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COLLECTION Identifier: A-39

Papers of Leonora O'Reilly, 1861-1928


Correspondence, diaries, notebooks, speeches, articles, pamphlets, leaflets, and clippings of Leonora O'Reilly, documenting her work in the labor, suffrage, and peace movements.


  • Creation: 1861-1928


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Closed; use microfilm (M-64, reels 100-112).

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Papers created by Leonora O'Reilly are in the public domain. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


8.34 linear feet ((20 file boxes) plus 9 folio+ folders, 4 oversize folders, 1 supersize folder, 5 photograph folders)

The papers of Leonora O'Reilly contain correspondence, diaries, notebooks, speeches, articles, pamphlets, leaflets, and clippings reflecting her work in the labor, social reform, woman suffrage, and peace movements. They are arranged in six series.

Series I, DIARIES AND NOTEBOOKS, 1895-1925? (#Volume 1-Volume 29, 346-359), contains diaries, essays, and notes by O'Reilly. Diaries document O'Reilly's union organizing, suffrage, and other activities. Notebooks contain notes on readings, notes for speeches, and notes on topics including vocational education, trade unions, the labor movement, and European history.

Series II, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL MATERIAL, 1861-1928 (#1-11a), includes personal memorabilia, items about O'Reilly's friends, records of the purchase of O'Reilly's home and her mortgage payments, papers on the closing of her estate, and recollections of O'Reilly following her death in 1927.

Series III, LETTERS FROM LEONORA O'REILLY TO WINIFRED O'REILLY, 1897-1920 (#12-23), contains letters to her mother which include descriptions of course work at Pratt Institute, teaching activities, and activities with her friends. Most of the letters after 1913 focus on her personal views about labor organizing, recruiting, and public speaking on behalf of the WTUL and other women's organizations; attendance at annual conventions held at various locales in the United States; and her overseas work as a trade union delegate to the International Congress of Women at The Hague. Other topics include the accomplishments of women involved in social reform, the peace movement, and sentiments toward Mary Dreier, Jane Addams and others.

Series IV, GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE, 1886-1927 (#24-80a), contains personal correspondence from friends "Uncle B" (B. Hubert), Edward King, and others, and professional correspondence, which includes business matters and other activities associated with WTUL offices in New York, Boston, and other locations; requests for speaking engagements; assistance with union organizing; comments on the "Uprising of the 20,000" worker strike; and some annotated correspondence related to her membership and support of early civil rights organizations. A letter using a racial slur with an enclosure of racist caricatures of African Americans titled, "Across the Potomac-scenes & types--'Ole Virginie,'" is also included.

Series V, SPEECHES AND WRITINGS, 1889-1925 (#81-209), contains notes, outlines, and drafts of O'Reilly's speeches; newspaper interviews and reports of her speeches; programs and announcements of occasions at which she spoke; drafts or manuscripts of articles; and clippings of published works, including occasional letters to the editor. The most frequent topics of the speeches and writings are the conditions faced by working women, trade unions and the need for organization, and working women's need for the vote. Other topics include vocational education, the peace movement, and Irish independence.

Series VI, ORGANIZATIONAL AND TOPICAL MATERIAL, 1867-1925 (#210-345), contains reports, leaflets, and newspaper articles, and other printed material, providing documentation for activities in which O'Reilly was involved, including the labor and suffrage movements.

Photographs in this collection are digitized and available online.


Leonora O'Reilly was a labor leader, social reformer, a suffragist and peace activist. She was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan on February 16, 1870; the youngest of two children born to John O'Reilly, a printer, and Winifred (Rooney) O'Reilly, a garment worker. Her parents were Irish immigrants who used their earnings to open a grocery store, which did not succeed. Shortly thereafter their son died, followed by the death of John O'Reilly in 1871, leaving Leonora O'Reilly and her mother destitute. To make ends meet, Winifred O'Reilly worked long hours and brought home additional sewing tasks. Leonora O'Reilly left public school to work in a collar factory at age 11 and eventually became a skilled shirtwaist maker. In 1886, influenced by family and friends, she joined the Knights of Labor where she met Victor Drury, a socialist and life-long friend. With his support, she formed the Working Women's Society, which focused on the welfare and organization of working women. The club's mission drew the attention and support of many upper class social reformers, including Josephine S. Lowell of the State Board of Charities, Louise S.W. Perkins, and others. In 1888 O'Reilly met Edward King and joined the Comte Synthetic Circle, a positivist group that studied sociological theory.

O'Reilly's interaction with wealthy supporters of progressive reform continued to expand, and in 1894, she was invited to join the Social Reform Club, a group consisting of trade unionists and supporters of labor reform. In 1897 she was elected the Club's vice president. That year she also received financial support of Perkins, Josephine Lowell, and Grace Dodge, which enabled her to take a year off from full-time work as forewoman at a shirtwaist factory in order to focus on labor reform. During that period she and her mother lived at the Henry Street Settlement where O'Reilly operated a young boys' club and took charge of a model garment workers' cooperative. 1898 to 1900, O'Reilly attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and took domestic arts courses that offered training to teach sewing to secondary school students. A year prior to graduation, she became head resident at the Asacog House, a Brooklyn settlement (1899-1902), and following graduation she accepted a position at the Manhattan Trade School for Girls (1902-1909).

In 1903 the National Women's Trade Union League was formed and despite class tensions, O'Reilly served on the WTUL executive committee. Mary and Margaret Dreier, wealthy sisters from a German immigrant family in Brooklyn, were major financial backers of the organization and Mary Dreier and O'Reilly became close friends. In 1909, Mary Dreier presented O'Reilly with a lifetime annuity that allowed her to devote her full attention to the WTUL. As vice president of the New York branch, O'Reilly served as an organizer, recruiter, and public speaker, frequently traveling across the country. She played an instrumental role in the "Uprising of the 20,000," a New York City strike by garment workers and in the aftermath of the tragic March 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, O'Reilly and others WTUL members mobilized support for an investigation of the fire, new government safety regulations, and routine inspections of factories.

In addition to labor reform, O'Reilly also supported early civil rights organizations. She served on the advisory committee of the Constitution League of the United States, founded ca. 1904 for the purpose of highlighting racial bias, lynch law and disfranchisement. She was also a founding member of the National Negro Committee, formed in response to a February 1909 petition, published as The Call, following a 1908 race riot and lynching in Springfield, Illinois. At the urging of William E. Walling, Mary Ovington and others, the petition was written and published by Oswald Villard, president of the New York Evening Post Company and editor of the Nation. The petition was signed by 60 individuals, 19 of whom were women, including O'Reilly; journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett; settlement house workers Jane Addams, Mary Dreier, Lillian D. Wald, Mary W. Ovington; and Mary Church Terrell, a leader of the Black women's club movement. The petition generated a meeting attended by 300 individuals at the Henry Street Settlement House for the purpose of planning a national conference. O'Reilly served on both the Sub-Committee on Plans and Organizations and on the General Committee, responsible for raising funds and recruiting new members. In 1910, the National Negro Committee formally changed its name to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

O'Reilly also played a critical role in bridging the mutual concerns of suffrage and labor reform. She worked with the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women, founded in 1907 by Harriet Stanton Blatch (1856-1940), the daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Organized for the purpose of recruiting working class women into the suffrage movement, Blatch and O'Reilly held open air meetings, and organized mass parades, demonstrations, and conventions. After joining the Socialist Party in 1910, O'Reilly joined Rose Schneiderman, and Clara Lemlich, also Socialist and labor activists, in co-founding the Wage Earners' League for Woman Suffrage, a short-lived organization that lacked support from their male counterparts. O'Reilly served as the organization's president from 1911-1912 and helped organize a highly successful rally at Cooper Union. In this period, she also served as Chair of the Industrial Committee of the New York City Woman Suffrage Party, widely recognized for aiding the passage of a woman suffrage amendment in New York State. In 1915 the WTUL nominated her as its delegate to the International Congress of Women, which met at The Hague to develop strategies for ending World War I. Facilitated by Jane Addams, president of the Women's Peace, the Congress was attended by more than 1300 delegates representing 12 countries. In 1919 O'Reilly again served as a delegate at the International Congress for Working Women in Washington, DC, convened to address the common concerns of working women, which contributed to the polices of the International Labor Organization.

Despite her many successes, her work activities and personal setbacks took a toll. In 1907 O'Reilly decided to adopt a young girl named Alice who suffered an untimely death in 1911. Soon after, Victor Drury, suffering from poor health, moved into the home O'Reilly shared with her mother and died there in 1918. During the period she worked for the WTUL, O'Reilly began suffering intermittent bouts of ill health and frequently curtailed her work activities to recover. This pattern of failing health continued despite being the sole caretaker of her ailing mother. In 1925 she had recovered enough to teach a course on the theory of labor movement at the New School for Social Research and was working on a book of the same title when she died of heart disease on April 3, 1927, at the age of 57.


The collection is arranged in six series:

  1. Series I. Diaries and Notebooks, 1895-1925? (#Volume 1-Volume 27, 346-359)
  2. Series II. Biographical and Personal Material, 1861-1928 (#1-11a)
  3. Series III. Letters From Leonora O'Reilly to Winifred O'Reilly, 1897-1920 (#12-23)
  4. Series IV. General Correspondence, 1886-1927 (#24-80a)
  5. Series V. Speeches and Writings, 1889-1925 (#81-209)
  6. Series VI. Organizational and Topical Material, 1867-1925 (#210-345)

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 50-17, 57-21

Leonora O'Reilly willed her property, including her papers to Mary E. Dreier. In 1936, Mary Beard contacted Dreier asking her to donate O'Reilly's papers to the World Center for Women's Archives and Dreier pledged the papers in 1939. When the World Center for Women's Archives failed to materialize, Beard suggested Dreier donate the papers to the newly formed Radcliffe College's recently established Women's Archives (later renamed the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America). Dreier gave O'Reilly's papers to the Schlesinger Library in December 1945 and 1957.

While preparing Mary Dreier's papers for inclusion in the Papers of the Women's Trade Union League and Its Principal Leaders microfilm project in 1976, materials found in Dreier's papers determined to have belonged to O'Reilly were removed from Dreier's papers and added to O'Reilly's.


Materials were prepared for microfilming by the Papers of the Women's Trade Union League and Its Principal Leaders editorial staff. Materials from Leonora O'Reilly's papers are located on reels 100-112.

  1. Reel 100: Volume 1-Volume 16, 346-353
  2. Reel 101: Volume 17-Volume 29, 354, 359
  3. Reel 102: Folders 1-23
  4. Reel 103: Folders 24-44
  5. Reel 104: Folders 45-49
  6. Reel 105: Folders 50-53
  7. Reel 106: Folders 54-61
  8. Reel 107: Folders 62-80a
  9. Reel 108: Folders 81-161
  10. Reel 109: Folders 162-226
  11. Reel 110: Folders 227-293
  12. Reel 111: Folders 294-329
  13. Reel 112: Folders 330-345

Digital surrogates of the microfilm of the Papers of the Women's Trade Union League and Its Principal Leaders are available through the Gale online database Women's Studies Archive (access restricted to subscribing institutions). A published guide to the microfilm, Papers of the Women's Trade Union League and its principal leaders: Guide to the Microfilm Edition (331.8/N27j), is available at the Library.

Container List

  1. Box 1: Volume 1-Volume 8, 346-349
  2. Box 2: Volume 9-Volume 15, 350-352
  3. Box 3: Volume 16-Volume 21, 353-355
  4. Box 4: Volume 22-Volume 29, 356-359
  5. Box 5: 1, 1c, 2-5, 6, 7-9, 10-18
  6. Box 6: 19-35
  7. Box 7: 36-46
  8. Box 8: 47-50a
  9. Box 9: 51-55
  10. Box 10: 56-62
  11. Box 11: 63-82, 83a, 85-86
  12. Box 12: 87-97, 98-122
  13. Box 13: 123-150, 151-154
  14. Box 14: 155-209
  15. Box 15: 210-212, 213-222, 223-226
  16. Box 16: 227-229, 231-232, 234-250
  17. Box 17: 252-254, 256-279
  18. Box 18: 280-299, 300-311
  19. Box 19: 312-333
  20. Box 20: 334-335, 337-345

Processing Information

The papers of Leonora O'Reilly were initially processed by staff at the Schlesinger Library in 1950. In 1975, the papers were reprocessed in conjunction with the microfilm project, Papers of the Women's Trade Union League and Its Principal Leaders by the project's editorial staff. Materials were refoldered and a finding aid was created by Johanna Carll and Emilyn Brown in August 2021.

The Schlesinger Library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.  Finding aids may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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