Dallas Garment Workers' Strike

By: Patricia Evridge Hill

Type: General Entry

Published: December 1, 1994

Updated: June 15, 2019

In 1934, 100 Dallas dressmakers joined a grassroots "sewing club" shortly after the Supreme Court declared National Industrial Recovery Act codes stipulating minimum wages and maximum hours unconstitutional. Dallas garment workers who sewed cotton dresses were paid an average of $9.50 a week before October 1933, when the National Recovery Act codes went into effect. Highly skilled silk dress cutters, who earned weekly wages of $35 to $50 in other parts of the country, made as little as $10 to $15 in Dallas. The women of the "sewing club" sought advice from Larry Taylor, president of the Dallas Central Labor Council, who requested an organizer from the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union. Within four months of the arrival of New Yorker Meyer Perlstein, more than 400 of the almost 1,000 dressmakers in Dallas had joined the union. Local dress manufacturers immediately dismissed workers suspected of union activity, and picketing in support of fired union members began in early February of 1935. The walkout quickly spread to all fifteen Dallas factories owned by members of the Texas Dress Manufacturers' Association.

On February 12, as later, pickets attempting to keep strikebreakers from entering a dress factory clashed with Dallas police. Women blocking the doors to Donovan Manufacturing Company bit, kicked, and beat law officers and private guards who escorted scabs into the building. The Dallas Morning News and the Evening Journal supported the police. When, for instance, a law officer tore a union songsheet from a striker's hands and threw her to the pavement with such force that she was hospitalized with a hip injury, the News excused his actions, explaining that the police mistook the songsheet for a court-ordered injunction.

Despite the arrests of at least eighty-six women, the papers continued to print manufacturers' estimates that the strikers numbered no more than fifty. The ILGWU claimed it paid 150. Although depicted as easily led and relatively naive girls, almost half of the pickets arrested during the strike were or had been married.

On the morning of August 7 strikers entered the Morten-Davis and Lorch Manufacturing companies and stripped the clothing from ten female employees. Hundreds of spectators crowded the downtown streets and hung out of nearby office windows to witness the spectacle. "Strike stripping" in Dallas attracted international attention. An Italian artist's sketch of the August melee appeared in La Tribuna Illustrata of Rome. Accounts of the garment workers actions made the New York Times and papers as far away as Australia.

In October local pastors joined the state Industrial Commission's call for an arbitrated settlement. Still Dallas employers would not negotiate. A month later the dressmakers voted to end their walkout. Dallas's longest and most colorful strike ended almost without notice and completely without explanation in the daily newspapers. Despite the dressmakers' initial defeat, the ILGWU maintained its two Dallas locals. Perlstein made frequent trips to Dallas, and by 1936 five local dress plants operated as union shops.

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Patricia Evridge Hill, "Real Women and True Womanhood: Grassroots Organizing among Dallas Dressmakers in 1935," Labor's Heritage, Spring 1994. Patsy Putnam, The International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union in Dallas, 1933–35 (MS, University of Texas at Arlington Library, December 18, 1973).

  • Women
  • Labor
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Patricia Evridge Hill, “Dallas Garment Workers' Strike,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dallas-garment-workers-strike.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994
June 15, 2019

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: