HANNAH SHAPIRO and the 1910 CHICAGO GARMENT WORKERS' STRIKE
By Rebecca Sive
In July 1976, Hannah Shapiro Glick, the initiator of the 1910 Chicago Garment Workers' strike, saw some photos of it in a magazine feature story on the exhibition: "Forgotten Contributions: Women in Illinois History." At the prompting of her daughter, she contacted the project director of "Forgotten Contributions" to identify herself as the strike's initiator, unknowingly answering a question asked by Mari Jo Buhle in her Signs article on the strike.(1) Glick's testimony not only answered Buhle's question but indicated why subsequent observers of the event have written conflicting and often inaccurate reports about it.
On September 22, 1910, Hannah [a.k.a. "Annie"] Shapiro (later Glick), a seventeen-year-old Jewish immigrant born at Nehzin, in the Ukraine, initiated the workers' walkout in shop 5 of the clothing firm of Hart, Schaffner & Marx, 1922 South Halsted Street, Chicago. That Thursday,after returning from vacation for the Jewish New Year, Shapiro complained to her foreman about a cut in the piecework rate from 4 cents to 3 & 3/4 cents for seaming a pair of pants. He replied that nothing could be done; Shapiro returned to her co-workers and reported what the foreman had said. She returned the following Friday and Monday to talk to the management-again without success. Next, under Glick's leadership, workers from shop 5 walked out. By Wednesday, workers in other company shops refused to do the work of shop 5 and, by the end of the week, workers in seven out of ten Hart, Schaffner & Marx shops were out. A month later, 40,000 Chicago garment workers were on strike. Partially because of ethnic conflicts and factional rivalries, Hart, Schaffner & Marx workers did not return to work until January 1911. Workers employed at other clothing firms went back in February 1911.(2)
In 1914, Hannah Shapiro stopped working to marry Julius Glick. In 1922, she was identified in the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Joint Board Report as the initiator of the 1910 Chicago strike. But, as the years passed and as personal associations and memories faded, Glick became lost to her 1910 compatriots and later historians. Her part in the strike was never systematically documented. Thus, historians, journalists, and labor activists have written histories which suited their own purposes but which have been necessarily incomplete.(3) The rediscovery of Glick and her role, placed against the number and diversity of such conflicting reports, indicates that historians must now chart new directions in order to understand fully the true history of this significant strike and its women leaders.
Below are the outlines of Hannah Shapiro Glick's participation in the 1910 strike. Her recollections sixty-six years later were vivid and personal:
It wasn't because I wanted to work, but I could see that every little cent helped. ...I went to work at Hart, Schaffner & Marx; I thought, "I have to better myself." ... There's nothing like in a big place to work; 'cause they have a wonderful system to work.(4)... We got along nicely with every language, let me tell you, but I always minded my own business, but when it came to this, [the strike] I couldn't stand this ... They were all afraid to say a word but I wasn't... People who are older than I am would stay in the house and not to budge. So I was the first one... If not for me, it seems they couldn't move ... I'm a strong girl; I never regretted it...I think if not for the strike, they would never have what they have now; we had to strike and I think we had the right to go...They stayed like glue; they felt they had to show we have to be recognized as people and, really, we struggled; it wasn't easy...The workingman has to live too, that's what it had to show and it did too.(5)
By her own account, Glick was young, fearless, and responsive to the righteousness of the workers' struggle. Her convictions gave her strength; she was a tireless picketer and a good speaker, though not a trained organizer. She remained a private person and did not befriend any of the well-known public figures of the strike; although she remembered meeting Jane Addams, dancing with Clarence Darrow [Darrow represented the workers during arbitration], organizing with Agnes Nestor and Mary Dreier Robins, and watching Bessie Abramovitch (Hillman) flirt. She had no memory of Clara Masilotti, the Italian strike leader. Furthermore, Glick does not appear "conferring" in any photographs, as Masilotti did, (6) nor did she write any articles about the strike, (7) or teach English to strikers as Masilotti did. (8) She did not speak at meetings of the workers, as Abramovitch did, but only at a few gatherings of sympathetic "society" women organized by the Women's Trade Union League.
Although she never emerged as a political leader, Glick was one of the "girl strikers" Buhle's Socialist thinkers admired. (9) However, she was always her own woman. She did not participate in the selling of the "Special Girl Strikers' Edition" of the Chicago Daily Socialist because she did not agree with Socialist organizing tactics. (10) Of her own significance in the strike, Glick said: "The strike, I'll tell you the truth for me, it was a joke, but for the married people...But I was the spokes [sic]... At first they said, 'A young girl, what does she know, good from bad, couldn't she make up 1/4 cent? ... Women can't stick to anything.' [but] the only time I didn't go [to help collect money and picket] was Saturday." In retrospect, she saw her importance as having been a model of steadfast courage. Her role in the 1910 Chicago Garment Workers' strike suggests the need for research to increase historians' awareness of the various types of workingwomen activists who were involved, the diversity of their views, and the complexity of their political activities. This would do much to clarify not only the differing strike response of Chicago's ethnic groups but also the complex roles of women workers in such activities.
Department of Continuing Education
1. Mari Jo Buhle, "Socialist Women and the 'Girl Strikers,' Chicago, 1910," Signs 1, no.4 (Summer 1976): 1039-51.
2. The workers who returned in February were employees of firms which were members of the Wholesale Clothier's Association. The association operated a labor bureau which effectively blacklisted workers who complained about working conditions.
3. The following versions of who initiated the 1910 strike illustrate these inaccurate reports: (1) Chicago Daily Socialist (October 17, 1910): "When the strike started three weeks ago with the walkout of the sixteen girls..."; (2) Amalgamated Clothing Workers' Joint Board Report (Chicago: Amalgamated Clothing Workers, 1922), p. 26: "The first spark was struck on September 22 in Shop 5 ... Annie [sic] Shapiro, one of the first six to go out..."; (3) Humbert Nelli, The Italians in Chicago: 1880-1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 81: "Strike activities began on September 29 at Hart, Schaffner & Marx Shop 21 (a pants shop) when a group of female employees, led by a Sicilian girl, left their jobs to protest a quarter-of-a-cent wage cut"; (4) Nellie Zeh, "The Girl Striker-a Prophecy," Chicago Daily Socialist (November 21, 1910), quoted in Buhle, p. 1047: "It was a girl who took the lead in the great conflict between capitalism and the working-class. Sixteen girls walked out of Hart, Schaffner & Marx's establishment, Saturday at noon, October 7...The time was ripe and when the little Jewess, who acted as leader, said: 'Come, we can endure these conditions no longer' and walked out with fifteen girl comrades ..."; (5) R. Dvorak, "The Chicago Garment Workers," International Socialist Review 11, no. 6 (December 1910): 346-47: "One day sixteen of the girls in the shop felt ready to 'do or die.' The leaders, Clara Masilotti, Bessie Abramovitch, Rosie [sic] Shapiro, had the girls well in hand. Clara Masilotti, only 17 years old, came to the boss and told him that she had enough of the persecution. He laughed at her and told her to go back to work. They argued back and forth until the girl pulled out a little whistle. Before the boss could stop her she had blown it." Clara Masilotti, according to accounts in a number of sources (Chicago Daily Socialist; Nelli; Agnes Nestor, Woman's Labor Leader: The Autobiography of Agnes Nestor [Rockford, Ill.: Bellevue Books, 1954]), walked out after the strike had already started when she heard a whistle blown outside her shop. She did not work with Shapiro or Abramovitch but in an independent clothing shop run by Ralph Neumille located at Blue Island and Polk Streets.
4. Glick said, before her death in July 1977, that working conditions were good; her only complaints were about the piecework rate. However, in her 1910 testimony to the Illinois State Senate she said otherwise ("Report of Special Committee on Garment Workers' Strike in Chicago," Illinois Senate Journal 47 : 423-28).
5. All quotations from Hannah Shapiro Glick are from conversations with her (July 1976-November 1976).
6. Chicago Tribune (November 4, 1910). Pictured are Agnes Nestor, Clara Masilotti, Margaret Dreier Robins, Emma Steghagen, S. M. Franklin, and Lillian Carr.
7. Chicago Daily Socialist (November 21, 1910). Others who wrote articles for the "Special Edition" were Clarence Darrow, Margaret Haley, Agnes Nestor, and Margaret Dreier Robins.
8. Women's Trade Union League Report on the 1910 Chicago Garment Workers' Strike (Chicago: Women's Trade Union League, 1910), p. 39.
9. See the following articles on the strike in the Chicago Daily Socialist (October 12, 24, and 31, 1910; November 21, 1910): "No Wonder the Toilers Struck" and "Women Active for Workers." Some of the testimony in these two articles is Glick's, although she is not named.
10. Glick indicated her feelings about Socialist organizing tactics in my interviews with her.
Rebecca Sive is a Chicago-bred community organizer and women's rights activist, recognized widely for her civic leadership and advocacy. Rebecca co-chaired Women for Washington in Harold Washington's historic 1983 election as the first African-American Mayor of Chicago. Both before and since, Rebecca has been a strategist, writer, and spokesperson for numerous women's causes at the regional, state, and national levels. Rebecca is also the author of the blog, SiveSiftings.
The above article originally appeared in the journal, Signs, Vol. 3, No. 4 (Summer, 1978), pp. 936-939 and is reprinted with the kind permission of the author.
Women's Trade Union League of Chicago. Official report of the Strike Committee :Chicago Garment Workers' Strike, October 29, 1910-February 18, 1911. (Women Working, 1800-1930; Harvard University Library Open Collection)(Photos scanned from this book)
Annie Shapiro and the Clothing Workers' Strike (History Speaks) by Marlene Targ Brill (Recommended for children ages 4-8)
Interactive Labor Trail
Chicago Garment Workers Strike
Chicago Labor History Links