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Clara Lemlich Shavelson

Clara Lemlich Shavelson pushed union leaders to recognize the importance of women in the labor movement and organized vital demonstrations for worker’s rights and cost-of-living issues. Shavelson began organizing women for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in 1905, arguing to the union’s male leaders that without women workers, any strike was doomed to failure and insisting on her right to speak at a 1909 strike meeting at Cooper Union. Her fiery oratory set off the Uprising of the 20,000, the largest strike by women workers to that date. Blacklisted from factory work after the strike, Shavelson refocused on the suffrage movement for several years before turning to organizing housewives around cost-of-living issues such as the 1917 kosher meat boycott and the 1919 rent strike movement when a housing shortage dramatically raised rents. In 1929 she helped found what became the Progressive Women’s Councils, combating the depredations of the Great Depression by running a meat boycott that shut down 4,500 butcher shops in New York. These Councils also ran anti-eviction demonstrations and marches on Washington. Shavelson continued her activism into her final years, organizing the orderlies at her nursing home.

Clara Lemlich in a Shirtwaist, circa 1910
Full image

Activist, International Ladies Garment Workers Union leader, and founder of the Progressive Women’s Councils, Clara Lemlich (1886-1982) in a shirtwaist circa 1910.

Date of Birth
Place of Birth
Date of Death
July 12, 1982

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Clara Lemlich Shavelson." (Viewed on March 24, 2019) <https://jwa.org/people/shavelson-clara>.


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