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Cohen, Fannia

COHEN, FANNIA

COHEN, FANNIA (1885–1962), U.S. labor movement activist. Cohen was born in Kletsk, Russia, and immigrated to the United States with her brother in 1904. After working briefly with new immigrants on Ellis Island as the representative of the American Jewish Women's Committee, Cohen began studies for entrance to a college of pharmacy before deciding to take a job at a garment factory and work in the labor movement. In 1909, Cohen was elected to the executive board of her local union; she served as its chair from 1913 to 1914. In 1914, while president of the Kimono, Wrappers and Housedress Workers Union in New York City, Cohen was among early graduates of the Training School for Women Organizers, a year-long curriculum of academic and field work. In August 1915, she led workers in the first successful strike of Chicago's dress and white goods; later that year she was the first woman elected as vice president of the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union. She went on to become one of the foremost leaders of the ilgwu Education Department, where she was a staunch proponent of Unity Centers, places for women workers to learn and socialize. In 1921, Cohen helped establish Brookwood Labor College, the first residential college for workers in the United States; in 1923, she began working with Pioneer Youth of America, which sponsored summer camps for worker's children. Cohen spent the rest of her career creating additional educational programs, opportunities, and events for workers despite declining funding and opposition from others in the labor movement. In the course of debates about organizing women workers, Cohen became isolated from radical feminists and ultimately lost much of her power base in the union. In 1925, Cohen was not reelected to the ilgwu General Executive Board and over the next few years, to the outrage of many, the new director, Mark Starr, restricted Cohen's work almost completely. Cohen continued as a relatively powerless executive secretary until she was forced into retirement in August 1962; she died four months later of a stroke.

bibliography:

H.B. Long and C. Lawry, "Fannia Mary Cohn: An Educational Leader In Labor and Workers' Education, Her Life and Times." Research sponsored by University of Oklahoma: www-distance.syr.edu/long.html. website: Jewish Virtual Library: www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/fcohn.html

[Marla Brettschneider (2nd ed.)]

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