The Clara Lemlich Awards Awards honor women who have been working for the larger good their entire lives, in the tradition of those who sparked so many reforms in the aftermath of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire over one hundred years ago.

We honor — in the words of the poet Marge Piercy — people who:
jump into work head first / without dallying in the shadows...
who do what has to be done, again and again.

The Third Annual Clara Lemlich Awards were held Wednesday April 3, 2013 at the Puffin Gallery for Social Activism at the Museum of the CIty of New York.  Watch the video below, or learn more about the honorees by clicking on the images to the right.

Lemlich Awards 2013  Lemlich Awards 2013  Lemlich Awards 2013
   Photos by Gary Schoichet.


The 2013 Honorees

Click each to learn more

Molly Klopot

Molly Klopot

Lifelong Activist

Natalie Gordon

Social Worker

Lois Spier Gray

Labor Scholar, Labor Educator, Labor Activist

Glendora Folsom Buell

Philosopher, Judicial Activist, and Television Personality

Julia Rosario Jorge

Labor Activist

Marian Thom

Union Activist and Bilingual Paraprofessional


View honorees from other years here


Clara Lemlich“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, 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 did not 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 one years later we are proud to honor her legacy and to honor those who follow proudly in her footsteps.


2013 Event Program

Welcome & MC
Esther Cohen

Social Activism Gallery
Perry Rosenstein

Chesray Dolpha

Presentation of Honorees
Molly Klopot......Vinie Burrows
Natalie Gordon......Rita Margules
Lois Gray......Evelyn Jones Rich, Donald Rubin
Glendora Folsom Buell......Victoria Kereszi
Julia Rosario Jorge......Kathy Andrade
Marian Thom......May Chen

Rachel Bernstein
Henry Foner  
Joel Sosinsky

Solidarity Forever
Laine Cooke and audience

Esther Cohen writes, teaches, raises money, curates, art directs, and works hard to secure roses for every struggle. She is the former executive director of Bread and Roses 1199/SEIU, a co-founder of Labor Arts, and author of five books.

Rita Margules, daughter of Clara Lemlich, received a Lemlich Award in 2011.  She was raised in a labor oriented, socially conscious family – her father was a printer and a member of the Big Six local of the printers union.  At the dinner table her parents would tell the children "eat your food – miners' children are starving." She has worked for decades with the housing program for seniors of limited income sponsored by B'nai B'rith and HUD.

Kathy Andrade received a Lemlich Award in 2011.  She worked as a garment worker and organizer in Miami and New York after arriving from El Salvador in the 1950s, and later for Local 23-25 (ILGWU), developing educational and cultural programs in many languages for the mostly immigrant membership. Throughout she has been an active participant and officer in the Hispanic Labor Committee and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

Perry Rosenstein is president and co-founder (with his wife Gladys Rosenstein) of the Puffin Foundation, dedicated to “...continuing the dialogue between art and lives of ordinary people.”  The Puffin Gallery for Social Activism at MCNY hosts the Lemlich Awards tonight.

Evelyn Jones Rich, a former NYC teacher and high school principal,   retired as Associate Dean, Division of Programs in Education, Hunter College (CUNY).  She is the former executive director of the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation.  Evie is co-founder and director of LaborArts and a lifelong activist in the on-going struggle for civil rights, quality public schools and healthy aging.

May Y. Chen has been a lifelong advocate for workers, immigrants and women.  She has been teaching part-time at CUNY’s Murphy Institute for Worker Education since 2009; before that she served as the International Union Vice President of UNITE HERE (1999 to 2009), having joined the union's staff in 1984 (ILGWU).  She is a Founding Member of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and continues to serve on its New York Chapter Board. She currently serves as Board President of the New York State Immigrant Action Fund.

Chesray Dolpha, from Capetown, South Africa, was the Oprah Winfrey scholar at the Wagner School at NYU.  She is a community theater activist, international public policy scholar, and cultural organizer.

Donald Rubin  is co-founder of the Rubin Museum of Art and co-chair of the Board of Trustees. Shelley and Donald Rubin started collecting Himalayan art in the early 1970s and amassed a significant collection, a major portion of which was given to the museum to seed its nascent collection. He was the founder of MultiPlan, Inc., a major general service PPO health provider. He serves on the board of The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation and is a member of the Global Philanthropists Circle.

Rachel Bernstein is a public historian who researches, writes about and teaches American working class history, with a particular focus on New York City.  She is co-founder and co-director of LaborArts, has taught in the graduate program in public history at NYU for decades, and works on public history projects with the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at NYU and elsewhere. She is author, with the late Debra E. Bernhardt, of Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives:  A Pictorial History of Working People in New York City (2000).

Vinie Burrows is an actor, writer and producer. Frustrated by the quality and quantity of roles for the actor of color, she has created and produced a repertoire of eight one-woman shows, performed them over six thousand times and gained an international following.  Vinie has appeared on As The World Turns, The Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS Presents, and The Hallmark Hall of Fame.  She is an active member of The Dramatists Guild.

Victoria Kereszi is a filmmaker, community television activist, and cultural coordinator for the Workforce Development Institute. She's a graduate of the Gallatin School at New York University.

Henry Foner is a retired labor leader, historian, songwriter and activist.  He retired as president of the Fur, Leather and Machine Workers Union in 1988 after 27 years in that position.  He has worked as co-founder and co-historian of the website "Labor Arts" since its founding in 2000.  Past president of the Paul Robeson Foundation, he also serves on the editorial board of Jewish Currents magazine and the board of the New York Labor History Association.  Foner is an accomplished songwriter, and continues to write and perform songs.  LaborArts just published For Better or Verse, covering 75 years of Henry’s songs and poems.

Joel Sosinsky is a founding board member and currently Secretary of the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition.  He is an attorney, retired from the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, where he was Counsel to the President of New York City's Local 237, and led the Teamster's Public Services Division in Washington DC.

Laine Cooke is a jazz singer and recording artist on Harlemwood Records.  She is a SAG-AFTRA National Board member.


The third annual Clara Lemlich Awards are generously funded by The Puffin Foundation.  They are hosted by LaborArts, the Puffin Foundation Gallery for Social Activism at the Museum of the City of New York, The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, and the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, and were organized by Evelyn Jones Rich, Sherry Kane, Rose Imperato, Henry Foner, Esther Cohen and Rachel Bernstein.

Many thanks to all who helped, including Anne Newman Bacal, Patch Schwadron, Anna Shelkin, Inga Moren, Gena D’Ambrosio; the New York Labor History Association, and Jewish Currents.
We invite you to visit the Puffin Gallery for Social Activism at this museum, and to visit online exhibits from LaborArts.