VOTES FOR WOMEN
- Grant Recipient
National Votes for Women Trail
Industry & Commerce
- 25 South St, Auburn, NY 13021, USA
- 42.930039, -76.566753
National Collaborative for Women's History Sites
Established in 1882 as the Auburn Women’s Union, the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union (WEIU) in Auburn, New York was incorporated under its full title in 1886, and it provided resources and accommodations for women of the Auburn community. The organization also inspired more women to join the women’s suffrage cause by connecting local activists with Auburn’s working class. Founded by a group of women belonging to the Cayuga County Bible Society, the WEIU was created to address issues brought about by the rapid industrialization of the city, which the organization’s founders worried might harm working women and their families, and provided them with little support.
In order to combat these issues, the WEIU sought to supply working woman with resources to improve their quality of life, including classes covering topics ranging from work and career-readiness, general education, sewing, cooking, languages, as well as courses of general interest, including literature. The organization also provided services and amenities for the working class women of Auburn who were primarily employed at mills and factories in the industrial city.
Regarding the WEIU’s work, the Auburn Morning Dispatch reported on January 23rd, 1888 that:
The Womans Educational and Industrial Union need[s] money to assist them in their good work. Love, good wishes and applause alone will not keep out the cold, build houses or educate the young women of the city who earnestly desire to fit themselves for the great battle of life, and who are financially unable to procure the necessary educations which they so much need.
In 1907 the WEIU received a major donation to support erecting a new complex for the women of Auburn. Excitement for the new building, which was funded by Eliza Wright Osborne, rippled through the community. Osborne was the daughter of Martha Coffin Wright, an early Auburnian advocate for women’s rights, and she carried on in her mother’s footsteps becoming a leader and advocate in the fight for women’s suffrage.
The Auburn Citizen noted on March 14th, 1908 that, when the building was dedicated the year prior, there was an estimated “20,000 people [who] inspected the building.” Osborne, who had served in numerous leadership positions for women’s suffrage organizations like the Cayuga County Political Equality Club and the New York State Woman Suffrage Association, had also served as the President of the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union by this point. In order to construct the new building, she provided $200,000 towards the new Women’s Educational and Industrial Union headquarters located on South Street. Amongst its amenities, the new building included a reading room, library, cafeteria, lounge, pool and a lecture hall named the “Osborne Hall” after the buildings benefactor.
Along with providing valuable resources and educational opportunities for working women, the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union also inspired many to join the women’s suffrage movement by creating a space where they could engage with local activists, organizations and suffrage-related literature. The Women’s Educational and Industrial Union hosted lectures and meetings for organizations such as the Cayuga County Political Equality Club, the Eliza Wright Osborne Political Equality Club and the Society for Political Education, which helped promote the women’s equal suffrage cause.
As of 2022, the Equal Rights Heritage Center—a welcome center that explores and celebrates local and state-wide history—opened to the public and sits where the Women’s Educational Industrial Union building once stood.