There’s a theme to my last few posts—the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union. Not only is it an important topic for those interested in American clothing, but the photographs are wonderful. At the center of this photo is the diminutive labor activist, Pauline Newman, who was about 87 here. Born in Lithuania when it was still part of the Russian empire, she immigrated to New York as a child and worked in the shirtwaist industry, including in the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. She went on to become the first woman labor organizer for the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union.
Here we see Newman at a commemoration of the Triangle Factory Fire, the only woman pictured at an event honoring the death of over one hundred women. Walking with a cane, she attended the event in a good winter coat with a fur collar, one of the lapels brought up against her throat to protect her from the cold.
Nothing she wears reflects current fashion, from her sensible tie shoes, to her thick stockings, to her glasses. I read somewhere that a well made coat was designed to last about thirty years. Perhaps she had this coat almost that long, a testament to the quality of American labor. (I’m sure she wouldn’t have bought a coat that wasn’t union made.) Obviously she had reached a point in her life where current trends didn’t interest her anymore. I imagine standing in front of her closet saying, “It’s a perfectly good coat and I’m going to wear it.”