As the first woman paid to be a labor investigator, Leonora Barry (1849-1923) rose to high levels in the Knights of Labor reporting on the unfair practices for women workers. In 1885, she was selected as president of District Assembly 65. This group included fifty-two local branches and more than nine thousand members. Barry was later voted as the head of the Department of Women’s Work by the Knights of Labor.
She reported on unsatisfactory working conditions for women and girls in New Jersey. The Knights of Labor was the first national labor union that welcomed the organization of working women. Barry joined the union in 1886 and was sent to inspect the job conditions of the female population at Trenton’s woolen mills and potters. She also visited Newark’s garment factories and the linen mills at Paterson, where Barry discovered evidence of illegal contract labor practices. Her report stated that, among other issues, female workers received poor wages for labor-intensive employment.
While in Newark, Barry found the system of fines at the factory extremely unfair. For instance, a corset factory imposed a fine of 10 cents for singing, talking, eating or laughing. Barry held several public and private meetings to tackle the issue of fair treatment for women. Her series of reports made her the first person to collect national statistics about the working American woman.