Atlanta officials thought no one would contest their claims of a “willing” labor force ahead of the big International Cotton Exposition heading their way.
That’s when an unexpected group of Black women stepped forward to air out the city’s dirty laundry.
In July 1881, 24 fed up laundresses formed The Washing Society to fight against the insulting pay ($4-8/MONTH) earned for the backbreaking labor that handwashing mountains of soiled clothing, diapers, and sheets seven days a week entailed.
When early demands fell through, the women raised the stakes.
Within three weeks, 30,000 more women joined their ranks. The society’s all out strike impacted so many households that politicians, councilmen, even police started intimidating the women with arrests, fines, and licensing fees.
Still, the women would not budge!
Their letter to the mayor stated, “We can afford to pay these licenses, and will do it before we will be defeated, and then we will have full control...at our [OWN] prices...We mean business this week or no washing.”
The public agreed to new wage terms and soon other exploited workers like cooks, maids, hotel attendants, and nurses led similar resistances.
Let’s find inspiration from the Atlanta Laundress Strike to know our worth and fight for it.