Posted on January 11th, 2017 by Rachel
Edited by Avi Y. Decter. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.
Part IV: On Strike
Missed parts 1 – 3? Start from the Beginning
The following account of her early years in the labor movement is taken from an oral history conducted by Barbara Wertheimer, June 4, 1976.
In the early thirties . . . things got so bad down here, and you couldn’t get a job. And Sonneborn’s closed, and, of course, I got blacklisted because I was a chairlady. I couldn’t get a job no place. I worked at Sonneborn’s ‘til 1931.One shop I later helped to organize, and I could have gotten the job, but what? A couple of women worked there that worked with me and they say, “Oh my God, there goes Sarah, our chairlady!” And I knew I wasn’t going to get the job!
I got a job to sell shoes. I worked there six months, then I got a job at Leibow Brothers. That was my last job. Things got so bad in our industry, it was terrible, They were making coats for a dollar and a quarter. So they came in from the [Amalgamated] national office . . . and said, “We’re going to call [a strike].” we had this big meeting and at the fourth Regiment Armory and every tailor from all the alleys and all turned out, and all was there. And they decided to call the general strike. But not including Schoeneman’s and not including Cohen and Goldman’s shop. But everybody else was on strike. We were all on strike.
Pressers Union Local 363, International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). Fannie Feinberg is in the front row, 7th from right, c. 1930. JMM 1990.75.1
That was 1932, September 13th. That was the first day we were striking. Well, on this strike, while we were on strike, we knew a lot of people from this Cohen and Goldman place . . . [Jacob] Potofsky at that time said, “Let’s go in front of Cohen and Goldman’s.” So we took the mass picketing. We got to Cohen and Goldman’s and got on the window sills and when they saw us, we saw those people begin to drop and get dressed to come out. And they locked the doors. They wouldn’t let them out. Somebody called the fire department to open up the doors, see. And we took out a lot of the vest department but all those Yankees, they didn’t come out, they stayed inside. We picketed there.
So we got Cohen and Goldman’s picketing; that’s when myself and six other people, we got locked up and they wouldn’t let us out. We were locked up in jail. They said that you can only walk four, and we were eight. Therefore, they wouldn’t let us out on bail. We were in the Northeastern police station. Mr. Edelman was already our lawyer, so they took us out the following day. They had that law you could not picket only four and we had mass picketing. The inspectors named us. So one day we had four or five hundred girls arrested. They didn’t have any room for us at the station house. We went to the recreation room of the policemen, with a little matron down there and . . . it was mostly all girls and they brought us doughnuts, coffee. So they got a big lawyer, Curan his name was, and he said, “No, we’re not, we can’t put bail for them, too many people. Let them stay here!” They had a patrol car and everything else . . . it was very exciting.
My shop wasn’t on strike, but they asked me to come out for twelve dollars a week to help ‘em go to organizing, go and visit people and all. So, I did; it was a lot of excitement. There was other times that I was paid. I was doing work, but I wasn’t on the staff–it was a special job for the strike. And we went back on the picket line. We had sixteen people on the picket line. If they’re going to lock us up they’re going to have to make some kind of test case on this mass picketing. So we did, and they kept on saying, “Sarah, take the girls home.” The police did that. Inspector Lurch said, “I’m telling you again, leave only four people, because I’ll be compelled to lock you up.” So, he locked us up. Well, before that every time we got on the picket line with a big bunch of people, they would lock us up. I was locked up thirteen times in one day!
Sarah Barron at a testimonial dinner given in her honor at the Pikesville Armory, April 1967. JMM 1993.58.4d
I just got in there, I didn’t even have to tell them my name. The judge decided at that time—that was toward the end of the strike—that as long as we have peaceful picketing, walk two-by-two, we have a right to picket. See, he made a decision and not only did it help our union, it helped all the other unions in the city. So we were really the test case at that time. Since then they allowed mass picketing. And we were really the ones who had something to do with mass picketing. That was in 1932.
It was 800 girls on strike. Now I went back to Leibow’s, to my job. The strikers, you know, we were only paid three dollars a week strike benefit; they had no money. We had a shoemaker who gave us cut-rate, half-price to fix the shoes. The women cooked; we had soup kitchens and all. So I went back to Leibow’s. And Blumberg called me in. He said, “Sarah, we’re getting so many organized,”—that was in 1934 already—“I think you ought to go on the staff.” He says, “Because we’ll give you Cohen and Goldman’s; they’ve got nothing but women and very few men and some other shops and then you’ll work with some organizers; we will begin the organizing campaign.”
Posted on January 10th, 2017 by Rachel
The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church by email at email@example.com
Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times: April 22, 2016
PastPerfect Accession #: 1997.134.494
Status: Partially unidentified. Who is the unidentified woman standing next to Trudy Goldman, circa 1970?
Posted on January 9th, 2017 by Rachel
Edited by Avi Y. Decter. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.
Part III: We Will Begin the Campaign
Missed parts 1 and 2? Start from the Beginning
Sarah Barron (1901-1993) was born in Ukraine and emigrated to Baltimore in 1914. Soon after, she started work as a thread-puller at Wohlmuth’s. Within the year, Sarah and her sisters left Wohlmuth’s for Sonneborn’s. By 1916, she had advanced from a thread-puller to a sewing machine operator and had joined the newly formed Amalgamated Clothing Workers.
Elected a shop steward, Sarah rose steadily through the union ranks. She became a business manager and a paid organizer for the Amalgamated. During the 1932 strike—which revitalized the Amalgamated—Sarah was arrested numerous times for picketing. Her courage, tenacity, and organizational skills made her a pioneer among women labor leaders of her generation.
The following account of her early years in the labor movement is taken from an oral history conducted by Barbara Wertheimer, June 4, 1976. The sequence of reminiscences has been re-arranged to improve the flow of the narrative, but all comments are those of Sarah Barron. Additional information on Barron and her remarkable career can be found in Jo Ann E. Argersinger, Making the Amalgamated: Gender, Ethnicity, and Class in the Baltimore Clothing Industry, 1899-1939 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999).
[My father] was a tailor in Russia, and he used to be a half-rabbi . . . he used to sing, like a cantor. He went to tailoring, but he was very religious and he wouldn’t work on Saturday. So, he’d work up to Friday and he wanted to go home early. That’s how he used to lose his jobs. Because, especially winter times, he wouldn’t work after two o’clock. They told him they had no job for him. And my mother was sick since she came and all. At school we used to play and when I’d go home sometimes, we didn’t have enough to eat. My father didn’t make any money, and my mother was sick, so one of my sisters took me in the factory. It was so bad. We had to work . . . to support ourselves.
I worked for Wohlmuth’s. I was pulling out threads in a basement. . . . They used to lock the elevator when they needed the work. That was the first [factory] where they locked the elevator. It was hot and there wasn’t even no payroll. They used to give my sister the money for me, too.
Henry Sonneborn, Siegmund Sonneborn, and unknown man in the Sonneborn Office at corner of Eutaw and German Streets, c.1900. JMM 1991.55.1b
Most of the time I spent in Sonneborn’s. I was pulling threads . . . but then I started to work on a machine. I was just doing a little job of sewing linings on coats.
Setting tape, that was a man’s job at the time. And making linings. Setting inside pockets, pressing, and under-pressing. That was all man’s jobs. I know they wouldn’t let a woman in to sew sleeves or to do some jobs. Nobody thought about it. When I started working in the basement pulling [threads], I made about four dollars a week. They made twenty-five, the cutters upstairs. But not tailors. They made about ten, eleven, twelve. My father made about nine dollars a week. He couldn’t support all of his children.
You had to be fifteen years at that time to get a permit to work. I wasn’t fifteen years, and there was a few others. And they had inspectors. I never did forget that name, Miss Campes, she was the child inspector. She used to look around. When she came to our shop they used to give three rings. We had to get in a box, that had rags down there. Yes, and they’d close it up and [tell me to] wait in it ‘til she got through looking for me, you know, for children. And after she left, we come out again. Well, the one time we got caught. They took us to Mr. Blumberg [an Amalgamated official], and they took us to juvenile court or something, Anyhow, they let us out and they told us not to go to work, but we went anyhow.
My mother kept house, but my oldest sister—she worked in Sonneborn’s already—she used to be like the head of the household. She used to be like our boss. She’d tell us who had a job. We all had to do a little bit. Scrub the kitchen, scrub the bathroom. My mother was happy to be with the children. She loved the children. But my mother was a rebel. She was participating in a meat strike here [in 1918] because the meats were not kosher or something. And she got locked up one night. We were sitting on the porch . . . and we were right across the street from the union, and they said, “Your mother got locked up!”
The Social Revolution by Karl Kautsky, 1910. Book is stamped from Workmen’s Circle Free Library, Baltimore, MD. JMM 2007.32.1
We were political-minded. My oldest sister, the one who came here first, she went away because she was a socialist in Russia and they were trying to line them up. So she came here. She got in illegally, see. She belonged to the Workmen’s Circle and she belonged to organizations that were politically-minded here. Of course, we all listened to it. I was in Yipsel (Young People’s Socialist League) many years ago. I went to the Yipsel school when I was a kid. We used to read everything in the Workmen’s Circle library.
In 1916, they had a big strike here . . . to try to get everybody in the Amalgamated union. And the United Garment Workers and the Industrial Workers got together with the Amalgamated. And the cutters walked out with the others on strike from Sonneborn’s and from a lot of other places, and so it was a great big fight. Dorothy [Jacobs Bellanca, an early union organizer] came up to Sonneborn’s and worked there with a bunch of young kids, but we had a lot of spunk in us. And she said that the women have to go on the picket line and we’d have to go first because they had a lot of police and we should give a push, and then the men will follow us in back. A lot of us landed in the police station. Some of them had to nurse their babies. They let them out, but they didn’t let us out until the following day.
Officers of Garment Workers Local #114, United Garment Workers of America; Abraham Cohen, secretary of the American Federation of Labor, at middle left end. JMM 1992.39.10
I suppose that I had missed childhood, and you had to take something to take its place. So it was an exciting thing then. You came to meetings and I was, I was fifteen yeast old, I was elected chairlady for Sonneborn’s. First I was just for the seventh floor, just for the women. Then they elected me head chairlady. Later on, I was elected chairman for the seventh floor for both men and women because they saw that I did more for the women than the men did! That must have been in the late twenties.
[In 1920] I was the youngest delegate at the [Amalgamated] Boston convention. [Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca] always went. And she said to a group of women, “You wanted to get elected a woman? You’re entitled to four delegates.” Well, [Hyman] Blumberg was always our friend. He said, “Instead of voting for four, vote for one.”
The next thing was, we went to meetings because we found we wanted something. So we began to work among the women. And then, when [in] 1920 they had a general strike in New York, Bessie Blumberg and Dorothy [Jacobs Bellanca] went to help there. They said they needed money for milk for the children. So we got together in the city of Baltimore with women from other shops because we used to have like a women’s committee. We didn’t have a local, and we worked with this buttonhole makers local, ‘cause they were nothing but women
And we all got together, and we said, “We’re going to have a bazaar. And we’re going to raise money for milk funds for the children of New York.” So we had some liberals, we had Elizabeth Gilman, who was the daughter of the first president of Johns Hopkins. She was with us. And Sidney Hollander and Broadus Mitchell who was teaching in Johns Hopkins. He was my teacher at school! The women were crocheting, knitting. Everything was handmade. Everything we brought in, our headquarters was on Front Street, brought it there and we got a big hall on Palmer Street because most of the people lived around there.
Lithuanian women and Italian women and the Bohemian women–everybody was doing something. We had everything and Bessie Blumberg and Eleanor Pankhurst, who was teaching at Goucher College and Emily Richardson and one who taught at Hopkins, they brought the groups to buy the stuff. A lot of liberals and a lot of the workers bought things, too. We made over a thousand dollars! We sent it to Dorothy [Bellanca] to use it for the milk fund, because she was over there conducting the strike, helping to conduct the strike.
[In 1921] I went to summer school, the [Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers]. It was the first year it started. Dorothy got me to go that summer. We didn’t have money so I think some of the liberals paid for me, the fare. I was already active and all. And there was another girl, a buttonhole-maker, her name was Sadie Coats. She went, too. And after that, I think that every year we sent somebody [from] the Amalgamated [to] these summer schools.
Continue to Part IV: On Strike