Leonora O’Reilly

Lived:February 16, 1870—April 3, 1927 (aged 57)
Education:Pratt Institutue

Leonora O’Reilly was a labor leader, trade union organizer and suffragist.

O'Reilly was born February 16, 1870, in New York City to working class Irish immigrant parents. Her father died when she was one year old, and her mother supported the family by working long hours as a garment worker and taking in boarders. As a child, O'Reilly attended union meetings with her mother. At age 11, she was forced to leave school to work in a factory as an assistant to a seamstress, and at 16, she became a union member herself when she joined the Knights of Labor. The same year (1886), she formed the Working Women’s Society to help found trade organizations, increase wages and shorten working hours. In 1888, she joined the Comte Synthetic Circle, a social theory study group.

In 1894, O'Reilly was invited to join the Social Reform Club by Louise Perkins, a women’s activist and philanthropist. In 1897, with the financial support of Perkins and other wealthy philanthropists, O'Reilly took a year off from her factory job to focus on labor reform. During that year, she and her mother lived at the Henry Street Settlement. She ran a young boys’ club and established and ran a model garment workers’ cooperative. In 1898, she enrolled in domestic arts courses at the Pratt Institute, graduating in 1900. After working as head resident at the Brooklyn settlement Asacog House from 1899 to 1902 and teaching sewing through the Alliance Employment Bureau, O'Reilly taught at the Manhattan Trade School for Girls from 1902 to 1909.

In 1903, O’Reilly co-founded the Women’s Trade Union League. From 1903 to 1915, she served on the executive committee and worked as an organizer and recruiter for the WTUL, frequently speaking in public for labor reform and women’s suffrage. In 1909, she helped organize the New York city strike nicknamed the "Uprising of the 20,000," and she was instrumental in using the tragic 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire to build support for factory safety reforms. In 1911, she also organized the Wage Earners' League for Woman Suffrage, serving as its president from 1911 to 1912, and was appointed as the chair of the Industrial Committee of the Woman Suffrage Party. In 1915, she served as the trade union delegate to the International Congress of Women at The Hague. In 1919 she again served as the trade union delegate at the International Congress for Working Women in Washington, D.C.

O'Reilly also supported the rights of African Americans, and in 1909 was one of the people who signed the call for the National Negro Conference which lead to the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She also served on the first NAACP General Committee.

O'Reilly died on April 3, 1927.