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Top 10 Jewish Women in Labor History

10 Things You Should Know About Pauline Newman

Leah Berkenwald

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.

Top 10 Jewish Women in Labor History

10 Things You Should Know About Clara Lemlich

Leah Berkenwald

When Clara Lemlich was growing up in the Ukraine, her religious parents did not want their daughter learning Russian, the language of an antisemitic empire. But the strong minded girl was drawn to Russia’s literary masters—Tolstoy, Gorky, and Turgenev—and to the revolutionary literature being written in Russian. She took on odd jobs—sewing buttons, teaching folk songs, writing letters for illiterate women—to pay for Russian lessons and later for books she kept hidden from her family.

Top 10 Jewish Women in Labor History

10 Things You Should Know About Bessie Abramowitz Hillman

Leah Berkenwald

Born in 1889, Bessie Abramowitz Hillman grew up in the Russian empire, in the city of Grodno, now part of Belarus. When she was 15, she immigrated to America “to escape a marriage broker,” she later said. She settled in Chicago, where she had distant relatives. She was soon involved in the fight for better wages and working conditions.

Top 10 Jewish Women in Labor History

10 Things You Should Know About Rose Schneiderman

Leah Berkenwald

Born in 1882 into a devout Jewish family in Saven, Poland, Rose Schneiderman was raised from an early age to believe she was capable of doing anything a man could do. Her parents enrolled her in a Jewish school at the age of four. Two years later, the family moved to the city of Chelm so that Rose could attend a Russian public school and receive an excellent secular education.

Top 10 Jewish Women in Labor History

10 Things You Should Know About Rose Pesotta

Leah Berkenwald

Rakhel Peisoty, who later changed her name to Rose Pesotta, was born in 1896 in a Ukrainian railroad town that was then part of the Russian Empire. Even as a child, she had the passionate convictions that would guide her later life as a labor activist and anarchist. Rose’s older sister, who belonged to an underground anarchist group, encouraged her to read the works of social revolutionaries. Rose attended a school for girls that taught a standard Russian curriculum, while offering secret lessons in Jewish history and Hebrew.

"It's up to us to save ourselves"

Leah Berkenwald

Yesterday, Rabbi Jill Jacobs published an op-ed at ReligionDispatches.org that connects the labor struggles of the past with those of the present, using the words of labor organizer Rose Schneiderman to inspire us today.

Topics: Labor Rights, Unions

Sophie Gerson, 1910 - 2006

In her later years, Sophie was a tireless activist with the National Council of Senior Citizens, fighting for universal health care and defense of Social Security. A woman of charm and passion, she developed ties with a range of local activists, including nuns and other local Catholics.

Eleanor Pearlson, 1921 - 2010

She was known equally for her generosity and her strong will, her enthusiasm and her temper, her warmth and her keen business sense. She might greet you or grill you, but chances were if you needed help with something on Martha’s Vineyard, she had the answer.

Evelyn Dubrow, 1911 - 2006

Ninety-five years was not long enough for us to enjoy [her] passion, wit, commitment to justice, and love of life.

Imagining the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire

Hasia Diner

What is about this fire that draws us so intensely? Why has this one event become such a touchstone for political, artistic, and cultural work?  How do we explain the nearly one hundred years of memorialization, activism, and creativity inspired by the events which transpired on March 25, 1911 at 29 Washington Place, just east of New York’s stately Washington Square?

Topics: Labor Rights, Unions

Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman dedicated her life to the creation of a radically new social order. Convinced that the political and economic organization of modern society was fundamentally unjust, she embraced anarchism for the vision it offered of liberty, harmony and true social justice. For decades, she struggled tirelessly against widespread inequality, repression and exploitation.

Justine Wise Polier

An outspoken activist and a "fighting judge," Justine Wise Polier was the first woman Justice in New York. For 38 years she used her position on the Family Court bench to fight for the rights of the poor and disempowered. She strove to implement juvenile justice law as treatment, not punishment, making her court the center of a community network that encompassed psychiatric services, economic aid, teachers, placement agencies, and families.

Remembering the Uprising of the 20,000

Judith Rosenbaum

On a cold November morning onehundred years ago today, more than 20,000 immigrant workers--mostly young Jewishwomen--took to the streets of the lower east side of New York, kicking off aneleven-week general strike of the shirtwaist industry knows as the Uprising ofthe 20,000.

Clara Lemlich sparks "Uprising of the 20,000"

November 22, 1909

“I am one of those who suffers from the abuses described here, and I move that we go on a general strike.” Thus, in Yiddish, 23-year-old Clara Lemlich addressed a crowd of thousands of restless laborers at New York City’s Cooper Union on November 22, 1909.

"Something Rotten in America"

June 27, 1931

Labor economist Theresa Wolfson was the principal speaker at the opening of the Barnard College Summer School for Women Workers in Industry.

Execution of Ethel Rosenberg

June 19, 1953

Although they were tried and executed more than half a century ago, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg's names remain familiar to most Americans.

Activist Clara Shavelson leads butcher shop boycott

May 27, 1935

On May 27, 1935, New York City women, organized as the City Action Committee Against the High Cost of Living, picketed butcher shops to demand a reduction in the price of meat.

Labor leaders announce their engagement at May Day Parade

May 1, 1916

Born in Russia in 1889, Bessie Abramowitz Hillman immigrated to Chicago at age 15 to escape an arranged marriage.

Triangle Waist Factory fire

March 25, 1911

Approximately 500 workers were making ladies blouses at the Triangle Waist Company's factory near Washington Square in Lower Manhattan when fire broke out on March 25, 1911.

Labor activist Rose Pesotta organizes in Akron, Ohio

February 25, 1936

In 1936, in the midst of nationwide union organizing drives, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) se

Judge Justine Wise Polier retires

February 3, 1973

Building on the legacy of her parents, labor activist and rabbi Stephen Wise and social reformer Louise Waterman Wise, Justine Wise Polier spent four decades on the New York City Family Court working for the rights of children before retiring on February 3, 1973.

Sandra Feldman elected UFT President

January 8, 1986

When Sandra Feldman declared that "Just because kids are poor, and maybe come from uneducated parents, and live in an urban setting, doesn't mean

Lillian D. Wald

Guided by her vision of a unified humanity, Lillian D. Wald passionately dedicated herself to bettering the lives and working conditions of immigrants, women, and children. She founded the Henry Street Settlement in New York City and initiated America’s first public-school nursing program. A talented activist and administrator, Wald’s pathbreaking work continues to be memorialized.

Uprising of 20,000 (1909)

In 1909, more than 20,000 Yiddish-speaking immigrants launched an eleven-week general strike in New York’s shirtwaist industry, the largest strike by women to date in American history. The strikers won only a portion of their demands, but the uprising sparked five years of revolt that transformed the garment industry into one of the best-organized trades in the United States.

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

On March 25, 1911, a fire erupted at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York, resulting in 146 deaths and many injuries, most of them young, recently immigrated Jewish women. To the Jewish community, the unprecedented scope of the tragedy and its horrors were evocative of the pogroms that had been to date the greatest disaster to befall Jewry in modern times.

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