History of American Fashion
Clara Lemlich Shavelson (1886-1982) was a labor activist and an organizer for the shirtwaist workers in early twentieth century New York. She had already been arrested seventeen times and suffered repeated beatings from police when she took the podium to argue for a strike at the shirtwaist workers' meeting at Cooper Union on 22 November 1909. Lemlich spoke to the workers—many of them young Jewish girls—in Yiddish about the terrible factory conditions and the need for a strike; over 20,000 shirtwaist makers walked out the next day.
Shavelson was born Clara Lemlich in 1886 in Gorodok, Ukraine, to religious Jewish parents. Her family immigrated to the United States around 1905. Soon after, Lemlich began organizing unskilled women into the new International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, despite protests from skilled male workers. After the famous shirtwaist makers' strike, she helped to found the Wage Earner's League for Woman Suffrage, a working-class suffrage group. In 1913, she married printer Arthur Shavelson and moved to Brownsville, Brooklyn, where the couple had three children. Clara Shavelson continued to agitate for issues concerning food, housing, and sanitation. She joined the kosher meat boycotts of 1917 and the New York City rent-strike movement in 1919. She became a member of the Communist Party in 1926 and co-founded the United Council of Working Class Women, which became the Progressive Women's Councils in 1935, when she served as its president. In 1944, Shavelson returned to the garment trade after her husband Arthur became ill. She was summoned to Washington to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1951, and had her passport revoked by the State Department for her radical political beliefs.