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Common Sense and a Little Fire: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States, 1900-1965
     

Common Sense and a Little Fire: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States, 1900-1965

by Annelise Orleck
 

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Twenty years after its initial publication, Annelise Orleck's Common Sense and a Little Fire continues to resonate with its harrowing story of activism, labor, and women's history. Orleck traces the personal and public lives of four immigrant women activists who left a lasting imprint on American politics. Though they have rarely made more than cameo appearances in

Overview

Twenty years after its initial publication, Annelise Orleck's Common Sense and a Little Fire continues to resonate with its harrowing story of activism, labor, and women's history. Orleck traces the personal and public lives of four immigrant women activists who left a lasting imprint on American politics. Though they have rarely made more than cameo appearances in previous histories, Rose Schneiderman, Fannia Cohn, Clara Lemlich Shavelson, and Pauline Newman played important roles in the emergence of organized labor, the New Deal welfare state, adult education, and the modern women's movement. Orleck takes her four subjects from turbulent, turn-of-the-century Eastern Europe to the radical ferment of New York's Lower East Side and the gaslit tenements where young workers studied together. Orleck paints a compelling picture of housewives' food and rent protests, of grim conditions in the garment shops, of factory-floor friendships that laid the basis for a mass uprising of young women garment workers, and of the impassioned rallies working women organized for suffrage.

Featuring a new preface by the author, this new edition reasserts itself as a pivotal text in twentieth-century labor history.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The life stories of four Jewish immigrant organizersRose Schneiderman, Pauline Newman, Clara Lemlich Shavelson and Fannia Cohnframe Orleck's history of women in U.S. working-class movements. All had energized their communities and garment-factory shop floors, located on New York's Lower East Side, by their early 20s and were lifelong labor leaders. Consummate organizers (Newman conceived and led the largest rent strike New York had ever seen when she was 16), they negotiated the minefields of male labor leaders' sexism, middle- and upper-class feminists' elitism and the country's anti-Semitism and xenophobia to carve out careers, forge friendships and develop a politics Orleck describes as ``industrial feminism.'' Schneiderman's and Newman's most significant intimate relationships were with women. Orleck, an assistant professor of history at Dartmouth and herself the descendant of immigrant Jewish working-class organizers, draws on social history and on primary texts; some of the latter have only recently become accessible to scholars. In the hands of a skilled storyteller, this material would have been gripping, but Orleck's prose is matter-of-fact and often repetitive. Luckily, the rich factual detail and the epic nature of the women's lives sometimes overcome the shortcomings of the writing. Photos not seen by PW. (May)
From the Publisher
Substantially expands our knowledge of twentieth-century working-class women's political activity.

New York History

A major contribution to twentieth-century labor history. . . . Orleck's book is rich in detail and comprehensive in analysis.

Reviews in American History

Highly recommended. Two thumbs up.

International Labor and Working Class History

Orleck's intelligent work reminds readers of a time when workers fought valiantly . . . to be represented by a union.

Choice

An interesting and important study. Common Sense and a Little Fire is worth the read.

Journal of American History

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807863718
Publisher:
The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
11/09/2000
Series:
Gender and American Culture
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
400
File size:
4 MB

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
A major contribution to twentieth-century labor history. . . . Orleck's book is rich in detail and comprehensive in analysis.--Reviews in American History

An interesting and important study. Common Sense and a Little Fire is worth the read.--Journal of American History

Annelise Orleck's work made me remember why I wanted to be a historian. I was simply astounded by the artfulness with which she wove together these four women's stories in a narrative that casts half a century of working-class and political history in a fresh new light.--Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

A beautifully rendered collective biography of four activist immigrant women. This book is insightful, original, and dynamic. It makes an important contribution to the fields of labor history, immigrant history, and women's history. And it is a good read as well.--Alice Kessler-Harris, Rutgers University

Substantially expands our knowledge of twentieth-century working-class women's political activity. Readers seeking an accessibly-written introductory work and scholars studying women's labor, working-class feminism, public policy, consumer movements, or the connections between women's (and men's) personal and political choices will find it an interesting and important work."New York History

A finely nuanced study of four extraordinary women who campaigned throughout their long lives to make room in the house of labor for working-class women and the activists who serve them.--Industrial and Labor Relations Review

Highly recommended. Two thumbs up. . . . Orleck's analyses revise the history of American women, labor, ethnicity, sexuality, and politics.--International Labor and Working Class History

Ah, then I had fire in my mouth!--Clara Lemlich Shavelson, looking back on her radical youth

Orleck's intelligent work reminds readers of a time when workers fought valiantly for the right to be represented by a union. Focusing on the lives of four remarkable women--Fannia Cohn, Clara Lemlich Shavelson, Pauline Newman, and Rose Schneiderman--Orleck weaves a complex and compelling story of class and ethnic tensions, the struggles for workers' rights, internecine warfare, and above all, the extremely gendered nature of both politics and work. . . . Their stories, as related in this tightly written, fascinating work, reveal whole new layers to the history of women and the working-class struggle.--Choice

Meet the Author

Annelise Orleck is associate professor of histoy and women's studies at Dartmouth College. She is author of Soviet Jewish Americans and editor of The Politics of Motherhood: Activist Voices from Left to Right.

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