Housewives and Consumer Organizing
Consider the impact of consumer organizing by analyzing the day-to-day actions of the key players in the 1902 kosher meat boycott.
- We are all influenced by and have the power to affect the economy.
- Women have brought the tools of labor activism into the domestic realm.
- How did Jewish women in the early 20th century demonstrate the power of the consumer to effect economic change?
- How do the goals, skills, and approaches of labor activism transfer to other aspects of life?
- Copies of the primary sources by event date for each student, one date’s worth per page, per group
- Large paper, white board, or chalk board to record notes from class discussion (optional)
Notes to Teacher
“Stop Action and Assess Alternatives” is a technique for teaching that historical events did not unfold in a predictable or linear fashion, but rather that at any juncture during the course of the event, individuals and groups of people made particular decisions based on their interests and the situation in those moments. The point of the activity is to let students, acting in their interest groups and armed with historical background, make decisions about what action to take as the events of the May 1902 Kosher meat boycott play out in your classroom. It is important to give students the information one day at a time, so that their groups can respond to the events as they unfold.
National History Education Clearinghouse, “Stop Action and Assess Alternatives” Teaching Guide, Lori Shaller, http://teachinghistory.org/teaching-materials/teaching-guides/24466.
The following biographies can be used in connection to this lesson:
Housewives and Consumer Organizing: Introductory Essay
When we think about labor and labor activism, we tend to think of wage-work outside of the home and of formal worker institutions such as unions. Though Jews played important roles in those traditional avenues of labor activism, immigrant Jewish women also helped broaden the conversation to include housewives, women’s roles as consumers and domestic managers, and the power of informal neighborhood networks.
In May of 1902, Jewish immigrant housewives in New York City—concerned and angry about a sharp rise in the price of kosher meat from 12 cents to 18 cents per pound—launched a kosher meat boycott that lasted nearly a month, spread to several other boroughs of New York, and attracted much attention from both Jewish and general press. Though women had historically been involved in popular protests around issues like food prices, the boycott of 1902 stands out as a pioneering example of women’s strategic political organizing and effective use of local networks.
In early May, small butchers had responded to the skyrocketing price of kosher meat by boycotting the wholesalers (known as the Meat Trust and made up primarily of well-to-do German Jews) in an attempt to lower prices. But on May 14, they settled with the Meat Trust without achieving a price reduction. In doing so, butchers agreed to raise the price of the meat they sold in order to pay the wholesalers at a higher price, thus passing the burden of paying more for meat to the individuals and families who bought their products.
Housewives of the Lower East Side decided to take matters into their own hands. Canvassing their neighborhoods to drum up support, they succeeded in bringing thousands of women into the streets on May 15 to protest and declare a boycott. The protesters broke into butcher shops, confiscated meat from customers, and engaged in violent clashes with police. Approximately 70 women and 15 men were arrested.
Following this riot, the committee of women leading the boycott held a mass meeting to gather support and to strategize. On May 16, they went from house to house to organize their fellow housewives and to collect funds to pay arrest fines and reimburse customers whose meat had been taken in the riot. They also set up pickets in front of each butcher shop. Rioting continued that day, and more than 100 people were arrested. The boycott spread to the Bronx and to Harlem, where local women took up the organizing of their own neighborhoods.
On Saturday, May 17, the boycott leaders did not rest but rather went from synagogue to synagogue to plead their cause. Some used the traditional communal tactic of interrupting the Torah reading, asking men to encourage their wives to uphold the boycott and requesting a rabbinic endorsement.
By the following day, most of the kosher butcher shops had succumbed to the boycott and closed. The boycott had also spread to Brooklyn. That night, more than 500 women met to organize and strategize further, now under the name of the Ladies’ Anti-Beef Trust Association. They established similar committees in Brooklyn, East New York, and the Bronx. The Ladies’ Anti-Beef Trust Association organized house-to-house patrols and surveillance of butcher shops. They assigned committees to visit labor union meetings and mutual aid societies and to plan cooperative kosher meat stores (which would allow a group of families to purchase meat in larger quantity and at the wholesale price). They also sent a delegation to the Mayor’s office to seek formal permission for a rally.
On May 21, male communal leaders decided it was time to assert their own direction over the boycott. They held a conference of 300 people representing synagogues, mutual aid societies, unions, and other organizations, and formed the Allied Conference for Cheap Kosher Meat, telling women to leave the fighting to the men. Nevertheless, women continued to be active in their local neighborhoods.
The boycott continued to attract supporters. On May 22, the Retail Butchers Association affiliated itself with the boycott, and on May 27, the Orthodox leaders joined in. Overall, the boycott met widespread support throughout the community. Rabbis spoke about the boycott from their pulpits; crowds came to the courthouse to support the arrested women. Jewish newspapers—both the socialist Forward and the Orthodox Yiddishes Tageblat —covered the boycott sympathetically. Labor unions lent their support, too. Though some expressed concern about the prominence of women’s leadership and some men tried to take control of the boycott, women were not harshly criticized for their actions nor entirely displaced.
The strike officially ended on June 5, 1902, and retail meat prices returned to 14 cents per pound. The kosher meat cooperatives that had been established during the boycott continued to operate. The boycott had been a success, though its impact was not permanent—meat prices eventually began to rise again.
But the success of the boycott should be assessed not only in terms of kosher meat prices but also in terms of its innovative model. Unlike the other Jewish immigrant activists of the period, the leaders of the boycott were not young workers—they were housewives with children. Their average age was 39, and most had four or more children at home. These women were not angry, spontaneous rioters—they were political actors making strategic, planned calculations. Drawing on their female neighborhood networks, they pioneered tactics of community organizing. Acting in their roles as consumers and housewives, they saw themselves as partners with their wage-earning husbands, who were involved in more public, formal labor struggles. These women understood how the market worked and how to achieve their goal of lowering meat prices, using a boycott to manipulate supply and demand. They also used explicitly political language in their fight: they referred to themselves as strikers, called those who broke the boycott scabs, and referred to freedom of speech when protesting police disruption of their gatherings. Despite difficult conditions, they sustained their activism and grew their organization over the course of several weeks.
The Ladies’ Anti-Beef Trust Association disbanded when the boycott ended. Although it didn’t continue as a neighborhood force, it modeled an approach to neighborhood organizing that was used effectively again in the rent strikes of 1904 and 1907. The important lessons it taught about women’s political potential also likely shaped the housewives’ daughters, many of whom were working in the garment industry during the “Uprising of the 20,000” in 1909 and 1910. As historian Paula Hyman argued, “the kosher meat boycott should be seen not as an isolated incident but as a prelude to the explosion of women activists in the great garment industry strikes at the end of the decade.”
Paula Hyman, “Immigrant Women and Consumer Protest: The New York City Kosher Meat Boycott of 1902,” American Jewish History 70 (September 1980): 105.
Stop Action and Assess
Explain the following to the students:
At the point of the boycott, kosher meat prices had been rising over the course of the year. In early May 1902, the “Meat Trust” or the few companies that sold meat wholesale to local butchers, had raised prices from 12 to 18 cents per pound, forcing the local butchers to sell the meat to consumers for at least 6 cents per pound more in order to stay in business. The people buying this meat were mostly poor, immigrant, and working class. Many worked in the sweatshops and lived in the tenements that were ubiquitous at that time in New York’s history. In those days, 6 cents could be the cost of one whole meal. In both Europe and in America, masses of people had “gone on strike,” or “boycotted” by refusing to buy certain goods when prices soared or the quality of goods declined (do not tell students that anyone staged a boycott of meat. They will learn this from their work with the documents).
In class today you are going to imagine that you are representatives of various interest groups regarding kosher meat in 1902 New York City. You will receive information in day-by-day installments, and you will work together within your group to decide what to do in response to the situation each day.
Break students up into the following five groups: housewives (this group can be quite large and should be the largest of the groups); butchers (the second largest group but significantly smaller than the housewives group); city representatives, including policemen, mayor, judge, health inspector; representatives of “The Meat Trust,” or the slaughterhouses (this group can be as small as two individuals, including the Orthodox rabbi responsible for ensuring that the meat was kosher, and who was paid well for this job); and a group of others in the Jewish community, such as men, rabbis, the Jewish press, etc.
You should remind students that they cannot assume the newspaper accounts are objective. You may also want to unpack some of the language students will find in the documents and point out its implications. For example, while a newspaper might report that a “riot” or “uprising” broke out, the group accused of “rioting” in fact, may have been planning their actions in a politically strategic way. A group described as a “mob” in fact may have been an organized group of citizens exercising their Constitutional right to free assembly. One newspaper’s “riot” is another’s planned political action. This kind of analysis is particularly important in the context of the 1902 Kosher Meat Boycott, because the “mob” in this case was a group of women whose behavior might have been thought of as “overly emotional” or even “hysterical” at the time but wouldn’t necessarily be considered so by today’s standards.
Give each group the first document in the document study called “Events of May 11, 1902.” Give them the following guidelines to direct their group work:
- You will have 10 minutes to read the document and decide what to do in your groups.
- You will then report your interest group’s decision about how you would act to the whole group.
- You will not be debating between groups, only within your group about what actions your characters should take.
- Your group may not have an action in response to each day’s information, but you should have a response to most days’ events. If you don’t have a reaction on a particular day, your group can continue to hone its position—considering with which groups you might feel allied, how you might help other groups, etc.—as you wait for new information.
After each group presents, give them the next day’s set of documents and prompt the interest groups to consider how to respond. (From the documents, they will see what actually happened compared with what they would have done.) Again, give the students 10 minutes to review the documents and figure out what to do, and then have each group say what they would do in response to the events at that moment. Proceed similarly until all the days’ documents have been read and discussed.
The last document is for May 26. After each group has shared a response to that day’s information, read the following statement (an excerpt from an article on the kosher meat boycott by Professor Paula Hyman):
On May 27, Orthodox leaders, who had hesitated to express formal endorsement of the boycott, joined the fray. By June 5, the strike was concluded. The wholesale price of kosher meat was rolled back to nine cents a pound so that the retail price would be pegged at fourteen cents a pound. Kosher meat cooperatives, which were established during the strike in both Brooklyn and Harlem, continued in existence. While meat prices began to rise inexorably again in the period following the conclusion of the boycott, the movement can still be considered a qualified success.
Now lead a discussion with the whole class using the following questions:
- Why do you think Professor Hyman argued that the boycott was a success? What about the boycott do you think was successful?
- How did our class’s day-by-day responses differ from what actually happened? Did anything that happened in the historical events in 1902 surprise you? If there were differences between your class’s responses and how the events actually played out, ask the students what they think accounts for the differences.
- What did you notice about how the various newspapers depicted the events differently? Point out specific examples from the articles.
- Tell students that food boycotts, as well as rent boycotts, would become commonplace through the first half of the twentieth century. Explain that in 1904 and 1907, rent strikes were held in the same neighborhoods as the meat boycott and were largely organized by housewives, demonstrating that the housewives had learned from the meat boycott how to do this style of grass-roots organizing. Ask students: why do you think people would resort to this kind of activism if it didn’t necessarily solve problems long-term?
Ask students with which of the following statements they most agree:
- Consumer boycotts don’t solve anything; to change things economically, you either have to be more militant or seek change in government policy.
- When people boycott, they are taking charge of their own economic life and using their collective power, which gets the government or other organizing bodies to make economic changes.
- The effects of boycotts such as this one may be more subtle, but no less important for their subtlety, than legislative or political change.
Now have students read the document about the 1907 rent strike, and ask them if their opinions on the last question changed as a result. Why or why not?
 Hyman, Paula, “Immigrant Women and Consumer Protest: The New York City Kosher Meat Boycott of 1902,” The American Jewish Experience, Second Edition, Jonathan D. Sarna, ed. (New York: Holmes & Meir, 1997) 157.
Day-By-Day Boycott Documents
Day-By-Day Boycott Documents
Events of May 11, 1902-New York Times
New York Times, May 12, 1902
EAST SIDE BUTCHERS WILL BOYCOTT MEATS.
Fifteen Hundred “Kosher” Dealers Agree to Quit Selling.
Exciting Meeting at New Irving Hall, Where It Is Decided to Suspend Business Until Wholesalers Lower Prices.
There will not be a particle of “kosher” meat on sale in any of the east side butcher’s shops to-day and to-morrow, a boycott having been declared yesterday by more that 1,500 retail dealers.
This action was reached at a meeting yesterday in New Irving Hall when 1,500 “kosher” butchers assembled to form a plan of action for the purpose of forcing the wholesale “kosher” butchers to lower the exhorbitant [sic] price of meat. Many plans were discussed to compel the wholesalers to come to terms, but it was finally unanimously decided to declare a boycott, and every one of the 1,500 retailers agreed not to buy an ounce of meat from the wholesale dealers, or to place any on sale for at least two days. By that time it is thought, the boycott will have proved so disastrous for the wholesalers that they will be willing to come to terms.
By the action of the retail “kosher” butchers in declaring a boycott thousands of east side Hebrews will suffer, but they are all in sympathy with the retailers and are willing to put up with the inconvenience of going without meat so long as the extortionate rates are charged.
New Irving Hall on Broome Street was crowded yesterday when the 1,500 “kosher” butchers held an indignation meeting to formulate some plan by which they could enforce the lowering of the price of meat. Various means were suggested to bring the wholesale dealers to an understanding of the dire situation, but after the matter had been fully discussed every one of the retailers became of the opinion that nothing could be gained unless a boycott was immediately declared. It was explained that the price of meat was so high that the poor of the east side could not afford to buy any, and that consequently thousands of Hebrews were suffering from sheer want.
The retail butchers are unable to alleviate the suffering of the poor, as they are compelled to pay such exorbitant prices for “kosher” meat that they cannot sell it at reasonable prices unless at a loss, which would inevitably put them out of business entirely.
The situation became so grave that all the east side butchers got up in arms, and in sheer desperation they have resorted to drastic measures in an effort to appraise the wholesale dealers of the exact state of affairs.
The determination of the retail dealers is apparent from the action of a number of them after the meeting yesterday. A large number of them had already gone to the wholesale dealers and selected their meat for the week, and as is customary after making their selections, they placed tags on the stock which they had ordered and which is delivered every Monday morning. When the final decision was reached yesterday every one of the butchers who had ordered his meal for the week rushed to the wholesalers and rescinded their orders. They even went so far as to tear the tags from the meat after giving explicit orders that that meat should not be delivered. They explained that if it was sent to them it would be sent back immediately, adding that they intended to buy no meat until the price is lowered. …
Another meeting was held in New Suffolk Hall, 84 Suffolk Street, in the evening …
Then there were yells of “Let the Beef Trust know what we want!” … Henry Schumacher, a salesman for Schwarzschild & Sulzberger, members of the so-called Beef Trust, was finally permitted to speak, and he said:
“Messrs. Schwarzschild & Sulzberger did not get any notification of the intention of the butchers until after they had killed the usual amount of cattle to-day. They were surprised then to find that no one called to purchase their meat. When Mr. Sulzberger learned what had happened he asked me to tell you that if a committee were sent to him he, for the firm, would grant all reasonable demands.”
There was a good deal of mumbling and some cheering, but the excitement was quelled long enough to listen to Louis Rose, a salesman for H. Rothman, the large veal dealer. He said he did not know what action the butchers intended and had killed seventy calves yesterday morning and sold them, but if he had known the intentions of the butchers he said he would rather have cut off his arm than injure them by selling meat to some butchers who might sell it to the people.
Everybody then talked of co-operating on every block in the lower east side so only one butcher store would be on a block. It was said this plan might be hurt by some butchers starting another store on the block, and the Committee of Thirty was told to ask the wholesalers not to sell meats to any new butcher till after the fight. A few butchers protested that it would be ridiculous to ask those against whom they are fighting not to injure them, but the resolution to ask the committee to make the request was carried.
Events of May 13, 1902-New York Times
New York Times, May 14, 1902
JEWISH BUTCHERS TO REOPEN. Decision Reached After a Conference with the Wholesalers, Who Made Certain Concessions.
The Hebrew Retail Butchers’ Association, the members of which have kept their stores closed during the past few days on the lower east side, in the effort to force the wholesale dealers to reduce the prices on the kosher beef, yesterday agreed to reopen all their stores to-day.
A meeting which 800 of the boycotters attended was held yesterday in New Irving Hall, on Broome Street. Representatives from the wholesalers were present, among them being Ferdinand Sulzberger of the firm of Schwarzschild & Sulzberger; Isaac Blumenthal, President of the United Dressed Beef Company, and Joseph Stern of the firm of Stern Brothers. Other small firms also were represented. Joseph Goldman of the 110 Suffolk Street, the President of the Retail Association, presided.
Both Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Sulzberger addressed the butchers on behalf of the wholesalers. They told them that it was impossible to reduce the price of beef, as they were paying more than formerly, and were obliged to raise the prices. The matter of Sunday closing was also considered, and many speeches denouncing it were delivered.
Some concessions made by the wholesalers were that they would not sell meat to speculators—butchers who buy in small quantities to sell to others of their trade, and known as middlemen—and that beginning next week the wholesalers would buy “wurst” meat from the Jewish butchers exclusively They also agreed to send the association the list of names of butchers who buy “trafe” meat, which is meat not inspected by the representatives of the rabbi, and who sell it for kosher. …
Mr. Goldman said that the association had found it useless to keep its stores closed, as the people suffered the most, and other butchers were profiting by the boycott. Customers, he said, were besieging the stores, inquiring when they would open. Poultry, on account of the great demand, had got beyond the means of the people.
Events of May 14, 1902-Yidishes Tageblatt
Yidishes Tageblat, May 15, 1902, as translated by Paula Hyman
“We will not give away our last few cents to the butchers—we want to eat meat at 12 cents and not 16 cents a pound.” This is the cry taken up yesterday by women from Houston to Cherry streets, from Christie to Norich streets—the voices of housewives who are ready to fight. Mrs. Edelson became chairlady of the assembly. New York has never seen such a huge convocation of women before. The women this time let the men play at home with the children while they went to attend the meeting. They cried, “Our husbands work hard. They try their best to bring a few cents into the house. And we must manage to spend as little as possible.” Others responded, “We will not be silent—we will overturn the world.” They said, “The strike of the butchers was a trick. When they wanted something for themselves, they didn’t sell meat. We’ll show them that we know our business, too.” The women decided to hand out circulars all over the East Side, to call all women to have pity on their husbands’ hard-earned money, and to join the great women’s war. They decided to meet again tonight to organize all the women in the army for the great war. The women besieged the butcher shops and didn’t allow anyone to buy. The streets were thick with people. Many ran to the police station where Jewish women were being arrested every minute. The women didn’t hit anyone. All they were doing was preventing women scabs from buying meat. Hardly had anyone stepped out with meat when it was grabbed from her hands and dashed to the floor. Every time a police wagon came, it was filled with women who were taken to the Essex Market Court. There, the 80 women were treated as though they were the greatest criminals. All were fined the sum of $3-10….Mrs. Edelson the chief of the strikers, was arrested with great uproar.
Events of May 14, 1902-Forward
In the thirty years of East European settlement in this quarter never have we seen the likes of this—thousands of women on tens of streets. They broke into butcher shops, swearing to strike and watching that their boycott be kept. In many stores, they flung meat onto the streets, came to blows with the butchers, and trampled on mountains of meat. In half an hour the strike spread from one block to the entire area. Out of every tenement poured brave striking women; every sidewalk was crowded with women, standing, gesticulating with their hands, screaming about their poverty and the swindle that had been perpetrated. Every so often patrol wagons full of arrested women passed; some of the women were bleeding. By 10 a.m. seventy women had been arrested.
They first approached a butcher at 51 Monroe Street. A girl walked out of the butcher’s with a package, and the housewives descended upon her, shouting, “If we can’t eat meat, the customers can’t eat meat.” [Ten women are arrested and their addresses listed, all Monroe Street]. One of the women called out, “They think women aren’t people, that they can bluff us. We’ll show them that we are more people than the fat millionaires who suck out blood!”
In court they called Rosa Peskin of 450 Cherry Street: “Did you throw meat on the street?” “Certainly,” she replied. “I should have looked it in the teeth?” The judge asks her, “What business is it of yours if others are willing to pay more for meat?” “Because it affects my pocket.” Three dollar fine. Then Rebecca Ablowitz of 420 Cherry Street: The judge states, “You have no permission to make a riot.” “We’re not rioting,” she answers. “Only see how thin our children are, our husbands have no more strength to work harder, if we stay home and cry, what good will that do us?”
Events of May 15, 1902-New York Times
New York Times, May 16, 1902
FIERCE MEAT RIOT ON LOWER EAST SIDE
Demonstration Caused by Rise in Kosher Beef Prices
500 POLICE CALLED OUT
Officers Attacked by Immense Mob Around Hall Where Women Were Holding Indignation Meeting
Prompt action by the commanders of four police precincts checked a disturbance that threatened the lower east side of the city with disaster last night. The trouble behind the outbreak was the dissatisfaction over prices of Kosher meat.
Before the angry, yelling mobs that thronged the streets for miles had been quieted, 500 police officers had been summoned to the neighborhood, more than a score of prisoners had been taken to different stations, several men and women had been slightly injured by missiles hurled from the mad crowds, and the foreign-born population for a square mile around Broome and Essex Streets had been thrown into a state of excitement that was declared by people familiar with the quarter to be unprecedented in its history.
The Kosher butchers of the east side, numbering about 1,600, had abandoned their fight against the wholesale meat dealers and had raised their prices even higher than the retailers of up-town New York. The consumers of the east-of-the-Bowery district were up in arms. They had shown their rage all day by minor outbreaks against individual butchers. When dark came on, and with it a meeting of protesting women in New Irving Hall… the disturbers of the day had their numbers augmented by many who had been at work earlier. The women’s meeting was a sign for violence, and at 8 o’clock there had assembled outside the hall a noisy aggregation of from 5,000 to 6,000 people. …
It took the 500 men fully an hour to put a stop to the rushes against them, and even after that they were utterly unable to keep the streets clear. The crowds still lingered and shouted defiance from the distance. The ambulances still stood on the corners, flanked by the patrol wagons…
Until the morning hours the streets were black with noisy, excited people; the women were still urging on the men; the children were still throwing things at the police; the officers on the crossings still kept their weather eyes on the windows, as if expecting a brickbat on their heads at any moment. …
DISORDERS DURING THE DAY
The consumers of kosher beef, at least those who buy it, representing the wives and mothers of families of the east side, yesterday decided to take the matter in their own hands. Nearly fifty women were arrested, arraigned in court and fined, butcher stores were attacked and forced to close, and policemen were assailed with missiles, thrown at them by the women who formed the main number of the rioters.
Not alone were the proprietors of the butcher shops attacked, but those who patronized them also met with the mob’s fury. The meat which they had bought was taken from them, thrown in the gutters, and stamped upon. …
The Hebrew newspapers which appeared in the afternoon characterized the outbreak as little short of a revolution, and compared it to the revolutions of this kind which have occurred in Paris in times past.
Events of May 17, 1902-Yidishes Tageblat
Yidishes Tageblat, May 18, 1902, as translated by Paula Hyman
A committee of women went to the shuls to tell the men to encourage their wives not to buy meat. Mrs. Silver and Mrs. Kiseloff, the most effective committee, stopped Torah readings in the middle. At almost every stop they were greeted with encouragement. Money was collected for bail.
Events of May 17, 1902-Forward
Forward, May 18, 1902, as translated by Paula Hyman
On the Sabbath women went from shul to shul to agitate. Most were greeted in a friendly way….In her speech in the shuls, Mrs. Silver urged the men for once to use their power of “and he shall rule over her” to the good—by seeing to it that their wives not buy meat…In one shul where Mrs. Silver and Kisseloff spoke, a man cried out that it was a chutzpah and a desecration of God’s name (chillul hashem) to speak thus from the bimah. Mrs. Silver replied that the Torah would pardon her….Then a congregant called out, comparing Mrs. Silver to the prophet Zachariah, who preached the truth and whose blood demanded vengeance.
Events of May 17, 1902-New York Times
New York Times, May 18, 1902
WOMEN RESUME RIOTS AGAINST MEAT SHOPS
Brooklyn Police Take Twenty-two Prisoners in Street Fight
LOWER EAST SIDE DISTURBED
Business Places Attacked, Customers Assaulted, and Meat Thrown Away in the Borough of the Bronx
The kosher meat riots which started on Thursday night in Manhattan, were taken up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn last night, resulting in several butchers’ shops being attacked… It was not until the Jewish Sabbath was at an end that the attack was made…
RIOTING IN THE BRONX
… A crowd of more than two dozen women assembled there early in the evening and began to stop women and girls who were on their way to the Kosher butchers to buy meat. The women, all is white waists and black skirts, attracted a crowd in a little time…. Women on every side were stopped by the white waisted women and persuaded not to go into the kosher shops, and a great many who contemplated buying were either persuaded or frightened into leaving without making purchases. All the while the women cheered themselves and encouraged one another. Inquiry showed them to be married women with families, and never known to have been engaged before in a public agitation of such a nature. …
Policeman Murphy of the Tremont Station came up and called the five leaders around him. He warned them not to continue the rioting, and they shouted that they would do as they pleased. He then told them they were under arrest, and Bertha Siegel, thirty-two years old, of 3,878 Third Avenue, told him she would do as she pleased.
“Mind your own business,” she said, “and don’t interfere with ours. We know our rights.”
“That’s right,” shouted the crowd. “Stick up for yourself. You’re all right, Mrs. Siegel,” shouted the crowd as they saw her pull herself loose from Murphy’s grasp.
The other women crowded around, and it looked as if there was going to be a bad time for Murphy, but the women seemed to desire not to be too boisterous or masculine, and they did not interfere with Murphy. They seemed to feel shy at the idea of being leaders. …
Events of May 18, 1902-New York Times
The New York Times, May 19, 1902
EAST SIDE BOYCOTTERS MEET AND ORGANIZE. Form the Ladies’ Anti-Beef Trust Association. Plan to Establish Co-operative Stores If Prices Are Not Lowered—Rioters Take a Day Off.
The Kosher beef rioters of the east side, and, in fact, all over the city, took a day off yesterday to rest from their strenuous labors of the past week, though one large meeting was held. Consequently the sections which had been marked with disorder were quiet and free from disturbances. The fact that all the butcher shops were closed induced not a little to this tranquil condition of affairs. The police, however, were alert, and reserves were held in readiness at all the stations in the east side during the day and night.
The people are beginning to realize that attempts by physical force to cause the reduction of beef is useless on account of the fines imposed upon nearly all prisoners by the Magistrates, and if the sentiment of a meeting held yesterday at 412 Grand Street becomes general, they will adopt more peaceful methods in order to accomplish their object.
About 500 persons attended the meeting which was called for the purpose of effecting a permanent organization and to discuss a future plan of action which would not make necessary a clash with the police. The majority of those present were women, and the meeting was characterized by many caustic speeches denouncing the police and Magistrates for arresting and fining them. One woman said that she had applied to Commissioner Partridge for the privilege of holding an open-air meeting, but that he had refused, saying that a number of rabbis of the east side had objected. When one of the rabbis was appealed to, she added, he denounced the methods employed by the women in order to have the price of beef reduced.
Mrs. Sarah Edelson, who was generally spoken of as the leader of the boycott against the butchers, was not chosen as Chairman, though she had many supporters in the meeting. It was decided to give to the organization the name of the Ladies’ Anti-Beef Trust Association, and Mrs. Carolyn Schatzberg, a widow, of 204 East Broadway, was elected Chairman. Mrs. Pauline Frickel of 401 Grand Street was elected Treasurer, succeeding Mrs. Rottenburg. The Garment Workers’ Union sent a number of delegates to the meeting, and one of their number, Isadore Blumenthal, was elected Vice Chairman. Jacob Kirschberg of 173 Madison Street was chosen as Secretary.
A Committee on Boycott was then selected, composed of five women. They were instructed by the officers of the organization to appoint sub-committees, and visit the people in the tenements of the east side and persuade them not to buy meat until the prices were reduced to those of a year ago, which were 10 to 12 cents a pound. It was the sentiment of the meeting that the association should use its influence to prevent disturbances and consequent clashes with the police. The Committee on Boycott were therefore instructed that when they saw women coming out of butchers’ shops after buying meat to argue with them, and try to enlist their sympathy in boycotting the butchers.
An auxiliary committee was appointed composed of several men, in some cases the husbands of the women serving officially. Their mission will be to visit the Bronx, Harlem, Brooklyn, and Long Island City to appoint committees in those places to work among the meat consumers in favor of the boycott cause. An endeavor will also be made to reach the Christian butchers and induce them to support the movement.
The different labor unions and benevolent associations will be appealed to for sympathy and financial support. The trades unions will be asked to send delegates to the meetings of the Ladies’ Anti-Beef Trust Association to be held this week.
Secretary Kirschberg said after the meeting that money was coming in from all sources and that already $300 had been expended in paying the fines of those members who had been arrested. Collections were being taken up all over the east side.
“The Jewish people,” he said, “are all with us and they are contributing readily and generously. Some of the women arrested still remain in jail, but we will have them released just as soon as the necessary funds are sent to us.
“It is our plan to establish co-operative stores, unless the price of meat is reduced by the butchers, and we will buy our meat outside of New York, where the trust has no control. We are in communication with Philadelphia wholesalers and butchers, and where the kosher beef is killed and certified to by the rabbi. We believe that we can establish as many as two hundred stores on the east side, one located at every fifth block. Each customer will be a stockholder to the amount of his purchase. The price of meat will be 10 cents per pound and the profits on it will be divided among buyers.”
A meeting will be held soon by the United Hebrew Trades at 57 Rivington Street, the object being to support the boycotters and perhaps affiliate with them.
The kosher butchers were to have a meeting yesterday at New Irving Hall, but Capt. Walsh sent for President Goldman and others of the organization and told them that he would not permit it, so the meeting was postponed…
Events of May 25, 1902-New York Times
The New York Times, May 26, 1902
BUTCHERS APPEAL TO POLICE FOR PROTECTION. East Side Dealers to Keep Their Shops Open. AN ANTI-TRUST STATEMENT. Allied Conference for Cheap Kosher Meat Seeks Public Sympathy and Condemns Violence.
Practically all of the kosher butchers or the east side, served notice yesterday on the Captains of the various police precincts that they intended to open their shops to-day and asked that the police protect them against any attacks that may be made by the women rioters who have been attacking the shops for selling meat, and the customers for buying meat, when a boycott was on against the prevailing high prices.
The Anti-beef Trust Association during the past two weeks raised a fund of more than $500 to bail out those who are arrested on the charge of inciting riot, but at the Eldridge Street Station it was said last night that the attorneys for the Anti-Trust Association had agreed to advise their clients not to bail out any more prisoners. The police believed this action would tend to discourage the rioting that is likely to result form the reopening of the shops. A conference was also held late Saturday night between the Anti-Trust Association committee of fifty and some of the butchers in an endeavor to patch up existing differences, the rabbis to decide which shops should be permitted to resume business. At a late hour last night the Anti-Trust Association committee of fifty was trying to decided whether to accept the proposal of the butchers or not.
During the day, however, a circular, printed in both Yiddish and English, was distributed, showing that the matter is by no means settled. The circular, signed by four of the association leaders, representing the committee of fifty, is as follows:
“Women, victory is near. Order and persistence will win the struggle against the butchers. Do not buy any meat. All the organizations fighting against the Jewish meat trust have now united under the name of the Allied Conference for Cheap Kosher Meat. Brave and honest men are now aiding the women. The conference was decided to help those butchers who will sell cheap kosher meat under the supervision of the rabbis and the conference. The trust must be downed. For the present do not by [sic] any meat. Patience will win the battle. Seek the sympathy for your cause of old and young. Respectfully, Dr. D. Blaustein, the Rev I. Zinsier, the Rev. P. Joches, Mrs. Shatzburg, and the committee of fifty.
At last night’s meeting it was said, however, that part of the circular, referring to those who will sell cheap meat, was premature, and would be considered during the evening. A statement was issued during the evening form the headquarters of the Anti-Trust Association, 199 East Broadway, explaining the stand taken by the association in the meat troubles. This statement was in part as follows:
“The spontaneity of this movement for cheaper meat is the best proof that the grievances of the poorer classes on the east side against the Jewish Kosher Beef Trust are very real and serious. Prices have been raised 6 and 7 cents a pound. Born of the clouds, the movement has spread throughout Greater New York, and has enlisted the sympathies of all the people.
“It is conservatively estimated that 50,000 Jewish families have been abstaining from the use of meat for over two weeks. The people feel very justly that they are being ground down, not only by the Beef Trust of the country, but also by the Jewish Beef Trust of the City, which has now as its ally the retail Butchers’ Association. The people realize the seriousness of the situation, and are ready to fight the trust for months if necessary.
“The conference wishes to state most emphatically that the leaders of the movement do not countenance any violence, but it desires to state also that the sensational report of violence committed on the east side is a libel upon the good name of a peaceful, honest, and industrious section of the city. The committee desires to emphasize the fact that the few instances of outbreaks on the part of some hysterical women are not instances of a prevalent condition of affairs, but rather the only instances that have occurred.
“The people of the east side feel that the unwarranted summary action of the police on refusing to allow the people to assemble peaceably under police protection is tantamount to an attack on the right of free speech. It is to be admitted, however, that such unprecedented action was due to the sensational reports of the newspapers. The conference wishes to enlist the sympathy of the public at large in this cause.”
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.”
- In the first, she describes how women interrupted Shabbat services at Eldridge Street Synagogue to organize the boycott.
- In the second, Dr. Polland also talks about how women used cholent to identify who in the community was breaking the boycott.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Housewives and Consumer Organizing." (Viewed on November 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/node/14914/lightbox2>.