Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909
Published in 2013 by Balzer + Bray
Multimedia Duet Model: Bravery. Despite many obstacles, including police brutality and imprisonment, Clara Lemlich continued to organize garment workers and call for a general strike until the industry changed. Ask students to recall the challenges that Lemlich faced and her efforts to keep moving toward social change. In what ways do her actions show bravery? Following a reading of Brave Girl, view Sara Bareilles’s music video for her song “Brave” and engage students in a lyric/video study. Consider how the lyrics speak to what it means to be brave especially Bareilles’s call to “show how big your brave is”. Discuss the ways that the people in the video demonstrate bravery in their own lives. Ask student to think about and then they write about a time in their lives when bravery was needed. Students could illustrate their stories, which could then be bound into a class book to share with others.
Pioneering Women. Gather a collection of picture book biographies that feature women who were pioneers in their field. Divide students into small groups and ask students to read the books and make notes about the subjects of their books. Ask students to prepare a brief summary to share with classmates. After each group shares their summary in a whole group session, ask your students to brainstorm categories to construct a comparison chart featuring the women’s lives and accomplishments. Return to small group work with and ask groups to complete the information to construct the chart. When the chart is assembled, hold another whole group discussion, noting any patterns across the categories. The Classroom Bookshelf blog features several titles ideally suited to this activity, including Me…Jane and The Watcher (Jane Goodall), Night Flight (Amelia Earhart), Annie and Helen and Helen’s Big World (Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan), Life in the Ocean (Sylvia Earle), Miss Moore Thought Otherwise (Anne Carroll Moore) and Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World. (Laurie Lawlor).
Studying History: Learning about Life in the Tenements. Clara Lemlich and her family lived in tenement housing in the early 1900s. The Tenement Museum in New York City has a wealth of resources to support students to learn more about immigrant life from 1863 to 1935. Support student understanding of this time period through their collection of photos. Ask students what they notice about the people, the street scenes, and the Lower East Side neighborhood. What stories do the photos reveal? Then, take a virtual tour of the tenement building at 97 Orchard Street. Support students to notice the details of tenement living. After that, view primary source documents from this time period to learn more about people, places, and events related to tenement life. Finally, listen to oral histories from people who lived in the tenements and learn even more about what life was like for the individuals and families who lived in tenement housing.
The People Speak: Learning about Factory Girls. Howard Zinn’s film The People Speak is a collection of everyday voices that made a significant difference to American History. Marisa Tomeiperforms the words of a young factory girl preparing to strike in October 1836. Support students to view her performance that includes photos from the time period as part of the film sequence. How does her performance and the words of the factory girl impact their understanding of what factory girls were fighting for? Support students to write a narrative of a factory girl and to then perform them for each other using their voices to convey the feelings of the girls about to strike.
More to Clara Lemlich. Clara Lemlich became a devoted communist. This was an important part of her life as an activist in fighting for the collective rights of workers. The back matter does not include reference to Clara’s politics. Why not? Engage in a discussion with students about why authors or publishers would omit her political affiliation.
About Katie Cunningham
Katie is a Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. There she is also the Director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Social and Emotional Learning and Whole Child Education. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.
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