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Celebrating Rose Schneiderman

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March 18, 2016 - In honor of Women’s History Month the Jewish Labor Committee and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs celebrate a great unsung contributor to both women’s and workers’ rights, Rose Schneiderman, a dedicated activist who spent her life fighting for things many of us too often take for granted, such as the eight hour work day, a federal minimum wage, workplace safety, and more.

Rachel Rose Schneiderman started from humble background. She was born on April 6, 1882, as the first of four children of a religious Jewish family in Savin, Poland. She immigrated to America with her family when she was a young girl. Shortly after her father passed away, she was forced to stop attending school when she was nine years old in order to take care of her brothers. When poverty forced her mother to place her siblings into an orphanage, she was able to return to school for a brief period until her mother lost her night job as a seamstress. Rose had to drop out of school at thirteen years of age to work as a retail salesgirl. She never got the chance to complete a formal education, but that didn’t stop her from self educating and becoming an avid reader.

Schneiderman worked as a salesgirl on New York’s lower east side for three years, but she wasn’t able to make ends meets. She then picked up a factory job as a cap maker. Although the pay was slightly higher, she was appalled by the treatment of women garment workers and the blatant gender hierarchy. It was at this job where her career in activism blossomed. In 1903, she successfully organized fellow women workers of the company to join the United Cloth and Cap Makers, and championed getting women elected in the union. By 1904, she was elected to the union’s executive board.

For the next couple of years, she continued to fight for women’s rights and worker’s rights, especially for immigrant Jewish women who were often underrepresented within the labor movement’s leadership. Schneiderman was active as a union organizer in the years leading to the “Uprising of the 20,000” of New York’s shirtwaist makers in 1909–1910, which was called the largest strike by American women workers up to that point. Schneiderman helped form and was active in many organizations in her career, such as the New York Women’s Trade Union League (NYWTUL) (Vice President in 1906, she was its President from 1917 to 1949), the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU), and the National Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL) (President of the WTUL from 1926 until it disbanded in 1955.

Throughout her years as an activist, she organized many Jewish immigrant women and other women to strike against garment factories to secure better working conditions. Schneiderman also championed women’s suffrage and helped establish the first suffrage organization composed primarily of industrial workers, the “Wage Earner’s League for Woman Suffrage” in 1922 Her activism eventually led her to be the only woman appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to be on the National Labor Advisory Board in 1933. Then, in 1937, she became the New York State Department of Labor’s secretary.

Rose Schneiderman laid the groundwork for women and labor rights for today. Her work will forever be worth celebrating as a great Jewish woman and activist.