© 2013 Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell
Jennie Matyas and the ILGWU: An
Oral History., 1955-1955
Gilb, Corinne L.
0.5 linear ft.
Forms of Material:
Articles, reprints, pamphlets, correspondence,
Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and
Archives, Cornell University Library
The collection consists of oral history interviews conducted
with Jennie Matyas.
Collection material in English
ILGWU ORGANIZATIONAL HISTORY
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).
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
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.
The collection consists of a bound volume of oral history interviews of Jennie Matyas
Charters conducted by Corinne L. Gilb for a project to gather source material on
California's cultural history. The interviews were tape recorded at Matyas' home in
Marin County, California on April 20, May 5, June 14, June 29, July 26, August 9,
and October 28, 1955. Topics discussed by Matyas and reflected in the table of
contents include: early life in Hungary, coming to America, working in the garment
factories at the age of 14, joining the union and her early activities with the
union, discussions on socialism, women's suffrage and the communist infiltration,
organizing, the union in California, and her continuing education.