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Common Sense and a Little Fire traces the personal and public lives of four immigrant women activists who left a lasting imprint on American politics. Though they have rarely had more than cameo appearances in previous histories, Rose Schneiderman, Fannia Cohn, Clara Lemlich Shavelson, and Pauline Newman played important roles in the emergence of organized labor, the New Deal welfare state, adult education, and the modern women's movement. Orleck takes her four subjects from turbulent, turn-of-the-century Eastern Europe to the radical ferment of New York's Lower East Side and the gaslit tenements where young workers studied together. Drawing from the women's writings and speeches, she paints a compelling picture of housewives' food and rent protests, of grim conditions in the garment shops, of factory-floor friendships that laid the basis for a mass uprising of young women garment workers, and of the impassioned rallies working women organized for suffrage. From that era of rebellion, Orleck charts the rise of a distinctly working-class feminism that fueled poor women's activism and shaped government labor, tenant, and consumer policies through the early 1950s.
This book has its roots in the memories and stories of my grandmother, Lena Orleck, a sharp-tongued woman with a talent for survival and for dominating every she met.
In Storming Caesars Palace, historian Annelise Orleck tells the compelling story of how a group of welfare mothers built one of this country's most successful antipoverty programs. Declaring "We can do it and do it better," these women proved that poor mothers are the real experts on poverty. In 1972 they founded Operation Life, which was responsible for many firsts for the poor in Las Vegas-the first library, medical center, daycare center, job training, and senior citizen housing. By the late 1970s, Operation Life was bringing millions of dollars into the community. These women became influential in Washington, DC-respected and listened to by political heavyweights such as Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Ted Kennedy, and Jimmy Carter. Though they lost their funding with the country's move toward conservatism in the 1980s, their struggles and phenomenal triumphs still stand as a critical lesson about what can be achieved when those on welfare chart their own course.
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