Together, my 5½ year-old son Jacob and I read Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909. This is the story of Clara Lemlich, a teenage girl, who emigrated with her family from Eastern Europe to the United States in 1905. Clara’s father is unable to find work, but Clara secures a job in a garment factory and is the main source of income for her family.
Workers at this time in history regularly labored many hours, for little pay, and often in unsafe and unhealthy working conditions – unfortunately this is also true for Clara. Clara knows right from wrong and fair versus unfair. Clara makes it her mission to fight the injustices on behalf of garment workers in New York City. She becomes an advocate for workers’ rights and a leader in the Labor Movement.
With a lot of hard work and determination, Clara leads the largest strike of women workers in history. By the time the strike is over, many bosses agree to let workers form unions, workweeks are shortened and salaries are raised. The strike in New York City is so successful that it inspires garment factory workers in other cities, such as Philadelphia and Chicago, to walk out and fight for what they believe is just and fair.
This book provides a great opportunity to discuss the importance of people being treated fairly in the workplace and in general. It also allows for a great discussion on the importance of unions and their history in the United States.
I strongly recommend reading the book and the additional information on the garment industry at the end of the story by yourself, first, before reading it to or with a child, as the subject matter may be a bit mature and potentially sensitive. Reading in advance will give you an opportunity to formulate some questions to discuss with your young reader and to anticipate some tough questions you may be asked.
The illustrations in this book are bright, detailed and colorful and provide a visual glimpse into workers’ lives in the early twentieth century. They help bring this story to life.
Through words and pictures, the author and illustrator have been able to show the important role a young immigrant girl played in the Labor Movement in America that resonates with young people of today. Reading this book together provided Jacob and me an opportunity to discuss how one person can make a difference in the lives of many. Jacob and I would both recommend this book.
[Jamie Becker is the LHSFNA Health Promotion Division’s Associate Director.]