Leonora O'Reilly


Leonora O'Reilly


Leonora O’Reilly had a hand in umpteen important organizations of the Progressive Era. She was a founder of the Consumers League, the Women’s Trade Union League, and the NAACP, to name a few. “Leonora O’Reilly attracted people like a magnet.” - B.Wertheimer ☘️🧵

Born in New York City, Leonora’s mother Winifred took her to labor meetings as an infant. Leonora worked in a factory from 13. She joined the Knights of Labor at 16. (Mother/Daughter 👇)

In 1886, as a teenager, she founded her 1st organization: the NY Working Women’s Society.

The Society helped pass the nation’s first factory inspection law.

O’Reilly was a gifted recruiter. She brought many activists and benefactors into the movement for labor reform, including Josephine Shaw Lowell and Mary & Margaret Dreier. In 1890 she founded the Consumers League of NY, which later became a national power, passing protective laws under Florence Kelley’s lead.

In 1897 O'Reilly founded a local of the United Garment Workers. In 1903 she was a founding board member of the Women’s Trade Union League.

O’Reilly was terrific on the stump: “the League’s most famous orator.” For 23 years she fit her activism around full-time factory work, until WTUL paid her to travel and lecture. 1909-1910,

“Leonora O’Reilly gave a speech almost every day for the League or some affiliated cause.” She co-founded the NYC Wage Earners Suffrage League w/Clara Lemlich. It was a space for working women only - not society benefactors. In 1912 O’Reilly testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, delivering “plainer speaking than the committee had ever heard from a woman.”

“There are 8 million of us in the US who must earn our daily bread. You have been making laws for us and the laws you have made have not been good for us. We working women want the ballot as our right. You say it is not a right but a privilege. Then we demand it as a privilege.” 


Daily Suffragist







Daily Suffragist, “Leonora O'Reilly,” Daily Suffragist, accessed July 22, 2024, https://dailysuffragist.omeka.net/items/show/275.

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