The Clara Lemlich awards for social activism celebrate the lives of incredible women whose many decades of brilliant activism have made real and lasting change in the world. The Awards have been held every year since 2011, and since 2013 have been celebrated at the Museum of the City of New York.
The wonderful 2020 honorees are below. Due to the pandemic the reception was virtual, please explore the individual pages to find the introductions and acceptance speeches you might have heard at the ceremony—use your imagination for the rest.
Connecting Activists is part of our ongoing effort to let young activists hear stories directly from those with more experience. Take a look at the first interviews done by some remarkable high school and college students.
In these times we are reminded of the legacy of Clara Lemlich, which lives on in the work done by the essential workers and medical professionals on the front lines of this crisis. Both groups are predominantly female, bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic as they shepherd us through it. Congratulations to all the honorees of this year’s Clara Lemlich Awards, and to the awards themselves for moving to a virtual format in response to this pandemic.Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer
“I’ve got something to say!” shouted the 23-year old Clara Lemlich in her native Yiddish during a tense, crowded meeting of garment workers in Cooper Union’s Great Hall in 1909. Rising from the audience, she interrupted Samuel Gompers and the other union leaders on stage. Her speech inspired the crowd, leading to an unexpected vote to strike, and to what would become known as the Uprising of 20,000.
Born to a Jewish family in the Ukraine (then part of the Russian Empire), Lemlich migrated to the U.S. in 1903, found work in the garment industry, and soon became active in the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union. The 1909 strike led to reforms, but the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was a hold-out, and refused to implement safety improvements.
The fire that took 146 lives on March 25, 1911 was seen across the country as a tragedy that could have been avoided, and it sparked a movement that pushed politicians to accept a new notion about the responsibilities of government. Lemlich continued to be active in the labor movement until she was pushed out for her leftist politics. She continued to work for women’s suffrage, led a boycott of butcher shops to protest meat prices, campaigned for unemployment relief, and fought for tenants’ rights.
One hundred and seven years later we are proud to honor her legacy and to honor those who follow proudly in her footsteps.
The Clara Lemlich Awards are hosted by LaborArts and the Remember the Triangle Fire coalition, and were organized by Rachel Bernstein, Esther Cohen, May Chen, Sherry Kane and Rose Imperato.
We are enormously grateful for generous funding from the 21st Century ILGWU Heritage Fund, and for the many years of support from the Puffin Gallery for Social Activism at the Museum of the City of New York, and for everyone’s understanding and assistance as we all try to manage in this time of pandemic. We will be back with an in person event, and with video interviews with our honorees, as soon as it is possible.