Hillman, Bessie

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Bessie Abramowitz Hillman, labor leader, union organizer, and first woman executive, Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA).

A pioneer in the early 20th century labor movement, Bessie Hillman (née Abramowitz) was born in Grodno, Russia, in 1889. She emigrated to the United States in 1905 and started working as a button sewer in a Chicago garment factory. There she began her long career as a labor organizer, forming a shop committee to protest working conditions, hours, and pay. In 1910, she led fellow workers in a walkout at Hart, Schaffner and Marx to protest a pay cut. The strike drew the support of Jane Addams and the Women's Trade Union League, which hired Bessie Abramowitz as an organizer. It was during the Hart, Schaffner and Marx strike, that she met her future husband, Sidney Hillman.

In 1914, garment workers in Chicago, New York, and other cities formed the Amalgamated Clothing workers of America; Bessie Abramowitz was elected to the new union's general executive board. She led a campaign to draft Sidney Hillman to be president of the new union. He accepted, and together the pair led an industry-wide strike to establish a union shop in 1915. A year later they were married.

Bessie Hillman's work for the union was interrupted by the birth of her two children, but she continued to volunteer for the Women's Trade Union League, and by 1924, she returned to active organizing for the ACWA. In the 1930s she became involved with union education and cultural programming while working with the Laundry Workers Joint Board, an ACWA affiliate. During this period, she took a strong interest in civil rights issues, an interest that continued for the rest of her life.

After Sidney Hillman's death in 1946, Bessie Hillman became vice president in charge of the ACWA's education programs. She was also a frequent speaker at union conferences, conventions, and education forums, and was active in politics. She was a member of various national organizations and committees, including the Civil Rights Committee of the CIO (and later the AFL-CIO), the National Consumers League, the American Labor Education Service, and the Child Welfare Committee of New York. She also served on President Kennedy's Commission on the Status of Women. She remained involved in union, political and social affairs until her death in 1970.

From the description of Bessie Hillman correspondence, 1930-1970, 1945-1970 (bulk). (Cornell University Library). WorldCat record id: 64755361

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Records of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, 1910-1970 (inclusive), [microform]. Yale University Library
referencedIn Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. Records. Part 1-3, 1910-1970. Cornell University Library
referencedIn Aliotto, Marie. Garment workers. California State University, Long Beach
referencedIn Dreier, Mary E. (Mary Elisabeth), 1875-1965. Papers, 1797-1968 (bulk 1897-1968) Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Fried, Philoine. Philoine Fried, Interviewee. "My Mother Bessie Abramovitz Hillman", Nov. 10, 1996. Cornell University Library
referencedIn Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America records, 1914-1980, 1920-1950 (bulk) Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library
referencedIn Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Sidney Hillman correspondence, 1911-1929, 1914-1929 (bulk). Cornell University Library
referencedIn Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America records, 1914-1980, 1920-1950 (bulk). Cornell University Library
referencedIn Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Papers of executive officers of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, 1914-1971, 1930-1950 (bulk). Cornell University Library
referencedIn Bellanca, Dorothy. Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca papers, 1914-1946, 1925-1940 (bulk). Cornell University Library
referencedIn Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Records of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, [1911-1970], [microform]. HCL Technical Services, Harvard College Library
referencedIn Fried, Philoine. Hillman, Sidney and Bessie. Additional Documents and Memorabilia. 1920-1950. Cornell University Library
referencedIn Guide to the Sam Reiss Photographs, circa 1930-1975 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
creatorOf Hillman, Bessie. ACWA's Bessie Hillman Papers. 1922-1996. Cornell University Library
referencedIn Dreier, Mary E. (Mary Elisabeth), 1875-1963. Papers, 1797-1963 (inclusive), 1897-1963 (bulk). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Newman, Pauline. Papers, 1903-1982 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Potofsky, Jacob S. (Jacob Samuel), 1894-1979. Jacob Potofsky correspondence, 1913-1929, 1920-1929 (bulk). Cornell University Library
referencedIn Newman, Pauline, ca. 1890-1986. Papers, 1900-1980 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Sidney Hillman papers, 1930-1946 (bulk 1935-1945) Cornell University Library
creatorOf Hillman, Bessie. Bessie Hillman correspondence, 1930-1970, 1945-1970 (bulk). Cornell University Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. corporateBody
associatedWith Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. corporateBody
associatedWith American Labor Education Service. corporateBody
associatedWith Anderson, Mary, 1872-1964. person
associatedWith Bellanca, Dorothy. person
associatedWith Bethune, Mary McLeod, 1875-1955. person
associatedWith Democratic National Committee (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Dreier, Mary E. (Mary Elisabeth), 1875-1963. person
associatedWith Dubinsky, David, 1892-1982. person
associatedWith Fried, Philoine. person
associatedWith Goldberg, Arthur J. person
associatedWith Harriman, W. Averell (William Averell), 1891-1986. person
associatedWith Hillman, Sidney, 1887-1946. person
associatedWith Hudson Shore School. corporateBody
associatedWith International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. corporateBody
associatedWith Johnson, Lady Bird, 1912-2007. person
associatedWith Lehman, Herbert H. (Herbert Henry), 1878-1963. person
associatedWith MARY ELISABETH DREIER, 1875-1963 person
associatedWith National Consumers' League. corporateBody
associatedWith Neufeld, Maurice F. person
associatedWith Newman, Pauline. person
associatedWith O'Dwyer, William, 1890-1964. person
associatedWith Onassis, Jacqueline Kennedy, 1929- person
associatedWith PAULINE NEWMAN, 1888-1986 person
associatedWith Peterson, Esther, 1906-1997. person
associatedWith Potofsky, Jacob S. (Jacob Samuel), 1894-1979. person
associatedWith Randolph, A. Philip (Asa Philip), 1889-1979. person
associatedWith Reiss, Sam. person
associatedWith Reuther, Walter, 1907-1970. person
associatedWith Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962. person
associatedWith Sandburg, Carl, 1878-1967. person
associatedWith Schlossberg, Joseph, 1875-1971. person
associatedWith Schneiderman, Rose, 1882-1972. person
associatedWith Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972. person
associatedWith Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Women's Bureau. corporateBody
associatedWith UNITE HERE (Organization) corporateBody
associatedWith Wagner, Robert F. (Robert Ferdinand), 1910-1991. person
associatedWith Weizmann, Chaim, 1874-1952. person
associatedWith Women's Trade Union League of America. corporateBody
associatedWith Woodcock, Leonard. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Israel
United States
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (N.Y.)
Subject
Clothing workers--Labor unions--Organizing
Women in labor unions
Women labor leaders
Women clothing workers
Labor unions--Organizing
Clothing workers--Labor unions
Civil rights
Textile workers--Labor unions
Labor laws and legislation
Working class--Education
Occupation
Function

Person

Active 1922

Active 1996

English,

Yiddish

Information

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Ark ID: w65b0fkt

SNAC ID: 5837656