The Little Engine that Could
Every day, I look at the poster of labor activist Rose Schneiderman in my office, and I draw inspiration from the stories of Jewish women who shook up the American labor movement in the early 20th century. So it was with both sadness and interest that I read the obituary of labor lobbyist Evelyn Dubrow last night. As the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union’s chief lobbyist for 40 years, she fought tirelessly for labor rights such as minimum wage, health care, family leave, and pay equity, as well as other social causes such as education and civil rights. Like sister garment worker activist Schneiderman, Dubrow was a tiny powerhouse (just 4 foot 11) – thus earning her the nickname “the little engine that could.”
Lobbyists today have a really bad name (thanks to the likes of Jack Abramoff), but Dubrow offers a different model – someone who refused to become, or work for, “fat cats,” as she put it. Throughout her long career, she remembered that she represented hard-working people and remained one herself, even after she had earned prominence and status.
Why didn’t I know Evelyn Dubrow’s name until now? Activists, historians, and educators make ample use of the stories of Jewish labor activists like Schneiderman and Clara Lemlich Shavelson, but the story seems to stop in the 1940s, and the next generation – women like Dubrow – hasn’t been incorporated into our collective memory yet. A great reminder that there is a lot of Jewish women’s history still to uncover. Let’s get on it!