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Jewesses with Attitude

10 Things You Should Know About Rose Schneiderman

  1. Born in 1882 into a devout Jewish family in Saven, Poland, Rose Schneiderman was raised from an early age to believe she was capable of doing anything a man could do. Her parents enrolled her in a Jewish school at the age of four. Two years later, the family moved to the city of Chelm so that Rose could attend a Russian public school and receive an excellent secular education.

  2. In 1890, Rose and her family left Poland and immigrated to New York City. Two years later, however, tragedy befell the family—Rose’s father died, leaving behind a pregnant wife and three young children. Though Rose’s mother Deborah found extra employment and took in boarders, she struggled financially and had to send her children to an orphanage temporarily. When Deborah lost one of her jobs in 1895, 13-year-old Rose had no choice but to end her schooling and join the workforce.

  3. Concerned about Rose’s reputation, Deborah helped her daughter find work as a salesgirl, a position with higher status than a factory job. Deborah’s emphasis on respectability had a lasting impact on Rose. But after three years as a salesgirl, Rose decided she needed to make more money and found employment as a cap maker.

  4. Although her wages were higher, Rose became increasingly incensed about the discrepancy between the pay men and women received for the same work. In 1903, she led a successful campaign to organize her shop for the United Cloth Hat and Cap Makers’ Union. The effort earned her the respect and confidence of male union members who doubted that women had the ability to unionize. At four feet nine inches tall and with a full head of red hair, Rose also impressed union members with her fiery and captivating oratory.

  5. In 1904, Rose Schneiderman became the first woman to hold an office in a national union when she was elected to the general executive board of the International Ladies Garment Makers Union (ILGWU). The following year, she led a strike of male and female cap makers, which brought her to the attention of the brand-new Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL), one of the few organizations to have both working- and middle-class members. In 1906, she was elected vice president of the New York branch of the WTUL.

  6. Rose’s efforts to organize workers in the Lower East Side garment industry helped build momentum for the 1909 “Uprising of the 20,000,” a general strike of shirtwaist makers, most of whom were Jewish immigrant women. The largest strike by women up to that time, the 11-week-long walkout ended with concessions from a majority of shirtwaist factory owners; a few of the larger companies—including the Triangle—refused to agree to the settlement.

  7. At a suffrage rally in 1912, Rose rephrased a poem into the words for which she is best known—“The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too”— a reflection of her belief that the goal of the labor movement was to ensure that workers could do more than just meet their basic needs.

  8. Rose Schneiderman resigned from her organizing efforts at the NYWTUL in 1914 over what she considered the growing strains of antisemitism and opposition to socialism in the League. She briefly held a position with the ILGWU but was frustrated by the male leadership’s lack of commitment to women. In 1917, Rose began focusing on the suffrage movement, serving as chair of the Industrial Wing of the New York Woman Suffrage Party. Within several years, she had a reputation as one of the country’s most forceful suffragists and labor activists.

  9. By 1926, Rose had returned to the WTUL, where she was elected to the national board. She became good friends with Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, introducing them to the issues facing working-class Americans and helping to shape their ideas on labor reform. When F.D.R. became president in 1933, he appointed Rose Schneiderman to the National Labor Advisory Board; she was the only woman to serve in the position.

  10. Rose was also deeply involved in issues outside of labor that faced the Jewish community. As the Nazis took control of Europe, she became active in refugee relief work and in socialist Zionist causes. She retired from public life in 1949. Her memoir, All for One, was published in 1967. She lived until 1972 and was present when the plaque was installed on the Triangle factory building on the 50th anniversary of the fire in 1961.

Top 10 Jewish Women in Labor History
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The Top 10 Jewish Women in Labor History is a JWA blog series on Jewesses with Attitude created in honor of Women's History Month and the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Waist Factory fire. Click here to see the full Top 10 list.
Rose Schneiderman
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Rose Schneiderman speaking at a union rally, c. 1910s. Courtesy of Brown Brothers.
Rose Schneiderman Poster
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The Jewish Women's Archive Women of Valor posters portray the images, words, and life stories of 18 Jewish American women who challenged conventional expectations and helped change our world.  The full-color posters (18″×24″) can be purchased as a set or separately. To order this poster or other posters from our Women of Valor poster series, please contact us with your request.

How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "10 Things You Should Know About Rose Schneiderman." 2 March 2011. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 2, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/10-things-you-should-know-about-rose-schneiderman>.

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