In 2011, Connie Kopelov and Phyllis Siegel the first same sex couple to be legally married in New York City's Borough of Manhattan.
Phyllis Siegel (1934-) was born August 9, 1934, in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Queens Village and Great Neck, New York, on Long Island. She attended Adelphi College and Queens College, and graduated from Rutgers University in 1971, with an undergraduate degree in English literature, and worked in the bookkeeping and accounting fields. In 1986, Siegel joined SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT [Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transsexual] Elders) and served on its committees and on its board for more than 20 years. It was through her activities in SAGE that she met Connie Kopelov, who was also an active member of the organization.
Connie Kopelov (1926-) was born April 14, 1926 in the small industrial town of Kokomo, Indiana, to Russian Jewish immigrant parents. After graduating from Northwestern University in 1947 with a BA in political science, Kopelov worked for the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, a citizens' educational organization led by Adlai Stevenson and Louise Leonard Wright, whose mission was to encourage internationalism. In 1955, Kopelov left Chicago for New York City, where her political activism and involvement in the labor movement would develop quickly.
Kopelov worked briefly for Morris Novick, who was then working as a media consultant for the Frank Edwards Radio News Program sponsored by the American Federation of Labor. She next worked, until 1957, as Executive Director of the New York City Freedom Agenda Program. The Freedom Agenda forums, which originated with the League of Women Voters, were initiated to explore civil liberties issues in the aftermath of McCarthyism and in particular to generate discussion on the Bill of Rights. In the next phase of her career Kopelov began a long period of dedication to labor education. From 1957 to 1962 she served as Education Representative for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. In 1962, she became the Associate National Education Director for the Amalgamated (later the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union). Kopelov conducted resident leadership institutes and legislative conferences for rank-and-file ACTWU members in various regions of the country. She also wrote legislative and environmental policy newsletters for the union. In 1967, Kopelov took a yearlong leave of absence to accept a Senior Fulbright Fellowship to do research on workers education in Britain. From 1977 to 1979, she served as Director of Education for the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees (Local 1199). She planned numerous staff development seminars and conferences, and conducted teacher-training programs for Local 1199 throughout the Northeast.
In addition to her labor education work, Kopelov has been a strong feminist voice for working women's issues and women's history. In 1972, Kopelov participated in the New York Trade Union Women's Seminar, a series of seminars for staff and rank-and-file unionists originated by Barbara Wertheimer under Cornell University's New York City labor program. The conference coincided with national discussions on women and labor that led to the formation of Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW). CLUW's mission was to address the specific problems facing women in labor and to offer educational, organizational, communication, and political/legislative components on a national level. Kopelov served on the CLUW National Planning Committee, and, in 1975, she was elected Vice-President of the newly chartered New York City Chapter of CLUW. Along with chairing several committees, Kopelov contributed a host of articles and speeches on women's history topics to CLUW journals, newsletters, and conferences. In 1974, Kopelov chronicled the formation of CLUW in her thesis, "Trade Union Women and Women's Rights," for which she earned a Master's Degree from Goddard College. Kopelov further affirmed her commitment to women's history when she participated as a CLUW representative in the 1979 Institute on Women's History at Sarah Lawrence College. At this conference, the idea for a national Women's History Month took form. In 1981, Kopelov again represented CLUW in the Women's Funding Coalition, envisioned as a "United Way" to fund women's organizations through payroll deductions.
In March 1982, Kopelov joined the staff of the Workers Defense League, an advocacy organization for workers' rights founded in 1936. She directed a number of projects including a Speakers Bureau to disseminate labor history on college campuses, a pioneering unemployment insurance advocacy training course, and an employee rights-on-the-job project. Kopelov designed curricula to train speakers, stewards and organizers and prepared resource materials for participants in job training, immigrant, and adult education programs. Kopelov's later projects include editing the annual Labor History Month calendar of the New York Labor History Association, conducting walking tours of women's labor history in New York City, and contributing articles on women in labor history to a wide range of publications. She was an adjunct lecturer on labor history at Cornell University and New York University.
She has been the recipient of a number of awards and honors, including NYC-NOW's Susan B. Anthony Award and the John Commerford Labor Education Awatrd of the New York Labor History Association.