At the turn of the century, in New York City, tens of thousands of young, immigrant women were working in garment factories sewing blouses in abominable conditions.
Unscrupulous bosses shorted their paychecks, forced them to work inhumanely long hours, fined them mercilessly, and confined them in miserable factories for very little pay. Some of the workers were as young as six years old.
Enter Clara Lemlich, a pipsqueak standing just five feet tall. A young Ukrainian immigrant hard at work to support her family, Clara was incensed over the wretched lives of the factory girls and began urging them to strike. For weeks, Clara endured being beaten and arrested for her activities. Large numbers of workers were likewise anxious for change, but they were too afraid to stage a general strike. Clara’s courage and rallying cry finally roused them to action, and the “largest walkout of women workers in U.S. history” took place in 1909.
Michelle Markel’s crisp, stirring prose vividly presents these insufferable working conditions, endured out of dire need, and Clara’s courage. Lemlich’s determination and victory at great cost are inspiring. An Author’s Note provides more information on the inequities in the garment industry at that time, including the tragedy at the Triangle Waist Factory.
Award-winning illustrator Melissa Sweet has used watercolor, gouache, and mixed media to create her gorgeous illustrations. Capturing the antiquated look of the era, as well as the moxie of Clara, and the progression from fear to zeal of her fellow workers, Sweet also anchors the book, beginning and end, with the promise of liberty and hope these immigrants sought in America. Despite the ugliness of the situation, both Markel and Sweet have struck a strong, up-beat tone throughout the book.
Beautiful collaboration, for ages 6 and up.
Here’s the Amazon link: Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909