Clara Lemlich's Arresting Drama
Clara Lemlich Shavelson [1 January 1886 - 12 July 1982] spent her long life fighting for trade unions, women's suffrage, peace, and fair housing and food practices.
• • Born in the Ukraine, Clara became a committed communist in her teens. After immigrating to the Lower East Side, Clara began working in a garment factory whose poor conditions led her to begin organizing women into the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.
• • On 8 March 1908, a demonstration was held at Rutgers Square in Manhattan's Lower East Side.
• • In 1909, 400 Triangle Factory employees walked out of their jobs.
• • Employers had many of these needleworkers arrested and jailed at Jefferson Market in an attempt to break their spirit.
• • In November 1909, at a meeting at Cooper Union, Clara Lemlich talked about the intolerable conditions in the shops and asked for a vote on a general strike. The response was overwhelmingly affirmative. She helped to catalyze the 1909 "Uprising of the 20,000," a massive strike by women workers.
• • After this walk-out, garment shop owners refused to hire Clara Lemlich. She turned her considerable energies to the suffrage movement, founding a working-class suffrage group. Marriage and three children transformed Clara's activism; she began organizing wives and mothers around issues like housing, food, and education.
• • Clara, my own sleep awakens me, stitching needles into the cushion of night. Your energy, courage, and clarity are celebrated this January by your admirers at Jefferson Market, where your heroic footsteps echo still.
• • Photo: 1910 Clara Lemlich
New York Public Library