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Guide to the Rose Schneiderman Papers TAM.018

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
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Biographical Note

Rose Schneiderman, by Nancy Schrom Dye.

{This essay first appeared in Papers of the Women's Trade Union League and Its Principal Leaders: guide to the microfilm edition , Edward T. James, editor; assistant editors, Robin Miller Jacoby, Nancy Schrom Dye. Woodbridge, Conn. : Published for the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College by Research Publications, 1981. 319 p. (TamimentRef / HD6079.2.U5 P36 1981) This microfilm set contains 131 reels.

Rose Schneiderman was born April 6, 1882, in the village of Saven, Poland, the first of four children. Like many Eastern European Orthodox Jews in the late nineteenth century, her parents, Samuel and Deborah (Rothman) Schneiderman, worked in the sewing trades to support their impoverished family, at first in Saven and then in the industrial city of Khelm. When Rose was eight they emigrated to New York City's Lower East Side. Her father's death there in the winter of 1892 left the family dependent upon relatives and charity. Rose and her brothers spent over a year in Jewish orphanages before their mother could reunite them.

Rose's education was limited and frequently interrupted. In Poland she began her schooling at the village chedar, a Hebrew school traditionally open only to boys. For several years she attended Russian schools. In the United States, to her disappointment, she had to leave school for work after the ninth grade. Throughout her life she continued a program of self education and was an omnivorous reader.

Rose Schneiderman's first job, at thirteen, was as a department store cash girl at $2.25 a week. Three years later, in 1898, she found a better paying position as a sewing machine operator in a cap factory. Despite the oppressive conditions that characterized both retail stores and clothing factories in the late nineteenth century, her interest in trade unionism did not develop immediately. Like most young women wage earners of that day, she regarded her time in industry as temporary, to be given up for marriage or a teaching career. As she recalled in her autobiography, "We had no idea that there was a union in our industry and that women could join it. Nor did we have a full realization of the hardships we were undergoing."

Two relationships seem to have changed this view. In 1902 her family moved briefly to Montreal, where close friendship with a socialist family stirred her interest in radical politics and trade unionism. Soon after her return to the'New York cap factory in 1903, she joined another new friend, Bessie Braut, a young anarchist, in organizing the women in their shop. They applied for a charter to the United Cloth Hat and Cap Makers Union, a vigorous Jewish socialist organization, but the union, reluctant to take women members, told them to come back after they had succeeded in organizing twenty five women a task they accomplished within a few days. The union then chartered its first women's local.

Schneiderman quickly emerged as a promising organizer and labor. leader, particularly during a long and bitter citywide capmakers' strike in 1905. Her local, largely under her direction, rapidly grew to several hundred members. She was elected its secretary and one of its delegates to the New York City Central Labor Union. Previously a quiet, introverted, often unhappy young woman, she now came into her own. She joined the Socialist party and, in 1905, the New York Women's Trade Union League, the organization she was later to call "the most important influence in my life."

The New York League, recently organized and on the lookout for promising women trade unionists, had sported Schneiderman's organizing work and invited her to its meetings as early as 1904. Although hesitant at first about an organization containing so many upperclass women, she made her decision to join and quickly became a leading member. By 1908 she was the League's vice president and one of its most effective organizers. In that year a stipend provided by Irene Lewisohn, one of the League's wealthy supporters, enabled her to give up factory employment and work for the League, meanwhile continuing her education at the Rand School of Social Science.

During the tumultuous years of the general strikes in the garment trades from 1909 through 1914, Rose Schneiderman became well known in trade union circles for her abilities as an organizer, public speaker, and union administrator. As the League's East Side organizer, she helped found numerous women's unions, primarily among Jewish immigrants. She was active in the 1909 general strike of the shirtwaist makers, the "Uprising of the Twenty Thousand," and served on the shirtwaist makers' union's executive board. She also established, virtually single handedly, a small union of white goods workers that became Local 62 of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. As its first president and organizer, she led it carefully from its precarious beginnings in 1908 through its general strike in 1913.

Friction with Melinda Scott, the League's organizer for English speaking women, who had defeated her in the contest for president of the League in 1914, led Schneiderman to resign her League positions at the end of that year and become a national organizer for the I LGWU. She spent a year in the job, traveling throughout the East and Midwest to organize shirtwaist makers, but found working for a male dominated trade union frustrating and unfulfilling. The experience seems to have deepened her commitment to the Women's Trade Union League and to the woman's movement generally. Throughout the second decade of the twentieth century she was an active suffragist, and throughout her career she did not hesitate to voice criticism of union policies that indicated insensitivity to women's concerns. She became president of the New York League in 1918, and in 1926 accepted the presidency of the National WTUL as well, although the New York League remained her primary focus.

The years after World War I saw changes in Rose Schneiderman's activities and priorities. Although, under New York League auspices, she continued to organize women workers in New York City, she devoted increasing time and energy to administrative and legislative matters. As president of the New York League, she channeled much of her energy into lobbying at the state capitol for protective legislation for women, particularly eight hour and minimum wage laws. She also gave vigorous opposition to the new Equal Rights Amendment proposed by the National Woman's Party.

Her political orientation also changed during these years. Earlier a Socialist, she helped organize the state Labor party in 1919 and was its candidate for U.S. Senator on the Farmer Labor ticket of 1920. So strong was her reputation at this time as a political radical that she was assailed by conservative groups as "Red Rose" and was one of the individuals investigated by New York's Lusk Committee. Over the next few years, however, the decline of the Socialist and Farmer Labor parties and her friendship with Democratic activists within the New York WTUL Iike Nancy Cook and especially Eleanor Roosevelt (who joined the League late in 1922) drew her toward that party. She was pleased when the Democratic governor, Al Smith, appointed her a state delegate to a child labor conference in Washington in 1924. Though she campaigned that fall for the Progressive presidential candidate, La Follette, she also voted for Smith. Before long she had become a staunch Democrat.

Her friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt soon extended to Franklin as well, during visits at Hyde Park, Campobello, and later at the Governor's Mansion. The friendship greatly in fluenced Schneiderman's public career. She in turn, through their conversations, gave Roosevelt in insight into the labor movement,and the problems of women workers that did much to shape the future president's outlook on labor relations.

During his first, presidential year Roosevelt appointed Schneiderman to the National Recovery Administration's Labor Advisory Board one of the first women he named to a high post. As the Board's only woman member, she was regularly consulted on women's issues. Her appointment lapsed with the NRA itself in 1935. In 1937 Governor Herbert Lehman of New York appointed her secretary (the second ranking officer) of the state's Department of Labor, an office she held until 1944.

Throughout these years Rose Schneiderman had continued as president of both the New York and the National Women's Trade Union Leagues. Her resignation from the first post, in 1949, marked her real retirement from public life; her presidency of the National League came to an end when it disbanded in 1950. While living quietly in Manhattan, she completed her autobiography, All for One, written in collaboration with Lucy Goldthwaite; it was published in 1967. Rose Schneiderman died at the Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged in New York City on August 11, 1972.

- End of Dye essay -

For Rose Schneiderman's career in the Women's Trade Union League, a more comprehensive source than her own papers is the records of the New York WTUL, also part of the WTUL microfilm edition. These include minutes of regular and executive board meetings in which she participated, from 1905 to 1955; her correspondence as president of the New York League from 1918 to 1949; and some of her correspondence as president of the National League. The correspondence files, particularly in later years, also include occasional personal letters, and they throw light on other aspects of Schneiderman's career, such as her post World War I evolution from socialist to Democrat.

Other portions of the microfilm edition contain scattered Schneiderman letters: the papers of Margaret Dreier Robins, Mary Anderson, and Leonora O'Reilly, and the National WTUL Papers at the Schlesinger Library. There are also Schneiderman letters in the National WTUL Records at the Library of Congress, which have been microfilmed as part of this edition.

Manuscript collections elsewhere that contain Schneiderman letters include the Brookwood Labor College Records at the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University; the Herbert H. Lehman Papers, School of International Affairs, Columbia University; the Eleanor Roosevelt Personal Papers, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York; and the Pauline Newman Papers, Schlesinger Library. There is a brief chapter on Schneiderman in the unpublished autobiography of her old friend George N. Caylor (originally Cohen), "If Memory Serves Me Right," in the Caylor Papers at the Tamiment Library, New York University. The records of the National Recovery Administration in the National . Archives (Record Group 9) include the office files of Rose Schneiderman and other members of the Labor Advisory Board. Her official correspondence as secretary of the New York State Department of Labor seems not to have survived.

The basic source for Schneiderman's life is her autobiography, All for One (1967), written in collaboration with Lucy Goldthwaite. See also her early autobiographical article, "A Cap Maker's Story,"  Independent, LVIII (Apr. 27, 1905), 935-938. Also, Gary Endelman, "Solidarity Forever: Rose Schneiderman and the Women's Trade Union League" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Delaware, 1978). Schneiderman is viewed in different contexts in Ellen Condliffe Lagemann,  A Generation of Women: Education in the Lives of Progressive Reformers (1979), and Pat L. C. Schbiten, "Militant Women for Economic Justice: The Persuasion of Mary Harris Jones, Ella Reeve Bloor, Rose Pastor Stokes, Rose Schneiderman, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn" (Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University, 1979), and Annelise Orleck,  Common Sense and a Little Fire (1995).

Apr 6, 1882 Born in Saven, Poland.
1890 Came with parents to United States; family settled in New York City's Lower East Side.
1892-1893 Spent a year in Jewish orphanages after father's death.
1895 Left public school after ninth grade to become a cash girl in a department store.
1898 Became sewing machine operator in a cap factory.
1903 Helped organize the women in her shop into a local of the capmakers' union, thus starting her labor career.
1905 A leader in citywide capmakers' strike; joined New York Women's Trade Union League.
ca. 1906 Elected vice president of New York WTUL.
1908 Left factory work to become an organizer for the WTUL.
1909-1914 A leader in shirtwaist and other general strikes of NewYork garment workers.
ca. 1909-1917 Active as campaigner for woman suffrage.
Dec 1914 Resigned as WTUL vice president and organizer.
1915-1916 National organizer for International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.
1918-1949 President of New York WTUL.
1920 Farmer Labor party candidate for U.S. Senator.
1924 Campaigned for La Follette for president.
1924 ff Growing friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt (a WTUL member) and Franklin D. Roosevelt drew her toward Democratic party.
1926-1950 President of National WTUL.
1933-1935 Member of Labor Advisory Board, National Recovery Administration.
1937-1944 Secretary of New York State Department of Labor.
1967 Published her autobiography, All for One, written in collaboration with Lucy Goldthwaite.
Aug 11, 1972 Died at Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged, New York City.