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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Jul 24, 2023

Worker in the early part of the 20th century often had to fight for their rights against low pay and poor working conditions. They were often viewed as disposable. But, in 1933, a group of women banded together to fight for their rights. If that wasn’t enough, they inspired women to do the same. Just press play to hear the whole story. ———

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Andrew Wanko, Public Historian of the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History on 88-one, KDHX. ———

By the spring of 1933, Carrie Smith had spent 18 years working as a nut picker at St. Louis’s Funsten Dried Fruit and Nut Company. It was one of the toughest, dirtiest and lowest paying jobs around. Funsten’s thousands of nut pickers, the majority Black women like Carrie, cracked open pecans and separated out the edible portion from the shells. ———

Carrie Smith had watched as her pay was steadily sliced back for doing the same work. By 1933, she was earning just three cents per pound for intact pecan halves, and just two cents for any broken pieces. She and others fumed at the cruel injustice of processing food for a living, while not being paid enough to buy food for their families. At a Funsten nutpickers meeting on May 13, 1933, Smith stood in front of her fellow workers with a Bible in one hand and a brick in the other and shouted, “Girls, we can’t lose.” Bolstered by St. Louis’s Communist Party, more than two thousand Funsten nutpickers from five St. Louis factories marched out on strike. ———

Funsten’s factories ground to a halt as the striking workers clashed with police in the streets of Downtown. Nearly a hundred women were arrested as they marched on City Hall, demanding the Mayor aid their cause. Company president Eugene Funsten made two inadequate appeasement offers to try and break the strikers ranks, but the women remained in solidarity. After eight days, they toppled the giant. Funsten agreed to equal pay for black and white nut pickers, representation in the Food Workers Union, and all wages doubled. ———

The Funsten Nut Factory Strike of 1933 was a monumental labor movement victory led by Black St. Louis women who refused to yield in the face of injustice. A few months later in August 1933, thousands of women working in St. Louis’s garment district walked away from their machines in demand of higher wages and union recognition. The call to arms heard echoing up and down Washington Avenue was “do as the nut pickers do.” ———

Here’s history is a joint production of the Missouri Historical Society and KDHX.  I’m Andrew Wanko and this is 88.1 KDHX St. Louis. ———