September 27, 1895 (1988) – Jennie Matyas, labor organizer and educator who emigrated from Hungarian Transylvania to Manhattan in 1906, supported equal suffrage, worked to enroll black women in the ILGWU, and organized women in San Francisco
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Born in Hungary in 1895 and after traveling in steerage with her mother and brothers to New York City, Jennie Matyas Charters began work in a garment factory as a child before eventually rising to become one of the first women vice presidents of the ILGWU. She became a member of Waistmakers’ Local 25 in 1910 and during the strike of 1913 was placed in charge of one of the large gathering halls. Matyas went on to become a shop chairperson in every shop she worked and helped establish education activities, but while her union career flourished, she never lost sight of her desire to continue her education.
In 1922, Matyas left the ILGWU to attend college. Having relocated to the west coast, she found herself eager to help the union and began working as an organizer and educational director of the then Pacific Coast Office from 1934 to 1941. Wanting to return to school, at age 47, Matyas enrolled at the University of California and graduated cum laude in economics in 1943. She was soon back to work with the union at the San Francisco Joint Board as education director and elected a vice president and member of the General Executive Board in 1944.
Matyas retired in 1961 and was back in the classroom to receive her teaching credentials In 1970 at 75 years old, she started teaching adult education at a San Francisco community college. Matyas died on January 31, 1988 at the age of 93.
Founded in 1900 by local union delegates representing about 2,000 members in cities in the northeastern United States, the ILGWU grew in geographical scope, membership size, political influence to become one of the most powerful forces in American organized labor by mid-century. Representing workers in the women’s garment industry, the ILGWU worked to improve working and living conditions of its members through collective bargaining agreements, training programs, health care facilities, cooperative housing, educational opportunities, and other efforts.
In 1995, the ILGWU merged with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU) to form the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE).