Every March, we celebrate Women’s History Month to remember the remarkable women who have fought to give future generations a brighter tomorrow. These trailblazers refused to accept the status quo and left their mark on our state and nation. It’s thanks to the hard work and tireless efforts of these heroes that women today continue to make history and change society for the better. This March, we should take inspiration from women past and present to renew our dedication toward creating a more just and equitable world for all.
The fight for equality often extends well beyond gender. The battle for workers’ rights has been long fought and come a long way since the labor movement at the turn of the 20th century. However, working conditions would not have come so far without the dedication of the early activists who stood up against injustice and pushed for better working conditions, including the countless New York women who raised their voices for the working class. Whether in New York’s garment industry or the domestic worker trade, these activists were integral in improving pay and working conditions for millions of Americans.
Rose Schneiderman, a Polish immigrant born in 1882, emerged as a leader in the trade labor union movement and was an influential suffragist. After her father died and her mother lost her job, Schneiderman left school to find work, first in sales at a department store and then as a cap maker in a factory. While the factory work paid more, wages were still low and working conditions were poor, leading to Schneiderman’s involvement in the labor movement. She co-organized a local union branch and led a successful strike before joining the New York Women's Trade Union League (NYWTUL), eventually becoming the league’s first woman president in 1917. Schneiderman’s impassioned speech after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 helped lead to increased workplace safety and her work in the movement earned her a spot as the only women on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Labor Advisory Board of the National Recovery Administration in 1933. Schneiderman later became New York’s Secretary of Labor in 1937.,
In 1934, Dora Lee Jones laid the groundwork to end domestic slavery and gain rights for domestic workers in Harlem and beyond by establishing the Domestic Workers’ Union. The movement first began in California to fight against the exploitation of Black domestic workers and soon spread to other parts of the nation. The union Jones established enlisted more than 75,000 members and initiated the “Stand Up a Lady for Work Campaign” to encourage domestic workers not to settle for low pay. Members also lobbied the state and federal government for wage and hour laws as well as inclusion in the Social Security Act. The union later became associated with the American Federation of Labor.
The work of Schneiderman and Jones have taken us far, but we still have a ways to go. The rise of the #MeToo movement over the last several years has brought to light the stories of women who have faced unspeakable trauma. Founded in 2006 by Bronx native Tarana Burke, the movement shows women and girls who have experienced sexual assault, abuse or harassment that they’re not alone and should never be made to feel ashamed. Burke’s efforts have given a voice to countless women and brought this critical conversation to the forefront of our society.
Even today, trailblazers continue to shatter glass ceilings. On Jan. 20, 2021, Kamala Harris was sworn in as the 49th Vice President of the United States. Vice President Harris is the first Black person, first woman and first person of Asian descent to serve in this distinguished role. We also saw former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton break barriers in 2016 as the first female major-party presidential nominee. Vice President Harris and Secretary Clinton overcame the challenges that stood in their way and rose to new heights. And more recently, President Biden nominated U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Judge Jackson would be the first Black woman to serve on the highest court in the land.
With the efforts of pioneers like Schneiderman and Jones, as well as those of today’s groundbreakers like Burke, Vice President Harris and Secretary Clinton, women can continue to make history. These influential figures have helped pave the way for the next generation of leaders, activists and innovators who will change the world and advance the fight for equality and justice.
To learn more about women’s history and the fight for full equality, or if you have questions or concerns about an issue, please do not hesitate to contact my office at 212-866-5809 or DickensI@nyassembly.gov