Union Organizer, and Business Agent

2. William “Bill” Cherkes: Garment Shop Owner and Garment Association President

3. Minnie “Min” Matheson: Labor Leader, Social Activist, and ILGWU District Director

4. Angelo “Rusty” “Bill” DePasquale: Mineworker and ILGWU Organizer and “Enforcer”

5. Anthony “Tony” D’Angelo: Garment Presser and Barber

6. Alice Reca: Garment Worker, Union Organizer, and Business Agent

7. John “Johnny” Justin: Garment Worker, Labor Organizer, and ILGWU District Director

8. Clementine “Clem” Lyons: Garment Worker, Business Agent, and Chorus Performer and Director

Image Gallery

9. Helen Weiss: Garment Worker, Business Agent, and Chorus Performer

10. George and Lucy Zorgo: Union Printers and Labor Advocates

11. Philomena “Minnie” Caputo: Garment Worker, Union Activist, Chairlady, and Floorlady

12. Dr. Albert Schiowitz: Physician and Director of the Wyoming Valley ILGWU Health Center

13. Leo Gutstein: Family Garment Shop Owner and Garment Association President

14. Pearl Novak: Garment Worker, Union Organizer, and Social Activist

15. Betty Greenberg: Mother, Spouse, Activist, and the Mathesons’Daughter

16. Labor, Working-Class, Gender, and Oral History

Appendix 1: The Wyoming Valley Oral Histories

Appendix 2: Glossary of Selected Terms

Appendix 3: Biographical Sketches

Notes

Bibliography

Index