In the working world, there are certain things that we are used to: a reasonable wage, a set number of working hours, a safe working environment, etc. But it was not so long ago that it took mass protests and generations of union workers demanding their rights for these to happen.
If you must read one book this Labor Day, I highly recommend Common Sense and a Little Fire, Second Edition: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States, 1900-1965 by Annelise Orleck. Telling the story of Rose Schneiderman, Fannia Cohn, Clara Lemlich Shavelson and Pauline Newman, Ms. Orleck tells the story of how four immigrant women created and defined the labor movement for their time and for our time.
I think this book is important to read, especially today, because many of us have off today. We take for granted the rights that we have as employees, especially those of us who are protected and supported by a union. In the time of the women whose stories are told in the book, joining a union and protesting at best meant being professionally blacklisted and at worst, meant a trip to the hospital after being beaten during a protest.
These four women and many others paved the way for the working world that many of us know of today. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing today, if you have a chance to read this book today, I highly recommend that you do.
The fight for equality by American women is not a new fight. It is a battle that has been waged for generations. While the glass ceiling has slowly been cracking, it has yet to come down completely.
Feminism Unfinished: A Short Surprising History Of American Women’s movement by Dorothy Sue Cobble, Linda Gordon & Astrid Henry was published earlier this year. This anthology of essays documents the women’s movement from the 1920’s to present day. They start with first generation feminists like Alice Paul and Pauline Newman and ends with the current generation of American female leadership that includes Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of Lean In.
What I liked about this book was that it didn’t start at the 1960’s,which is often considered to be the start of the feminist movement. The feminist movement in America is much older. I also liked the fact that authors shed the spotlight on women of color, who are sometimes neglected because the focus is often on white middle class women.
I recommend this book.
Our heroes are often unsung. Their achievements are often forgotten. We cannot thank them for what we have because we have forgotten them.
Annelise Orleck’s 1995 memoir, Common Sense And A Little Fire is about the unsung heroes of the feminist movement and the labor movement. Rose Schneiderman, Pauline Newman, Clara Lemlich Shavelson and Fannia Cohn were Jewish emigrants who left Europe for America at the turn of the 20th century. Settling in the Lower East Side, they took the only jobs they could get. Working in the garment factories for low pay, no benefits and unprotected from the advances of their male bosses and colleagues, they quickly join the labor movement, as well as the early feminist movement.
This book is a history book and a memoir, but it reads like a novel. Rich in historical detail, Orleck’s subjects are human in every way. The reader gets to know them not just as labor leaders and feminists, but full human beings. Her subjects are no longer with us, but every time I finish reading this book, I say a silent thank you to the ladies. Without them, we would all be very different.
I recommend this book.