MAIDA (STEWART) SPRINGER KEMP, 1910-
Maida Springer Kemp was born in Panama, Central America, in 1910, and moved to New York City with her mother, Diane Stewart, in 1917. (See the Kemp interview in OH-31, Black Women Oral History Project, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, for further information about her early life.)
In 1932 MSK went to work as a pinker, hand finisher and subsequently a sewing machine operator in a garment factory in New York. She joined Local 22 of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) in 1933; this was the beginning of her involvement in the American trade union movement, which eventually included participation in the workers' education movement, African trade union movements, labor education worldwide (particularly for women), and the women's movement.
From 1933 to 1941 or 1942 MSK was active in Local 22 of the Dressmakers' Union; she served on the executive board and the education committee, and as a shop representative to settle prices. She took union training and education courses through the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the Wellesley College Institute for Social Progress, and the Hudson Shore Labor School.
For the next nine years MSK was increasingly active in trade union and other activities, largely in New York. She was Education Director of Local 132 of the Plastic Button and Novelty Workers' Union, 1942-1945, and ran for State Assembly from the 21st Assembly District (Harlem) of New York County on the American Labor Party ticket (1942). She was appointed to a War Price and Rationing Board of the Office of Price Administration (1944), and in 1945 became the first Black woman to represent the AFL abroad, serving as its delegate on a trip sponsored by the Office of War Information to observe wartime conditions for workers in Great Britain. Also in 1945 the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) chose her as one of the twelve outstanding women of the year; in 1946 MSK received the NCNW's merit award. She was the Executive Secretary of the Fair Employment Practices Commission rally at Madison Square Garden in 1945, and that year joined the staff of the Dress Joint Board, becoming business agent for Dressmakers' Union Local 22 of the ILGWU in 1948, a post she held for thirteen years.
Beginning in 1951 MSK became increasingly active, through the AFL, in labor unions in several African countries that were simultaneously working for national independence. For six weeks in 1951, MSK went to observe workers' education associations in Sweden and Denmark, her trip sponsored by the American Labor Education Service and the American Scandinavian Foundation. This was followed by eight months at Ruskin Labor College, Oxford University, made possible by an Urban League Fellowship and a sabbatical from the ILGWU. MSK took courses and met many African students who were trade unionists and/or nationalists in their respective colonies.
In the mid 1950s MSK became an active observer, and later an organizer, for the AFL and, after 1955, the AFL-CIO programs for and in Africa. She first traveled to Africa in 1955 as one of five non-African observers (and the only woman) at the first International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) conference, held in Accra, Gold Coast (later Ghana). In 1957 she attended the First African Regional Trade Union Conference (Ghana) and organized a meeting of American labor leaders to discuss Kenya's labor needs; out of this meeting came the funds to build Solidarity House in Nairobi. In 1958 MSK attended the All-African People's Conference in Accra. In 1959 the State of Israel invited her to study African and Israeli-African labor relations, and the next year she joined the AFL-CIO Department of International Affairs as representative to Africa.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s MSK lived on and off in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Nairobi (Kenya), and Brooklyn, N.Y., and traveled extensively in Africa for the AFL-CIO; she was responsible for the selection of students for the American Trade Union Scholarship Program for Africa. She was an invited guest at the national independence ceremonies in Ghana (1957), Nigeria (1960), Tanzania (1961), and Kenya (1963).
In 1964 MSK was advisor to and member of the workers' delegation from the United States to the 48th Session of the International Labor Organization conference in Geneva. In 1966 she returned to the ILGWU as a general organizer, and later worked with the A. Philip Randolph Institute.
MSK attended the International Women's Year conferences in Mexico (1975) and Nairobi (1985), and the 1977 Pan African Conference on the Role of Trade Union Women. She is a member of the National Council of Negro Women, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the African-American Free Labor Institute, the Asian-American Free Labor Institute, the National Organization for Women, and the Coalition of Labor Union Women. In the late 1920s MSK married Owen Springer; they had one son, Eric. In 1965 she married James Kemp. She has two grandchildren.
From the guide to the Papers, 1942-1981, (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute)
|creatorOf||Papers, 1942-1981||Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America|
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|United States. Office of War Information.|