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AFL-CIO - Women

For Every Woman Who Wants to Make Changes on the Job.

Go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Women's Bureau

A Look Back... continued

Rose Schneiderman

A native of Russian Poland, Schneiderman immigrated with her family to New York City's Lower East Side in 1890. When she was 13 years old, poverty compelled her to work long hours to help support her family. A veteran worker in a cap factory by the time she was 21, Schneiderman helped organize the first female local of the Jewish Socialist United Cloth Hat and Cap Makers Union. By 1906, she was the vice president of the New York Women's Trade Union League (WTUL), despite her initial suspicions of its upper-class members. A compelling speaker, she soon emerged as the WTUL's chief organizer and played a crucial role in the garment workers' strike of 1909-10. Following the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, Schneiderman touched a strong chord among fellow workers when she told a rally, "The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred. There are so many of us for one job it matters little if 140-odd are burned to death." Realizing that male union leaders lacked enthusiasm for organizing female workers, Schneiderman concluded that women needed the vote in order to have the power to force legislators to pass laws ameliorating the most exploitative labor conditions. She campaigned indefatigably for ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment that in 1920 finally guaranteed women's right to vote. Schneiderman also devoted herself to her strongest passion--the WTUL--serving as national president from 1926 to '49. A friend of both Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt, she deepened their understanding of labor issues.

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