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Chicago Millinery History: 1933 Millinery Strike in Chicago and the NRA December 10, 2015



Sept 14, 1933 was a special day for millinery in Chicago. A 19 day strike of millinery workers came to an end. We usually think of hats as pretty and creative, but not much about how they originated. There is a whole backstory to the “how” of the process.

By the 1920s Chicago had become a major manufacturing site for hats. Tho individual milliners still created one offs, the bulk of hats available were from manufactures. Labor practices led to unrest and dissatisfaction of those millinery workers, who unionized, in the Millinery Workers International. Turmoil existed when agreements were said not to be kept by the manufacturers, leading to a 19 day strike.
4,800 workers were on strike in Chicago. Picketing led to arrests, tho ultimately those individuals were released.

Hat trimmers and makers were to have wage increases to $24/wk or $.60 per hour. Cutters were to get $40/wk, or $1/hr, operators $34/ wk or $.85/ hr, and blockers $44/wk or $1.10/hr. The wage increase equaled about a 30-50% increase.

There were 100 manufacturers involved, which amounted to about 90% of the manufacturers.

These were financially tough times of the depression, yet hat sales had to still be strong enough to warrant manufacturers to dig deeper in their pockets to meet the demands of the workers. Hat sales continued as women bought less expensive items of apparel, and making do with dresses, suits and coats already owned.

Workers must have felt the risks of a strike were worth it, even when so many others were unemployed. These wages were probably not enough for many to buy new apparel for themselves, but at least they could still keep their family fed.

There had been a National Recovery Act enacted in 1933 to deal with labor and pricing issues, which was ultimately repealed in 1935. Strikes were common during this time. The National Recovery Act slogan was We Do Our Part, and the image of a blue eagle accompanied it for their logo.

There were 22 appointees to the National Board, one from different regional areas, Chicago had 2, and NY had 9 of the 22 total appointees.

Chicago Regional Millinery Authority elected the 2 appointees by a 2/3 margin vote. Who the Chicago appointees were is unknown at this time.

Hats manufactured during the 1933-1935 time period were to carry a NRA label.


The Chicago Tribune article which was the original basis for this blog entry:

Some additional background: