At my age, in this still hierarchical time, people often ask me if I’m “passing the torch.” I explain that I’m keeping my torch, thank you very much… and I’m using it to light the torches of others. Because only if each of us has a torch will there be enough light.
~ Gloria Steinem

The 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 Fourth Annual Clara Lemlich Awards were held Wednesday April 2, 2014 at the Puffin Gallery for Social Activism at the Museum of the City of New York. Watch the video below, and learn more about the honorees by clicking on the images to the right.

  • title Clara Lemlich’s daughter Rita Margulies
  • title Clara Lemlich’s great grandson Michael Miller
  • title Judy Lerner receives rose from Anna Shelkin
  • title Gale Brewer and audience members
  • title Joan Levine and Sarah Martin do a recycling demonstration
  • title Perry Rosenstein and Robert Jackson share an emotional moment, Neal Rosenstein and Gladys Rosenstein look on
  • title Barbara Bailey sings with the Labor Chorus
  • title Esther Cohen, Agnes Wong, Perry and Gladys Rosenstein, Marilyn Frankenstein, Rachel Bernstein

   Photos by Emily Holzknecht.


The 2014 Honorees

Click each to learn more

Agnes Wong

Agnes Wong

Sarah Martin & Joan Levine

Sarah Martin & Joan Levine

Judy Lerner

Judy Lerner

Jane Kalmus

Jane Kalmus

Marilyn Frankenstein

Marilyn Frankenstein

Barbara Bailey

Barbara Bailey




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 three years later we are proud to honor her legacy and to honor those who follow proudly in her footsteps.


2014 Event Program

Welcome & MC
Esther Cohen

Evelyn Jones Rich

Gale Brewer

Social Activism Gallery
Perry Rosenstein

Courtney Francis

Presentation of Honorees
Agnes Wong......Edgar Romney
Joan Levine and Sarah Martin......Robert Jackson
Clara Lemlich......Michael Miller (great grandson)
Judy Lerner......Natalia Saavedra
Jane Kalmus......Neal Rosenstein
Marilyn Frankenstein......Rachel Bernstein
Triangle Fire Memorial......Rose Imperato
Barbara Bailey......Henry Foner

Bread and Roses and Union Maid
New York City Labor Chorus 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.

Evelyn Jones Rich has been a public school teacher and principal as well as an Associate Dean at Hunter College/CUNY, and an historian of African history. In retirement she served as Executive Director of The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation. She is a co-founder of Labor Arts and a lifelong trouble maker and activist in the fight for civil rights, effective education, and for the rights of senior citizens.

Gale Brewer is the 27th Borough President of Manhattan, elected in November 2013. She represented the Upper West Side in the NY City council for over a decade, helping to pass legislation helping domestic workers, requiring NYC publications to be made available via the Internet, and much else.

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.

Courtney Francis is a full time volunteer organizer for the Women’s Press Collective, where she teaches a class in labor history and works on helping working women create, design, print and distribute their stories.

Edgar Romney is an organizer and activist with a distinguished career in the ILGWU, its successor organizations UNITE and UNITE/HERE and now Workers United/SEIU. He was the longtime manager of Local 23–25, and now serves as the Secretary-Treasurer of Workers United and as a Board member of the Amalgamated Bank.

Robert Jackson represented District 7 (including Harlem and Washington Heights) in the New York City Council until term limits ended his service. As Community School Board 6 President, together with Mike Rebell, he founded the Campaign for Fiscal Equity in 1991. He was a candidate for Borough President of Manhattan in 2013

Michael Miller is Clara Lemlich’s great grandson. He is an eighth grader at The Computer School, MS 245, and will attend the Bronx High School of Science in the fall.

Natalia Saavedra is a recent graduate of CCNY in International Studies, currently working for Fundacion Amistad, a not-for-profit working to improve US-Cuban relations through cultural initiatives. She also works to increase youth participation at the UN, with initiatives at CCNY, and by speaking at youth panels, working with international youth, and planning youth led briefings.

Neal Rosenstein is Vice President of the Puffin Foundation, which provides grants to artists and art organizations who are often excluded from mainstream opportunities due to their race, gender, or social philosophy.

Rachel Bernstein researches, writes about and teaches American working class history, with a focus on New York City. She is a co-founder and co-historian of, 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 NYC.

Rose Imperato has been a guiding light and driving force with the Triangle Fire Coalition since its founding in anticipation of the 2011 centennial. She currently works as an administrator at CUNY’s Murphy Institute.

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 Labor Arts since its founding in 2000, and has served as president of the Paul Robeson Foundation, on the editorial board of Jewish Currents magazine, and as the editor of Work History News, the newsletter of the New York Labor History Association.




The fourth annual Clara Lemlich Awards are generously funded by The Puffin Foundation and The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation. They are hosted by LaborArts, the Puffin Foundation Gallery for Social Activism at the Museum of the City of New York, 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, Emily Holzknecht, Patch and Terry Schwadron, Anna Shelkin, Inga Moren, the NY Labor History Association, and Jewish Currents.

We invite you to visit the Puffin Gallery for Social Activism at this museum, to visit related online exhibits from, including Women Firefighters in the FDNY and Defending the Social Safety Net, and to keep up-to-date with


Lady Freedom Among Us

don’t lower your eyes
or stare straight ahead to where
you think you ought to be going

don’t mutter oh no
not another one
get a job fly a kite
go bury a bone

with her oldfashioned sandals
with her leaden skirts
with her stained cheeks and whiskers and heaped up trinkets
she has risen among us in blunt reproach

she has fitted her hair under a hand-me-down cap
and spruced it up with feathers and stars
slung over her shoulder she bears
the rainbowed layers of charity and murmurs
all of you even the least of you

don’t cross to the other side of the square
don’t think another item to fit on a tourist’s agenda

consider her drenched gaze her shining brow
she who has brought mercy back into the streets
and will not retire politely to the potter’s field

having assumed the thick skin of this town
its gritted exhaust its sunscorch and blear
she rests in her weathered plumage
bigboned resolute

don’t think you can forget her
don’t even try
she’s not going to budge

no choice but to grant her space
crown her with sky
for she is one of the many
and she is each of us

Rita Dove, 1993