Labor movement comrades Bessie Abramowitz and Sidney Hillman announced their engagement while leading, arm-in-arm, the contingent of clothing workers in the Chicago May Day parade on this date in 1916. Abramowitz, six years earlier, had at age 20 sparked a major walk-out of workers at Hart, Shaffner and Marx, which won her a job with the Women’s Trade Union League; Hillman, a participant in that walk-out, had become president in 1915 of the new Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, a post he held until his death in 1946. They married two days after their engagement, and raised two daughters in a Yiddish-speaking, secular Jewish household. Until her death at age 81 in 1970, Bessie Abramowitz Hillman was the “first lady” of the Jewish labor movement, deeply involved in issues of racial justice, art and culture, and worker dignity.
“I was Bessie Abramowitz before he was Sidney Hillman.” —Bessie Abramowitz