Cornell logo and name Cornell University Cornell University ILR School
Woman sewing in a garment shop

The Kheel Center ILGWU Collection

Div shadow


Celebrate Women's History Month


Born in Hungary in 1895, Jennie Matyas Charters traveled in steerage with her mother and brothers to New York City.  She began work in a garment factory as a child before eventually rising to become one of the first women vice presidents of the ILGWU.  She became a member of Waistmakers’ Local 25 in 1910 and during the strike of 1913 was placed in charge of one of the large gathering halls.  Matyas went on to become a shop chairperson in every shop she worked and helped establish education activities, but while her union career flourished, she never lost sight of her desire to continue her education.  In 1922, Matyas left the ILGWU to attend college.  Having relocated to the west coast, she found herself eager to help the union once more and began working as an organizer and educational director of the then Pacific Coast Office from 1934 to 1941.  Wanting to return to school, at age 47, Matyas enrolled at the University of California and graduated cum laude in economics in 1943.  She was soon back to work with the union at the San Francisco Joint Board as education director and elected a vice president and member of the General Executive Board in 1944.

Matyas retired in 1961 and returned to the classroom to receive her teaching credentials.  In 1970 at 75 years old, she started teaching adult education at a San Francisco community college.  Matyas died on January 31, 1988 at the age of 93.

Learn more about Jennie Matyas Charters at the archives and read her oral history.