The following appeared in the Troy Record on Sunday, February 26, 2006

A fitting tribute for Mullany
By: Paul F. Cole


Kate Mullany was one of early American labor history's most important women. Advertisement

Her home at 350 Eighth St. in Troy is the only surviving structure associated with her life and is the physical embodiment of her role as the leader of the nation's first bonafide women's union and the first woman to serve as an officer of a national union.

The Collar Laundry Union came into existence in early February 1864 largely as a result of the 19-year-old Irish immigrant bringing together about 200 of the collar laundry workers in Troy to protest low wages and the introduction of starching machines that were scalding hot to handle and cut prices for starching almost in half. Troy's laundry workers earned $2 to $3 dollars a week, working 12- to 14-hour days in oppressive heat.

The detachable shirt collar was first invented in Troy by Hannah Lord Montague, who tired of laundering her husband's shirts when only the collar needed cleaning. By the mid-nineteenth century, they became part of the mainstay of the wardrobes of middle-class men ("white collar worker"). By the 1860's Troy had become the producer of almost all of the nation's detachable collars and cuffs and thus the name "Collar City."

On Feb. 23, 1864, Kate Mullany and her co-worker Esther Keegan led approximately 300 women on strike at 14 commercial laundry establishments. After 5 1/2 days, the owners gave in to the workers' demands including a 25 percent wage increase. The strike was a success.

The strike enjoyed the strong support of Troy Iron Molders Union No. 2, which was honored by a July 18 picnic organized by the Collar Laundry Workers.

In September, 1868, Kate was elected the second vice president of the National Labor Union in New York City but relinquished the position because the first vice president was also from New York state. National Labor Union president William H. Sylvis appointed Kate assistant secretary, stating, "We now have a recognized officer from the female side of the house - one of the smartest and most energetic women in America."

Kate's mother Bridget purchased the land at 350-352 Eighth St. in 1864, which was completed as a family residence and income-producing property in 1869. Not much is known about Kate in her later years except that she lived in the house when she died on Friday, Aug. 17, 1906. She was buried in St. Peter's Cemetery.

As the result of a Labor History Theme Study conducted by the National Park Service, the property was designated a National Historic Landmark on April 1, 1998, by the Secretary of the Interior and was dedicated by then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton on July 15, 1998. In May, 2005, the house was designated a National Historic Site by Congress as a result of the efforts of Senator Clinton and Congressman Michael McNulty making it an affiliated unit within the National Park System.

With the assistance of State Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, 350 Eighth St. was purchased by the American Labor Studies Center (ALSC) in 2003. The first floor has been remodeled to house an exhibit on Kate Mullany and the Collar Laundry Union being prepared under the auspices of the Rensselaer County Historical Society (RCHS). The second floor houses the offices of the ALSC. The third floor, Kate Mullany's apartment, will be restored to its original look with technical assistance provided by the National Park Service, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and RCHS. Troy's Howard & Bush Foundation is underwriting a "furnishings study" of the apartment.

With the additional assistance of Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, the adjacent property at the corner of Eighth and Hoosick streets was purchased by the ALSC. The existing building was demolished making way for the creation of "Kate Mullany Park" honoring trade union women pioneers. Plans for the park will be developed by the ALSC in cooperation with the National Park Service, SHPO, RCHS, the City of Troy and the New York State Department of Transportation.

Completion of both projects will be determined by the nature and scope of the planning process.

Kate Mullany was a true labor pioneer. She helped lay the foundation for all workers, especially women, to build a labor movement that fights to improve the lives of working families. The restoration of the Mullany House and the creation of "Kate Mullany Park" are a fitting tribute to the 19-year-old Irish immigrant and of all of the courageous women who have followed in her footsteps.

Paul F. Cole is the executive director of the American Labor Studies Center. "Troy's Treasures" is a project of the Troy Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (TRIP), Inc.


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