Ida Klaus was born in 1905 in Brooklyn, to a family of grocers. She was one of only six women accepted in 1928 to Columbia Law School as part of the first class to admit women. Klaus worked on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, then became solicitor of the National Labor Relations Board under Harry S. Truman, at which time she had the highest-ranking position of any female lawyer in the federal government. She went on to head the New York Labor Department, negotiated the “Little Wagner Act,” and was an arbitrator in the Long Island Railroad Strike. In 1996, Klaus received an award for distinguished achievement from the Columbia Law School.
Known by the press in the 1950s and 1960s as the woman “who thinks with a man’s brain,” Ida Klaus distinguished herself in the area of labor law.
She was born on January 8, 1905, in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York, where her family ran a grocery store. Her brother, Samuel, died in 1963. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Hunter College and from the Teachers Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. One of six women accepted in 1928 into the first class of Columbia Law School to admit women, she graduated in 1931.
After serving as a research assistant to Columbia law professor Herman Oliphant, Klaus was recruited by him as one of the nation’s ten most promising lawyers to work for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 served to focus Klaus’s interest in labor law, and she went on to become solicitor of the National Labor Relations Board under Harry S. Truman, from 1948 to 1954. At that time, she held the highest-ranking position of a female lawyer in the federal government.
In 1954, Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr., appointed Klaus to head the New York Labor Department, and she successfully negotiated the “Little Wagner Act,” which gave city employees the right to organize and use collective bargaining. She also served as a consultant to John F. Kennedy on federal employee labor relations. As the executive director (until 1975) of the Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining Office of the New York City Board of Education, she negotiated the first citywide teachers’ contract. In 1980, while working as a private arbitrator, she was called in by President Jimmy Carter as one of three mediators in the Long Island Railroad strike.
Klaus was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1994, and in 1996 was given an award for distinguished achievement from the Columbia Law School.
Ida Klaus died in May 1999.
Breasted, Mary. “Career Labor Expert.” NYTimes, January 18, 1974.
Klaus, Ida. Program of Commencement Exercises, Jewish Theological Seminary of America, NYC, May 19, 1994.
Pomerantz, Sharon. “Ida Klaus: Making History.” Masoret 3, no. 3 (Spring 1994): 8.