The Great Unboxing: Uncovering Women in Pittsburgh’s Labor History

These objects are from the Rosemary Trump Collection at the University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center. Rosemary Trump was one of the most active women in organized labor in Pittsburgh. In addition to being the first woman president of the Service Employees International Union, she held positions within other unions and organizations. She was also a member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, which was an organization of trade union women associated with the AFL-CIO.


The Great Unboxing: Uncovering Women in Pittsburgh’s Labor History

Museum Studies Interns at the University Library System (University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center) – Spring 2018

After hours of scouring boxes overflowing with records and materials about Pittsburgh’s labor unions, I was frustrated. I knew there were women who took part in these unions. Yet what does one do when there are no traces or mentions of women within the records?

As a great city of industry during the 19th and 20th centuries, Pittsburgh had no shortage of different labor unions. However, this legacy did not necessarily mean that there was a high presence of women within those unions, or that they were represented very well in historical documents. 

As an intern at the University of Pittsburgh’s Archives Service Center, I was assigned the task of researching women within the steel industry of Pittsburgh. This task involved figuring out which archival collections potentially held relevant material on women steelworkers, and then looking through these collections to find this information. 

This task turned into something a bit more focused, as my focus narrowed from women in the steel industry to the topic of women in organized labor. 

Finding information about women in organized labor in Pittsburgh was like searching for a needle in a haystack --but in a good way. There were some collections, such as those of local figures Steffi Domike and Rosemary Trump, that had a great deal of invaluable material. There were many more collections that potentially contained information on women and many of them were promising. However, in the process, there was no guarantee that I would find the information that I was seeking. To verify whether the material was there or not, I had to sort through all the collections with potential leads.

The greatest challenge –as well as the greatest payoff– of my internship was sifting through company records and finding traces of women unionists. I was often happily surprised to find that many women did voice their opinions and become active in their unions. However, sometimes information such as this was disappointingly absent in certain unions, or it was hard to find archival material around the topic. 

Despite these challenges, my internship research culminated in a LibGuide that will be included in the University of Pittsburgh’s Library System. This research is meant to act as a base on which future students will help to create an exhibition on women unionists in the Hillman Library. With the help of the Media Curator, Miriam Meislik, as well as other archivists at the University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center, I was able to start the first step of uncovering the history of women in organized labor in Pittsburgh. This great unboxing is far from complete, but I have gained invaluable experience from it.

Explore the Pittsburgh Women in Organized Labor LibGuide here

Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

  • Academic Interns
  • Undergraduate Work
  • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh