April 04, 2023

Kate Mullany National Historic Site announces official opening

Author: Molly Belmont
Source:  NYSUT Communications
Kate Mullany house
Caption: Photo by Liza Frenette.

After 35 years of hard work, the Kate Mullany National Historic Site in Troy will officially open to the public this summer.

The grand opening ceremony will take place on Saturday, June 10 from 4pm to 7pm at the historic brick rowhouse where Mullany and her family lived, at 350 8th Street in Troy.

“It will be a big day in my life when that happens,” said Paul Cole, executive director of the American Labor Studies Center. “When it’s all over with, I will breathe a big sigh of relief.”

Cole, one of NYSUT’s founding activists and secretary treasurer emeritus of the state AFL-CIO, has shepherded this project from its infancy, first assembling a proposal for the site to become a National Historic Landmark in 1988 and then lobbying to transform the landmark into one of just 89 official national historic sites. “Someone said to me once, ‘You don’t retire from something, you retire to something.’ And I think that’s what I’ve done with this project,” Cole said.

Cole worked diligently to assemble the funding and support necessary to turn the formerly blighted three-story building in downtown Troy into a fully functioning, restored historic site, with exhibits and a re-creation of Mullany’s living quarters, complete with antique furnishings. The building will also be home to the American Labor Studies Center, where Cole and other labor leaders will help teachers bring the labor movement into their classrooms.

The project has not been without its share of travails, including a car crashing through the rear of the building in November 2020. “We were probably only months away from opening when the car crashed into it,” Cole said. The crash resulted in $158,000 worth of damage, which was only partially covered by insurance. The opening was delayed for nearly two years while Cole raised additional funds to repair the damages.

The opening in June will be complemented by two additional events, a lecture “Rising Worker Power in Troy and Cohoes” on June 15, and a performance of “Don’t Iron While the Strike is Hot,” the musical story of Kate Mullany presented by Cohoes Music Hall on Saturday, June 17 at 2 and 7 p.m.

The historic site celebrates the life and work of Kate Mullany, a young Irish immigrant laundry worker who organized the first all-female labor union, the Collar Laundry Union in 1864.

At the time, Troy was home to the first commercial laundry for collars, and Mullany and her fellow laundry workers washed, starched, and ironed the collars 12 to 14 hours a day; for their troubles, the women earned a scant 3 to 4 dollars a week. When their request for higher wages was turned down, Mullany decided to organize the workers into a union and go on strike. After five days on strike, employers capitulated to their demands and granted them a significant wage increase.

“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.”

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