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The North Wind

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Mackayle Weedon
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My name is Makaylee! I am going to be a senior majoring in Social Media Design Management. I am apart of the Phi Sigma Sigma Sorority chapter on campus! I love thrifting, photography, skiing and going...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

Phyllis Wong speaks on ‘Gossard Girls’

Phyllis Wong, the wife of NMU President Les Wong, spoke about the importance of the H.W. Gossard factory this past Tuesday, March 16, in the Charcoal Room of the University Center.

The women’s garment factory was opened in 1920 in Ishpeming and was one of the first companies to hire a majority of female employees. In its first year, it employed 50 women. By 1939, 450 women and 50 men worked there.

“I do believe that this is an incredibly important part of history,” Wong said.

In 1949, the workers of the H.W. Gossard factories in Gwinn and Ishpeming participated in the first strike of female workers in the Upper Peninsula. Elaine Peterson, who was one of the Gossard Girls, was arrested along with twenty four other women for picketing.

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“I was one of the leaders of the union. I was one of the ones who was arrested for striking,” Peterson said. “I was 23. I should’ve known better, I suppose.”

Wong said that there were a variety of factors which led to the strike, including wages and inequality.

“Some of the people I’ve interviewed have characterized it as favoritism … and low pay. Some Gossard workers got the easy job to work on,” Wong said in her speech. “They could work fast, they could make a lot of money, and some could not.”

Peterson said that the main concern of the strikers was money.

“If the department head liked you, you’d get all the good work. And if you didn’t, you’d get the other work,” said Peterson.

After the company and the union workers made an agreement and signed a contract, conditions improved tremendously at the company.

“It really was good after that. I was surprised when I went back to work, because I didn’t think it would be,” Peterson said. “I thought they would be against (those of us) in the union. But they weren’t; they were nice to us. Everybody was nice to us.”
The Gossard was a big part of the Ishpeming community. At its peak, with over 700 workers, everyone in town either worked there or knew someone who did.

“Collectively, these stories reveal the hundreds and hundreds of women who kept their communities going for over a half of a century,” Wong said.

Many of the Gossard Girls were in attendance on Tuesday. Cecilia Kangas, who worked there for 42 years, is turning 99 this week. She started at the company making 17 cents an hour. She remembered her time at the factory fondly.

“Some days I didn’t like it, some days I liked it, but I met a lot of friends there,” Kangas said. “The Gossard was Ishpeming. It was a happy time. It was just like a big family.”

Kangas worked two jobs in order to make sure her daughter would be able to have a better life than Kangas did.

“It was important for me to have my daughter go to college. I didn’t want her to work at the Gossard,” Kangas said.

Wong said that her interest in the Gossard began while she was in a group studying women who made a difference. She did some research on Geraldine Defont, one of the women who organized the union at the Gossard and became very interested in the factory.

“When I started talking to the Gossard Girls, I was really drawn to their story. As I said in the beginning of my talk, they really are the heart and soul of the Gossard. Their story is very important.”

The factory closed in 1976 due to factors like economic fluctuation.

Wong said she was very happy about the turnout to the speech.

“The fact that they had to bring more chairs in the room is always a good sign. I was also pleased because of the kind of people that were here,” Wong said. “There (were) young people all the way up to older people. It was a nice cross-section.”

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