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May 27: The Meat Boycott of 1935

Lawrence Bush
May 27, 2010

national housewifes league in detroit_A boycott of Manhattan butcher shops began on this date in 1935, led by Clara Lemlich Shavelson, who at age 23 had sparked the 1909 “Uprising of the 20,000” garment workers strike with a militant speech at a meeting at Cooper Union. The 1935 boycott brought together the Communist-led Council of Working-Class Women and various settlement houses, socialist groups, Black organizations, church auxiliaries, and mothers’ groups. Their “City Action Committee Against the High Cost of Living” pledged to boycott meat and picket butcher shops until prices fell by ten cents per pound. By mid-June, over a thousand shops in New York had reduced their prices by some amount, and by summer’s end, the boycott had spread to Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia and several other big cities. In Detroit, members of the black women’s Housewives’ League burned down a meat packinghouse before heading to Chicago to help shut down that city’s entire meat industry. The boycotters charged that the Meat Trust wholesalers were inflating prices by hoarding their product (a charge sustained two years later when butchers declared a strike against the Meat Trust). Eventually, government regulation of the meat industry helped solve the problem of price-gouging. Still, consumer boycotts persisted throughout the Great Depression.
“We are that mythical thing called the public and so we shall demand a hearing.” —Jean Stovel, organizer of a housewives’ flour boycott in Seattle, 1936
(For a 1982 statement by Clara Lemlich Shavelson, visit, under the letter “L.”)

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.