The Working Women’s History Project (WWHP) is the successor organization to the 1995 Women & Labor History Project (WLHP) which was begun to research and publicize stories of Chicago women who had been active in the labor movement.
About Women and Labor History Project
WLHP researched, wrote, and produced dramas about historical Chicago women who had made significant contributions on behalf of working people. These were performed at our own galas, in schools, colleges, at other public venues, for labor unions, and on CAN TV. For some we wrote curricula to assist classroom teachers whose students attended productions.
WLHP also created workshops to teach union women to write their own stories, participated in conferences for teachers to bring women’s history into the classroom, and collaborated in holding roundtable discussions on issues affecting working women. WLHP introduced “Working Women’s Stories,” a newsletter promoting education on the role of women and labor in Chicago’s history.
The idea for WLHP was born at a workshop on Women and Labor History in Chicago chaired by Yolanda “Bobby” Hall at the Fourth Annual Teaching Women’s History Conference for K-12 Teachers. Kathlyn Miles, an actor, had the idea of creating theatrical vignettes that would tell the story of one or more women who had been active in labor history and presenting these vignettes to the public.
About Working Women's History Project
When incorporating as a 501(c)(3) organization in 2003, the organization changed its name to the Working Women’s History Project in order to reflect interest in all working women—living as well as dead—and modified its focus to include activist Chicago women working in social justice movements beyond the labor movement.
One of our first acts as WWHP was to publish Working Without Uniforms: School Nursing in Chicago 1951 – 2001 by Helen Ramirez-Odell, a book of oral histories on Chicago Public School Nurses. Together with the Women’s Rights Committee of the Chicago Teachers Union, we have published single-page pieces on Women’s Labor History in Chicago.
WWHP continues to write and produce dramas with a broader focus than just workplace equity. For example, in 2009, we celebrated the lives of early Chicago female attorneys; in 2016, we produced a play celebrating the life of the founder of the National Retired Teachers Association and later of AARP; and in 2013 and 2018 we produced a play about women’s suffrage.
However, we continued our traditions of researching the lives of women who worked for workplace equity: Addie Wyatt, Margaret Haley, Katie Jordan, and creating performance pieces about them. Every performance piece is accompanied by speakers who discuss contemporary issues raised in the performance piece.
The first project was “Come Along and Join,” a play written by Miles about union women. She received an advance from Chicago CLUW (Coalition of Labor Union
Women) to research and write it. A curriculum was also developed around the play for use in schools. The play was shown with great success to the general public, to unions, and to schools and colleges.
There followed performance pieces that included stories about Lillian Herstein, Agnes Nestor, Alice Peurala, Florence Criley, Sylvia Woods, and Vicki Starr, all followed by speakers who related the performance piece to contemporary issues.
By the year 2001 members of WLHP felt that they needed to begin a new organization to
tell stories of activism by women that went beyond labor history and that included stories of living women.
We also stage conferences in which women tell their own stories; share stories through our e-newsletter Working Women, and use Facebook to bring others into the conversation. In 2010 our work was recognized when we received an award from the Regina Polk Foundation at the U. of Illinois at Chicago.
In 2013 WWHP enlarged its focus to include stories of working women who need child care, and of those who provide it. We videotaped interviews with women working in the field as well as women who used child care in order to be able to work. The interviews, videotaped and transcribed, are on Google Drive and available to qualified interested parties. A play based on those interviews, HANDLE WITH CARE, was written by Tracy Walsh, ensemble member of Lookingglass Theater through WWHP’s partnership with the Theater’s Civic Practice Lab.
© 2018—Working Women's History Project
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