International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Educational Dept. Executive Secretary.

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Fannia Cohn, garment worker, labor organizer and educator, and officer, International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.

Fannia Cohn was born in Minsk in the late 1880s (there is disagreement as to the exact year). She emigrated to the U.S. in 1904 and began working in a New York garment factory in 1905. She joined the ILGWU in 1909 and quickly emerged as a skilled leader and organizer. She was the first woman vice-president of the ILGWU and in 1918 became Executive Secretary of the Education Department, a position she held until her retirement in 1961. She played a significant role in worker education and was a co-founder of both the Workers' Education Bureau and the Brookwood Labor College. She died in 1962 in New York City.

From the description of ILGWU. Education Department. Fannia Cohn papers, 1918-1962. (Cornell University Library). WorldCat record id: 64750616

The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union was founded in New York City in 1900 by mostly Socialist immigrant workers who sought to unite the various crafts in the growing women's garment industry. The union soon reflected changes in the sector and rapidly organized thousands of unskilled and semi-skilled women, mostly Jewish and Italian young immigrants. Exemplifying the “new unionism,” the ILGWU led two of the most widespread and best-known industrial strikes of the early Twentieth Century: the shirtwaist makers’ strike of 1909 in New York City and the cloak makers’ strike of 1910 in Chicago. The union also tried to adapt to the fragmented and unstable nature of the industry. It adopted the “protocol of peace,” a system of industrial relations that attempted to ensure stability and limit strikes and production disruption by providing for an arbitration system to resolve disputes.

The ILGWU exemplified the European-style social unionism of its founding members. They pursued bread and butter issues but provided educational opportunities, benefits, and social programs to union members as well. In 1919, the ILGWU became the first American union to negotiate an unemployment compensation fund that was contributed to by its employers. The ILGWU also pioneered in the establishment of an extremely progressive health care program for its members which included not only regional Union Health Centers but also a resort for union workers, known as Unity House. The Union also had an imaginative and pioneering Education Department which not only trained workers in traditional union techniques, but provided courses in citizenship and the English language.

David Dubinsky, an immigrant from Belarus who came to the US in 1911, provided strong leadership that led to unprecedented growth in the union during his presidency from 1932 to 1966. He led the union through successful internal anti-communist struggles, built on the ascendancy of industrial unionism by encouraging the formation of the Committee for Industrial Organization, and helped the union become an important political force in New York City and state politics, and in the national Democratic Party and Liberal Party as well.

In the period following the Second World War, the union suffered a decline in membership as manufacturers avoided unionization and took advantage of less expensive labor by moving shops from the urban centers in the northeast to the south, and later abroad. The ethnic and racial character of the ILGWU also changed as European immigrants were supplanted by Asians, Latin Americans, African- Americans, and immigrants from the Caribbean.

In July 1995 the ILGWU merged with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU) at a joint convention, forming UNITE (Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees). At the time the new union had a membership of about 250,000 in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.

Fannia Cohn, garment worker, labor organizer and educator, and officer, International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.

Fannia Cohn was born in Minsk in the late 1880s (there is disagreement as to the exact year). She emigrated to the U.S. in 1904 and began working in a New York garment factory in 1905. She joined the ILGWU in 1909 and quickly emerged as a skilled leader and organizer. She was the first woman vice-president of the ILGWU and in 1918 became Executive Secretary of the Education Department, a position she held until her retirement in 1961. She played a significant role in worker education and was a co-founder of both the Workers' Education Bureau and the Brookwood Labor College. She died in 1962 in New York City.

From the guide to the ILGWU. Education Department. Fannia Cohn papers, 1918-1962, (Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Educational Dept. Executive Secretary. ILGWU. Education Department. Fannia Cohn papers, 1918-1962. Cornell University Library
creatorOf ILGWU. Education Department. Fannia Cohn papers, 1918-1962 Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
associatedWith American Federation of Labor. corporateBody
associatedWith Beard, Charles A. 1874-1948. person
associatedWith Brookwood Labor College (Katonah, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Bruère, Robert W. 1876-1964. person
associatedWith Cohn, Fannia M. 1885- person
associatedWith Deutsch, Babette, 1895- person
associatedWith Douglas, Paul Howard, 1892- person
associatedWith Dubinsky, David, 1892-1982. person
associatedWith Gompers, Samuel, 1850-1924. person
associatedWith International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. corporateBody
associatedWith International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. corporateBody
associatedWith International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Educational Dept. corporateBody
associatedWith International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Educational Dept. corporateBody
associatedWith Laidler, Harry W. 1884-1970. person
associatedWith Muste, Abraham John, 1885-1967. person
associatedWith Pioneer Youth of America. corporateBody
associatedWith Rand School of Social Science. corporateBody
associatedWith Scribner, Grace, 1882-1922. person
associatedWith Sigman, Morris, 1880-1931. person
associatedWith Starr, Mark, 1894- person
associatedWith Trachtenberg, Alexander. person
associatedWith Van Doren, Carl, 1885-1950. person
associatedWith Wells, H. G. 1866-1946. person
associatedWith Wolfson, Theresa, 1897-1972. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Subject
Labor unions and education
Working class--Education
Labor unions and education--United States
Labor unions--Officials and employees
Labor unions--United States
Labor movement
Clothing workers--Labor unions
Working class--Education--United States
Clothing workers--Labor unions--United States
Labor unions
Labor movement--United States
Occupation
Function

Corporate Body

Active 1918

Active 1962

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