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Mar 7

Women’s History Month: Josephine Casey, ATU’s first female local officer and convention delegate

Women’s History Month: Josephine Casey, ATU’s first female local officer and convention delegate

As the correspondent for Local 308-Chicago, IL, correctly noted in the March 1904 issue of The Motorman and Conductor, “[T]he only active lady membership of our association is enrolled upon the roster of 308.” Indeed, the first women members did come from Local 308, which was organized in 1902 to represent the employees of the Chicago Elevated Service. In addition to operating crews, track crews and maintenance employees, the work force included station agents who were primarily women.

One of these women was a labor organizer and women’s rights advocate, Josephine Casey. She was a trailblazer for women in the ATU.

The youngest of four children of Irish immigrants, Casey was born in Memphis, TN, and raised in Chicago. As a cashier at the Ashland Avenue station of the Chicago & Oak Park Elevated Railroad, she joined the Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Railway Employees, becoming its recording secretary, and serving as its delegate to the Chicago Federation of Labor.

Casey, became the first woman elected to serve as a delegate to an ATU Convention (the Eighth International Convention in 1903) and a charter member of the Chicago Women's Trade Union League (CWTUL), founded in 1904. 

According to Wikipedia, “She later worked as an organizer for the Boston Women's Trade Union League from 1906 to 1909. She then organized for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers' Union and was a strike leader for garment workers in Kalamazoo, Cleveland, and St. Louis between 1911 and 1914.

“In March 1912, Casey's efforts in Michigan were focused on the concerns of female workers at the Kalamazoo Corset Company including low wages, long hours in unsanitary conditions and sexual harassment from male foreman. Organizers and striking employees gained national attention for silent picketing and prayer meetings in response to a court order to stymie disorderly picket lines. An agreement that fell short of significant wage gains, but marked progress for female workers' rights, was reached on June 12.

“During World War I, Casey opposed women-only labor laws in the South. She was a suffrage activist and worked for the Women's Political Union in New York. In the 1920s she was a champion of the Equal Rights Amendment.

“Following a series of misfortunes, she was earning $5 per week working as a housekeeper. In 1931 the National Woman's Party (NWP) contacted her and sent her to Atlanta to oppose the efforts by the Southern Council and the Cotton Textile Institute to establish sex-based legislation. Her reports were made into a regular column featured in the NWP's weekly bulletin Equal Rights.

As a member of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston and later the Seventh Church of Christ Scientist in New York, Casey refused to seek medical care for heart related issues. She died at her home in New York City on January 27, 1950.