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At Work in Saginaw

Robertson Shirtwaist Company
Robertson Shirtwaist Company

When you are again able to visit the Castle Museum, make certain that you explore “Saginaw at Work,” the companion exhibit to “The Way We Worked.” Focusing on the story of labor in Saginaw, this exhibit includes a c. 1919 dress made by the E.A. Robertson Company of Saginaw.

The E.A. Robertson Shirtwaist Company organized in 1897, and incorporated in 1905 with a capital of $100,000. In 1918, the company's factory located at 229 N. Franklin had a reported annual output of 15,000 shirtwaists per year and over 10,000 dress gowns. The firm was the largest concern of its type in the United States outside of New York. It operated until 1930 when it became the Gage Garment Company. The Gage Garment Company went out of business the following year.

During World War I, the E.A. Robertson Shirtwaist Company organized a drill team called the Military Girls. Under the leadership Don P. Toole, a company executive, and Jeanette Southgate Bakeman, the group’s commandant, the Military Girls participated in events and parades.

On the interior of the dresses is a label for the National Consumer League.

During the late 19th century’s Progressive Era, social justice movements emerged to protect the interests and promote justice for working people. As part of that movement, the National Consumers League chartered in 1899 by two of America’s leading social reformers, Jane Addams and Josephine Lowell.  These two women were pioneers in achieving many social reforms in communities and workplaces across the country. Under the direction of its first general secretary, Florence Kelley, the National Consumers League exposed child labor and other scandalous working conditions. Kelley was to become one of the most influential and effective social reformers of the 20th century. Information is according to the National Consumers League website.


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