The Eaton’s Sewing Girls

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2011_01_15_Book4-Knitting-The-Cloth-for-Underwear.jpg

Image from Eaton’s – Golden Jubilee (1869-1919) (T. Eaton Co Ltd, 1919).

 On April 30th of 1897 the Almonte Gazette had this small article on their front page:

Eight sewing girls in the mantle department of T. Eaton & Co’s, factory, went on strike because no more than 12 cents was allowed them for making a jacket. They said they could not live on that amount, and who will doubt them ? And yet there are women in Almonte and elsewhere who patronize such a system.

Strikes like this were common in the needle trades in the early twentieth century as men and women sought better wages and working conditions. But, despite some gains, the early labour movement had little sustained success in improving the lot of workers. In the garment industry, conditions remained as deplorable on the eve of the Second World War as when a young and social-minded William Lyon Mackenzie King first investigated sweatshops in 1897.

It wasn’t until ten o’clock in the morning on February 25, 1931, more than five hundred women of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) put down their work, halted their machines, and walked out of garment shops across Toronto.
All my life I will never forget this strike. It was so terrible that the police protected the shops, and they treated the workers like garbage. It was so horrible. I tell you, I remember how they came so close by with the horses. The picketers they treated terrible. They protected the strikebreakers. So you know even [if] you didn’t believe in unions … you believed in unions when you saw what was [happening].

 

2011_01_15_Book7-Making-Embroidery-At-the-Bloor-St-Factory.jpg

Image from Eaton’s – Golden Jubilee (1869-1919) (T. Eaton Co Ltd., 1919).

The citizens of Toronto interpreted the workers’ wage demands as greedy in the midst of the Depression. After two-and-a-half months, the strike ultimately ended in failure, abandoned at a mass rally attended by a thousand supporters on May 5.

Wages were low and employees were not even allowed to speak to each other while working. Starch filled the air, one worker reporter, making your “throat sore and your nose stuffed up and you felt a wreck.” But if a window was opened, there were serious cold drafts.

Worse than the physical conditions were the “brutal task-masters” who swore at—or sexually harassed—the women, and discriminated in the distribution of piece-work to reward their favourites, or those who did them favours, with additional pay. Slower workers, or those who showed up even five minutes late, might be sent home without pay for indefinite periods. The supervisors used stop-watches and implemented speed-ups when orders increased.

“I would go home nights and I would be so tired I could not eat my supper,” said one woman describing the impact of the speed-ups. “And I would be so tired and stiff going home on the streetcar, I would just dread getting a seat, because if I sat down, I could not get up again, my knees and my legs would be so stiff.”

Files from the Historicist: Sewing the Seeds of Discontent

 

 

historicalnotes

In 1884 the Eaton’s catalogue had 32 pages. Twelve years later it had grown to 400 pages.

The Eaton’s catalogue was such a valued part of Canadian life that it had a number of nicknames including the “Homesteaders Bible,” the “Family Bible” and the “Wish Book.”

The Eaton’s catalogue seemed to offer all things to Canadians. In the late 1800s an expectant mother could even order supplies for giving birth at home. In the early 1900s the

 

Eaton’s catalogue offered prefabricated barns and schoolhouses along with various sizes of prefabricated houses

The Eaton’s Christmas catalogue was first published in 1897. The store’s French catalogue first appeared in 1928.

Canadians found practical uses for old Eaton’s catalogues. They were used as shin pads in hockey games; boiled down for their dye to colour Easter eggs; used as readers in classrooms; and rolled up tight and put near the stove to be used as foot warmers in bed.

Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News and now in The Townships Sun

 

Related reading:

Did you Know About the The Venus Family Sewing Machine?

Gypsies Tramps and Thieves

A Story of Sewing Past

Were You the King of King’s Castle in Carleton Place? Linda’s Mailbag

How to Make a Vintage Apron- Aitkenhead Photo Collection

Singer Sewing Machines and Scandals

One Village? One Sewing Needle!

I Found My Childhood in the Eaton’s Christmas Catalogue

Memories of Eaton’s

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About lindaseccaspina

Linda Knight Seccaspina was born in Cowansville, Quebec about the same time as the wheel was invented and the first time she realized she could tell a tale was when she got caught passing her smutty stories around in Grade 7 at CHS by Mrs. Blinn. When Derek "Wheels" Wheeler from Degrassi Jr. High died in 2010, Linda wrote her own obituary. Some people said she should think about a career in writing obituaries. Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa from 1976-1996. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off she finally found her calling. Is it sex drugs and rock n' roll you might ask? No, it is history. Seeing that her very first boyfriend in Grade 5 (who she won a Twist contest with in the 60s) is the head of the Brome Misissiquoi Historical Society and also specializes in local history back in Quebec, she finds that quite funny. She writes every single day and is also a columnist for Hometown News and Screamin's Mamas. She is a volunteer for the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, an admin for the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page, and a local guest speaker. She has been now labelled an historian by the locals which in her mind is wrong. You see she will never be like the iconic local Lanark County historian Howard Morton Brown, nor like famed local writer Mary Cook. She proudly calls herself The National Enquirer Historical writer of Lanark County, and that she can live with. Linda has been called the most stubborn woman in Lanark County, and has requested her ashes to be distributed in any Casino parking lot as close to any Wheel of Fortune machine as you can get. But since she wrote her obituary, most people assume she's already dead. Linda has published six books, "Menopausal Woman From the Corn," "Cowansville High Misremembered," "Naked Yoga, Twinkies and Celebrities," "Cancer Calls Collect," "The Tilted Kilt-Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place," and "Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac." All are available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Linda's books are for sale on Amazon or at Wisteria · 62 Bridge Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada, and at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum · 267 Edmund Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada--Appleton Museum-Mississippi Textile Mill and Mill Street Books and Heritage House Museum and The Artists Loft in Smith Falls.

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