The Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor was the most significant labor organization in nineteenth century North America. Part trade union, part social reform movement, the Knights organized hundreds of thousands of workers across the continent, and initiated countless major strikes, particularly during the 1880's.
The Knights were the first major union to attempt to make unions accessible to a broad range of workers. At a time when most unions were the preserve of highly skilled, white, male workers, the Knights organized blacks, some immigrants and women. This thesis examines the relationship between women and the Knights of Labor in Ontario in the 1880's.
The Knights organized women workers, and they also supported an impressive 'feminist' platform of social reform. They endorsed every major feminist demand in the nineteenth century, from suffrage to temperance to equal pay. In Canada, they campaigned successfully for the first sexual harassment legislation. This platform is particularly significant when set next to prevailing restrictive notions of femininity and 'true womanhood'.
Yet the Knights were also a male dominated organization. While the 'space' they opened for working class women was important, it was not without its own set of limitations and restrictions. Within the context of contemporary debates about the intersections of class and gender, this thesis examines the contradictions and tension in the Order's feminist ideology.