Rose Schneiderman, 1882 – 1972
“The woman worker needs bread, but she needs roses too,” was Rose Schneiderman’s favorite slogan. Bread was the sustenance, but roses were the joy – recreational facilities, schools, access to health care – anything that would help the working woman improve life for her and her family.
Rose Schneiderman was born on April 16, 1882, in Saven, Poland to a devout Jewish family, and immigrated to the United States in 1890. After her father died Rose left school and went to work in a department store to help support her family. Several years later she discovered the garment industry paid better wages, and she began to work as a cap maker. Frustrated by discrimination faced by women in the factories, Rose organized the New York City local of the United Cloth and Cap Makers and took the lead in getting women elected to the union. The next year she was elected to the union’s executive board, the highest position yet held by a woman in any American labor organization.
Rose became a fiery and impassioned speaker and never missed a chance to speak out about the plight of the working woman. In 1905 she joined the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL), the national organization that led the fight to improve conditions of working women. She remained among the WTUL’s most active leaders for 45 years, serving as president from 1926 to 1950. In 1910 she helped organize a strike of the shirtwaist factory workers to call attention to the need for better working conditions and better pay.
The labor movement formed a vital component of the woman suffrage movement. In addition to her work for labor, Rose spoke out for woman suffrage, impressing on young working women how possession of the vote could positively impact their lives through the passage of legislation that would secure better wages, working conditions and job security, and limits on child labor. President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her—the only woman—to the Labor Advisory Board of the National Recovery Act in 1933. She also served as secretary of the New York State Department of Labor from 1937 to 1943. She died August 11, 1972 after a lifetime of campaigning fearlessly for the rights of women workers to enjoy both “bread and roses.”
Happy Birthday, Rose Schneiderman.