Before women even had the right to vote, Augusta Lewis Troup was a pioneering labor leader and education activist. She founded the Women’s Typographical Union of New York and was the first women to hold office in the all-male International Typographical Union. When she moved to New Haven, she helped found a newspaper through which she advocated for women and the minority population and also became a teacher and a member of the Board of Education.
Augusta Lewis was born in 1848 in New York and was orphaned in infancy. Raised in the home of a wealthy Wall Street broker, she was educated by private tutors and in the Brooklyn Heights Seminary. The depression that followed the Civil War severely changed her financial position and, shortly after finishing her education, Lewis entered the newspaper industry, contributing articles to many New York papers including the New York Tribune. She also worked for Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s The Revolution, a suffragist publication.
While exploring different facets of the industry, Lewis learned typesetting, serving as an apprentice at the New York Era and New York World publications. It was in this role that she began to see the terrible inequality facing women in the newspaper industry where female typesetters were paid much less than their male counterparts. In 1867, when the male typesetters union called a strike, women were brought in to replace them and were paid at a lower rate. When the men returned to work, the women were quickly fired.
The following year, she decided that women typesetters needed to organize their own labor unions in order to advocate for equal pay and better working conditions. In 1868, Augusta Lewis founded the first trade union for women in New York City, the Women’s Typographical Union (WTU) Local No. 1. She advertised for members in The Revolution, and the organization grew quickly. In 1869, she represented the WTU at the International Typographical Union (ITU) conference being held in Albany where she successfully lobbied the all-male ITU to allow her WTU to join. In 1870, she was elected corresponding secretary of the ITU, becoming the first woman to hold office in an international trade union.
In 1872, Augusta Lewis married well-known labor leader Alexander Troup, a member of the Typographical Union No. 6, and the couple moved to New Haven, Conn. Together, the Troups founded the New Haven Union, a paper dedicated to women’s suffrage, union organization and the rights of women and ethnic minority groups. Augusta Lewis Troup also became a teacher in the New Haven schools and an outspoken member of the Board of Education who advocated for teachers’ rights and the importance of education. In 1911, she successfully established the New Haven Teachers’ League and lobbied the state of Connecticut for the provision of pensions for public school teachers.
Troup passed away on September 14, 1920, just over a month after the last state ratified the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. To honor her legacy of local activism and advocacy, in 1926, the City of New Haven dedicated a school in her honor. The Augusta Lewis Troup School was renovated and re-dedicated in 2008.
During This Time
1800 - 1920: Industrialization & Reform
When the Declaration of Independence announced that all men are created equal, the path to citizenship for both blacks and women had begun. Despite not having the right to vote, women had long petitioned governors and legislatures to articulate a family grievance. Activist women presented to the U.S. Congress a large-scale innovative petition on behalf of abolition. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is widely credited with stirring public opinion, especially among women, to anti-slavery sentiments. Helped by women’s efforts, abolitionists eventually secured their goal in the three post-Civil War amendments.
Work in activities such as anti-slavery, temperance and moral reform led some middle-class women to the cause of women’s rights. They challenged the ideal of “separate spheres,” insisting on the same rights to life, liberty, property, and happiness as men. Through Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s lobbying, New York gave women control over their property, wages, and children. In 1848, Stanton and others met in Seneca Falls to discuss the “repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman.” The resulting Declaration of Sentiments asserted that “woman is man’s equal.”
The early industrial economy had changed women’s lives. Textile production shifted from home to factory towns where farm daughters hoped wage labor would open new opportunities. Arrangements seemed ideal, until declining profits caused owners to slash wages to reduce costs. Lowell women walked out in 1836, and later petitioned the legislature to investigate deteriorating conditions. The labor force also changed as more immigrants arrived, delegated to poorly paid factory and domestic work.
In the Progressive Era, some benevolent women were committed to helping working-class women, and their needs received increased publicity after the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in 1911. Others addressed civic concerns, established settlement houses, worked for protective labor legislation, and tried to ban child labor. Clerical work in offices opened up as a desirable field for women, and some gained greater entry into various professions, including medicine, law, social work, nursing, and teaching.
Determined suffragists persisted in their political protests even after World War I broke out in 1914. Finally, seventy-two years after the Seneca Falls convention, employing new tactics and strategies, and a long, hard struggle at the state and national levels, the elusive goal was reached. The 19th amendment, proposed by Congress and ratified by the states in 1920, prohibited restrictions on the right to vote based on sex. It was one of the most successful mass movements in the expansion of political democracy in American history.
An important expression of feminism (calling for change in women’s private lives, not in their public roles) was the campaign in favor of access to birth control. Nurse Margaret Sanger spoke and wrote on its behalf, though her mailings were judged as violating the anti-obscenity Comstock laws. In 1916, after opening the first birth control clinic in the country, she was arrested and sentenced briefly to jail. For forty years she promoted contraception as an alternative to abortion, foreshadowing Planned Parenthood.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.