Monday, March 24, 2014

March 25 - Happy Birthday, Gloria Steinem, 80

Happy birthday, Gloria Steinem.

You are what Inez Milholland might have turned out to be if she had lived longer and had been born later.

Inez Milholland was called by the Editorial Board of The New York Times "the fairest of the Amazons" in 1913.

You were similarly called by The Washington Post columnist Maxine Cheshire  “the miniskirted pinup girl of the intelligentsia."

I got the Cheshire quote from Gail Collins's report on Gloria Steinem's 80th birthday. She noted that Steinem is in Botswana to celebrate her 80th.

Steinem's 40th and subsequent-decade birthdays have been well publicized because she wanted to lead other women by example, and not show fear in the face of aging. She has done this.

How much do women need men?
A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.
Steinem was born this day in Toledo, Ohio. Her father was an antique dealer and a summer resort operator who traveled around in a trailer, looking for new business ideas. She said of her parents:
[Dad] was always going to make a movie, or cut a record, or start a new hotel, or come up with a new orange drink. [Mom was] an invalid who lay in bed with eyes closed and lips moving in occasional response to voices only she could hear; a woman to whom I brought an endless stream of toast and coffee, bologna sandwiches, and dime pies.
In this environment, Steinem had poor grades, says Garrison Keillor, but she managed to get into Smith based on her entrance exams. After college, she made her name as a journalist with a piece called "I was a Playboy Bunny" (1963), about working "undercover" at the Manhattan Playboy Club. She went on to found Ms. Magazine in 1972. It sold out its first print run of 300,000 copies in eight days. Steinem has written several books about the inequities women face in the modern world, including Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983) and Revolution from Within (1992).

INEZ | Graveyard Meeting, June 1908

Graveyard where Vassar suffragists met. Photo from the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial Newsletter.
When Inez Milholland was a student at Vassar, she requested use of the Vassar chapel for a suffrage meeting.

But President James Monroe Taylor forbade it. So the meeting was held at a public graveyard across the street from Vassar.

Taylor was outraged at the "exploitation" of Vassar for political purposes and said he would expel any student who attended.

But word got out and the meeting on June 8, 1908 attracted about 40 Vassar undergraduates, ten alumnae, Harriot Stanton Blatch (Elizabeth Cady Stanton's daughter) - who was organizing the event as part of a trolley ride down the East Coast - and others from outside the Vassar community including two men.

This meeting established the Vassar Votes for Women Club, which continued to meet off-campus under Milholland's leadership.

Her opening remarks at this meeting were in part: "How can we enjoy a comfortable life when young girls are chained to their machines in factories? Sisterhood with other women is more important to me than a Vassar diploma. . . . Only when women vote, will they breathe free." Source:  Boissevain Family Website.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

TRIANGLE FIRE | Mar. 25–103rd Anniversary (Comment)

Frances Perkins as a member of the
[Triangle] Factory Investigation
Commission, 1911.
Mar. 21, 2014–The following report on the "Mink Brigade" appears in the latest Department of Labor Newsletter, just posted.
Frances Perkins is rightly heralded as the visionary behind some of the most far-reaching labor reforms in American history, but throughout her long career as a leading voice for social change, she was never alone.
Perkins was a member of a long line of women, from Jane Addams to Eleanor Roosevelt, who took up the cause of women's rights in the workplace and led a swelling social movement that amplified the call for a voice for working people at the highest levels of government. 
The movement was galvanized on March 25, 1911, when a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Manhattan caused the deaths of 123 women and 23 men. 
Perkins witnessed the fire, and in its aftermath, stood in solidarity with the workers who rose up, many of them women of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, to call for change. 
Perkins was among a group of women [suffragists - including Inez Milholland and some Vassar colleagues] that became known, mockingly, as "the Mink Brigade" — a reference to their patrician roots. It included women from families of prominent industrialists, such as Anne Morgan (daughter of J.P. Morgan) and Alva Belmont.

As Perkins ascended to state labor commissioner for New York and then U.S. secretary of labor, she never forgot the women of the Triangle factory and other victims. In 1933, she wrote an influential op-ed calling for a higher minimum wage and increased workplace protections, using the figure of the young woman toiling in a garment factory as her subject and titling it, "The Cost of a Five-Dollar Dress." • Read "The Cost of a Five-Dollar Dress" • View the Centennial Timeline • View the Centennial Video
Comment: I have posted before on the Triangle fire. The landlords at the Triangle building successfully fought civil and criminal suits against them. The laws just did not make them responsible. The same thing may still be seen today in low-wage factories overseas, where labor laws are not on the books or are not enforced. When FDR became governor, he brought in Frances Perkins to strengthen labor laws. When he was elected President, he brought her down to have the same impact nationally. She was the first female Cabinet member, and she served for more than 12 years, longer than any other Secretary of Labor. The owners'  lack of accountability for the loss of lives, 146 of them, mostly young girls, was used as an argument for the need for votes for women. As noted in, for example, the Triangle book by David von Drehle, Inez Milholland was deeply involved in taking the side of workers in the strike against the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, in the two years before the fire.