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The Rent Striker

Lawrence Bush
December 26, 2017

On this day in 1907, 16-year-old Pauline Newman launched a rent strike involving 10,000 families in lower Manhattan, after months of organizing among housewives and teenage sweatshop workers. The strike lasted two weeks and won rent reductions for about 2,000 households. Leaders of the settlement house movement then urged capping rents throughout the city at 30 percent of a family’s income — an essential principle of rent control, which was finally implemented in the 1930s. Pauline Newman went on to help organize the 1909 Uprising of the 20,000, the first industry-wide garment workers strike, which led to widespread recognition of the ILGWU (International Ladies Garment Workers Union) — for which she worked for seven decades. She was also Vice President of the National Women’s Trade Union League and a key member of Eleanor Roosevelt’s circle of women reformers who shaped American labor law. Newman and Frieda Miller, her partner for fifty-six years, lived in Greenwich Village and raised a daughter together. She died in 1986 at age 96.

“Her contributions as an organizer, a legislative expert, a writer, and a mentor to younger women activists were profound and wide-ranging. Her historical significance far exceeds any official title that she held.” —Annelise Orleck, Jewish Women’s Archives

​​​​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.