The Great Uprising in Cleveland: When Sisterhood Failed
“I AM simply amazed,” wrote Gertrude Barnum in September 1911, “to learn that the society women, club women and church societies sat passively through the Cleveland strike while the employers refused to arbitrate and insisted upon settling issues by the force of starvation and false arrests and intimidation by hired thugs and sluggers.”1 In the midst of one of the bitter clashes that wracked the garment industry during the early twentieth century, Barnum described the struggle and analyzed one possible reason for its collapse. But the story of failed sisterhood that she lamented represented only one level at which sex solidarity failed to materialize.
Solidarity among working-class women in the strike-locked Cleveland neighborhoods was equally lacking in the summer of 1911. Common grievances brought women into the streets of Cleveland, but they did not cut as deeply across class lines or even across internal class interests as they did in other cities. Cleveland provides a good example of just how fragile the common interests of women could be and how they could dissipate in the complex currents of a major strike.
The Cleveland strike of 1911 was only one of those mounted by an increasingly militant early twentieth-century work force, determined upon improving working conditions and gaining union representation. Bargaining and strikes did not bring total victory to workers; but gains were made, as the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) and the United Garment Workers (UGWA) became forces with which to be reckoned. First in New York, then in Chicago, a pattern emerged of immigrant, working-class commitment to unionization, and willingness and ability to endure the deprivation of long strikes. In addition, the strikes of 20,000 Jewish and Italian New York women and of hundreds of female workers in Chicago resulted in the forging of concrete ties with middle-class female reformers and suffragists, whose support played important roles in the outcome of the struggles. The same alliance among female garment workers in New York and Boston in 1913, although less familiar to labor history, was again responsible for economic gains and union recognition. The absence of comparable cross-class bonds in a strike that failed calls into relief the importance of these ties.2
In the Cleveland strike, the victorious ILGWU, encouraged by their success in the New York women’s clothing industry, attempted to repeat that success elsewhere. The 60,000 New York workers had settled their dispute with the Protective Association of Manufacturers, with the outside assistance of Louis Brandeis and an ingenious instrument dubbed the Protocol of Peace. Strikers received a wage settlement and assurance that hiring would be on a preferential basis rather than the hoped-for closed shop arrangement. The conflict highlighted confrontation between German Jewish and upwardly mobile East European Jewish immigrant manufacturers and a largely immigrant Jewish labor force. Outside forces imposed settlement upon an industry publicly displaying its intraethnic, as well as economic, tensions. Whatever the motivation, however, the Protocol marked a compromised but positive victory for the principle of collective bargaining, as well as an invitation to standardize conditions in other manufacturing centers in an industry where markets were increasingly national in character.3
Organizing Cleveland represented more than just an effort by the ILGWU to equalize labor conditions; it also became a battle to protect New York manufacturers adhering to the terms of the Protocol from unfair competition. The markets for Cleveland’s garments were considerably broader than those of Boston, Philadelphia, or Chicago. Although numerically a poor fourth in the manufacturing of women’s clothing generally, Cleveland ranked directly behind New York in women’s cloak and suit production. Between five and six thousand workers, about one-third of them women, worked in thirty-three shops of varying size, the biggest ones employing fifty to almost one thousand workers. Eight large firms belonged to a protective association adamantly opposed to organizing efforts; the others combined in an independent manufacturers association. The economic situation was complicated by outside contractors who made about one-quarter of cloaks and suits in the city, a factor that magnified the ethnic diversities and rivalries in the city. Most outside contractors were Bohemians who employed Bohemian women and girls, many of whom were suspicious and unfriendly toward the inside operatives, who were mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants.4
Determined activist workers in Cleveland were an important element in the ILGWU’s decision to support a strike. The union’s Cleveland president, Isadore Feit, who convinced the Bohemian contractors to join forces and publish joint complaints against the manufacturers, first announced intentions to press workers’ complaints. The ILGWU in New York counseled patience. But resentful determination in the ranks had grown out of frustration in an earlier unsuccessful 1908 strike against one of the major firms, Prinz-Biederman. In addition, seasonal low-paying employment, periodic extensive overtime, and the example of the New York strike model motivated the workers to try for recognition and bargaining rights. The degree of union support and organization varied from shop to shop, and was especially weak in the largest firms. After a meeting of the General Executive Board of the International, however, leaders bowed to the wishes of the Cleveland locals and reluctantly called a general strike, rather than expose members in specific shops to the possibility of nonstriking coworkers in firms more capable of withstanding union demands. On June 3, a union letter asking for immediate negotiations and enclosing a list of eleven general demands, as well as demands from cutters, cloak operators, tailors, dressmakers and skirt makers, pressers, and outside contractors was sent to all cloak and suit manufacturers. Since even direct, negative response would constitute implicit union recognition, all communication was ignored by employers.5
On the morning of June 6, 1911, the Cleveland Plain Dealer headlines read, “Big Strike Looms in Garment Trade.” The accompanying article described the demands sent by the union to the thirty-three firms, individually identified, and to the Out-side Contractors Association. Four thousand workers, principally Jews, Italians, and Bohemians, gathered at Grays Armory in downtown Cleveland to hear leaders describe employee demands and emphasize the importance of union recognition. General demands included the call for a fifty-hour week, with only a 7:30 A.M. to 12:30 P.M. schedule on Saturdays; no more than two hours of overtime during the regular five-day work week, and double pay on overtime; observance of legal holidays; elimination of shop agreements with individual employees and of inside contracting, as well as elimination of charges for machines, electricity, and thread.6
At the rally, leaders presented an impressive united front. John Dyche spoke on behalf of the International. Isadore Feit spoke as head of the local union, delivering his talk in English and in Yiddish. John Tomasek announced the support of the outside contractors in Bohemian. Charles Pagonni came from New York to represent the Italians and attend to their interests. Josephine Casey, organizer for the International, described the working conditions of women in the industry and pledged special attention to their concerns. What those concerns were was not clear, however. The specific demands of male cutters, tailors, shirtmakers, and pressers concentrated on wages and piecework rates, and on apprentice wage scales in the case of the cutters. Sex segregation in garment manufacturing was implicit only when skirt makers demanded that they “not be required to do finishing work, such as sewing on buttons, hooks and eyes, bottom basting, or tucking plaits.” These were women’s jobs, but how women were to be compensated was not mentioned in the demands of male strikers.7
Speakers at the rally stressed the importance of nonviolence. Lawyers Meyer London from the International Union, Louis Katz from the local, and Jay O. Dawley all agreed nonviolence was necessary for public support. Dawley was a well-known Cleveland counsel who had established his reputation as a union legal advisor for the Cleveland Employers Association, and although the appearance of this apostate on the side of the workers engendered some suspicion in labor circles, he was welcomed. Dawley was especially eloquent on the subject of a peaceful strike. “Womanhood, childhood, and virtue were involved in the strike,” he said, and strikers were to observe the law and refrain from physical confrontations at all costs, remembering “they were fighting for homes, for an honest living, for family, for religion, for freedom, and for better conditions.” Dawley told workers they would preserve the reputation of the trade union movement by proving that organized workers were not cutthroats and dynamiters, “but an orderly aggregation of workers asking a living wage and fair treatment.”8
As Dawley recommended, the strike began in a festive mood, without a hint of disruption or physical conflict. Employees reported on June 7 to their workplaces, where red cards that said “The General Strike Declared” were distributed. “Sisters and Brothers” were ordered by the General Strike Committee to leave their shops promptly at 10 A.M., to take their tools with them, to argue with no one once outside the factory, and to march directly to a strike meeting at Utopian Hall at East 31st and Woodland Avenue, in the heart of an eastside, immigrant, worker neighborhood. Newspapers reported joyful parades proceeding to the meeting hall. Women workers who had young babies and were generally employed by outside contractors, joined the strikers at a westside hall, where Bohemians assembled. Workers who did not respond to the walkout were sent home by employers.
The extent of the walkout exceeded expectations. To accommodate the enthusiastic thousands who responded to the strike call, six separate halls were needed. Workers assembled according to shop, to nationality, or, in the case of striking girls and women, to sex. Women leaders from Local 29 (finishers) and Local 27 (shirtmakers) signed up their fellow strikers and proceeded to convince 200 others in small dressmaking and tailor shops to join their ranks. Josephine Casey assisted the women’s organizing campaign. Workers received instructions on work benefits, picket activities, and future meeting sites.9
Three days later, on June 10, the Cloak Manufacturers Association ran full-page advertisements in Cleveland papers, decrying the strike. According to their statement, the strike was unwarranted, because optimal working conditions had always prevailed in Cleveland, because most workers did not approve the walkout, and because the purpose of the strike was to benefit the New York market. The eight large owners affirmed their willingness to meet with their employees individually or in groups from each factory department, “but not through outside representation.”10
The first outbreaks of violence occurred about the same time the manufacturers issued their statement. Two separate incidents involving strikers and police took place, with resulting injuries and arrests. The following day, Josephine Casey, five young women, and two men were arrested for disorderly conduct on the picket line. Although Casey was soon released on bail, tensions rose, and union leaders suggested that strikers take their families to area parks. At the same time, leaders insisted that violence “had been provoked by the hirelings of the manufacturers and the unwarrantly action of the police.” Newspapers quickly indicated how crucial the issue of violence was in influencing public perceptions and assessment of collective action by workers. The friendly Cleveland Press editorialized that during the early days, “It has been an orderly strike, and orderly strikes, when waged in a just cause, are almost certain to end in a victory for the wage earner.” When sporadic confrontations began, however, the Plain Dealer held strikers entirely responsible for maintaining labor peace. Outbreaks of violence gave strike leaders the opportunity to demonstrate that there was no need for such actions to occur, the newspaper warned: “The people of Cleveland will be disappointed if this choice is ignored.”11
Women now began to assume a greater role in the strike. Pauline Newman, a national union organizer for the International and a member of the Women’s Trade Union League, joined Casey as organizer and as protector of the interests of the striking women. On June 14, the first of several parades of strikers and sympathizers filed through the streets, female Locals 27 and 29 leading the marchers along their route through the business section of the city and west through the factory district. About six thousand demonstrators took part; their pictures and stories were carried on front pages of Cleveland newspapers. Union leaders sang their praises: “There were women, grey-haired and bent with age and toil, marching beside girls garbed in white, who wore bright ribbons and gay flowers.” But as strikers—men and women—took to the streets, the consequences were not always so colorful or peaceful. As employers used guards to protect their factories, hired nonstrikers locally, and imported others in attempts to maintain production, tempers flared. Female strikers on the picket line used bare fists and handbags in direct assaults on female scabs and on police as well. A long series of arrests of young women and men began in earnest. The women were arrested for throwing objects at automobiles transporting strikebreakers to work, for using their feet to trip workers entering plants, for “driving home arguments for unionism with [their] fists,” for throwing eggs at taxis taking strikebreakers home.12
According to Ohio law, the mayor of the city or the probate judge of the county was to notify the Ohio State Arbitration Board when a strike was threatened. An early and unsuccessful visit by the board secretary had been unofficial because it preceded formal notice. Once notice had been given, the secretary, accompanied by the chairman of the Arbitration Board, returned to Cleveland. The manufacturers association remained adamant, however, restating its position that the “strike in Cleveland is not a question of wages or working conditions. It is an attempt to dictate to the Cleveland manufacturers that they shall run their business as it is carried on in New York.” The board was powerless because one seat representing employers was vacant, due to a resignation. More important, the owners refused to meet with the representatives of the union or to submit the issues to arbitration. City officials and religious leaders, including the rabbis of the congregations to which the manufacturers belonged, urged conciliation and arbitration. The employers stood fast.13
Owner intransigence led to an escalation of strikebreaking, picketing, frustration, and confrontation. Strikers and union officials accused the police of collusion and the manufacturers of fomenting violence; the Chamber of Commerce accused the mayor of encouraging police laxity. Daily accounts of the industrial unrest became a litany of violence on the picket lines, arrests, importation of strikebreakers and armed guards, attempts by manufacturers to open shops in small nearby communities. By the third week of the struggle, a Cleveland Leader editorial demanded “Strike Violence Must Stop.” Both sides were cautioned to obey the law; but the tone of the editorial carried a tacit condemnation of strikers, who were reminded that “the police would ensure order, and that behind them stood the national guard and even the regular army.”14
The manufacturers had every intention of benefiting from the impact that violent confrontation had on community opinion. An unpublicized meeting between representatives of the Cleveland Garment Manufacturers Association and the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce Board indicated that the issue of violence could become a valuable tactic in the employers’ union opposition arsenal. On June 27 representatives of the owners informed the board that they did not want a proindustry statement on the merits of the employers’ position, but would, on the other hand, appreciate the adoption of strong resolutions calling for enforcement of order by city authorities. Counsel for the owners prepared the desired resolutions. The next day, calls for order were issued by Chamber of Commerce spokesmen.15
The owners did not passively wait for the frustrations and other emotional and physical responses to run their course. Harassment from police and guards and anger at the sight of imported strikebreakers could have accounted for the growing number of violent clashes. But to ensure that the onus of violence plagued the strikers, justified employer demands for peace and order, and brought credit to their antiunion position, the Cloak Manufacturers Association and Burns Detective Agency hired a nonunion cutter as spy and agent provocateur. Morris Lubin made his way to the core of the Picket Committee. Lubin’s role in inciting and exacerbating such behavior was documented two years later in court, where he was convicted and sentenced. The Ladies’ Garment Worker later concluded: “He inflamed the imaginations of these mere boys by revolutionary speeches” and convinced girls and young women that their tactics were “too ladylike, too peaceful.”16
Despite provocateurs the ranks of the strikers held. The defection of the Bohemian subcontractors after only two weeks of united action was a blow to strike strategy, but the outside contractors explained that they worked solely for the large manufacturers and were deeply in debt to them. Remaining strikers received regular benefits: $4 per week for unmarried men and women; $6 for men with small families; $8 for those with large families. But suffering and hardship increased as days became weeks, and weeks turned into months of unresolved battles of wills, fists, and clubs. In the third month of the strike, 3,000 men and women voted to continue the strike with ballots printed in English and five additional languages. Only 117 votes were cast in favor of returning to work, although the maximum weekly benefit had been cut to $6. When the more than $200,000 raised from various segments of the national labor movement proved insufficient, local unions voted an assessment of 10 cents per member to augment the strike fund.
Strikers marched in a place of honor in the annual Labor Day parade, the Jewish High Holy Days passed uneventfully with a virtual truce tentatively called in the almost unceasing violence, and the American Federation of Labor pledged its support and its intention to direct the struggle. In mid-October the socialist Cleveland Citizen suddenly announced that the strike had been called off for lack of financial support. Economic hardship took its toll. Well-financed and determined owners relentlessly stood their ground. The McNamara case (trial of union members for bombing of the Los Angeles Times building) diverted trade union attention. Violent confrontations undermined public approval at home. The Arbitration Board described the course and failure of the strike succinctly: “The strike began June 7, 1911, and ended October 15; number of weeks, twenty: number of employees engaged, six thousand. The strikers were forced to return to work without their demands being granted.”17
Throughout the strike, women were highly visible, as they took to the streets as pickets, endured arrest and jail, and emerged as apotheosized figures in print. Pauline Newman and Josephine Casey devoted their efforts to enlisting girls and young women into union ranks, assisting local women organizers, and conducting special meetings for the female strikers in their neighborhoods. To mitigate family opposition to the unconventional behavior and activities demanded of young women during the strike, Casey and Newman called special meetings for strikers’ mothers who were encouraged to advise their daughters to continue the struggle. An immigrant woman who addressed one group, reminded the mothers of their suffering in the old country and “that their daughters during the strike in Cleveland were bearing only a part of the burden of suffering which was the lot of women.”18
Most of the accolades for young women, however, emphasized identification with class and devotion to the union, rather than identifying courage on the picket line and the battle for economic justice as elements of feminist struggle. The example of female strikers was used to arouse support for the cause of organized labor generally. Young women turned police stations into meeting halls, according to Newman, singing of their loyalty to the union and memorializing its battles in songs of their own composition. The heroism of women was celebrated as legion; their strength was recognized as stemming from admirable qualities of self-sacrifice; their expectations, their inevitable rewards were declared unlimited:
Mollie is one of those who does not look at the Trade Union Movement as an end, but as a means to an end! Mollie is an idealist, is yearning for a future where there will be no master and no slave, but all will enjoy the beauties of life! Admire Mollie because she is not only dreaming of a glorious future, as so many of her people do, but is giving her life to the movement that will some day bring about a realization of Mollie’s dream.19
Rhetorical flourish was boundless. Becky Fisher, with a record of thirty-nine arrests in eleven weeks, was a model for all strikers, for she
has a horror of the police, the patrol wagon and the jail, but her union was as sacred to her as was Old Glory to Barbara Fritchie, and fear was an unknown quality to this little girl when she was fighting for her loved union and the cause it represented.20
Enduring the humiliation of police harassment, patrol wagons, and jail for the sake of the union may have epitomized courage and devotion to leaders of the labor movement, but to the Cleveland community generally, continuous public disorder created the impression of criminal irresponsibility. Escalating violence accomplished the goals of the intransigent employers, legitimizing their unyielding opposition to union recognition and worker demands. One factor could possibly have mitigated this development. Visible support from “respectable” middle-class and upper-class citizens, especially women, could have dramatized poor working conditions and brought increased pressure to bear on the manufacturers. Active participation by women reformers, demonstrating in concert with workers on the picket line and directly experiencing police brutality and indiscriminate arrest, could have further highlighted the inequities of the situation. This type of joint action had taken place in New York in 1909 and in Chicago in 1910, resulting in much positive publicity on behalf of strikers, and favorably influencing whatever terms resulted from strikes. As Gertrude Barnum said, cross-class cooperation was not replicated in Cleveland; Casey and Newman were first and foremost working-class, union organizers, and they could not lend the needed air of respectability to strikers in general, nor to women strikers in particular.
During the early days of the walkout, newspapers reported that suffrage leaders would protect the interests of young women if any were arrested while engaged in picket duty. That support never materialized. After her release from jail following her first arrest on disorderly conduct charges, Josephine Casey went directly to a meeting of the city’s Women’s Suffrage League. She requested that a resolution be drafted expressing sympathy for all women who were struggling to better their living conditions, support for the principle of equal pay for equal work and for any movement that would improve the lot of working women. Several of the women, including Elizabeth Hauser, former secretary of reform mayor Tom L. Johnson, wrote and signed a resolution but with an explicit note that signatures represented the support of individual women, and not of their organization.21
The position of the Suffrage League was underscored at a mass meeting of strikers and supporters held at the end of July. Casey again pleaded on behalf of “oppressed women,” but Mrs. Myron Vorse, a suffrage leader who presided at the rally, reiterated the individual, not collective, support given by some suffragists. Resorting to the narrow focus of the league, Vorse defended the group’s official neutrality. The suffrage group embraced a large membership of men and women whose sympathies and interests varied, according to Vorse. Under these circumstances the league could not be expected to endorse any measure not pertaining to women’s suffrage. The handful of suffragists who did support the striking workers promised an investigation of working conditions and a formal report on the issues. Rose Moriarty, student and social worker, undertook the task of preparing the report. But however honorable the intentions, the undertaking failed to materialize; strikers could only express their disappointment and resentment.22
Timing and clashing interests worked against closer cooperation. Local women had just organized the city’s suffrage group, and June 1 marked the beginning of their summer campaign. Hauser was busy visiting Cleveland’s “first families,” seeking recruits for the fledging League. Caution characterized the early stages of the campaign; organizational participation in a labor confrontation seemed like an invitation to self-destruction. Six months later, the group hesitantly adopted the “unladylike” procedure of soapbox oratory, and even invited a militant New York suffragist who had been arrested in a Philadelphia garment workers strike to participate, but such bold action was unthinkable in the summer of 1911.23
Casey received a rebuff also from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union during the early days of the strike. She appealed to the WCTU for aid, claiming that the larger manufacturers who retained some men in their factories were dispensing liquor to them. Picketing women, therefore, needed and deserved the protection of the women’s organizations. The advocates of prohibition reportedly took no action on the plea for assistance.24
Even members of the Women’s Trade Union League remained unsupportive. A local chapter of the WTUL had been formed in Cleveland in 1909 by Mrs. Frederick C. Howe, wife of the well-known Progressive reformer. In the Labor Day parade of 1910, a contingent of league members marched in the first division, but by the time of the strike, membership had dwindled. In mid-July, Margaret Dreier Robins, president of the national league, came to Cleveland at the invitation of Pauline Newman, in an attempt to drum up support. She was primarily responsible for calling the mass meeting at which she, Casey, and others pleaded for assistance. Newman dramatized the potential for an alliance when she described the circumstances that prompted the invitation to Robins to arrange the mass rally. “We all felt that the meeting ought not to be called under the auspices of the Union, because we wanted to get the public at large, and for fear that some might not come if it were held under the auspices of the Union, we thought the Women’s Trade Union League was the proper organization to call the meeting.” Robins could not locate a cadre of women committed to the cause, however, so she made whatever speeches she could to the Cleveland Federation of Labor and to the strikers, then left for Pennsylvania.25
Other women’s groups were unable to transcend their own specialized interests to help strikers. The Cleveland branch of the YWCA was a well-established organization at the time of the strike, but genuine concern of board members and administrators for working-class women seldom extended to the workplace, and never to union organizing. Under the able industrial secretary, Marie Wing, the Cleveland Y did establish and run many recreational and educational programs for industrial workers—classes and social events scheduled to fill the leisure time of working women. Leaders visited factories at noon to enlist the girls into small groups, formed a “League of Industrial Clubs” to meet on Monday nights, and began activities with a ten-cent supper, followed by dancing, games, exercises, and a business meeting—all aimed at social uplift and infused with a heavy dose of evangelical morality. The tone was not likely to put Catholic and Jewish immigrants at ease at the Y.26
Another well-organized women’s group, one apparently devoid of ethnic or religious conflict, still could not overcome economic class bias. The Cleveland Council of Jewish Women was fifteen years old at the time of the strike. In 1889 the organization, composed of the wives and daughters of settled German Jewish families, founded the Council Educational Alliance. The nonresident settlement house followed Cleveland’s growing Jewish immigrant population from its original site to the heart of the eastside immigrant neighborhood in 1909. The full panoply of benevolent, acculturating classes and programs, especially those in English language and manual training, was available to the new arrivals from Eastern and Central Europe. The alliance was successful in attracting neighborhood adult residents to its fold, certainly more sensitive to its constituency than neighboring Hiram House, directed by the well-funded, patronizing George Bellamy. Among the services available at the Council Educational Alliance were sewing classes, including a cloak shop. The shop was fully equipped with “electric motors” donated by the council president and staffed by a part-time instructor whose $15-per-month salary was paid by the council. The women’s organization boasted, “The cloak shop was a very beneficial feature of Council activity. Those who completed the course were placed in good positions.” But a discordant note crept into the self-congratulation in which the council engaged on the occasion of its thirtieth anniversary, in 1924: “The unskilled immigrants were taught to make skirts. Owing to the garment strike of 1911, this shop was discontinued.”27
Council minutes are missing from the strike period, and one can only infer the motivation behind the canceling of sewing classes. Council Educational Alliance, with its wide range of lectures and debates, gained a city-wide reputation for its liberal policies and tolerance toward controversial issues. But there were limits. In 1903 when a brochure of the Ladies Garment Workers Union appeared at the settlement, the board issued a resolution: “that we deem it inexpedient that meetings favoring unionism or antiunionism be held within the grounds or buildings of the alliance, but nothing herein shall be construed as restricting free discussion of social and economic problems.”28
The leadership of the council and the board of trustees of its settlement house shared the background and class position of the garment manufacturers; occasionally they were relatives. The president of the council had married into the family of the city’s most prominent men’s garment firm, Joseph and Feiss. Her sister married the owner of a large woolen mill. One other board member was the wife of an owner of a struck shop, still another was married to an agent for a struck manufacturer. Furthermore, the council was affiliated with the Federation of Jewish Charities, the umbrella organization for a number of Jewish welfare agencies. Morris Black, owner of H. Black and spokesman for the Manufacturers Association, was a member of the charities board, along with Isaac Joseph and Julius Feiss.
The board had an opportunity to play a role in the strike. At a board meeting held at the time of the outbreak, prominent trustee and rabbi Moses Gries suggested that the federation board appoint a committee to try to bring about an early settlement, “thus adverting the certain trouble and suffering which must necessarily follow a continuation of the strike.” After discussion, however, the board decided to refrain from action, merely suggesting that individuals act as mediators if they so wished. If individuals chose to do so, their activities have gone unrecorded. The weekly English language publications of the German Jewish community ignored the strike. The Jewish Independent printed reports of anti-Semitism and physical assaults on Jews all over the world, but detailed only the elaborate social activities of the German Jewish community at home. In the spring of 1911 the Independent printed an article deploring the use in printed form of Anglicized Yiddish accents and idioms as reflecting negatively on American Jews. Yet when the Plain Dealer printed a report of a neighborhood altercation in which a confrontation between wives of strikers and the spouse of a worker who had returned to work was described in that manner, no protest followed.29 The settled, prosperous Jewish community, of which the manufacturers were part, refused to apply their sensitivity to the indignities suffered by Jews elsewhere to their own city.
Only once did the weeklies refer to the strike, and then in oblique fashion. In early September, social worker Emanuel Sternheim was hired as new director of the Council Educational Alliance. At the end of the month he officiated and delivered the sermons at the “People’s Synagogue” services during the High Holy Days. How many neighborhood residents attended these services is difficult to determine, since the area was dotted with small orthodox congregations, usually organized according to immigrants’ place of origin. Few practicing Jews had no affiliation, but adequate numbers of occasional observers undoubtedly justified religious services at the Alliance. Sternheim’s long rambling discourses were delivered in English and reprinted in the weeklies. On Rosh Hashanna he insisted that religious observance and belief take precedence over economic concerns and actions:
Does not God in His mercy bless the efforts of those who work with all their might? . . . Who is able to declare, this crust of bread is the first of my exertions, no stain of dishonesty clings to it, no robbery of the hireling of his wages, no grinding of the face of the poor, no sweating, no compulsion of workers to toil in unhealthy workshops. . . .
You may say, this is for masters not for the men; but I say to you, true dear friends, but what of the men? Ah, my brethren, how many have thought of God, as well as of gold during the anxious weeks that have passed? How much of wrong has been done to both sides in the losing sight of God’s ways, and the bitter fight for outward prosperity?30
Sternheim’s appeal was even more direct on Yom Kippur: “Once more I appeal to you all, my brothers,” he said, “whether right or wrong, in this great struggle, remember that our God, our religion, our nation, our Judaism, these are greater things than trade disputes, and bow yourselves down in shame before your God.”31 Probably more German Jewish readers than immigrant Jewish listeners noted references to the strike buried in the text of the sermons. They are significant only to the extent that they are brief exceptions to the reticence of Cleveland’s German Jews on the question of the labor struggle. The strike illuminated the complexities of economic interests and intraethnic divisions. The women caught in the conflict displayed their loyalties to class over gender.
While women had difficulties in surmounting class barriers to alleviate suffering and deflect the onus of violence, dissention and confrontation in the workers’ neighborhood added another element of discord. Five days after the walkout began, a nonstriker was assaulted at Woodland Avenue and East 40th Street, treated at the local hospital, escorted home, and guarded at company expense. Less than one week later, a melee (though hardly a riot, as confrontations were continuously labeled) occurred eight blocks east on Woodland Avenue—with screaming women and children involved, according to newspaper reports.32
Woodland Avenue was one of the major east-west arteries in the strikers’ neighborhood, an area densely populated by unskilled, Eastern European Jewish immigrants who had rapidly replaced former residents (almost 100 percent turnover in the neighborhood bounded by 22nd and 37th streets, from 1896 to 1906). The eastern exodus that was to characterize Jewish residential patterns for the next seventy years had already begun, with increasing numbers of Italians moving into homes west of 37th Street, while growing numbers of Jews located as far east as 55th Street and even beyond. As with their Jewish neighbors, employment in the clothing industry was significant among Italians, and they were well represented among strikers. After the desertion of the Bohemian subcontractors and their workers, the neighborhood became synonymous with clothing worker unrest. Scovill, Orange, and Woodland avenues between East 22nd and East 55th identified strikers’ residences, just as the West 6th Street clothing factories defined their work space.33
If tempers snapped on picket lines, the same could be said for the neighborhoods. One of the hottest summers in history exacerbated conditions. While reports of 100-degree temperatures in June and July were exaggerated, even 90-degree heat in crowded urban, non-air-conditioned areas was physically dangerous and emotionally trying. When supplies of ice ran short, the ensuing problems made newspaper headlines. In the strikers’ neighborhood, where patience was obviously wearing thin, women staged an ice riot at the ice station at Orange Avenue and 27th Street. This expression of female working-class solidarity toward temporary shortcomings in local services was not duplicated in united support of economic protest.34
Wives of striking garment workers supported their husbands’ demands with visible presence on the streets. A parade of more than 6,000 strikers, family members, and supporters marked the seventh week of the strike. Several days later, an even larger crowd (“mob” in the language of the Cleveland Leader) marched from Woodland and 55th Street to Cleveland’s Public Square, where speakers denounced the police harassment and lack of official retaliation against association-hired “thugs.” Widespread participation by Socialist Party members, local unions, and Jewish fraternal organizations swelled the ranks along with hundreds of women and girls. A parade one month later was less peaceful and was marked by several arrests, including an arrest of one woman. That march was led by strikers’ wives with go-carts; but many dropped out because of the effect of the heat on their babies.35
There were wives of nonstrikers as well. Strikers’ spouses formed a committee to try to persuade them to convince their husbands, in turn, to join the ranks of the protestors. Confrontations resulted. When a sixty-year-old peddler of tea and spices tried to sell her wares to the wife of a nonstriking cutter, she was attacked by a younger neighborhood woman who supported the walkout. Wives who visited the wife of one working tailor were sent scurrying before they had an opportunity to convince the woman of the righteousness of their cause: The wife greeted the delegation by dousing it with a pan of hot milk.36
Matters became even more violent when the son of a woman approached by a member of the wives’ committee shot and wounded the spokesperson of the group. The incident incited brick throwing by neighbors—bricks wrapped in Yiddish newspapers according to the Plain Dealer. It was not clear who the bricks were meant to target, but to Pauline Newman, the attempt of one striker’s wife to help another was just one more example of working-class, trade-union solidarity. “A woman who had never been in any fights before, a mother of children, risked her life to help another! In what other movement can you find these types? In what other movement can you see such sacrifice? . . . In no other but the Labor Movement.” As described in newspapers, however, the shooting brought little credit to strikers, women, or immigrants generally.37
Danger was real, and one strikebreaker obviously believed potential conflict warranted sending his wife and children to their family in Indianapolis. For the husband, work meant living on the factory premises, with Sunday reprieves consisting of company-sponsored automobile rides for which he paid $1.25, but a worthwhile trip and “especially enjoyable after having been locked up all week.” As an indication of neighborhood sentiment, this strikebreaker wrote his wife that regardless of the outcome, “I would sell the house at any price and would rent in an area where no strikers would be living.” As for the wife’s role in family decision making, “I am sure you will leave that up to me,” he added. As the summer dragged on, he advised his wife to enroll the children in school in Indianapolis. Company guards and friends looked after their home until it was finally sold. When the strike collapsed, he rented an apartment north of the original neighborhood and wrote to his wife, informing her of these developments, instructing her on school transfers for the children and train tickets for the return trip to Cleveland. Dislocation and implicit passivity characterized this woman’s strike-related experience.38
Female strikers and strikers’ wives for a time worked together, but ultimately some of the women found themselves on opposite sides of the struggle as the strike entered its final weeks and economic pressures became increasingly difficult to endure. Twenty women attacked the home of one cutter who returned to work, throwing stones and hurling insults. At the same time, the mayor received a delegation of ten female workers and wives of ex-strikers who appealed for protection from their angry neighbors when they returned to work.39
Strike action of working-class women may have come as a surprise to participants, although precedents had already been set in New York and Chicago. Josephine Casey applauded the female strikers, indicating that their new-found activism was not unexpected as far as their working sisters elsewhere were concerned:
Oh you girls of Cleveland! You who a short time ago wept instead of protesting when you were unjustly treated, will in the future fight instead of weeping. The Bosses did not think you could fight. The men who worked along side of you did not count on you. The only ones who knew you would make good were the women throughout the country, who had been on the fighting line some time themselves! You have justified their faith in you and it is because through the fight you have found out how fine and strong you are that the Garment Workers’ Union is going to stay in Cleveland.40
The ILGWU did not stay in Cleveland, and while there is no evidence that women workers returned to weeping (a common rhetorical alternative), there is little evidence to indicate that their introduction to worker militancy had lasting impact on them. Between the end of the strike and a strike in July 1918, the union made no headway in Cleveland. The owners instituted benevolent, welfare capitalism on the one hand, and reorganized scientific management on the other. The latter resulted in increased division of manufacturing processes as well as a growing number of women in the industry. The “Cleveland Experiment” of 1918, a novel plan to recognize the union and jointly monitor work and incentive standards, along with guaranteed weeks of employment, was primarily the handiwork of federal referees and an “enlightened” Morris Black. Clothing manufacturers in a precarious industry were first to recognize the advantages of union recognition and mutually-enforced production standards.41
In the aftermath of the 1911 strike, however, these developments were unforeseen. Men and women returned to work; only strike leaders encountered blacklisting. Female strikers had demonstrated their willingness and ability to endure labor struggles, but events demonstrated to them the precariousness of their collective action. Working-class leaders were not enough to ensure favorable public reaction to their needs and demands. Middle-class social feminists and suffragists did not come to their aid, as they had done in struggles in other cities. Equally important, working-class solidarity also proved elusive. Interests diverged within the workers’ neighborhood, pitting striker against nonstriker, with their female relatives taking sides accordingly. Neighborhood confrontations between women highlighted the complexities of women’s experience. Even when appropriately modified by ethnicity and class, impediments to female unity remained all too evident in Cleveland in the summer and early fall of 1911.
1. Cleveland Press, reprinted in the Ladies’ Garment Worker, 2 (Dec. 1911), 4.
2. The definitive early history of the ILGWU is Louis Levine, the Women’s Garment Workers: A History of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, (New York: B. W. Huebsch, Inc.: 1924). The New York strikes are also described by Melvin Dubofsky, When Workers Organize: New York City in the Progressive Era (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1968). Chapter 4 of Gladys Boone, The Women’s Trade Union Leagues of Great Britain and the United States of America (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942) describes WTUL efforts on behalf of New York and Chicago strikes. Philip S. Foner, Women and Trade Unions to the First World War (New York: Free Press, 1979), and Barbara Wertheimer, We Were There: The Story of Working Women in America (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977), describe ferment in the garment industry before 1914. Foner’s brief description of cross-class cooperation in Cleveland is questioned in this paper. On women worker-reformer conflicts, see Robin Miller Jacoby, “The Women’s Trade Union League and American Feminism.” Feminist Studies, 3 (Fall 1975), 126–40.
3. Levine, Garment Workers, chaps. 22 and 23. Small-scale manufacturers in New York were more likely to be Russian Jews than elsewhere. The classic tale of the thin line between worker and owner is described by Abraham Cahan in The Rise of David Levinsky (New York: Harper Bros., 1914).
4. “Lessons of the Cleveland Strike,” Ladies’ Garment Worker, 2 (Dec., 1911).
5. Ibid.; Ohio State Board of Arbitration, Annual Report 1911–1912, 20.
6. Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 7 and 8, 1911.
7. Ibid, June 8, 1911; Board of Arbitration, Report, 20–22.
8. Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 8, 1911; Cleveland Leader, June 9, 1911.
9. Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 8 and 9, 1911; Cleveland Press, June 8, 1911.
10. Board of Arbitration, Report, 22–23; Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 10, 1911.
11. Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 10, 11, 13, 1911; Cleveland Press, June 9, 1911.
12. Board of Arbitration, Report, 24–26; Ladies’ Garment Worker, 2 (July 1911), 7: Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 15, 18, 20, 21, 1911; Cleveland Press, June 14, 1911.
13. Board of Arbitration, Report, 28–30; Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 20 and 21, 1911; Cleveland Press, June 20, 21, 22, 1911.
14. Cleveland Press, June 20, 1911; July 11, 1911; Cleveland Leader, June 27, 1911.
15. Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, Minutes, 1911–1912, in Greater Cleveland Growth Association Records, 1881–1969, container 15, Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland (hereafter WRHS); Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 28, 1911; Cleveland Press, June 28, 1911.
16. “Cleveland Cloak Manufacturers,” “Mighty Mean Partner,” exposed in the Lubin Case, Ladies’ Garment Worker, 4 (Aug. 1913), 1–3.
17. Cleveland Press, June 19 and 23, 1911; Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 12, 1911; October 11, 1911; Cleveland Citizen, September 23, 1911; October 21 and 28, 1911; Ladies’ Garment Worker 2 (Oct. 1911), 14; 2 (Nov. 1911), 15.
18. Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 26, 1911.
19. Pauline M. Newman, “From the Battlefield,” Life and Labor, 1 (Oct. 1911), 297.
20. Cleveland Citizen, Oct. 14, 1911; Ladies’ Garment Worker, 2 (Nov. 1911), 17.
21. Cleveland Press, June 9, 1911; Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 11, 1911.
22. Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 25, 1911; August 4 and 9, 1911.
23. Virginia Clark Abbott, The History of Women Suffrage and the League of Women Voters in Cuyahoga County, 1911–1945 (n.p., 1949), 13–18. In 1912, Rose Schneiderman of the ILGWU and the WTUL began factory talks on behalf of suffrage. H. Black Co., largest of the 1911 strike targets, was her first stop. Abbott, History, 23.
24. Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 21, 1911.
25. Newman, “From the Battlefield,” 294; Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 21, 1911; Mary E. Dreier, Margaret Dreier Robins, Her Life, Letters, and Work (New York: Island Press Cooperative, 1950), 70, 82.
26. Marie Remington Wing, unpublished memoir, WRHS.
27. Cleveland Section, National Council of Jewish Women, MSS3620, container 2, folder 4; container 27, folder 2, WRHS.
28. Quoted in John Joseph Grabowski, “A Social Settlement in a Neighborhood in Transition, Hiram House, Cleveland, Ohio, 1869–1912,” Ph.D. dissertation, Case Western Reserve University, 1977, 104.
29. Minutes of the Board, June 7, 1911, Jewish Community Federation Archives, Cleveland. Rabbi Gries represented the Council Educational Alliance on the Federation board, yet his concerns did not seem to be shared by women on the CEA board. The Federation board met on June 10 and failed to mention the strike. Jewish Community Center of Cleveland, MSS 3668, series 1, container 1, folder 7, WRHS; Jewish Independent, May 5, 1911; Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 3, 1911.
30. Jewish Review and Observer, Sept. 29, 1911.
31. Jewish Review and Observer, Oct. 6, 1911.
32. Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 18, 1911.
33. Grabowski, “A Social Settlement,” chapter 4.
34. Cleveland Press, July 7, 1911. Throughout the summer, papers carried front-page stories of the record-breaking heat.
35. Cleveland Press, July 19, 1911; Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 20 and 23, 1911; August 17, 1911.
36. Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 3 and 20, 1911.
37. Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 6, 1911; Newman, “From the Battlefield,” 297.
38. I am grateful to Judah Rubinstein of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland for his translations of these letters written by a Hungarian Jewish nonstriker, Ignatz Friedman. Written between July 20, 1911, and October 7, 1911, the letters present a unique perspective on one family’s experience. Histories of strikes usually describe striking workers or employers. The non-striker is lost in the mass of “scabs,” who played a major role in strikes before World War II yet a minor role in the literature.
39. Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sept. 29, 1911.
40. Ladies’ Garment Worker, 2 (Oct. 1911), 5.
41. Levine, Garment Workers, 328–361.