Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pauline Newman

Pauline Newman (c. 1890–1986), labor leader and advocate for working women.

Pauline Newman was a powerhouse of progressive causes, particularly women’s labor rights. She emigrated with her family from Lithuania to New York City when she was around age 8 or 9 and very soon began working 12-hour days at the now-infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Newman was appalled at the grim and oppressive working conditions and her meager salary. She took solace in education and literature, joining the Socialist Literary Club. There she learned both English and progressive politics. At age 16 she organized the largest rent strike New York City had ever seen. By age 17 she was the Socialist Party’s nominee for New York’s secretary of state. She used her candidacy as an opportunity to campaign for woman suffrage.
Also during this time Newman began organizing women garment workers. Her efforts bore fruit in the 1909 “uprising.”  Some 20,000 women workers, inspired by a speech given by another immigrant organizer, Clara Lemlich, walked off their jobs in factories throughout the city.  It was the largest women’s strike the nation had yet experienced. 
Sweatshop workers
Newman’s efforts also won her an appointment as the first woman general organizer of the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union (ILGWU). She worked for the ILGWU for more than 70 years, most of it as the educational director for the Union Health Center. She also worked for several decades with the Women’s Trade Union League, serving as vice president on both the state and national level.
After the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911, which killed 146 workers, Newman took a post with the Joint Board of Sanitary Control of New York State. She inspected factories and lobbied for improved working conditions and wages for women. She regularly advised both New York State and U.S. government regarding labor conditions for women workers. She served on several boards, including the U.S. Women’s Bureau Labor Advisor Board, the United Nations Subcommittee on the Status of Women, and the International Labor Organization Subcommittee on the Status of Domestic Laborers. Newman worked closely with some of the most influential women of the times, including Eleanor Roosevelt. 

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