Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Ken Fones Wolf


Union women fought sex discrimination and opened the workplace for all women through their use of 1963's Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Scholars often attribute their success to well-known EEOC sex discrimination cases, such as those against the steel industry and Southern Bell. Yet much of the fight against sex discrimination in the workplace came not from "famous" EEOC cases but, rather, from lesser-known incidents in which union women filed shop-floor grievances to challenge sex discrimination. Moreover, many union women used grounds other than the new federal anti-discrimination laws to make their employment more equitable. Using local union grievances records, this dissertation examines West Virginia's glass and pottery industries to uncover the circumstances under which some union women challenged the sexual division of labor in the 1960s, and others did not. Despite working in similar industries, women at Homer Laughlin China and Fostoria Glass reacted differently to the Equal Pay Act and Title VII. Their choices were shaped by their pre- and post-World War II circumstances.;In the 1910s and 1920s, non-union female potters and glassworkers built working-class solidarity through militant, albeit largely unsuccessful, shop-floor activism. Union membership in the 1930s enabled them to forge strong class-based alliances with their male union brethren and more successfully fight for better wages and terms of employment. But female potters and glassworkers also worked under very different circumstances. Women at Fostoria never exceeded twenty percent of the factory's workforce and belonged to a mixed-gender local that was controlled by its male members. Female potters at Homer Laughlin grew to forty percent of the factory's workforce, and they controlled their all- or mostly-female union locals.;Moreover, World War II permanently transformed the shop-floor for some female potters at Homer Laughlin who were placed into the previously all-male job of handle finisher. Female handle finishers questioned the rationale of the sexual division of labor as the post-war regendering of their job created lower "female" wages. Decades of influence within their union coupled with a growing acknowledgement of discriminatory policies fostered feminist activism by female potters who brought successful sex discrimination grievances against Homer Laughlin China in 1967.;A different form of feminist activism occurred at Fostoria Glass where wartime changes to the sexual division of labor were merely temporary, and a postwar return to rigid divisions between female and male glassworkers reinforced traditional assumptions about the sexual division of labor. As a severe decline in the glass tableware industry in the 1950s and 1960s left women at Fostoria struggling just to hold onto forty hours per week, their activism was aimed at keeping their jobs rather than exercising their rights under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII. Through this analysis, we learn more about the particular circumstances that encouraged some working-class women to challenge sex discrimination and discouraged others from doing the same.