Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909

brave girlBrave Girl is the true story of Clara Lemlich and her quest to improve working conditions of girls in the garment industry in the early 1900’s. Clara was a pioneer and advocate for workers’ rights. She fought for better wages, better working conditions, better hours, and was jailed seventeen times for her efforts. When no one else would step forward, Clara took charge and organized the largest strike of women workers in United States history. If you, or your children, don’t know about Clara, now is the time to learn.

What makes Clara even more astounding was her youth. She immigrated to America with her family when she was a teen and quickly started working in the factory. Instead of carrying her books to school, Clara carried a sewing machine to work. Three hundred girls worked in the factory with only one toilet, one sink, and three towels for all of them. If a worker was only a few minutes late, half of their pay was docked. It was long hours for little pay. Clara was determined. Though she was tired, she went to the library after work to educate herself.

Clara’s story is not only informative, it is inspiring. Boys and girls should learn about Clara and her passionate spirit. This book is the story of standing up for what you know is right, for what you know you deserve, no matter what anyone else may do or say to you. Clara was a teenager when she staged the protests and brought attention and change to working conditions in the garment industry.

The book can be used in a variety of ways. It can be used as a role model for young girls and to highlight women’s history. It can be also be used as a discussion on workers’ rights (for older readers) and as part of a unit on child labor laws throughout history. Even for upper elementary and young middle school students (who might consider themselves too old for picture books), it can provide a look at an individual during an important time for workers’ right in the United States. Though not the focus of the book, it does present the issue and history of immigration to the United States from Eastern Europe.

There is a much needed author’s note at the end with more about Clara’s life and the world she lived in. There is also a selected bibliography with primary and secondary sources, which offers a good chance to introduce this concept to children in a classroom or library setting along with providing sources for further reading. The book is recommended for ages 5-9.

Bibliographic Information:
Markel, Michelle, and Melissa Sweet. Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909. New York: Balzer Bray, 2013. Print.

A Splash of Red by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne
Who Says Women Can’t be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
Miss Moore Though Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children by Jan Pinborough, illustrated by Debby Atweel


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