Our awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the workplace has grown in recent weeks. In thinking about this issue, one obvious question is why it has taken until 2018 for this issue to come to the forefront of our attention. Part of the answer lies in the difficulty in raising the issue when it can affect ones livelihood. But part of the answer is that women have had many other issues that for years have been higher priority for activists to address.
To put a face on these issues, we will tell the story of Rose Schneiderman, woman, activist, leader, and Jew.
Rose was born in 1882 to a devout Jewish family in Poland. Her family immigrated to New York in 1890. Because her father died when she was 10, at age 13 she had to enter the workforce as a cap maker. Incensed about the discrepancy between the pay men and women received for the same work, she led a successful campaign to organize her shop at the age of 21. Male union leaders were deeply impressed by Schneiderman’s skill as an organizer and her charismatic speaking style. Within a year, she became the first woman elected to national office in an American labor union (the New York City Central Labor Union) and was elected vice president of the New York branch of the Women's Trade Union League in 1908.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, in which 146 garment workers were burned alive or died jumping from the ninth floor of a factory building, dramatized the conditions that Schneiderman, the WTUL and the union movement were fighting. That year, she gave a speech where she famously said “The woman worker needs bread, but she needs roses too.” The slogan "Bread and Roses", appealing for both fair wages and dignified conditions, is commonly associated with the successful textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912, now often referred to as the "Bread and Roses strike".
Long an ardent suffragist, Schneiderman had helped found the Wage Earner’s League for Woman Suffrage in 1911 and toured for the Ohio suffrage referendum in 1912. In January 1917, she launched the final, successful drive to win the vote for New York women.
Schneiderman’s powers of persuasion won her many influential admirers. A close friend and adviser to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Schneiderman taught them most of what they knew about working people.
Schneiderman had a strong Jewish identity and was active on behalf of Jewish causes throughout her career, particularly during the 1930s and 1940s. Her speeches and letter-writing campaigns mobilized the resources of the labor movement to help Jewish refugees escape from Nazi-occupied Europe. She was also a major fund-raiser for the Labor-Zionist Leon Blum Colony in Palestine.
Due to the work of Rose Schneiderman and others like her, factory working conditions have dramatically improved, women have the right to vote, and the wage gap has been significantly reduced (still working on that one!) We have a long way to go to achieve a truly gender-neutral workplace, but sometimes it is good to take a minute to look back and rejoice in how far we have come, and to celebrate the women like Rose who have been a force in bringing us to where we are today.
Bingotini: Sat. Feb 10, 7:30 - turn in your Bingotini reservations soon to get the reduced price of $30!
Gender identity Meeting: Tues. Feb 20, 7pm
Sisterhood Seder: Thurs. Mar 15, 6pm - turn in your Seder reservation soon before we sell out.
Author Presentation: Thurs. Mar 22, 7pm
Women of the Wall Speaker: Sat. Mar 24, 7:30pm - turn in your WoW reservation too!
Mahjongg Cruise: Mar 22-26
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