Nelly Don: Labor, Unionization, and Community on the Factory Floor
Founded in 1916, the Nell Donnelly Garment Company of Kansas City grew to become a multi-million-dollar enterprise by producing affordable and attractive ready-to-wear clothing for women. Its founder and namesake, Nell Donnelly Reed, was lauded as a fashion innovator, entrepreneur, and employer of women but also faced criticism from organized labor over factory working conditions.
In a discussion of her book Unorganized Women: Repetitive Rhetorical Labor of Low-Wage Workers, 1837-1937, the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Jane Greer taps into a cache of 700 letters written by workers at the Donnelly Garment Company in the 1930s. The correspondence reveals how working women sought to build a collective identity as practical and comfortable as the Nelly Don garments they stitched and why they resisted the organizing overtures of the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union.
Greer is a Curators’ Distinguished Teaching Professor and Digital and Public Humanities Fellow at UMKC, where she also serves as director of the office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship. Her research focuses on the rhetorical performances and literacy practices of U.S. women in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Her presentation is co-sponsored by the Kansas City Athenaeum.