The National Archives and Records Administration holds records created or received by the U.S. Government on issues of labor and labor rights, including records on unions, strikes and responses, debates about women and children in the workplace, and the Government’s role in providing economic security and workplace rights. These records document and detail the struggle to define and assert workplace rights. We not only hold these records, we provide access to them. Search the National Archives Catalog for related records.
Labor and Woman Suffrage
The struggle for labor rights and the fight for woman suffrage often intersected. Portions of our exhibit Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote look at the contributions of working women and labor organizers.
In the early 20th century, young women painted the dials of watches and clocks with radium to create glow-in-the-dark faces. Many of the women, known as Radium Girls, became horribly disfigured, and many died horrible deaths. Learn about these women in "The Radium Girls at the National Archives" and in records in our Catalog.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 caused the deaths of 146 women and inspired reforms in labor practices. Read "A Factory Fire and Frances Perkins," and view photographs of the aftermath of the fire in the National Archives Catalog.
A discussion of labor organizer Bessie Hillman in a recorded author lecture on America’s Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today
Papers of the Women’s Trade Union League and Its Principal Leaders, supported by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission
"From Slave Women to Free Women: Black Women's History in the Civil War Era," an article in Prologue magazine exploring women's labor after slavery.
The Way We Worked
The Way We Worked, a photo exhibition focusing on the history of work in America, was displayed in the Lawrence F. O'Brien Gallery of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, from December 2005 to May 2006. Below are links to photographs and other content related to that exhibition.
Within the Gates, 1930, looks at the employment of women in the textile and garment industries
Labor Day parade in Las Vegas, NV, 1931 (at 1:17)
As the City Sleeps profiles the workers who labor through the night at San Francisco’s wholesale produce market
Records relating to Samuel Gompers (1850–1924) (Gompers was president of the American Federation of Labor and a member of the President's First Industrial Conference in 1919, and the President's Unemployment Conference in 1921
- Letter from American Federation of Labor President Samuel Gompers to Joseph Cannon
- Letter from Samuel Gompers, president of the AFL, to Mr. L. White Busbey
- Samuel Gompers’s correspondence when he chaired the Committee on Labor.
Records relating to The United States of America v. Eugene V. Debs. Debs, a leading member of the Socialist Party, gave an antiwar speech on June 16, 1918. He was indicted for violating the Espionage Act of 1917, convicted, and sentenced to Federal prison. Debs appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, but the earlier verdict was upheld. He was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and campaigned for the Presidency while in jail. In December 1921, President Harding commuted his sentence and he was released. Read "Free Speech on Trial" in Prologue magazine.
Records About Major Collective Bargaining Agreements, 1974–1995. U.S. Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field (so-called “Rackets Committee”) 1/30/57–3/31/60.
Labor-related Records Groups
RG 9 - National Recovery Administration
RG 100 - Records of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
RG 102 - Records of the Children’s Bureau (child labor laws)
RG 150 - National Bituminous Coal Commission
RG 174 - General Records of the Department of Labor
RG 220- President's Committee on Migratory Labor
RG 257 - Records of the Bureau of Labor Statistics
RG 432 - Records of the Economic Stabilization Programs
Pieces of History: The Calutron Girls
Pieces of History: On the Basis of Sex: Equal Pay
Pieces of History: Unratified Amendments: Regulating Child Labor
Pieces of History: Labor Day: Children at Work
Pieces of History: “You Can’t Dig Coal With Bayonets”
Rediscovering Black History: Dr. George Edmund Haynes: Social Crusader in Black Economics
Rediscovering Black History: Historical Background of the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program
Rediscovering Black History: Blogs Related to the Panama Canal
Rediscovering Black History: I too, am Rosie
Text Message: Building a Radio Tower atop Mount Washington
Text Message: Women at Work in the 1950s
Text Message: Documenting Labor Relations
Unwritten Record: International Worker’s Day and the Female Workforce
Unwritten Record: Engraving, Inking, Trimming: The Production of Paper Currency in 1914
Unwritten Record: Images of the Week: Lewis Hine