She Was One of Us: Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Worker

She Was One of Us: Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Worker

by Brigid O'Farrell


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Although born to a life of privilege and married to the President of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt was a staunch and lifelong advocate for workers and, for more than twenty-five years, a proud member of the AFL-CIO's Newspaper Guild. She Was One of Us tells for the first time the story of her deep and lasting ties to the American labor movement. Brigid O'Farrell follows Roosevelt—one of the most admired and, in her time, controversial women in the world—from the tenements of New York City to the White House, from local union halls to the convention floor of the AFL-CIO, from coal mines to political rallies to the United Nations.

Roosevelt worked with activists around the world to develop a shared vision of labor rights as human rights, which are central to democracy. In her view, everyone had the right to a decent job, fair working conditions, a living wage, and a voice at work. She Was One of Us provides a fresh and compelling account of her activities on behalf of workers, her guiding principles, her circle of friends—including Rose Schneiderman of the Women's Trade Union League and the garment unions and Walter Reuther, "the most dangerous man in Detroit"—and her adversaries, such as the influential journalist Westbrook Pegler, who attacked her as a dilettante and her labor allies as "thugs and extortioners." As O'Farrell makes clear, Roosevelt was not afraid to take on opponents of workers' rights or to criticize labor leaders if they abused their power; she never wavered in her support for the rank and file.

Today, union membership has declined to levels not seen since the Great Depression, and the silencing of American workers has contributed to rising inequality. In She Was One of Us, Eleanor Roosevelt's voice can once again be heard by those still working for social justice and human rights.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780801478017
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Publication date: 12/02/2011
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Brigid O'Farrell is an independent scholar affiliated with Mills College, Oakland, California. She is the coauthor of Rocking the Boat: Union Women’s Voices 1915–1975 and coeditor of Work and Family: Policies for a Changing Work Force.

Table of Contents

Abbreviations Used in Text ix

Prologue: She Was One of Us 1

1 Why Women Should Join Unions 4

2 Here Comes Mrs. Roosevelt 30

3 Practicing What You Preach 55

4 In Her Own Way 80

5 An Essential Element of Freedom 105

6 Pointing the Way 131

7 We Have Something to Offer 156

8 A Revolutionary Period 181

Epilogue: Close to Home 205

Source Abbreviations 209

Notes 211

Note on Sources and Bibliography 247

Acknowledgments 259

Index 263

What People are Saying About This

Dorothy Sue Cobble

"Eleanor Roosevelt found the American labor movement a crucial ally in her efforts to advance democracy and human rights. In She Was One of Us, Brigid O'Farrell tells us why. Along the way, we also get an entertaining and fresh slice of American labor history and even-handed treatments of such controversial subjects as the cold war divide in the labor movement and the debates over the Equal Rights Amendment. She Was One of Us has many fine features and deserves a wide audience."

Richard L. Trumka

"I am very proud to say that Eleanor Roosevelt was a long-standing member of the labor movement, the Newspaper Guild, AFL-CIO. In She Was One of Us, Brigid O'Farrell brings to light not only Eleanor Roosevelt's significant work with unions but also the labor movement's contributions to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our labor history is enriched and ourefforts tosecure workers' rightsareenhanced by readingEleanor Roosevelt'sinspiring wordsand following her call to action close to home and around the world. She was, indeed, one of us."

Blanche Wiesen Cook

"She Was One of Us is profoundly researched and powerfully written. Brigid O'Farrell has gifted us with a timely, galvanizing, much needed study of Eleanor Roosevelt's democratic vision and union participation. This book well serves O'Farrell’s hope for a new generation of activism to ensure workers' rights, human rights, dignity for all. Her brilliant journey of alliance in the long struggle for economic security, worker safety, union influence is filled with surprises—new and amazing details. It enables us to imagine a global future of full employment, equitable wages, and worker health free of toxic industrial poisons. Everybody concerned about a just and livable world will rush to buy, read, assign, this splendid, important book."

Susan Ware

"Nowhere was Eleanor Roosevelt's democratic vision more evident than in her lifelong commitment to the American labor movement. Thanks to Brigid O'Farrell's fine book, Roosevelt's legacy serves as a challenge and an inspiration to new generations in their quest for economic justice for all citizens."

From the Publisher

"This is an inspiring book and should be read by women of all ages, and of all stations in life. (Men: You can learn from it too!)."

Kimberly Freeman Brown

"Want to make your workplace safer? To have a say in setting your wages and benefits? To join a union? Read this book. Timely and compelling, She Was One of Us shows us how First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt translated her ideas about social and economic justice into action. As a union member, she understood that workers' rights are human rights and she championed the men and women who go to work each day in steel mills, restaurants, coal mines, garment factories, hospitals, offices, and schools. Brigid O'Farrell has written a book that provides inspiration and practical guidance for all of us who carry on the legacy of making Eleanor Roosevelt's vision of workplace democracy a reality at home and around the world."

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