Fannie Never Flinched: One Woman’s Courage in the Struggle for American Labor Union Rights by Mary Cronk Farrell. November 1, 2016. Harry N. Abrams, 56 p. ISBN: 9781419718847. Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.3; Lexile: 1020.
Fannie Sellins (1872–1919) lived during the Gilded Age of American Industrialization, when the Carnegies and Morgans wore jewels while their laborers wore rags. Fannie dreamed that America could achieve its ideals of equality and justice for all, and she sacrificed her life to help that dream come true. Fannie became a union activist, helping to create St. Louis, Missouri, Local 67 of the United Garment Workers of America. She traveled the nation and eventually gave her life, calling for fair wages and decent working and living conditions for workers in both the garment and mining industries. Her accomplishments live on today.
This book includes an index, glossary, a timeline of unions in the United States, and endnotes.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence; Murder; Anti-Semitism
Booklist starred (October 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 4))
Grades 5-8. The author may be addressing this stirring story of early union activist Fannie Sellins (1872–1919) to middle-schoolers, but the rigor of her approach yields a book with solid scholarly features: a non-condescending glossary, a time line for historical context, recommendations for further reading, and a helpful index. In 1902, Sellins was a widowed mother of four working in a St. Louis sweatshop to support her family when she first heard about the United Garment Workers of America, then in its infancy. She helped to organize her fellow seamstresses, most of whom were recent immigrants working 10 to 14 hours 6 days a week for the grand sum of $5 ($145 in today’s currency), into Ladies’ Local 67. The threat of a strike resulted in a grudging doubling of wages, and within a few years Sellins was traveling to hot spots around the country to spread the word. She ultimately landed in Pennsylvania coal country, the site of egregious abuses, where her fervor proved fatal: pegged as an agitator, she was shot in the back while trying to herd children away from a melee. Her story, richly illustrated with vintage photographs and documents, fairly leaps off the page, driving home the message that the work she fought for is far from over.
Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2016)
Farrell chronicles Fannie Sellins’ life as a garment worker, organizer, and martyr for workers’ rights at the turn of the 20th century.After Fannie’s husband died, leaving her with four children, she sewed in a St. Louis sweatshop. Women and girls worked 10 to 14 hours daily, six days a week, locked in deafening factories where tuberculosis ran rampant. Hearing of the United Garment Workers of America’s successes elsewhere, Fannie began organizing co-workers during breaks. In 1902, she helped form the Ladies Local 67 of the UGWA. In 1909, a worker’s punishment engendered a walkout, a lockout, a strike, and a boycott. As the local’s president, Sellins traveled on the workers’ behalf, raising strike fund money in union halls and successfully advancing the boycott. Next, Sellins helped coal miners fight brutal owners in West Virginia, where she was arrested and jailed. Organizing in western Pennsylvania, she was murdered during a fight between strikers and armed deputies. Farrell’s text and annotated timeline demonstrate that the early struggle for fair wages, hours, and benefits was rife with setbacks and bloodshed, as owners, government officials, and law enforcement colluded to break strikes and unions. Acknowledging the paucity of material on Sellins, Farrell includes well-captioned period photos and primary documents that deepen readers’ context for the workers’ exploitation and resistance. A cogent, well-documented, handsomely designed treatment of a heretofore forgotten hero of labor. (author’s note, glossary, timeline, quotation notes, sources, websites, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10-14)
About the Author
I’m an award-winning author of Children’s/YA books and former journalist with a passion for stories about people facing great adversity with courage. Writing such stories has shown me that in our darkest moments we have the opportunity to discover our true identity and follow an inner compass toward the greater good.
Both my fiction and non-fiction titles feature little-known true stories of history based on thorough research. Most include an author’s note, bibliography and further resources, but they are not dry, scholarly tomes! Confronting grief, adversity and failure in my own life, enables me to write stories with an authentic emotional core.
My books have been named Notable Social Studies Book for Young People, SPUR Award for Best Juvenile Fiction about the American West, Bank Street College List of Best Children’s Books, and NY Public Library Best Books for Teens. My journalistic work has received numerous awards for excellence from the Society of Professional Journalists and two Emmy nominations.
Her website is www.marycronkfarrell.net.
American Labor Studies Center Labor History Lesson Plans
Fannie Sellins Labor Marker & Biography Video
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