Sewing for a Cause, 1959

Celebrity endorsements are nothing new.  Here’s a photo of Eleanor Roosevelt, then in her mid seventies, with a needle in her hand. She is meant to be sewing in the new label for the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union. It was part of the 1959 publicity campaign by the union to rebrand its products as a way to combat the expansion of garment production to the non-union South.  Read the fascinating story here.  Although union labels had existed before, this is the beginning of the iconic label and the “look for the union label” jingle that many of us remember from our childhood.

What exactly is Eleanor Roosevelt sewing? It looks like a large white collar.  Might that be why the women closest to her have on white collars? Although the photo is surely staged, the crowd looks genuinely enthusiastic, including young and old.  There are even a few non-white faces in the background.

In the Republican version of the pose, New York State First Lady, Mary Rockefeller, sews on a label.  She’s surrounded by men, Ed Koch and Nelson Rockefeller among them.  Unlike Eleanor Roosevelt, she really looks like she knows what to do with a needle.  Note her little hat—so 1950s.

One could make snarky comments about the photos—the diverse crowd of men and women around the Democrat compared to the wall of white men surrounding the Republican.  However, I choose to see a more positive message.  Isn’t it wonderful that politicians of both parties could unite around the issue of fair wages for garment workers?

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4 Responses to Sewing for a Cause, 1959

  1. eimear says:

    how sad to think now that garment workers do not get the same respect in some places. great photos. Great comparisson on both photos

  2. Nann says:

    Now the Look For the Union Label will be my earworm this morning….but thanks for the link to the backstory.

  3. Bob Moeller says:

    Maybe there’d be room for a post on the 1937 musical, Pins and Needles!

  4. Laura says:

    As a child in the Detroit Metro area, born in 1967, we actually DID look for the union lable when buying coats with my grandparents!

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