2010-03-19 / Columnists

The Progressive

Feminist Legacy
By John Paul Culotta

Every March, feminist historians dedicate the month to women in history. Many people in other countries celebrate on March 8, the international day dedicated to women. This is appropriate and shows recognition of the contributions women have made throughout humanity’s cultural, social and economic history.

We all recognize the contributions and sacrifices our mothers have made to our development. Today, society reflects on professional career advancements women have made in medicine, law, politics and business. These advancements do not diminish the arduous work of the women who remain at home bringing their children to school, soccer games, the doctor; all while maintaining a household and sometimes having a dead end part-time work that is not as glamorous. Most Americans see only economic and social success as the goal of life. How sad that is. Many men and women working in thankless, unrewarding difficult labor to maintain a family, with hope that the future for their children will be better, also deserve recognition and praise.

This reminds me of why March was selected for feminist recognition. On March 25, 1911, 146 workers, the large majority of whom were women, died in a fire caused by their employer’s insistent disregard for their safety. This happened here in New York City. These workers, mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants or of immigrant stock, worked that Saturday (the Jewish day of rest) for the hope this nation gives all foreign born workers – a life that will allow a future for their children. Many of the victims’ families did not have the resources to bury them in a dignified style.

As I write this I am forced to reflect on how we sometimes disregard the contributions the women and men in occupations that are considered humble, make for all of us. When I enter a hotel room I often check out the cleanliness but I forget the room attendant who cleaned the room. I sometimes admire the clean streets after a snow storm but I forget the sanitation worker. This is only natural.

Those workers who perished in that fire almost one hundred years ago did contribute to the development of this nation. Their deaths lead to many improvements in worker safety. As a result of the fire, the American Society of Safety Engineers was founded. Labor unions grew in strength, especially the International Ladies Garment Workers (ILGWU). Some say the New Deal started in that fire. Frances Perkins, Al Smith and Robert F. Wag-ner, with the clout of Tammany Hall, began to agitate for the dispossessed.

We need that type of agitation today. Bankers are not the only segment of society that needs relief.

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