Woman labor pioneer earns stage presence in new musical

Let’s test your labor knowledge:

Who was the first female to hold a national labor post?

Who formed the first female union in the country?

Who led a strike of 200 laundresses?

The answer to all of those questions would be Kate Mullany, a 19th century laundry worker who began protesting dangerous and unhealthy working conditions shortly after she starting working at a laundry in Troy — one of Albany’s neighboring cities — at the age of 19, supporting her family. An immigrant from Ireland, she formed the Collar Laundry Union, led a strike and helped workers gain a 25 percent wage increase. At the time, the laundresses were working 12-14 hour days, six days a week, earning about $3 a week.

Mullany was named to the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2002. And, now, she is being honored by the American Labor Studies Center, which is sponsoring a musical production about her life titled: “Don’t Iron While the Strike is Hot!” It is being performed next week, May 14 and 15, at 10:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., for both school children and the general public. Written by Ruth Henry, the musical is being staged at Russell Sage College in Troy.

The play is part of the ALSC‘s ongoing education outreach about labor history. The organization — led by Paul Cole, a longtime NYSUT leader — collects and analyzes labor history and labor studies curriculum. They are an important asset for teachers nationwide. The Center is located at the Kate Mullany House in Troy, a national historic landmark.

For information, contact the Workforce Development Institute at art.of.labor@wdiny.org. The WDI addresses regional work needs, promotes job growth and focuses on skills in short supply, and helps workers affected by layoffs.

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