Politics

Rebellious Women: A Labor Day Toast

The bravery of our foremothers is too often unsung. On this, our national day off, won for us in 1894, we toast the heroines—strikers, marchers, strategists—who took to the ramparts to help end the era of starvation wages and 60-hour workweeks.

We start with the formidable MOTHER JONES, a five-foot-tall seamstress whom a U.S. Attorney once called “the most dangerous woman in America.”

Then Janet Golden praises five lesser-known great dames—dames whose names all Americans should know: FRANCES PERKINS, the woman behind the New Deal; “Rebel Girl” ELIZABETH GURLEY FLYNN (“For the working class she’s a precious pearl”); ROSE SCHNEIDERMAN, who led the strike of shirtwaist makers known as the “Uprising of the Twenty Thousand” in 1913. Golden adds two contemporary heroines: DOLORES HUERTA, who co-founded the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez and maintained an active career as a labor leader, and LILLIAN ROBERTS, one of the few African-American labor leaders, who served as director of New York City’s largest public-employee union, District Council 37, after having served as a New York State Labor Commissioner.

But wait, there’s more: rebellious women still live among us, fighting for equal pay, equal opportunity for promotions, and an end to sexual harassment in the workplace. Consider LILLY LEDBETTER, who, as a supervisor in a tire factory, did all the hard and dangerous work the men did, but was consistently paid less than they were, and endured sexual harassment every day as she tried to do her job. (At her first formal evaluation in 1981, Ledbetter’s supervisor told her, “Well, I rank you an eleven out of twelve. If you want a better score, you can meet me at the Ramada Inn.”) Eventually she sued the company; eventually lost in the Supreme Court because the statute of limitations had run out; but she didn’t give up. On January 29, 2009, she stood smiling behind President Obama’s right shoulder as he signed a bill into law. The bill is the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which makes it easier for those suffering from pay discrimination to have their cases come before a court.

The quintessential story of sex discrimination in the workplace is the story of RUTH BADER GINSBURG, the diminutive Supreme Court Justice whom Gloria Steinem refers to as “the closest thing to a superhero I know.” When Ginsburg graduated from Columbia Law School, she could not get a job, despite her brilliant academic record at both Harvard (where she made Law Review) and Columbia law schools. She had to take a teaching position until the A.C.L.U. tapped her to co-found its Women’s Rights Project. With the ACLU, Ginsburg argued six gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court. She represented both men and women, making a point that rewriting sexist laws would benefit both.

 

HERE ARE OUR LABOR DAY TALES OF TRUE GRIT:

TODAY’S TALK TOPIC: OUR LABOR DAY HEROINE—MOTHER JONES
By Women’s Voices For Change | September 1, 2014

Typically clad in a black dress, her face framed by a lace collar and black hat, Mother Jones was a fearless orator . . . Her energy and passion inspired men half her age into action and compelled their wives and daughters to join in the struggle. READ MORE

 

REBELLIOUS WOMEN: HEROINES OF THE LABOR MOVEMENT
By Janet Golden | September 3, 2012

“Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was not the lone female spirit of the [Lawrence, Massachusetts, mill] strike. From the strike’s opening uproar, women had been as enraged and united as men . . ..  . [Labor leader Bill] Haywood recalled seeing women strip a policeman to his underwear and dangle him, headfirst, over a canal before another officer intervened.” READ MORE

 

GRACE AND GRIT: WHEN LILLY LEDBETTER FOUGHT BACK
By Judith A. Ross  | June 21, 2012

“That’s when I felt the shame, the haunting humiliation deep in my bones [after learning that she had been systematically underpaid for nearly 20 years]. As the numbers kept looping through my mind, I couldn’t shake the realization of how stupid I’d been to try so hard and think that it would pay off.” READ MORE

 

‘RBG’: THOUGHTFUL AND LOVING DOCUMENTARY ABOUT OUR MOST NOTORIOUS JUSTICE
By Alexandra MacAaron | May 22.2018

“Early on, [Supreme Curt Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg] borrowed the words of nineteenth-century feminist, abolitionist, and 1830s superhero Sarah Gremke, and Ginsburg recites them again in in the movie documentary RBG.

‘I ask no favor for our sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.’ ” READ MORE 

A CNN documentary on her life will run on Labor Day at 9 PM EST.  

 

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  • Diane Dettmann September 3, 2018 at 5:53 pm

    Thank you so much Deborah for this Labor Day Toast that focuses on the impact and determination of our fore mothers. Their stories are often untold. In our culture today, the contributions of women are invisible and overshadowed by a male dominated society. Hope in my lifetime this changes.

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