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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 CLASSS POLITICS IN THE UNITED STATES, 1900-1965, by Annalise Orleck [University of North Carolina Press], $39.95 hardcover, $15.95 paper

The four pre-eminent, long-lived Jewish women of the “vintage of 1909” who led the first “uprising” of women workers are profiled in this collective biography. Immigrants Fania Cohn, Pauline Newman, Rose Schneiderman and Clara Lemlich Shavelson were all catalyzed by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire to dedicate their lives to what Annalise Orleck calls “industrial feminism,” Characterized by organizing women around “bread and roses” issues, it was inspired “by a heady mix of ideology gleaned from Isaiah, Marx and their mothers.” These four women persevered through personal/political struggles with men in their own class, with women patrons, with colleagues and life partners of the middle and upper classes, and with each other, to achieve, over decades, unprecedented victories in union and consumer organizing, suffrage, and women’s and workers’ rights. (Doubtless the four women will be easier to keep straight in the TV mini-series that should be made about their lives.) All four are both unique historically and timelessly emblematic of Jewish women activists. Their passionate life choices and unwavering agenda for social transformation are still radical today.