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You ought to be out raising hell. This is the fighting age. Put on your fighting clothes.
-Mother Jones

Friday July 31, 1914
Chicago, Illinois - Elizabeth Maloney: Indomitable, Alert, Courageous, and Gentle.

Today we offer two profiles of Elizabeth Maloney of the Chicago Waitresses' Union. The first is from the magazine of the Women's Trade Union League, Life and Labor, in which F. M. Franklin discusses Elizabeth Maloney's role in the union, and some of her ideas regarding the organization of waitresses. The second is from The Day Book, wherein Jane Whitaker describes Elizabeth Maloney as "always indomitable, always alert, always courageous, and always gentle." This is the spirit which has lead to the establishment of a fighting organization for the waitresses of Chicago.

From Life and Labor of February 1913:

Elizabeth Maloney And the High Calling of the Waitress
S. M. Franklin

Chicago Waitresses Symbol, Life and Labor, Feb 1913
EW people give even a passing thought to the women or men who stand behind their chairs in restaurants and bring the food that has been ordered.

The better a waitress knows her business the less does she intrude upon the eater's consciousness, for like a good child, it is her part to be "seen, but not heard." The standard of efficiency in her case demands that she must not forget things, that she must be deft and quick, if possible, of good appearance and pleasing in personality. The waitress's role is far more arduous and exacting than drawing-room deportment, as any drawing-room belle would quickly discover upon practical investigation. What it may lack in variety is outweighed by the need of ability to meet frequent emergencies, and it might very well be compared with a long stiff part in a comedy repeated five or six times or more each day.

So if the waitress manipulates her role capably, artistically—in a word efficiently, she is so unobtrusive that the portly drummer and the spare sociologist can indulge their thoughts without fear of soup upon a best coat or distress that the attendant is too tired or too cross to render satisfactory service.

Those unpublic-spirited people who are terrified by any suggestion of social progress, would surely be galvanized into an attack of acute dyspepsia if they could divine what Elizabeth Maloney is planning for the good of the workers as she swiftly places an order. That this section of the Chicago public may swallow its soup in peace, I hasten to announce that she is not behind its chair at present, being much too busy in other ways.

Local 484.

Waitresses' Union No. 484, affiliated with the Hotel and Restaurant Employes' International Alliance, has lately celebrated its tenth anniversary and Elizabeth Maloney has been with the organization as an officer for the whole time, with the exception of one year when she was organizer for the national body. Conditions for waitresses in the past have been barbarous and it was in 1902 that 1,500 joined the union within six months for the purpose of striking for better conditions. This strike accomplished its end, wages were raised two dollars a week and hours reduced from 13 and 14 per day to 10. But the girls did not stick together. Having got temporary relief by a short guerrilla engagement, the union melted away as so many other inexperienced unions have done. Only 35 members visioned the real power, the democracy, of slow, constructive organization.

The meeting that laid the sure foundation of organization among the waitresses of Chicago was quite dramatic. The plucky 35 assumed the responsibility of an existing debt of $200 and stood ready to pawn their little trinkets to meet it. One of them offered her own room in the event of the union not being able to afford any other place of meeting.

It was at this crisis that Elizabeth Maloney (at that date a very young girl for such a task), took hold and in two months the organization numbered 100. At the end of three months the debt was paid off and the waitresses established a credit which has ever since been A1 at Lloyd's.

Having accomplished so much as a foundation, the waitresses proceeded to raise the standard of the work and the workers, "to make it a real trade by which any girl might be proud to earn her living," observes Miss Maloney. She takes a wholesome pride in her own competence, as well she might, for she can remember all the garnishings of eight orders at once, can stack them on a tray and has the enviable strength and agility to carry them across a slippery and crowded dining room floor. And that is a feat that would inevitably land the unskilled in an indescribable mess, to say nothing of the plight of the innocent by-sitter.

Old Conditions and New.

Ten years ago a very different class of people followed the calling. As Miss Maloney asks, "What could you expect of a girl who stood on her feet for 13 or 14 hours a day, who got only $5 or $6 a week, who had no one to stand behind her, and, when she did have a rare day off, had nowhere to go?"

Yes. what can we expect of such a martyr, and what can we think of the stupidity—of the inefficience, of a public that cannot manage its affairs more creditably than that!

Perhaps there is no work—not even selling shoes, which is a sizzling little job in its way -which is so surrounded by irritations as serving people with their food. In reasonable doses almost any work is a joy, but after long wearing hours there can be nothing more liable to fill a person with a sense of revulsion than to see people feeding and feeding, endlessly, one after another. The long-suffering waitress soon comes to term it stuffing and stuffing, and sometimes she adds, "to beat the band." Then, people who are quite pleasing in many other relations of life will frequently exhibit a very obnoxious facet of their character when they come to sit at a public table. The customer is cross, he transmits his ill-humor to the waitress, the waitress under heavy pressure in the grand rush of the busiest hour, passes it on to the cook and his lieutenants, and in the form of strong language it has often added to the crash and clatter of great kitchens at serving time.

Chicago Waitresses at Labor Day Parade, Life and Labor, Feb 1913
The use of coarse language is nothing but a bad habit like gum-chewing or smoking and the waitresses set out to eliminate it in their union. It is in their contracts that no employer shall use to them language that is offensive, the girls on their side are pledged to refrain from any speech unbecoming a union woman. This union standard is very high. It makes other demands that many women eligible to enter a fashionable club could not fulfill, for to start with, it is drawn up for women who earn a self-respecting living by useful work.

To arrive at these standards, what do you think that these girls did? They had recourse to something of deeper educational beauty than a curriculum of mere "don'ts" and "mustn'ts." They bought a reproduction of the Sistine Madonna and placed it on their walls.

"There!" said the leaders, "There is woman on her highest plane. You can all see what woman can be and learn to respect yourselves accordingly."

It had a splendid effect.

Any waitress today who thinks that she needs the tonic of picturesque language is disciplined by not being allowed to wear her button where it can be seen. If she is going to disgrace it by bad words, she must wear it out of sight. Once, many dubious women made waiting a blind for a sad profession because it gave them an opportunity of meeting men. Today no woman of such tendencies can stay in the organization. She cannot afford the healthful publicity that comes through organization. The fellowship of the union, the protection it affords innocent girls against insult and injustice is just what cannot be risked by those whose deeds are shady.

Chicago Waitresses Union, Carrie Alexander, Life and Labor, Feb 1913
Many waitresses are lonely roomers and there are grey hawks of temptation ever ready to swoop down on loneliness. To save the girls from the dangers of the nobody-to-know and nobody-to-care feeling, the waitresses early inaugurated a sick benefit fund. If a girl is ill, money for room rent or other necessaries is readily forthcoming and no member can fall into bad standing through inability to pay her dues while sick. The dues are 75 cents a month, but if a girl falls ill, her card is stamped up and returned to her and she can pay arrears at her leisure when she goes back to work.

Today the Chicago Waitresses' is one of the livest organizations in town, as may be sensed upon calling at headquarters, 35 South Dearborn Street. Knicknacks and many pictures of conventions, parades, etc., brighten the walls of the office and give it an inviting, lived-in aspect. On the floor below are two rest rooms maintained for the use of members of the "Waitresses' Union by the Junior League, an organization of young women who don't have to earn a living, but who, getting into stride with the times, have a sensible interest in their sisters who do.

In the winter of 1912, the Juvenile Protective Association made an investigation of 50 Chicago hotels of various grades for the purpose of ascertaining the exact conditions endured by waitresses and hotel help. The facts brought to light so impressed Mrs. Joseph T. Bowen that she was instrumental in getting the Junior League to utilize their resources in this very practical way. It is just splendid for girls employed down town in a trade with broken hours. The matron in charge is Mrs. Lind, capable and much beloved. One room contains half a dozen beds. Any member is supplied with clean linen and tucked in like a little girl, to be called at the hour she sets. The other room is furnished with a sewing machine and so forth. Here the girls can make their clothes, and much beautiful fancy work is generally in evidence—an expression of the artistic which always flowers in any circle where girls have a little leisure.

Any waitress in Chicago who does not belong to this group is not awake to her advantages.

One of the reasons girls take to waiting so readily is because it requires hardly any apprenticeship and in spite of hardships, a girl can live by it if she is so determined, because she gets her meals. A house is very bad where a girl cannot get something decent to eat. It is preferable to domestic service because waitresses work in groups instead of the dreary isolation of private houses, and if girls belong to the union, their work does not include so much of dirty drudgery as either house or kitchen work. It also affords an opportunity of seeing the country and to the healthy girl offers a spice of that freedom and adventure which has a deathless appeal to youth and energy.

Chicago Waitresses Union, Elizabeth Maloney, Jennie Goulding, Life and Labor, Feb 1913
Public Work.

Elizabeth Maloney is a member of the executive board of the Women's Trade Union League of Chicago and chairman of the League's legislative committee. She was chairman of the League's state campaign committee with Agnes Nestor as secretary, when the organized working women, with the aid of certain allies, obtained the ten-hour law for the women workers of Illinois.

It was the waitresses who drafted the original eight hour bill with which this notable campaign began. At the time of the first sortie in 1909, the waiters' national organization contributed $100 towards the fund and the state branch gave $50, while Elizabeth Maloney and Anna Willard Timmeus (then president of the Waitresses') each gave nine weeks of their time without pay to watch the progress of the bill through the Springfield legislature. This was real public service on their part, as waitresses were not even included in the first bill, and the ten-hour law, finally won for most trades, had been enjoyed by the organized waitresses long before.

Miss Maloney is not only anxious to pass a bill, she keeps a critical eye on its enforcement. The day before I managed to get a little of her time, she had been one of a small deputation of trade union women who had called upon the judge who handles the cases of violation of the ten-hour law in the Court of Domestic Relations. It was a friendly call on the part of the girls to inquire how their beloved law, which has cost them so much money, time and energy, was being interpreted, but upon the amused testimony of the entire deputation I learned that the judge was so overcome
by an outbreak of choler and hysteria that he could not be approached. He had, in fact, to rush out of sight, and it might be well for him to learn something of self-control before women get the vote lest they may consider him too emotional to continue interpreting the law.

Accumulating Good Results.

A capital result of the ten-hour day for women has been the organization of the cooks of the Chicago hotels. After several of the first class houses had been fined for working the kitchen help overtime the managers went to the chefs and warned them not to work the least of the dish washers more than ten hours a day, as it was a costly proceeding. This made the chefs think. Men of their skill, earning from $150 a month to $5,000 a year, had to work twelve or fourteen hours a day, while the most exploited, the most unskilled and helpless little six-dollar-a-week scrub girls were protected by the "Girls' Bill."

Elizabeth Maloney deemed it a psychological moment for action. She has the energy of   squirrel and the courage of deep convictions, so arming herself with a circular in divers tongues she knocked on the kitchen doors of many of the best hostelries that the city affords. The mission could not have been entrusted to a man for fear of his being ejected as a '' buttinsky.'' I should hate to have to entrust my precious digestion to the culinary products of men too dull to appreciate little Elizabeth Maloney. Thank progress, I don't have to, for the gallantry of the chefs let her pass unchallenged and hearkened to her common sense so that in due time, on a pouring evening, there was a packed meeting addressed by John Fitzpatrick and Louis F. Post.

A union was formed on the spot, with Elizabeth Maloney as Secretary and Treasurer. She let no grass grow under her feet while enlarging this union, having overcome the difficulty of the many languages by giving her speech in English to an apt understudy, who gave it out again in French or Italian, as the occasion demanded, and with a friend of Miss Maloney conversant in the same language listening—just to keep tab.

This union is now on a firm pair of feet, having 200 members and a tidy sum in its treasury, and Elizabeth Maloney, as Seventh Vice-President of her National organization, recently had the pleasure of installing the officers. The previous evening she had installed another set of officers and had addressed the Chicago Waiters' Association, the first woman who has ever done so. She is busy at present on a special organizing campaign, and one of the old restaurants which objects to the union, nevertheless, under the pressure of the improved conditions which Elizabeth Maloney and her colleagues win for their fellow workers, has given its waitresses a dollar a week raise.


"What do you think about tips?" I inquired.

I'm in favor of doing away with them if we could have $15 a week wages. Give us a just wage and we don't want charity. The Waitresses' Union always deplores that the girls' wages have to come out of the patrons.
"And what do you want now?" I asked. Promptly came the reply. Miss Maloney is a bright and practical dreamer:
I want the licensed employment offices abolished and free ones under the State opened in their place, the same as in California. I want the eight-hour day, a minimum wage scale and votes for women all over the United States. If you don't look a little ahead you'll never get anywhere.
She had indeed just been spending three hours in conference with a lawyer who is engaged in drafting a tentative minimum wage measure.

And Elizabeth Maloney of the neat, trim figure and the earnest brown eyes has bigger dreams than these mere concrete laws, and she seeks to bring about a little of the ideal with a dauntless courage, a spirit, and go, and with that integrity of character for which women with such surnames as she possesses have made their nation famous.

Chicago Waitresses Union, What Organization Can Do, Life and Labor, Feb 1913

From the May 12, 1914 edition of The Day Book:


Just as we are forced to admire heroes by a very knowledge that they are more brave than the rank and file, so we are forced to admire leaders, whether leaders of men or of women, because they possess some controlling force, some dominant characteristic that the rest of us lack.

Sometimes, in a mean spirit of envy, we say that it is only opportunity that has made them leaders and that we would have occupied the position as well had the opportunity come to us.

But I do not think that is true, and the more one studies the character of these people  who lead, the more one is compelled to admit that had opportunity not knocked at their doors they would have gone out and found opportunity and throttled it to do their bidding.

Two of the leaders who have won my great admiration are Carrie Alexander, president of the Waitresses' Union, and Elizabeth Maloney, secretary, business agent and international organizer of the same union.

Carrie Alexander is a very young woman, but she will tell you with a smile that she has been a waitress since she was twelve, when she started by washing silver and glassware because she was the oldest of ten fatherless children.

She is the type of girl you would pick out of any assemblage as an unusual woman; she has an expression about her mouth and her eyes that somehow tells you she is not one of those who follow where others lead.

And yet if you should listen to her dealing with the girl strikers who are doing picket duty you would be amazed at her softness, at her solicitude, until you heard her laugh in that "understanding" way that lets you know that beneath her desire for the success of this battle for organization and a decent living wage lies sympathy with the girls who must go out on the street, endure the gaze of the curious, listen silently to the taunts of strikebreakers and sometimes the obscene remarks of cowardly men.

Before I knew Elizabeth Maloney personally I had listened to her address several meetings of the State street and the Milwaukee avenue store girls when they were attempting to organize.

I had admired then her clear, keen cut advice to them, her scorn of any compromise, her call to their courage that always won applause and renewed effort.

But only after I knew her personally did I discover that she works harder than any woman I have ever known.

She seems to be tireless. Whether she is fighting down at Springfield for legislation to help working girls, or whether she is meeting employers and endeavoring to persuade them to grant a living wage without the necessity of a battle, or whether she is denying that the blackest defeat is defeat at all, she is always indomitable, always alert, always courageous, and always gentle.

Elizabeth Maloney first came into the union through the strike of the waitresses and cooks at the Fair in 1907. That strike was lost and she became secretary of the Waitresses' Union. She has held that position ever since with the exception of six months, when she went out of the work, only to find the call too strong for her, and she returned.

Of the strikes she has been through, one, like the Henrici and the Knab strikes, seemed  almost lost because of the action of judges in deciding against labor and for the employers.

That was a strike in a restaurant in the Board of Trade Building and it lasted three months, but, in spite of the injunction granted by a judge, the restaurant keeper lost and the restaurant was organized.

The next strike was at 352 W. Madison street in February, 1913, and the last big one, the result of which is still in doubt, is the Henrici strike, and Elizabeth Maloney does not believe that that strike is lost.

Strikes, however, though they are the battles that come to the attention of the public, are not the hardest battles that Elizabeth Maloney has waged in behalf of working women.

Over a hundred restaurants signed up with the union, which means that they agreed to pay girls $8 a week and give them one day of rest in seven, and Elizabeth Maloney played a leading part in winning these battles.

And I haven't the least doubt that before either of these girls are through with the waitress situation in Chicago the Restaurant Keepers' Association of wealthy employers will go down to defeat, for these girls are fighting a clean fight and they do not know the meaning of the word "defeat," while the restaurant keepers are waging a contemptible battle to keep workers in slavery at starvation wages.



Life and Labor, Vol 3-4
National Woman's Trade Union League of America
Chicago, 1913-1914

The Day Book
(Chicago, Ill.)
 -of May 12, 1914

See also:


Illinois+The Day Book+Elizabeth Maloney

Illinois+The Day Book+Waitresses Union

1). Symbol for Chicago Waitresses Union
2). Chicago Waitresses at Labor Day Parade
3). Carrie Alexander and Anna Willard Timmeus
4). Elizabeth Maloney and Jennie Goulding
5). "What Organization Can Do"

I Am A Union Woman-Deborah Holland

We are many thousand strong
And I am here to say
We are getting stronger,
And stronger every day

                  -Aunt Molly Jackson


Originally posted to Hellraisers Journal on Thu Jul 31, 2014 at 11:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Sexism and Patriarchy, Shamrock American Kossacks, In Support of Labor and Unions, Anti-Capitalist Chat, and History for Kossacks.

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