Thursday, April 7, 2016
Clara Lemlich was born and raised in Russia, but violence and antisemitism force the family to immigrate to New York when Clara is a teenager. Her orthodox father and brothers have dedicated their lives to studying scripture which may be edifying, but it doesn't pay the bills. Despite her lack for formal education, Clara quickly realizes the family will be destitute if someone doesn't start working. Her father is unwilling to change the focus of his life, and Clara and her mother can't take in enough sewing to pay the rent, so Clara decides to get a job.
One of the few jobs available to poor uneducated women was in the sewing factories. Here women would be locked into hot stuffy rooms and work with dangerous equipment. The floor managers were often unscrupulous men who took advantage of the girls who had no recourse. Anyone who complained would be fired and blackballed. Clara's situation is even worse because even though she is the only one working to support the family, her father shuns her. Her only bright spot is the free education she gets by going to classes at night after working long days in the factory.
As conditions in the factories worsen, Clara feels compelled to do something. She hears about the labor unions organizing for the men, and she knows the women need this kind of support, too, but not only is she poor and an immigrant, she is a woman.
Melanie Crowder's novel is a powerful story about real life hero for women's rights. Highly recommended!