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Treasures Tour Kate Mullany House

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Remarks by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
Kate Mullany House

Troy, New York
July 15, 1998

I just want to be sure that everyone can see this wonderfulpresentation. It is a detachable collar and a souvenir of Troy, New York-- a postcard -- and it's in this house probably before 1827, the shirtcollars were first made and the collar industry originated by Hannah LordMonteague who lived between 1794 and 1878 -- the engender and manufacturer.So a woman invented the detachable collar as well.

I am so happy to be here and to see all of you this morning. It is agreat pleasure. I want to thank you for gathering for this celebration,and Mayor thank you for being here. I understand that Mayor Pattison isthe first elected mayor of Troy in over thirty years and I am proud to behere with him. I want to thank you for being part of the program thismorning. I know that we all join together with our best wishes and prayersfor Congressman McNulty who was taken to the hospital this morning, but Iam sure that all will be well and I will be calling to check in on himafter the program. I want to thank Laura Kasen, this young woman who justgave me this presentation. She claims Kate Mullany had rushed across thestage college play. I am delighted she could be here.

I also want to thank Mrs. Mary Lou McGuirk, the owner of the KateMullany house. I mean it is a little bit strange to have someone call andsay would you mind if we had a few people over and right in front of yourhouse, because we want to make sure that everyone knows the historicsignificance of it.

I want not only to thank her, but also all the residents of 8th and9th who are out here and are being our host and hostesses. I, too, want tothank Paul Cole, the Secretary Treasurer of the New York State AFL-CIO, hisstaff and all the member unions. I know that there was a lot of work thatwent into this particular day and I am very grateful to all of you. Iwasn't able to hear them play but I saw them as I came in and I want tothank the Albany Police pipes and drums, the Bethel Baptist Church Choirand the Troy Asian Order of Hibernian Pipe Band for their being part of theprogram. Let me especially thank Josephine Sano, the President of theAlbany Central Labor Council. I was delighted when she took out thatdetachable cuff and collar to show us because it is an extraordinary storythat we are here to celebrate today.

You know, when a newspaper claimed, many years ago, that there weren'tenough women in New York to be labor organizers, Kate Mullany saidconfidently: "You show me the women and I'll turn them into organizers."And she did. Now we often don't think of women, a hundred or more yearsago, having that kind of confidence, but there were many such women. Womenwho went out to work every day. You know, I am so surprised when I readstories, as I often do, about how surprising it is that so many women work.Women have always worked- inside the home, outside the home, for as long aswe have been around.

There have been very few women with the talents and vision of a KateMullany. Who was not only working hard for her own family -- as all of ushave done at some point or another-- but she also worked hard to make it possible for other women to havebetter wages and better working conditions so that they too couldcontribute to the well-being of themselves and their own families. That iswhy it is such an honor to be here to participate in this National HistoricLandmark ceremony at the home of someone literally transformed the lives ofwomen in her time and for all times.

It is especially fitting that we would hold this celebration today,because tomorrow I will be in Seneca Falls to celebrate the 150thanniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention. And I'll talk tomorrow abouthow the women who gathered at Seneca Falls 150 years ago were like KateMullany and like so many of us here today; women who were wives andmothers; women who were supporting themselves; women who had nothing thattheir neighbors might point to as extraordinary except they believed thatthey were capable of having a dream and fulfilling it. And when they saidthese words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men andwomen are created equal," they proclaimed the truth, but they wereconsidered radical. They were considered far ahead of their times.

That is an important chapter in American History. On this SaveAmerica's Treasures Tour, I wanted to be sure that we included the historyof all Americans. Too often history is seen as just the stories of greatmilitary victories, or political leaders, and of course that's important.But as the Mayor said, it's not just the steps that are taken, the heroicmeasures that determine a nation's future; we can look to these people --as I did yesterday when I visited George Washington's Revolutionaryheadquarters in Newburgh -- we can look to them with pride, and admiration,and awe, and even affection because of what they have done for us. But wecan never forget that a great country is measured not just by its heroes,or well known people, but it is measured by what all of us do.

I would argue that the real difference between the United States ofAmerica and every nation that has ever existed, is not that we had greatGenerals because others have as well; not that we had great politicalleaders, because others have as well; not even that we had great businessleaders or great creative geniuses, because you can find those in anysociety, in any country throughout time. It is because more than any othereffort in the entire history of human civilization, we have empoweredaverage men and women -- working men and women -- we've given them thereason to believe that they too can make something out of their lives; thatthey can walk and live and work with dignity and confidence. That is whathas made America different; that is what has made America great.

A major part of that story is the history of the labor and women'smovements in our story. Because both the women's movement and the labormovement reached out and included all Americans. Giving hope to people whowere new immigrants; giving hope to people who were former slaves and sonsand grandsons and daughters of slaves. Telling people that if youorganize, if you're part of a community, you can have a claim on theAmerican dream.

When I think about someone like Kate Mullany, I am also just amazed.She was only nineteen years old when she organized 200 women workers toform the Collar Workers Union. She also understood that unless people jointogether and have some common goals we could never achieve our individualdreams. And so when she formed that union she knew she was taking a bigrisk. Because most of the women who went on strike were the solesupporters of their mothers, of their younger siblings or their children.Imagine the commitment to justice and the courage it took to go on strikewhen so many family members depended on them. But because of KateMullany's leadership, they succeeded. They succeeded in getting a 25%increase in wages, putting their wages on par with men's wages--anastonishing achievement for 1864.

In fact she used those increased wages to buy the house we're standingin front of. What an incredible feeling that must have been for this youngwomen to be able to say to her mother, who was widowed, and her youngersiblings, "We're going to be able to have our own house." Now that is partof the American dream, that is what gets so many of us up in the morning;going to work; worrying about our families; caring about our futures. Shealso did something else; she helped to improve the working conditions ofwomen -- who were forced at that time to stand on their feet for eleven tofourteen hours a day, bending over washtubs and ironing tables inoppressive 100 degree heat for about, as Josephine said, two to threedollars a week.

Kate Mullany is an example to all of us. She's one of the women whocomes from the Troy area that we've already heard about, who is really anexample not just for the past but to the present and future. Think of allthe people who have passed through this capital district who have not onlychanged history here, but changed American history as well. HarrietTubman, the Moses of her people, helped bring the fugitive slave CharlesNalle to freedom here. Emma Willard founded the first school to give youngwomen an education equal to that of young men. And I was also impressed tolearn when I was doing my research for this stop that the city of Troyraised $4,000 in taxes to make it possible for Emma Willard to have thatschool. Now that shows foresight even then that investing in education isthe best investment that we can make for people.

We already heard about Hannah Lord Monteague who invented thedetachable collar. I can just imagine what was going through Mrs.Monteague's mind, can't you those of you who have ever ironed a shirt, menand women. It was a lot harder in those days because you couldn't justplug in the iron, you had to heat it up and you had to keep heating it up.And I can just imagine Mrs. Monteague standing there ironing those shirtsbecause she had to wash her husband's entire shirt just to get the collarclean because lots of men's shirts don't get as dirty as their collars do,even today, and she thought there's got to be a better way. So she becamean inventor, and a manufacturer, again when not many women were doing that.And others saw a business opportunity to go forward with that, and that'show we created this great industry that stood on the banks of the riverthat brought so many people here.

I also heard that the first bakery, that still serves the people ofTroy, was invented here because a man named Regional Friehofer saw abusiness opportunity because of the number of women who were working, theydidn't have enough time to bake bread, so he created the opportunity forthem to buy the bread. Now that's the sort of invention that all of us,who have ever been working women, really appreciate. So there's a lot thatwe have to be grateful for the people of Troy.

You know, we're not just celebrating the past; we are thinking aboutthe lessons of the past and what they mean to us today and in the future.When the President and I started the White House Millennium Council, we didit because we knew that we were going to have a change of century and achange of millennium while Bill was still president. We thought what couldwe do to mark this time. Certainly they'll be room for a lot of great NewYear's Eve parties and I'm positive they'll be products like Millenniumtoothpaste or millennium potato chips, but if that's all that happens Idon't think we would make the best use of this opportunity. So in talkingtogether, he and I thought maybe we could use this time for all of us toreflect about what it is that made us Americans, and why we're so gratefulfor the blessings and freedoms we have in our country. So we came up witha theme: to Honor the Past and Imagine the Future.

That is what this tour is really about. We are honoring the past--aswe do here today in front of Kate Mullany's House -- but also imagining thefuture. Because the voice of Kate Mullany and all the women and men ofTroy and this area continue to speak to us today. They fought for equalpay, for equal work and we do still today. They fought for better workingconditions in the work place and we do still today. They fought forrespect at work and at home and we do still today. And the women of Troywho worked with Kate Mullany struggled to balance the demands of work andfamily and we do still today. They fought for equal opportunity for womenin places once reserved only for men as we do still today.

In 1869 another women labor leader, Augusta Lewis, president of theWomen's Typographical Union, wrote about the Troy Collar Laundry Union as amodel for working women through the ages. She wrote; "Others will beencouraged by their success and will be stimulated by their examples toelevate their own condition." Thanks to Kate Mullany and other brave womenand men who led the labor movement and who took their rightful places inAmerican history, we have examples to follow even today. All of usgathered here have many debts to those who came before; not only to our ownfamilies but to some many others who contributed to the improvements thatwe take for granted in America today.

I hope that all of us, as we move toward this new century andmillennium, will think about ways we can honor the past and imagine thefuture. What gifts do we want to give to our children, our grandchildrenand future generations. Well, there may be tangible gifts like KateMullany's house that we would want to pass on, that we hope that peoplewill know and remember as a significant place because of the woman wholived here. But there will also be intangible gifts; the intangible giftsof courage, a search for better opportunities and a commitment to ourfounding ideals: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and to form amore perfect union. And to that end, every single one of us has a role toplay.

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July 1998

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