The rich activists of New York’s “mink brigade”

Thanks to the labor movement and the push for women’s suffrage, New York in the first two decades of the 20th century was a hotbed of strikes and rallies—with thousands of women doing the organizing and walking picket lines.


Most of these activists were working-class women, often young immigrants, who toiled for low wages in dangerous sweatshops.

Marching alongside them and helping to finance their efforts were a group of extraordinary wealthy ladies who took their lumps from the press, later dubbed the “mink brigade.”

annemorganThese were the wives and daughters of the city’s richest men, women who used their bank accounts to stir up social change rather than entertain at society balls.

Two well-known members of the so-called mink brigade were Anne Morgan (left), daughter of financier J.P. Morgan, and former society queen bee Alva Belmont,  ex-wife of W.K. Vanderbilt and widow of banker Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont.

Through an organization called the Women’s Trade Union League, Morgan and Belmont helped mobilize and support a strike by workers from the Triangle Waist Company (yep, that Triangle company).

That walkout eventually led to a citywide garment workers’ strike in November 1909 known as the “Uprising of the 20,000” (top photo).

“The socialites’ presence generated both money and praise for the strikers,” states Women’s America: Refocusing the Past.


“The move proved politically wise for the suffrage cause as well, because the constant proselytizing of suffrage zealot Alva Belmont, who often bailed strikers out of jail, got young workers talking about the vote.”

alvabelmontandfriendBy all accounts, Morgan and Belmont (in the photo at right, she’s in the mink) were serious about the causes they espoused and sincere in their efforts.

They paid fines for strikers and used their prominence to raise money. Their presence on the actual picket lines kept police brutality at bay.

Called off in 1910, the Uprising of the 20,000 was a partial success, with most sweatshop owners meeting the workers’ demands.

And suffrage, of course, was soon to be a nationwide win. Derided as monied meddlers during their day, the mink brigade turned out to be on the right side of history.

[Third image: New York Times headline December 9, 1909]

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6 Responses to “The rich activists of New York’s “mink brigade””

  1. Javaman Says:

    Imagine if the Kardashians marched along side striking McDonald’s workers…yeah, neither can I.

  2. nwpaintedlady Says:

    Learning so much history from your posts!

  3. Barry Popik Says:

    Caution: The “Mink Brigade” did NOT have that name in 1909! It doesn’t show up until the 1930s in any of my many newspaper databases. “Mink brigade” is cited in print for the first time in January 1935, to describe the rich ladies who attended the trial of Richard Bruno Hauptmann. Trade unionist Rose Schneiderman (1882-1972) applied “mink brigade” to the 1909 strike, but this was in her writing from the 1960s.

    OT: My “Big Apple” website is nearing 15,000 entries. Why not add me to your blogroll?

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you Barry–and you’re now on the blogroll

    • Barry Popik Says:

      Thanks! I’m a big fan of Ephemeral New York. If you ever need a word or phrase or name researched, just ask and I’ll try to look through the many computerized databases.

      I added “New York’s Eiffel Tower” (proposed monstrosity at Hudson Yards) to my website yesterday. Too bad that no one realizes that New York already has an Eiffel Tower–“Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower” (Coney Island Parachute Jump).

  5. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks for your kind words and offer. Based on your own site chock full of NYC people, place, things, and expressions, it’s clear you know your way around researching.

    An Eiffel Tower at Hudson Yards sounds like a joke!

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