Donnelly Garment Company

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James Alexander Reed

James Reed was once an outsized figure in Missouri life and politics. An attorney by trade, Reed brought his skills as a shrewd prosecutor to each position he held in state and local government. A loyal ally to those he supported and a bitter enemy to those he disagreed with, Reed was sure to provoke strong responses in all who knew him. And though he was a polarizing figure in his day, often facing severe criticism and opposition, Reed never stopped fighting for what he believed in: a limited federal government, the sovereignty of the states, and individual liberty.

The Bitterest Battle: The ILGWU and Unionization in the Kansas City Garment District

The history of the Donnelly Garment Company and its battle with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) is one that defies conventional understandings of American life in the Great Depression. It is a story of a female entrepreneur succeeding in an era of economic paralysis, and one of a union failing to organize a factory in a period when workers won substantive rights. ILGWU president David Dubinsky, Nell Donnelly Reed, and Senator James A. Reed were the principal figures in a contest to organize a single garment factory, a legal battle that came to represent much larger questions.

Nelly Don Dress

Late 1930's pastel teal, short-sleeve, shirt-waist dress created by Nelly Don Inc. The garment features rhinestone buttoned top and matching belt worn at the natural waist.

Nelly Don Black Dress

Calf-length black dress with floral embroidery detail and fabric waist belt created by Nelly Don Inc. in the 1940's.

Nelly Don Beach Pajama

Circa 1935 black, three-piece beach pajama with multicolor floral pattern created by Nelly Don Inc. This outdoor loungewear features yoked, high-waist, wide-legged trousers, sleeveless blouse, and accompanying waisted, bell-sleeved coverup.

Nell Donnelly Reed and Employees

Group portrait of Nell Donnelly Reed and employees at Nelly Don Pioneers group luncheon in Reed's office.

Group Portrait of Donnelly Garment Company Employees

Group portrait of Nell Donnelly Reed and employees at the Nelly Don Pioneers group luncheon in Mrs. Reed's office, June 2, 1937.

From Meyer Perlstein and Virginia Stroup to the Donnelly Garment Company

A letter from International Ladies Garment Workers Union Special Representative Meyer Perlstein and Donnelly Garment Workers Union No. 124 President Virginia Stroup to the Donnelly Garment Company. In this letter, Perlstein and Stroup inform the company of harassment that Donnelly employees have experienced from coworkers after joining the union. Perlsten and Stroup explicitly state their intention to solve the matter peaceably.

From A. B. Seymour to Lloyd C. Stark

Letter from A. B. Seymour to Governor Lloyd C. Stark providing background and opinions on potential police board appointee Ralph E. Murray, describing Murray as "strongly anti-Roosevelt and anti-labor" and "very average as a practicing lawyer," and discussing Murray's coworkers and other connections.

Elizabeth Gates Reeves

Photograph of Elizabeth Gates Reeves, a production manager at Donnelly Garment Company.

Donnelly Garment Company Workers in Factory

Group portrait of uniformed Donnelly Garment Company employees at work in the Corrigan Building at 1828 Walnut, Kansas City, Missouri. A Santa Claus figure stands on far left.

Donnelly Garment Company vs. International Ladies Garment Workers Union, et al.: Statement from Circuit Judge Van Valkenburgh

Statement from Circuit Judge Van Valkenburgh in Equity Case No. 2924: Donnelly Garment Company and Donnelly Garment Sales Company, Plaintiffs, vs. International Ladies' Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) and all members of said union as defendants in this class action. In this document, Circuit Judge Van Valkenburgh presents a summary of the case and his interpretation of the same. He then outlines the legality of requesting injunctions or for their dismissal. Van Valkenburgh also includes excerpts of testimony from Wave Tobin, manager of the Kansas City Joint Board of ILGWU.