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jjhunter and alee_grrl

Reprinted from Calling Home: Working-Class Women's Writings, Janet Zandy ed., p. 103, by permission of Ms. Stein. See bottom of post for additional context she wished included.

Downtown Women
Julia Stein

I come from Bessie Abramowitz,
                   the Russian Jewish factory girl;
                   not Elizabeth Cady Stanton,
                   the Wasp judge's daughter;
           from the shtetl in Russia,
                   when the matchmaker
                   came to make a marriage for me
                   after marrying off my four older sisters
                   I said, "Not on your life,"
                   and came over the sea to America.

I come from downtown women,
                   not uptown ladies.

I come from sewing buttons on pants in the sweatshop,
                   piecework rates,
                   complaining to the boss,
                   getting blacklisted;
                   and when the uptown ladies came downtown
                   with their charity baskets,
                   I threw their baskets at them,
                   told them, "Go to hell,"
            and  I came back to get another shit job
                   under a phony name.

I come from downtown women,
                   not uptown ladies.

I come from they cut my piecework rates again,
                   petitioning the boss,
                   getting ignored,
                   walking out of Shop No. 5;
            and  I came back to take on Hart, Schnaffer, and Marx,
                   the biggest sweatshop in Chicago,
                   8,000 sweated there;
                   I organized a band of twelve immigrant girls,
                   we picketed three weeks,
            and  I came back to storm the fort.

I come from downtown women,
                   not uptown ladies.

I come from the men workers laughed at my band,
                   they walked through my picket line,
                   a month later 8,000 workers struck,
                   two months later 40,000 workers struck,
                   we closed down the men's clothing industry,
            and  I came back to shake Chicago.

I come from downtown women,
                   not uptown ladies.

I come from the male Wasps in the United Garment Workers
                   wanted to throw us immigrants out;
                   I packed my suitcase, went to the convention,
                   the UGW had cops on duty,
                   refused to seat us,
                   I led a walkout,
                   we started a new union;
            and  I come from the Amalgamated Garment Workers of America.

I don't come from the ladies tea parties,
              not from the debutante balls,
              not from the ladies of the book club,
              not from the elite Ivy League girls' colleges;
         I come from the May Day parades,
                   leading the 1916 parade in Chicago down Harrison Street
                   arm-in-arm with my fiance Sidney Hillman,
                   leading thousands of garment workers;
         I come from saying no to the matchmaker,
                   choosing my own husband.

I come from downtown women,
                   not uptown ladies.

Julia Stein edited the just published book Every Day is an Act of Resistance: Selected Poems of Carol Tarlen by the brilliant S.F. working class poet Carol Tarlen who died in 2004. Stein also edited the Walking Through a River of Fire: 100 Years of Triangle Fire Poetry. Previously she has published four books of poetry: Under the Ladder to Heaven, Desert Soldiers, Shulamith, and Walker Woman. Her fifth book of poetry What Were They Like? Poems on the Iraq and Afghan Wars will be published February, 2013. Stein’s grandmother worked in a garment sweatshop and her great-aunt was an union organizer of garment and cafeteria workers.

For more information regarding the Carol Tarlen book Ms. Stein edited, check out the publisher's press release: Mongrel Empire Press Announces Every Day is An Act of Resistance by Carol Tarlen.

Date: 2014-11-22 10:56 pm (UTC)
alee_grrl: A kitty peeking out from between a stack of books and a cup of coffee. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alee_grrl
I think it might have been possible that the resources Julia Stein was using only mentioned twelve women. Or she focused only on those women who were also immigrants (the line specifically says 12 immigrant girls).

Another possibility is she found twelve to scan better in the poem itself.

Anyone else got theories about why the author focused on twelve in this line?


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