10 Things You Should Know About Pauline Newman

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.
  1. Born in Kovno, Lithuania, in 1890, Pauline Newman was barred from the local public school because she was Jewish. As a girl, her opportunities for a Jewish education were limited. Her father tutored well-to-do boys in Talmud; he eventually allowed her to attend Sunday classes, where she learned to read and write both Yiddish and Hebrew. The obstacles she faced in getting an education motivated her to fight for gender equality later in her life.

  2. At the age of 11, having immigrated to New York City with her recently widowed mother and two sisters, Pauline found employment in the “kindergarten”– the area where young girls worked at the Triangle Waist Company factory. At the time of the fire in 1911, she still had friends among the workers at the Triangle factory. Reporters described her ashen face and trembling hands as she looked for them at the morgue.

  3. A few years earlier, when she was only 16, she and a group of other “self-supporting women” spent the summer of 1907 camping out not from the New York City. The experience helped prepare her to lead 10,000 lower Manhattan families in a rent strike that winter. It was the largest rent strike New York City had ever seen. Many years later, the strike was acknowledged as the first move toward rent control in the city.

  4. Her role in the rent strike brought Pauline Newman to the attention of the Socialist Party, which enlisted her to run for Secretary of State in New York on the socialist ticket in 1908. New York women did not yet have the right to vote, and she made use of the campaign as an opportunity to stump for women’s suffrage.

  5. During the historic garment workers’ strike of 1909, Pauline Newman was one of the working women who engineered alliances with wealthy uptown women who were active in the progressive movement. When these women came downtown and joined the picket line, the strikers were spared the harassment and abuse they could otherwise expect from police.

  6. From then on she was widely recognized as one of the most effective organizers in the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU). Although the ILGWU did not consider the issues confronting women workers a priority, the union none-the-less hired her as a general organizer. From 1909 to 1913, she traveled widely, agitating for better working conditions and for women’s suffrage.

  7. Back in New York, she was appointed to the Joint Board of Sanitary Control, one of the first state commissions to address factory safety standards. She and Frances Perkins, who would later serve as FDR’s Secretary of Labor, inspected factories all over New York State. Their ideas about how to remedy the problems they found informed the policies established during the New Deal.

  8. Her work with the Joint Board of Sanitary Control led to her appointment as educational director of the ILGWU Union Health Center, the first comprehensive medical program created by a union for its members. She remained in the position for the next 60 years.

  9. Pauline Newman was part of a circle of women concerned with the intersection of factory work and broader social issues. She and her life partner Frieda Miller traveled to factories and government offices; they contributed to a wider understanding of labor issues by writing for union newspapers.

  10. In 1923, Frieda Miller became pregnant. After a trip to Europe, she and Pauline Newman moved to New York’s Greenwich Village, where they raised a daughter together. Though lesbian families were not openly discussed in the 1920s, friends and colleagues seem to have readily accepted their unconventional family.

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How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "10 Things You Should Know About Pauline Newman." 8 March 2011. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 24, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/10-things-you-should-know-about-pauline-newman>.