Rose Finkelstein Norwood, who led a six-day strike of 8,000 telephone operators in 1919 — one of the largest strikes ever initiated and led by women — was born in Kiev on this date in 1889. Throughout the 1920s she was a leader within the Women’s Trade Union League, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and groups working in defense of Sacco and Vanzetti. In the 1930s, she was an indefatigable organizer, first with the Commercial Telegraphers’ Union, then for the laundry workers’ union, for which she directed successful strikes in the Boston area. In the 1940s, she worked for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, the International Jewelry Workers’ Union, and as an organizer of librarians for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. She also led an organizing drive for the boilermakers’ union in the shipyards at Portland, Maine. In the 1950s, she was an organizer for the Retail Clerks’ International Union and the Building Service Employees’ International Union. Norwood was also an airplane pilot as early as 1920; a lifelong advocate of rights for women; a mother of two; an activist on behalf of the elderly; a leading advocate of workers’ education and cultural programs; and a vociferous anti-racist and anti-fascist.
“Norwood’s involvement in organizing librarians led her to conceive of the ‘Books for Workers’ program, through which public libraries supplied books to factories and union halls. During World War II she served on the Boston Herald Rumor Clinic, chaired by Gordon Allport and designed to combat anti-Semitic and racist prejudice as well as Nazi-inspired rumors intended to undermine the Allied war effort; she was its only woman member. She served on the Advisory Committee of the Boston Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and was a member of the Massachusetts Committee for the Marshall Plan. She also became deeply attached to the Labor Zionist cause.”—Stephen H. Norwood