This is an entry I wrote a couple of years ago for an encyclopedia that never came to fruition. I came across again it by chance when I was digging around my old laptop hard drive. I think it’s the only entry that survived, which is unfortunate since I also wrote some Chican@ history entries:
Born on April 6, 1882 in Saven, Poland, she emigrated to the United States with her family in 1890; they settled New York City’s Lower East Side. They were a working class family who lived in poverty, particularly after Schneiderman’s father fell ill and died early the following year.
Schneiderman was sent to live in an orphanage for almost a year while her mother worked. After her mother retrieved her from the orphanage, Schneiderman returned to school, only to drop out at the age of thirteen after her mother was laid off from her job. Schneiderman found work as a cashier, earning a $2.16 weekly salary for working sixty-four hours a week.
In 1898, she quit her cashier job and began working in a factory. She and her mother moved to Montreal for a short time to live with relatives; it was during these early years, at the age of eighteen, that she was exposed to Socialism through family friends and became interested in politics.
When she returned to New York, Schneiderman once again took up work at a factory, where another new worker began pointing out the injustices of their work environment. Together with a handful of other workers, the group began seeking out the twenty-five person quota required to acquire their own union charter. Over the next several years, Schneiderman would become increasingly involved with New York union organizations. By 1908 she was the vice-president of the New York Women’s Trade Union League.
Although she had always been a proponent of women’s suffrage—she thought that many of the labor and women’s movements’ goals intersected with one another—Schneiderman did not officially become involved in the women’s suffrage movement until the summer of 1912, when she took a short leave of absence from her union duties to campaign for the Woman’s Suffrage Association in Cleveland. She returned to her labor work but continued to work for women’s suffrage whenever she could. In 1917, for instance, she worked to pass a New York state referendum that gave women the right to vote.
In 1919, the Labor Party in New York nominated Schneiderman as a candidate for the U.S. Senate. She lost the election and continued her work with the NYWTUL, forming a close working relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt after Roosevelt joined the League in 1922. Through the rest of the 1920s, Schneiderman would work to help women workers organize for better work hours and a higher minimum wage, as well as help unemployed working women during the depression.
In the early 1930s Schneiderman served on the National Recovery Administration’s Labor Board. After the NRA was deemed unconstitutional in 1935, she returned to work with the WTUL, this time focusing on laundry and hotel workers’ rights. In 1937, Schneiderman was offered the position of Secretary of the State Department of Labor, where she worked until 1943. During this time she resigned her position with the WTUL, but remained a volunteer president and helped raise funds for them outside of her office hours. She continued working with them until 1955, when the League closed.
Schneiderman passed away on August 11, 1972.