NCL: Past, Present, Future

For 119 years, the National Consumers
League has been changing American history and the lives of workers and
consumers, thanks to its founder Florence Kelly and her community of
progressive reformers. Florence Kelly was born in 1859 into a Quaker family deeply
committed to the abolition of slavery and social change. She entered Cornell
University in 1876 and received a law degree from Northwestern in Chicago in
1895. In 1899 she became general secretary of the National Consumers
League and created the white label campaign to identify products made in
clean, healthy factories free from child labor. In 1906, NCL advocated for two of
the most significant laws for consumer protection: the federal Meat Inspection
Act and the Pure Food and Drugs Act, signed into law by Teddy Roosevelt on
the same day. Two years later, NCL defended the right
of states to set maximum work hours for women and convinced the Supreme Court to hear Muller v. Oregon, a landmark case argued by future justice Louis
Brandeis. And the following year, NCL would participate in the founding of the
NAACP. In 1911 tragedy struck, when 146 mostly teenage girls died in
the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City. NCL’s Frances Perkins
witnessed young girls jumping to their deaths while the fire was raging.
“We heard the engines, and we heard the screams and rushed out and rushed over
where we could see the trouble was, and the people had just begun to jump.” She
would later fight for worker protections including stronger fire codes. When
Florence Kelly died, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter said that her
impact on social reform in the first three decades of the 20th Century could
not be matched. And that impact would continue with the passage of the Fair
Labor Standards Act of 1938, signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt. The second half of the 20th Century saw
NCL’s continued activism, as it worked to establish several consumer advocacy
organizations and, under Linda Golodner’s leadership, took on sweatshop and child
labor issues. In 2000, NCL would take over LifeSmarts, a consumer literacy and
scholarship program that prepares young people to succeed in the marketplace.
With the 21st Century well underway, the National Consumers League, under the
leadership of Sally Greenberg and her team of passionate labor and consumer
advocates, continues to lead the charge. “Our mission for the future for the
National Consumers League is to keep consumer issues at the forefront of the
public’s attention and ensure that our elected officials address those issues.” 119 years of advocacy and education, of
protecting consumers and workers — that is the National Consumers League.

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