Saturday, April 19, 2014

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 was written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 is the story of Clara Lemlich.  She immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s with the rest of her family.  After settling in, they realized no one would hire her father, but would hire her, so she got a job as a shirt maker. 

Clara was very smart and she was not going to allow the fact that she had to work get in the way of her education.  She read as often as possible and went to school at night, but soon realized the other women working with her were forced to give up their schooling because of the hard conditions of their job.  They didn't have the time or energy to do both. 

Clara organizes a strike within her company several times, but "Each time Clara leads a walkout, the bosses fire here.  Each time she pickets, her life is in danger.  The bosses hire men to beat her and other strikers. The police arrest her 17 times.  They break six of her ribs, but they can't break her spirit. It's shatterproof." Although this is happening, Clara does not give up.  She organizes a strike of all the factory workers and "starts the largest walkout of women workers in US history."

Clara's strike worked.  It took several months, but the factory owners allowed for unions to be created, shortened the work week and gave raises to all of the girls.  Clara's story inspired other walkouts in garment factories in Chicago and Philadelphia. 

Markel gives the reader more insight about the garment industry in his notes at the back of the book.  She tells us, "Between 1880 and 1920, two million Jews immigrated to America, fleeing persecution, pogroms and poverty in Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and other parts of Eastern Europe.  Many of the immigrants found work in the booming garment industry. Abuses were rampant throughout the industry.  Mnay bosses shaved time off lunch hours, set clocks back at the end of the day to fool workers, made them work long hours -- including illegal evening work -- for little money, forced them to pay for cloth soiled with blood or spilled food and fired them at will."  Clara had been able to change these conditions for the women of the time, and is hailed a hero to those she helped.

This is a picture book and I think the illustrations matched the story well.  The illustrations were muted colors, which made it look like the time it was set in.  Many of the illustrations that depicted trouble were on the left, such as when she is talking to the other girls about starting the strike and where she is pacing back and forth, worrying about her schooling.  There is also the use of diagonal lines -- her eyes meet with the males from her work at a diagonal, showing her anger about the issues she is dealing with.

This would be a good book to give students information about unions, women workers and immigration. You can find a local copy of this book by visiting WorldCat.

No comments:

Post a Comment