[A Work In Progress]
Jane Street unionized domestic servants at a time when other progressive women were fighting for women's suffrage or leading charitable organizations. Jane Little Botkin presents a full account of the housemaid rebellion, and roles the Industrial Workers of the World, Young Women's Christian Association, and Denver's social elite play in this remarkable story.
Why did I choose this subject? For two reasons. The first is that my seventeen-year-old grandmother, Louise Peterson Little, was such a servant. Only she worked in a mansion in Boulder, Colorado, thirty miles north of Denver. The Boulder housemaids intently observed their sisters’ mutiny as the rebellion spread.
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The second reason is because of Frank Little, my uncle. In researching Frank Little and the IWW, I discovered he not only sympathized with these women, but also helped Jane Street organize, supporting her at a time when male-dominated-union apathy, if not condescension, of women’s labor struggles undermined any real western labor organization. If fact, as this story plays out, certain male union members (not Frank!), under the guise of providing “fatherly direction” to the nascent liberation-de-la-femme uprising, determined that the new union headquarters, its rooms available for out-of-work maids, was their personal smorgasbord, demanding sexual favors of vulnerable girls.
As the housemaids’ uprising develops, akin to a melodrama, a thread of white slavery now entered my research. Enter the YWCA, whose members determined that housewives should “educate” the poor girls in gentility, education, and training; Denver’s Chamber of Commerce; a burglary of the union’s famous index card file; and a fascinating historical story emerges.