I cannot believe it has already been six years since I wrote my capstone project at university. I still remember all the work that went into it. I traveled back and forth from my university and Detroit. I spent hours in the Detroit Public Library archives combing over newspaper articles from the 1930s. I visited museums in Hamtramck and found the inspiration for my story. I was reading over it again recently and I realized I had not published this work anywhere. I posted a brief summary as one of my first blog posts on this page, but there is so much more detail in my final product. I want to continue to share the story of these incredible Polish-American women and their fight for survival during the Depression. It is local history that takes place mostly in Hamtramck and Detroit, MI. It started as a small, community driven strike, but became so much larger and started a national conversation about the corruption of certain industries and workers rights. I have included the link for my entire capstone paper at the end of this blog post.
A short summary:
My capstone project: War Against the High Cost of Living: How a Community of Polish-American Women Fought to Better Their Lives. This paper is focused on a housewife, Mary Zuk, who organized and lead many of the women-lead protests in Hamtramck against the high cost of meat during the Great Depression (1930s). It highlights how it was the housewife who truly held the family together. They were often the key to the financial management of the household. Their careful budgeting helped the family survive during long periods of their spouse’s unemployment. It was the women who took the daring step from the private sphere to the public sphere to fight for their families and make active change. The women were united, stubborn, and strong. They would not take no for an answer. They risked arrest and sometimes had to take forceful measures to get their point across. They had to fight through adversity as the media described them as “unfeminine and Amazons” in an attempt to undermine their cause. They were not taken seriously due to their sex.
The women did successfully lower some of the meat prices at local shops in Hamtramck. They increased their knowledge of labor politics and started reaching higher with their demands. These local women made it all the way to D.C. to confront President Roosevelt with their written petition. They demanded an investigation of the meat packer companies for profiteering and 20% reduction on all meat prices. It was the meat packers who were price gouging and hurting local butchers, livestock farmers, and the working class family. They did their research and started a new conversation nationwide about the corruptness of the meat packing industry. Though the women were not entirely successful in achieving their demands, they were an inspiration to others. In 1937, Polish women led cigar strikes for better working conditions and wages in the cigar factories. They also influenced other men and in women in other industries and ethnic groups to take a stand against unfair working conditions (auto strikes, Woolworth strikes, etc.). There was national attention on the Polish-American women strikes in the Detroit area as the New York Times would regularly report on it. They proved that the housewife was a key interest group and Mary Zuk went on to have a brief political career herself (1936 First Women elected to the Hamtramck City council). Their story has been hidden for years now, but this project brings their achievements to the forefront.
If you are interested, please take a look as I have attached the PDF file here: