Margaret Dreier Robins (1886–1945): American Labor Leader and Advocate for Women’s Rights
Born in Brooklyn to prosperous German immigrants in 1868, in her teens Robins suffered from physical ailments which left her depressed and weak. She was privately educated. At age nineteen, she began doing charity work at Brooklyn Hospital and soon became involved in other progressive causes. She met the reformer Josephine Shaw Lowell in 1902 and through Lowell joined in the Woman’s Municipal League, an organization that helped women avoid prostitution. Another collaborator was Frances Kellor, with whom she founded the New York Association for Household Research that provided lodging and placement for women domestic workers.
In 1904, increasingly interested in workers’ rights, Dreier joined the Women’s Trade Union League, then only a small, budding organization. She became the president of its New York chapter in 1905; president of the Chicago chapter 1907-1914; and treasurer of the national organization and rose quickly in its ranks. In 1907, she was elected president of the national organization and began a fifteen-year tenure as its leader. Meanwhile, she married the lawyer and social worker Raymond Robins in 1905.
As president of the League, Robins helped organize women into unions, educate women workers, and advocate for progressive legislation. She created a Training School for Women to educate women workers about organizing and leadership skills. She supported and became active in a number of well publicized strikes, most notably the International Ladies Garment Workers’ strike in 1910. She pushed for protective legislation limiting the hours of women’s work, and she presided over the League during its most influential period.
She served on the executive board of the Chicago Federation of Labor after 1908, and in 1915 was appointed to the unemployment commission by the governor of Illinois.
In 1924, Dreier retired from her activist work and moved with her husband to Florida. She died in 21 February 1945.
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