Troup, Augusta Lewis (c. 1848–1920)

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Troup, Augusta Lewis (c. 1848–1920)

American labor union executive. Name variations: Augusta Lewis. Born around 1848 in New York City; died on September 14, 1920, in New Haven, Connecticut; daughter of Charles Lewis and Elizabeth (Rowe) Lewis; educated by private tutors through high school level; attended Brooklyn Heights Seminary; graduated with honors from the convent school of the Sacred Heart in Manhattanville; married Alexander Troup (a newspaper publisher), on June 12, 1874 (died 1908); children: daughters Marie Grace, Augusta Lewis (died in infancy), Jessie (died in infancy), George Bernardine, and Elsie; sons Alexander and Philip.

Worked as a reporter for New York City newspapers; became an apprentice typesetter at the Era; joined typesetting staff at the World; cofounded the New York Working Women's Association (1868); became founder and president, Women's Typographical Union No. 1, New York (1868); was elected corresponding secretary of the International TypographicalUnion (1870), making her the first woman to be elected to an executive position in a national labor union.

Born in New York City around 1848, Augusta Lewis Troup was the daughter of Charles Lewis, an Englishman who had immigrated to New York, and Elizabeth Rowe Lewis , a native of New York. Both of her parents died while she was still an infant, and Augusta, known affectionately as "Gussie," grew up in the home of Brooklyn Heights broker and merchant Isaac Baldwin Gager. Considered frail, she was educated at home by private tutors. She also lived for a time in the home of one of her teachers in Cold Spring, New York. Returning to the city, she attended classes at the Brooklyn Heights Seminary and later studied French, philosophy, and the classics at the convent school of the Sacred Heart in Manhattanville, from which she graduated with honors.

When the depression of 1866–67 forced her to find a way to support herself, Troup, who as a student had shown a gift for writing, took a job as a reporter for the New York Sun. She also earned additional money by selling articles to a number of magazines, including the French-language Courier des Etats-Unis. In time, Troup was drawn to the trade of typesetting, and after an apprenticeship at the Era joined the staff of the New York World. She quickly became expert in her newfound trade, although she continued to work as a reporter as well. (In the latter role, she interviewed Charles Dickens when he visited New York.) Troup soon became recognized as a leader among the nonunionized women typesetters with whom she worked. Late in 1867, the International Typographical Union (ITU) struck at the World, but the women typesetters, none of whom were members of the union, continued to work. However, most of these women were promptly sacked after the strike ended in the summer of 1868. To demonstrate her solidarity with the women typesetters, Troup quit her job and took what work she could find from printing companies which treated women workers equitably.

Convinced that women typesetters needed to organize in order to protect their interests, Troup joined with suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton , who published the suffrage paper The Revolution, in forming the New York Working Women's Association. Proposing to "act for its members in the same manner as the associations of workingmen now regulate the wages, etc., of those belonging to them," the organization was formally launched on September 17, 1868, in the offices of The Revolution. The founders of the association, however, soon found themselves at odds. Stanton wanted the association to throw its support behind the cause of women's suffrage, while Troup feared that the very existence of the group might be jeopardized if women new to organization had to shoulder this additional burden. While Anthony sought the widest possible range of employment opportunities for women, Troup felt association members had to support union loyalty at all costs, even when it meant turning down a job. The underlying disagreement between the association's founders broke into the open in 1869 when typesetters in New York printing shops went on strike. Troup fought to keep association members from scabbing, but Anthony exhorted employers to replace striking male typesetters with women. So acrimonious was the discord between the two that Troup succeeded in blocking the seating of Anthony as a delegate to the National Labor Union convention in Philadelphia in August 1869.

In the month after the formation of the Working Women's Association, Troup, with the support of the ITU's New York Local 6, founded and became president of Women's Typographical Union No. 1. Particularly supportive of the need for a union for female typesetters was Alexander Troup, corresponding secretary of ITU Local 6 as well as the union's national secretary-treasurer, who would later become her husband. In June 1869, Troup, accompanied by Eva Howard , who served as treasurer of the women's local, appeared before the national convention of the ITU to ask for a charter for their union, a request that was granted. However, the women's union never really prospered, for a variety of reasons. Its members steadfastly refused to serve as scabs for striking male ITU members, and nonunion shops would not hire union members. Also, because employers refused to pay women wages equal to those earned by their male counterparts, the presence of these women typesetters working for lower pay presented a significant threat to union scale. Given the growing hostility of ITU members toward the women typesetters, it is somewhat surprising that the national convention of the union elected Troup its corresponding secretary in 1870. During her one-year term, she managed to bring many nonunion women typesetters into the union. About ten years after its formation, the Women's Typographical Union No. 1 was disbanded, and the ITU decided that it would no longer charter women's unions. Before long, however, it began admitting women as fully equal members.

Augusta married Alexander Troup, who had abandoned labor activism to become publisher of the Union, a labor-friendly newspaper in New Haven, Connecticut, on June 12, 1874, in Cold Spring, New York. Troup joined her husband in New Haven, where the couple had seven children, including two who died as infants. Alexander eventually became active in politics, serving as federal tax collector for Connecticut and Rhode Island, a member of the state legislature, and a member of Democratic National Committee. Troup contributed articles to the Union for the rest of her life, and was a strong advocate of women's suffrage. She was also active in local charities, in particular with programs to benefit New Haven's Italian community.

Suffering from heart valve disease, Troup died in New Haven on September 14, 1920. She was buried in the city's Evergreen Cemetery. Several years after her death, New Haven city officials built and named in her honor the Augusta Lewis Troup Junior High School.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.

Don Amerman , freelance writer, Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania