Date of Degree
Digital Humanities | Labor History | Women's History
New York City, Activism, Organizing, Communist Party, Consumer Activism
Clara Lemlich Shavelson is primarily known for her impassioned speeches during the 1909 Uprising of 20,000. The majority of histories written about her address her involvement in organizing women garment workers in New York’s Lower East Side from her arrival in New York in 1903 up through the eleven-week general strike in 1909. After this, the literature would have you believe she fades into obscurity, for there is only one book that addresses her life post 1909. Shavelson did not give up organizing after 1909. She got married, moved to Brooklyn, and started a family. In Brooklyn, she organized women in her neighborhood--wives and mothers--to engage in consumer activism like food boycotts and rent strikes. She joined the Communist Party and was instrumental in leading more consumer actions up through the Great Depression. She ran for office in New York State, was called to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and had her passport revoked after a trip to the Soviet Union. An organizer and supporter of labor until the end of her life, Shavelson convinced the administration of her retirement home to support the United Farm Workers produce boycott, and helped the nurses and orderlies organize for union representation.
The goal of this digital project is to make visible the entirety of Shavelson’s life and activism through curating relevant primary source documents, and combining them with thematic essays that consider the intersections of women’s history, labor unions, consumer activism, family obligations, and electoral politics. Not a biography, this project is a documentary history that explores the traces left by a woman who lived a life of public activism and today is little known. Beyond surfacing information about Shavelson, this project aims to be an educational and exploratory tool, as well as a public resource that considers the intersections of organizing, power, and effecting change in New York City. The project can be accessed at https://clara.commons.gc.cuny.edu/
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Cohn, Sarah B., "Clara Lemlich Shavelson: An Activist Life" (2017). CUNY Academic Works.