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Stateside Podcast: Who were the Gossard Girls?

Mo via Flickr / Design by Rachel Ishikawa

By the mid-20th century, mining and logging were still the dominant industries in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. But there was another burgeoning industry: women’s undergarments manufacturing.

The H.W. Gossard Company opened an Ishpeming factory in 1920 and another one in Gwinn in 1947. The women of Marquette County became a critical part of this story. These workers sewed corsets, girdles, and other undergarments during a time when women working outside of the home was far from the norm. The women at these factories became known as the “Goassard Girls.”

Historian Phyllis Wong ‘s new book, We Kept Our Towns Going: The Gossard Girls of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, tells the story of the Gossard Girls and their fight to organize their workplace.

“What they did economically cannot be understated. What they did for their own families cannot be understated,” Wong said during an interview on Stateside. “It was an opportunity where women, in a very real sense, were able to provide for their families in a way that their children could then move on, go to school, better themselves.”

After an eight-year struggle seeking better wages, the women successfully unionized their workplace. Wong said that these women’s legacies live on today and that they are an example of the power of everyday workers.

“It really is a universal story about what average workers, piece rate workers, can do in their communities.”

Listen to the Stateside podcast for the full conversation about the Gossard Girls with historian Phyllis Wong.

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Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.