Lara Vapnek teaches history at St. John's University and specializes in the history of gender and labor in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century United States. She is the author of Breadwinners: Working Women and Economic Independence, 1865-1920 (2009) and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn: Modern American Revolutionary (2015). Her current research focuses on mothers, milk, and public health in New York City from the 1850s through the 1930s.
This lecture tells the story of three women who led early movements for gender and labor equality in the late 19th and early 20th-century: Jennie Collins; Leonora Barry; and Leonora O'Reilly. I discuss the personal and political factors that motivated their activism as well as their programs for change. This lecture explains how wage-earning women understood their place in America's expanding capitalist economy and it shows how they organized to demand equal rights at work and as citizens.