Unions in Paterson, New Jersey

Historical content: 
The New Deal and World War II
Historical skills: 
Contextualization, Sourcing, Use of evidence



Use the account and background information to answer the question that follows. 


This excerpt is from an interview with a textile factory worker named Marianna Costa.  In the interview, Costa talks about working conditions at the Arrow Piece Dye Works in Paterson, New Jersey, prior to the strike of 1933 and the things that changed because of the strike.

Photograph of Marianna Costa at the time of her interview in 1994.
Source text: 

“It was a ten hour work day. You worked Saturdays. And if you had to work on holidays you had no choice. There was no time-and-a-half that I recall, nobody got time-and-a-half. . . . You had no job security, you had no grievance procedure. They didn’t like you, they fired you. If you made a little mistake, you were out. If you got hurt – and God forbid you reported it – you were out. Workmen’s compensation existed, but I don’t know if you were ever able to collect on it. Long hours and a long work week. Nobody to demand sanitary conditions or workloads. There was nothing.

And that’s what we accomplished. We accomplished workloads, union representation, . . . time-and-a-half, a five-day work week, work clothes, vacation pay – and of course later on was pension and group insurance – grievance procedure, no layoffs unless you had arbitration. My God, it was a new world.”

Source audio: 

Additional facts related to Marianna Costa’s account:
1.    Although Marianna Costa is describing events in 1933, this interview was recorded in 1994.
2.    Paterson, New Jersey, was home to several textile factories with thousands of workers.
3.    Costa became an elected union official, which was uncommon for women at the time.
4.    In 1933, women had only recently acquired the right to vote and had only voted in four presidential elections.

Question:  Which 2 of the 4 facts above might cause you to question the reliability of Costa’s account?   Explain your reasoning on the following page.

About the Assessment

This assessment gauges students' ability to source and contextualize a document.  Students first listen to an excerpt from an interview with Marianna Costa, a union leader from Paterson, New Jersey.  Students then analyze four historical facts and determine which ones can help determine whether Costa’s account of union accomplishments is historically reliable.  

This student identifies a correct fact and adeptly explains how it helps determine the reliability of Costa’s account.