Newman, Pauline, 1887-1986
Pauline Newman, labor organizer, Director of Health Education at the Union Health Center of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU), and member of the National and New York Women's Trade Union League (N/NYWTUL), was born in Popelan, Kuvna, Lithuania, in about 1890, the youngest of Meyer and Theresa Newman's two sons and four daughters. Meyer Newman sold fruit and taught Talmud to the well-to-do sons of the village. Following his death, Theresa Newman and her three youngest daughters, including Newman, left Lithuania and immigrated to the United States to join two of the older Newman children. They arrived at Ellis Island in May 1901 and went to live with members of the family on the Lower East Side of New York City.
Newman received her earliest education as a member of her father's Talmud class. In New York she was unable to attend public school because of the family's poverty, but she educated herself through extensive reading on her own and as a member of the Socialist Literary Society.
At the turn of the century the great majority of people on the Lower East Side were Russian Jewish immigrants living in crowded, poorly built tenements. Most of them worked in the garment trade for very low wages, with long hours, and in unpleasant and unhealthful surroundings. Many of the Jewish garment workers were veterans of the labor movement and Socialist parties in Russia and, by the time Newman arrived in New York, they were taking the first steps toward organizing the workers and demanding better treatment and wages from the factory owners.
Newman worked in a brush and then a cigarette factory before finding employment at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in September 1901. Exposed to the wretched conditions of the garment industry, she sought ways to improve the workers' situation and in time became involved with the Socialist Party and with two new labor groups: the ILGWU and the NYWTUL. In November 1909 she left the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. That month the first great garment strike in New York City, the "Uprising of the Twenty Thousand," took place. The ILGWU sent Newman upstate during the strike to address labor and women's groups and raise funds to help support the workers, who lacked the benefits of a strike fund.
Newman became the first woman organizer for the ILGWU and spent the years 1911-1918 traveling and organizing for the Union, particularly in the Midwest. In Cleveland in 1911 she helped to organize the Cloakmakers' strike and was jailed briefly. In 1912 in Kalamazoo she helped direct the Corsetmakers' strike, which resulted in the shutdown of factories unwilling to cooperate with the Union. Although most of her work during this period was for the ILGWU, she was also occasionally on loan to the Socialist Party. In 1914 she was appointed a factory inspector for the Joint Board of Sanitary Control and helped to establish a sanitary code for the women's garment factories in New York.
Newman became active in the NYWTUL in 1905; there she met other major figures in the labor movement, including Rose Schneiderman, Mary Dreier and Leonora O'Reilly. In 1918 the ILGWU loaned Newman to the Philadelphia WTUL, which she served as president and organizer until 1923; here she met Frieda Miller, who was then secretary of the Philadelphia WTUL and who became her lifelong friend. She remained actively involved with the WTUL until it was dissolved in 1950, serving as vice-president of the New York League and as a member of the Executive Board of the National WTUL.
In 1924 Newman returned to New York City and joined the staff of the ILGWU Union Health Center (UHC) as Education Director. During the following decades she represented both the ILGWU and the WTUL on numerous committees and at state, national and international meetings. For many years she served on five Minimum Wage Boards for New York State. She was a member of the Advisory Committees of the Research Division of the New York State Department of Labor and of the New York State Equal Pay Law. On the national level, Newman was a member of the Trade Union Advisory Committee of the U.S. Women's Bureau and of the Children's Bureau, a member of the Women's Committee on Defense Manpower, delegate to the Mid-Century White House Conference on Children and Youth (1950), consultant to the U.S. Public Health Service in the field of industrial hygiene, and a visiting expert for the U.S. Army in Germany, where she investigated the conditions of working women (1949). In 1919 she represented the WTUL at the Canadian Labor Congress and in 1923 at the International Congress of Working Women in Vienna. In 1951 she was a delegate to the International Labor Organization Conference on the Problems of Domestic Workers, and in 1962 a delegate to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
Newman joined the Socialist Party as a young woman and by 1908 began speaking publicly on behalf of the Party and its platforms. She was twice a Socialist candidate: in 1908 for Secretary of State, and in 1918 to represent her district in Congress. Later she supported Franklin Roosevelt and the reforms of the New Deal.
Throughout her life she was an outspoken and articulate defender of the rights of working people in general, and of working women in particular. Her support of protective legislation, equal pay, improved working conditions and the minimum wage, and her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1930s are well-documented in her numerous articles, some published in ILGWU and WTUL publications, others in more widely circulated newspapers: the New York Call, New Leader, Labor Review, and Labor Woman. Newman also wrote a regular column in Justice, an ILGWU publication, mostly on issues related to the UHC.
After 1924 Newman lived in New York City and often shared a home with Frieda Miller until the latter's death in 1973. Newman helped to raise Miller's daughter, Elisabeth, and developed close ties to the latter's first husband, David Owen, who was Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, and their sons Hugh and Michael. (After Owen's death, Elisabeth married management consultant Chester Burger.) In 1981 Newman died on April 8, 1986 in New York City.
From the guide to the Papers, 1900-1980, (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute)
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|New York City||NY||US|
|Republic of Lithuania||00||LT|
|Equal pay for equal work|
|Equal rights amendments|
|International labor activities|
|Labor laws and legislation|
|Strikes and lockouts|
|Strikes and lockouts|
|Women in the labor movement|
|Women labor union members|
|Women textile workers|