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April 22: The Wage Earners League for Women’s Suffrage

April 21, 2015

Clara_Lemlich_1910Labor activists Clara Lemlich and Rose Schneiderman, along with three other women, led a mass rally of the Wage Earners League for Women’s Suffrage at Cooper Union’s Great Hall of the People on this date in 1912 — the same site where Clara Lemlich had kicked off the “Uprising of the Twenty Thousand,” the strike of women garment workers, three years earlier. The Wage Earners League “argued in speeches and pamphlets that women needed the vote in order to secure basic human rights like safe working conditions,” writes the Jewish Women’s Archive. “In doing so, League leaders came into conflict with both Socialist men and middle-class women. The men who counted on female allies in Socialist causes bluntly suggested that suffrage activists return to their kitchens. Middle-class women showed their class bias in suggesting that their wealth and education made them more capable activists than these working women. Wary of having their specific concerns sidestepped, League members agreed that any woman could join their group, but that only workers could vote, ensuring that working women would remain in control of the League’s agenda and tactics.”

“The league proved successful in spreading its message to unaffiliated working women, due in part to the league’s leaders targeting the same women workers they were unionizing and also to the ability of chief organizer Clara Lemlich, who was a skilled and passionate speaker, and often recited her speeches in Yiddish.” —Wikipedia