Consumers Leagues

views updated May 17 2018


CONSUMERS LEAGUES are voluntary organizations dedicated to securing good working conditions in factories and industry and to promoting the manufacture of safe consumer goods. In 1888 shirtmaker Leonora O'Reilly asked middle-class activist Josephine Shaw Lowell to work with the New York Working Women's Society to enlist middle-class women to help secure better working conditions for women. Two years later the women circulated a "White List" identifying retail stores that treated their employees fairly and asking women to shop only at those stores. In 1890 women formally organized the Consumers' League of New York, with Lowell as its president. An 1898 meeting of representatives of leagues from seven states produced the National Consumers' League (NCL), which in 1899 hired the noted reformer Florence Kelley as its general secretary. Under Kelley's leadership, NCL membership grew quickly: in 1901 there were thirty leagues in eleven states; in 1906 there were sixty-three leagues in twenty states; and by 1913 the NCL had 30,000 members.

From 1899 through the 1930s leagues worked to eliminate goods that were produced under conditions Kelley termed "injurious to human life and health." Leagues demanded maximum-hours and minimum-wage laws and under the leadership of Lucy Mason and Mary Dublin Keyserling the NCL helped enact the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. In the 1970s Keyserling brought the NCL into the pro–Equal Rights Amendment coalition. At the end of the twentieth century the NCL was investigating Internet fraud and leading a national anti-sweatshop taskforce.


Storrs, Landon R. Y. Civilizing Capitalism: The National Consumers' League, Women's Activism, and Labor Standards in the New Deal Era. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.


See alsoFair Labor Standards Act ; Minimum-Wage Legislation .