because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hannah Shapiro

In September of 1910, Hannah Shapiro went to her supervisor at Hart, Shaffner and Marx in Chicago to complain about a pay cut. It wasn't just her pay that was being reduced. All the seamstresses had been hit. And it was only a loss of one quarter of a penny per pair of pants, after all. So what was the big deal? The supervisor said nothing could be done.

Shapiro, only seventeen at the time, thought it over and went back to her supervisor a few days later to press the point, but to no avail. So Shapiro and her co-workers from Shop #5 went on strike. Much to the surprise of their bosses, not only did the workers in other shops sewing for Hart, Shaffner and Marx refuse to take up the missing seamstress' slack, but in rapid succession, six more shops followed right behind Shapiro and Shop #5. And by only a few weeks later, 40,000 women garment workers -- many of whom were immigrants and most of whom were very young -- had walked out, refusing to return to work until their demands were satisfied (a period of several months).

Somehow, after the fact, Hannah Shapiro disappeared from the historical accounts of this first important strike that helped to lay the groundwork for much of the labor struggle that came afterward. Despite the fact that she collected money and walked the picket line day after day in bitter cold, her quiet nature kept her out of the limelight and out of the photos. So gradually, her role was forgotten.

Still, when an in-your-face woman takes action, others follow. And whether she gets the attention she deserves or not, it was her courage in walking out first that became the bridge the others used to cross the great divide to a better life. How many in-your-face women have changed the world through the ages and then disappeared into the woodwork as if they never lived?

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