New Joan of Arc Leads Rent Strike
From The New York Times, December 27, 1907
NEW JOAN OF ARC LEADS RENT STRIKE
Pauline Newman Has Organized 400 Women for a Crusade Against Grasping Landlords.
“COME DOWN OR NO PAY”
Already the Dwellers in Five Big Tenements Have Made Demands—Evictions Expected.
The rent war begun yesterday on the lower east side is led by a frail-looking little woman, who is hailed throughout the Grand Street section as the east side Joan of Arc. The object of the agitation, as told in yesterday’s TIMES, is a whole-sale reduction of rents. Already the tenements have filed their demands with the landlords and have engaged lawyers to protect their interests. The leaders said yesterday that 100,000 families will be organized to resist the landlords.
Poverty on the lower east side has increased of late. More than 100,000 men and women have been forced out of employment, owing to money scarcity. Those and the head of the movement for lower rents say that the tenement dwellers are no longer able to pay what the landlords demand. Mass meetings have been planned, the aid of the socialist party, or some of its leaders, at any rate, has been requested and promised. It is predicted by the leaders that one of the greatest upheavals the east side has ever witnessed will come next month when rents fall due.
The young woman who is recognized as the real leader of the movement is Pauline Newman, who is employed in a shirtwaist factory in Grand Street. Although most of her daylight hours are spent in the shop, she has for a week or more devoted six hours out of every twenty-four to visiting the tenements and arousing the interests of the dwellers there. She has organized a band of 400 women, all of whom earn their own living, whose duty it is to promulgate the doctrine of lower rents.
The present proposition is for tenants simply to refuse to pay rents unless a reduction of 18 to 20 percent is made. This demand will be made by all the tenants in any given dwelling, numbering in some instances from fifty to one-hundred. Evictions will probably follow. But according to the lawyers who have been retained by the leaders there can be only one eviction a day from a building.
When served with notices of dispossess tenants will take their cases to court. Their lawyers will ask for a delay in which to file an answer and then ask to have each case tried separately. The courts would be clogged with such cases, and landlords would be put to great expense, and in addition in the end find their houses tenantless. The campaign is being conducted from the headquarters of the Socialist Party at 813 Grand Street. Jacob Panken, a lawyer in the Temple Court Building, has been retained to fight for the tenants.
Speaking yesterday of the plans for resisting the payment of existing rents, Mr. Panken said: “The police will execute only one eviction a day from a given house. The tenements hold from twenty to one hundred families each. We will arrange that any evicted family shall be harbored at once by some other family in the same house. This the landlord cannot prevent. Thus we would have an endless chain of evictions, by which the landlords will accomplish nothing.”
Tenements in which demands have been made and the number of families in each are as follows: 216 and 218 Cherry Street, 84 families; 129 Monroe Street, 24 families; 168 and 170 Stanton Street, 48 families; 171 Henry Street, 18 families.
A committee of tenants from 171 Henry Street called at the Socialist Party Headquarters yesterday and reported that the only reply they received from their landlord after stating their demands was to have the water shut off. This was denied later by the landlord.
The area in which the fight for lower rents is being made will eventually include practically the entire lower east side. During the last few years rents in the district have been gradually increased. Twenty dollars rent is asked now for apartments which two years ago rented for $15.
At present the centre of hostilities is practically confined to the immediate section of which Grand street is the centre. “Most of the tenements in the lower east side are not rented directly to the tenants by the owners,” said one of the leaders yesterday. One tenement house I have in mind is rented by the owner for $8,000. The lessee receives from the tenants is $12,000 a year, or a profit of $4,000.
The landlords say they will resist the demands for lower rents. Katz & Co., one of the larges owners and rent collectors on the east side, announced that they would close all of their 100 or more tenement houses rather than submit to any demand for a general reduction.
A member of the firm had this to say:
“We have lowered our rents from $1 to $2 in the last few months, and that is all we can do. The tenants are taking advantage of the landlords. They have pounced upon the money stringency as a reason why they should not pay so much rent.
“The Socialists are at the back of it. But we will see the fight through.”
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Jewish Women's Archive. "New Joan of Arc Leads Rent Strike." (Viewed on April 1, 2015) <http://jwa.org/media/new-joan-of-arc-leads-rent-strike>.