When Irish laundress and union organizer Kate Mullany worked at a Troy collar factory in the 1860s, cars did not exist. But a car careened into the back of her historic Troy home last November, destroying parts of restoration work spanning three decades.
As a result, the American Labor Studies center is putting a push on its longtime fundraising efforts to restore the National Historic Site home under the guidance of Paul Cole, director. The crash left the second floor in near collapse. The building’s back wall remains boarded and balanced by two-by-fours until engineering plans and insurance claims are complete. Display space for the historic home’s museum exhibits was damaged in the crash, and the first-floor interior was damaged.
“We are rebuilding. This is a unique and important site like no other in the country,” said Cole, a former teacher and secretary-treasurer of the New York State AFL-CIO; former NYSUT Board member and American Federation of Teachers vice president.
Mullany’s legacy is founded on the bold workplace actions she took in 1864, organizing and leading the 300-member Collar Laundry Union, the first sustained all-female union in U.S. history. The women fought for improved wages and for workplace health and safety, which needed vast improvements in a workplace filled with bleach, sulphuric acid, boiling laundry and steam irons.
An Irish immigrant, Mullany was inducted into Labor’s International Hall of Fame in 2016, in a ceremony outside her former home.
The three-story red brick row house that will be a showcase for her history was home to Mullany, her mother and siblings.
“What Kate Mullany did in the time period she was alive is nothing short of extraordinary,” said Jolene DiBrango, NYSUT executive vice president who serves on the board of the American Labor Studies Center. “Her life, work and accomplishments as a pioneer in the labor movement, regardless of her gender but particularly because she was a woman, are simply awe inspiring.” The Collar Laundry Union lasted twice as long as any other women’s union at the time and served as a model, DiBrango said.
“One cannot overstate what she and her fellow female officers created and how many lives they changed for the better. Because of their collective work, wages, conditions and training for working people improved,” DiBrango said.
The Mullany House, a location on the extensive New York State Women’s Heritage Trail, provides an opportunity for people to learn about her brave union efforts for workplace health and safety, and to learn about the ALCS, which strives to promote the teaching and learning of the American labor movement in schools.
Cole pointed out that of the 89 National Historic Sites in the country, “This is the only one in the national park’s history that brings together labor, women’s and immigrants’ history.” In fact, he added, many of the others were homes of the rich and famous.
“It was almost restored with very few things left to do,” Cole said. The third floor contains Mullany’s apartment, “99 percent” restored. Still needed: a Troy-built kitchen stove, circa 1869, and Jenny Lind beds for the four bedrooms, each so small that a modern single bed would not fit.
“It looks exactly as it did when Mullany lived there,” Cole said. Union craftsmen from the Greater Capital Region Buildings and Construction Trades Council are among those who have donated time and talent to recreate the home.
The first floor houses display space on Irish immigrant, labor and women’s history, including posters on successful strikes Mullany led. The second-floor houses ALSC offices.
Donations are urgently needed for costs uncovered by still pending insurance claims. The project, which holds promise as a site for school field trips, has benefitted from the support and the donated labor of many union members.
In 2004, the home received the prestigious designation of affiliated National Historic Site, thanks to the efforts of then-Sen. Hillary Clinton and Rep. Mike McNulty.
Field trips to the home, once it is restored and open to the public, will allow students to see and experience what life was like back then.
HOW YOU CAN DONATE
Make out your tax-deductible check to the American Labor Studies Center and mail it to:
Slocum and DeAngelus, Accountants
974 Albany Shaker Road,
Latham, NY 12110
For more information: www.katemullanynhs.org and www.labor-studies.org.