Kemp, Maida Springer, 1910-2005

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Maida Springer Kemp (1910 – 2005) was an American labor organizer who worked extensively in the garment industry for a lot of labor standards at the time for men and women in America through the Local Union 22. She was also known for her extensive work in Africa for the AFL–CIO. Nicknamed "Mama Maida", she advised fledgling labor unions, set up education and training programs, and liaised between American and African labor leaders. In 1945, traveling to England on a labor-exchange trip, as well as observing the conditions of war-torn Britain she would become one of the first African-American woman to represent US labor abroad. She was also active in the civil rights movement, and advocated for women's rights around the world. She was very active in these movements for most of her life.

Maida Stewart was born in Panama on May 12, 1910, to Harold and Adina Stewart. Her father, a Barbadian immigrant, worked on the Panama Canal project. At the age of 7, she moved with her family to Harlem, where she attended St. Mark's Catholic School. Her parents divorced soon after the move, and she was raised by her politically active mother. The Stewarts' home was a gathering place for activists and members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), whose accounts of personal experiences with racism had a lasting influence on Maida. Henrietta Vinton Davis, a founding member of the UNIA, was an inspiration to Maida and a role model as a female activist.

Stewart married Owen Springer in 1922. The couple felt the hardships of the Great Depression; son Eric Springer was born in 1929. Owen Springer's work as a dental tools technician was increasingly slow and his pay declined. Maida Springer then decided to start work in the garment factories. In 1933, she met A. Philip Randolph, who became a lifelong friend and mentor. That same year she joined the Dressmakers' Union Local 22 of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU). Local 22's connections included Jay Lovestone. Chris Zimmerman saw the importance of gaining favor with other groups of people. As the manager of Local 22, he helped Springer rise within the organization. The joint efforts of Springer and newly elected union president David Dubinsky started a change that would shape the American work force into what it is today. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the National Industrial Recovery Act gave union sympathizers more room to grow and spread their message. The ILGWU went on strike in 1933 to demand better conditions and pay. Dubinsky and his collaborators fought for a minimum wage as well as fixed hour work weeks. Union membership skyrocketed to almost 200,000 members by the end of 1934.

During the period of 1934-1942, Springer was a tireless worker for Local 22. She was involved not only in the executive and educational boards, but also was a shop representative and would meet with the factory bosses and settle on prices to make work fair among workers. She took courses offered by the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the Wellesley College Institute for Social Progress, and the Hudson Shore Labor School. In time she became an ILGWU shop representative, and eventually rose to the executive board and education committee. In addition to labor issues, Local 22 took an active part in civil rights activities in the Harlem community.

Over the next few years, Springer became increasingly active in union activities in New York. She served as Education Director of Local 132 of the Plastic Button and Novelty Workers' Union from 1942 to 1945. Springer's first official assignment as the education director for Local 132 came in 1942. During World War II, as most of the men had gone off to Europe to fight, positions in the shops had to be filled. Springer's task as education head had her create lesson plans informing new union members about what a union can offer as well as the goals set out for them. She would run for the New York State Assembly on the American Labor Party ticket in 1942. From there she was appointed to the War Price and Rationing Board of the Office of Price Administration in 1944.

In 1945, Springer took on becoming a business agent for Local 22. Her work consisted of overseeing complaints as well as implementation. That same year she would become the first African-American woman to represent US labor abroad when she traveled to England as an AFL delegate, on a trip sponsored by the United States Office of War Information, to study wartime working conditions in Great Britain. Springer would go on to experience first hand the actions and sacrifices made by Britain and Europe as a whole, from subway tunnels in London being refashioned into air-raid bunkers for the masses. Springer also met Anna Freud and her psychological work with children dealing with the shock from the constant bombing and worry. From 1948 to 1951, she served as business agent for Dressmakers' Union Local 22 of the ILGWU; she was the first African-American business agent to represent a district.

In the 1950s Springer began working for the AFL as an advisor to newly founded labor unions in Tanzania, Kenya, and Ghana, where she came to be known as "Mama Maida". In 1951, sponsored by the American Labor Education Service, she traveled to Sweden and Denmark to observe workers' education programs. She then took an eight-month hiatus from ILGWU to study at Ruskin Labor College, Oxford University, on an Urban League Fellowship. In 1955 she attended the first International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) conference in Accra, Ghana, as one of five observers, of which she was the only woman. In 1957 she played a key role in the founding of Solidarity House in Nairobi. Through her efforts she had brought together African traders and continued their education on understanding the inner workings of a union, as well as implementation.

In 1959 Springer went to work for the AFL–CIO's Department of International Affairs as its representative to Africa. For the next several years she made her home alternately in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Nairobi (Kenya), and Brooklyn, New York. She started an exchange program for Africans to study at Harvard University, founded a trade school in Kenya whose mission included expanding opportunities for women, established a post-secondary scholarship for Tanzanian girls, and started the Maida Fund to enable farm workers in East Africa to return to school. In the course of her work she befriended many of Africa's emerging leaders, including Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. Between 1957 and 1963, she attended the national independence ceremonies of Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Kenya.

In 1964 Springer represented the US at the 48th session of the International Labour Organization conference in Geneva. In 1966 she resumed working as a general organizer for ILGWU. Later she worked for the A. Philip Randolph Institute. In the 1970s, as a consultant for the Asian-American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI), she worked with trade unions in Turkey, where she helped introduce women into the labor movement by establishing the Women's Bureau of TÜRK-İŞ. Initially her efforts were met with resistance by male union leaders who wanted women to participate in the organizing work, but had little interest in the concerns of women workers, such as equal pay, equal opportunity, and child care. She also worked in Indonesia to get more women involved in the labor movement. She attended International Women's Year conferences in Mexico and Nairobi in 1975, and the Pan African Conference on the Role of Trade Union Women in 1977.

Springer Kemp married Owen Springer in the late 1920s, and had a son, Eric. The marriage ended in divorce. In 1965 she married James Kemp. She was a persistent worker, as well as very involved in the labor movement. By the nature of her work she was rarely home and would put strains on her marriage with James Kemp. Both were committed individuals to civil rights and labor equality. In the late 1970s Springer Kemp moved to Pittsburgh, where she lived the rest of her life. She died after a long illness on March 29, 2005, aged 94.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Communications Dept., Biography files. Pt.3. Cornell University Library
referencedIn A. Philip Randolph Papers, 1909-1979, (bulk 1941-1968) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf Papers, 1942-1981 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Balanoff, Elizabeth. Oral history interview with Maida Springer Kemp, ILGWU, interview conducted by Elizabeth Balanoff, 1978. Cornell University Library
referencedIn Black Women Oral History Project transcripts, 1976-1981 The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
referencedIn Rocking the Boat, ...Interviews and research materials, 1930-2001, 1992-1998 Bentley Historica Library University of Michigan
referencedIn O'Farrell, Brigid. O'Farrell and Kornbluh papers, 1889-1996. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Horace Mann Bond Papers, 1830-1979, 1926-1972 Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst Libraries
referencedIn Papers of Pauli Murray, 1827-1985 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Frederick D. Paterson Papers, 1861-1988, (bulk 1965-1988) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Trade union women oral history project, 1978-1979 Bentley Historica Library University of Michigan
referencedIn Sampson, Edith S. (Edith Spurlock), 1901?-1979. Papers, 1927-1979 (inclusive) 1934-1979 (bulk). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Black Women Oral History Project. Black Women Oral History Project transcripts, 1976-1981. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Patterson, Frederick D. (Frederick Douglass), 1901-1988. Papers, 1861-1988 (bulk 1965-1988). Library of Congress
creatorOf Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations (University of Michigan-Wayne State University). Program on Woman and Work. Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations, Women and Work Program (University of Michigan) transcripts of oral history project, 1978-1979. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Local 22 (New York, N.Y.). ILGWU. Local 22. Charles Zimmerman. Photographs, 1910-1958. Cornell University Library
referencedIn Randolph, A. Philip (Asa Philip), 1889-1979. A. Philip Randolph papers, 1909-1979 (bulk 1941-1968). Library of Congress
creatorOf Kemp, Maida Springer, 1910-. Oral history interview with Maida Springer Kemp, 1977. Wayne State University. Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs
referencedIn Papers of Pauli Murray, 1827-1985: Series IV, 1926-1985 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Patterson, Frederick D. (Frederick Douglass), 1901-1988. Frederick D. Patterson papers, 1861-1988 (bulk 1965-1988). Library of Congress
creatorOf Kemp, Maida Springer. Reminiscences of Maida Springer Kemp : oral history, 1977. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
creatorOf Kemp, Maida Springer, 1910-. Papers, 1942-1981 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Interviews of the Black Women Oral History Project, 1976-1981 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Black Women Oral History Project. Records, 1976-1997 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf O'Farrell, Brigid. Brigid O'Farrell interviews and research materials for book Rocking the Boat, 1930-2001 (bulk 1992-1998) University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Papers, 1927-1979 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith AFL-CIO. corporateBody
associatedWith African-American Free Labor Institute (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith All-African People's Conference. corporateBody
associatedWith American Federation of Labor corporateBody
associatedWith American Society of African Culture corporateBody
associatedWith Asian-American Free Labor Institute. corporateBody
associatedWith Asian-American Free Labor Institute (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Balanoff, Elizabeth, person
associatedWith Baldwin, Roger N. (Roger Nash), 1884-1981. person
associatedWith Banaloff, Elizabeth, person
associatedWith Bethune, Mary McLeod, 1875-1955. person
associatedWith Black Women Oral History Project. corporateBody
associatedWith Black Women Oral History Project. corporateBody
associatedWith Black Women Oral History Project. corporateBody
associatedWith Bond, Horace Mann, 1904-1972 person
associatedWith British Guiana Trade Union Congress corporateBody
associatedWith Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Train, Chair Car, Coach Porters and Attendants. corporateBody
associatedWith Coalition of Labor Union Women (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Dubinsky, David, 1892- person
associatedWith Ferebee, Dorothy B. person
associatedWith Ghana Trades Union Congress corporateBody
associatedWith Harvard University. Trade Union Program. corporateBody
associatedWith Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations (University of Michigan-Wayne State University). Program on Woman and Work. corporateBody
associatedWith Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations (University of Michigan--Wayne State University). Program on Women and Work. corporateBody
associatedWith International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. corporateBody
associatedWith International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union corporateBody
associatedWith International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. corporateBody
associatedWith International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. corporateBody
associatedWith International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. corporateBody
associatedWith International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Local 22. corporateBody
associatedWith International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Local 22 (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Jacobs, Sophia Yarnall. person
associatedWith Jacobs, Sophia Yarnall, 1902- person
associatedWith Kaunda, Kenneth D. (Kenneth David), 1924- person
associatedWith Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963 person
associatedWith Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963. person
associatedWith Mboya, Tom, 1930-1969. person
associatedWith McCallister, Frank person
associatedWith McCallister, Frank. person
associatedWith Meany, George, 1894-1980. person
associatedWith Murray, Pauli, 1910-1985. person
associatedWith National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. corporateBody
associatedWith National Council of Negro Women. corporateBody
associatedWith National Negro Labor Council (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Nkrumah, Kwame, 1909-1972. person
associatedWith Nyerere, Julius K. (Julius Kambarage), 1922- person
associatedWith Ochwada, Arthur A. person
associatedWith Ochwada, Arthur A. person
associatedWith O'Farrell, Brigid. person
associatedWith O'Farrell, Brigid. person
associatedWith Pan African Conference on the Role of Trade Union Women, 1977 corporateBody
associatedWith Pan African Conference on the Role of Trade Union Women (1977 : Nairobi) corporateBody
correspondedWith Patterson, Frederick D. (Frederick Douglass), 1901-1988. person
correspondedWith Pauli Murray, 1910-1985 person
associatedWith Randolph, A. Philip (Asa Philip), 1889-1979 person
associatedWith Ruskin College (University of Oxford) corporateBody
associatedWith Ruskin College (University of Oxford) corporateBody
associatedWith Sampson, Edith S. (Edith Spurlock), 1901?-1979. person
associatedWith Schnitzler, Frank person
associatedWith Schnitzler, Frank. person
associatedWith Sears, Mason, 1899- person
associatedWith Sears, Philip Mason, 1899-1973 person
associatedWith Starr, Mark, 1894- person
associatedWith Steeger, Henry person
associatedWith Steeger, Henry. person
associatedWith TANU (Organization) corporateBody
associatedWith Tettegah, John K., 1930- person
associatedWith Tubman, William V. S., 1895-1971. person
associatedWith United Nations. Trustee Council. corporateBody
associatedWith United Nations. Trusteeship Council. corporateBody
associatedWith United States Labor Party. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Office of War Information. corporateBody
associatedWith Ware, Caroline Farrar, 1899- person
associatedWith Wayne State University. Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs. corporateBody
associatedWith Wina, Arthur person
associatedWith Wina, Arthur. person
associatedWith Young, Whitney Moore, 1921- person
associatedWith Zimmerman, Charles S. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Harlem NY US
Republic of Ghana 00 GH
Republic of Kenya 00 KE
Pittsburg PA US
Panamá 08 PA
United Republic of Tanzania 00 TZ
Subject
Working class--Scholarships, fellowships, etc
Women--History--20th century
Working class
Working class--Education
Women labor union members
African Americans--History
International cooperation
Clothing trade
International labor activities
Women--Employment
Working class women
Labor unions
Labor
Archival resources
Blacks--Employment
International Women's Year, 1975
Labor unions and education
Civil rights
Skilled labor
Labor unions--Organizing
Labor unions and communism
African American women
Labor unions--Political activity
African American women--Interviews
Oral History
Labor unions--Officials and employees
Women in the labor movement
Afro--Americans--Women
Interviews
Labor movement
Race discrimination
Women--Social conditions
Clothing workers--Labor unions
Occupation
Trade unionists
Labor organizers
Labor Activist
Trade union officials
Activity

Person

Birth 1910-05-12

Death 2005-03-29

Female

Panamanians,

Americans,

African Americans

English

Information

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