Ariel Kates >> November 29, 1909: A Frail 23 Year Old Woman Ignites the Strike of the 20,000 at Cooper Union

Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP)



by Ariel Kates


On November 22, 1909, a frail 23-year-old woman, who’d been brutally beaten by strike-breakers, was helped up onto the stage of the Great Hall at the Cooper Union.


Leaders of the labor movement – all men – had been speaking for hours to a crowd of thousands, speaking out against poor garment factory working conditions while also preaching caution when it came to a strike. Then, they were interrupted by “the frail little girl with flashing black eyes,” as Clara Lemlich was described by Samuel Gompers of the American Federation of Labor, who was on stage that day. She said simply (in Yiddish): “I have listened to all the speakers. I would not have further patience for talk, as I am one of those who feels and suffers from the things pictured. I move that we go on a general strike!”