The Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women

Features thousands of biographic and thematic essays on Jewish women around the world. Learn more

Myra Wolfgang

by JWA Staff
Our work to expand the Encyclopedia is ongoing. We are providing this brief biography for Myra Wolfgang until we are able to commission a full entry.

Photo of Myra Wolfgang, courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan.

Hailed by local newspapers as “the battling belle of Detroit,” Myra Wolfgang went from staging sit-ins to becoming International Vice President of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union. Raised in Detroit, Wolfgang studied art and interior design at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pennsylvania, but when the Depression hit, she returned home in 1932 and began working for what was then called the Detroit Waiters Union. Two years later, she was elected the union’s recording secretary. In 1937 she organized an eight-day pink-collar sit-in strike at Woolworth’s. Wolfgang was instrumental in passing Michigan’s 1966 minimum wage law and chaired the 1974 founding meeting of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, which trained and empowered women to take leadership roles in their unions. One career highlight was her 1964 negotiation with Hugh Hefner to improve work conditions for Bunnies at his Playboy club in Detroit, sending her 17-year-old daughter undercover to learn about working conditions. An active member of the NAACP, Wolfgang insisted on a racially integrated workforce within her union, refusing requests for “black waiters only, white gloves required.” Despite her lifelong fight for working women’s rights, she opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, on the grounds that holding women to the same hours and obligations as men might hurt lower-class single mothers who needed more flexible arrangements.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Myra Wolfgang." (Viewed on September 19, 2021) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/wolfgang-myra>.

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