Herrick, Elinore Morehouse (1895–1964)

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Herrick, Elinore Morehouse (1895–1964)

American labor-relations specialist. Born in New York on June 15, 1895; died in North Carolina in 1964; daughter of Daniel W. (a Unitarian minister) and Martha Adelaide (Bird) Morehouse (a teacher and educational administrator); attended the MacDuffie School and Technical High School, both in Springfield, Massachusetts; attended Barnard College, 1913–15; Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio, B.A., 1929; married H. Terhune Herrick (a chemical engineer and son of Christine Herrick, in 1916 (divorced 1921); children: two sons, Snowden Terhune (1919), and Horace Terhune, Jr. (1920).

A specialist on labor-management relations, and head of the New York office of the National Labor Relations Board for seven years during the Depression, Elinore Herrick obtained her expertise through personal experience on both the labor and management side of the table.

The daughter of a Unitarian minister and an educator, Herrick was born in 1895 in New York but attended school in Springfield, Massachusetts, where the family moved when she was a child. She entered Barnard College in 1913, earning her tuition by working as a cub reporter on a New York newspaper. She left college after two years, married in 1916, and, after three miscarriages, gave birth to two sons.

When her marriage ended in 1921, Herrick found herself with two children to support and no skills, so she embarked on a series of factory jobs, including a position in a shoe-blacking plant and another in a paper-box factory. Eventually, she moved to Buffalo to work at Du Pont's new rayon plant, where, within a year, she had been promoted from pieceworker to production manager. This was due, in part, to several laborsaving and safety devices she had invented after being injured by a defective machine. In 1923, when Du Pont opened a factory near Nashville, Tennessee, Herrick was named production manager and, as such, was responsible for training and supervising 1,800 workers. Although she quickly brought production in the new facility up to the level of established plants, Du Pont made it clear that there would be no promotions. In 1927, feeling dead-ended, Herrick left to further pursue her education.

While attending Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Herrick ran a boarding house and worked as an administrative assistant to the president of the college. Often making up 16 beds before leaving in the morning, she received a degree in economics in two years and returned to New York, where she went to work as executive secretary of the New York Consumers League. While there, she campaigned for passage of the New York State minimum wage law and also oversaw studies of the canning, candy, and laundry industries. The studies, aimed at improving conditions for workers, resulted in two publications, Women in Canneries (1932) and Cut Rate Wages (1933).

In 1933, with the formation of the National Recovery Act, Herrick was tapped to join the labor-relations staff, a position that led to her appointment as the only woman to head a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board, accountable for enforcing the Wagner Act in the eastern New York, northern New Jersey, and Connecticut areas. The $7,000 annual salary the position carried was almost unheard of for a woman during the Depression, but Herrick earned every penny. During the seven years she occupied the post, she administered 6,000 labor cases involving over one million workers. While her decisions often drew criticism from both management and labor, she also received high marks for her impartiality. Herrick, who made no apologies for her sympathy with labor, told Beulah Amidon of Survey Graphic: "Labor has had the thin end for years. The purpose of the Wagner Act, as I understood it, is to give labor a chance. My job is to protect the rights of labor under the law. But it is my duty to be objective in analysis, to come to my decision not on the basis of my sympathies but of the evidence."

During the war, Herrick resigned from the National Labor Relations Board to become director of personnel and labor relations for the Todd Shipyards, which employed over 140,000 workers in ten port cities. Her challenge began with overseeing the hiring and training of women to replace the men who had been drafted into the armed services. Now approaching 50, Herrick often put in 16-to-18-hour days to oversee three shifts of workers that operated seven days a week.

At the end of the war in 1945, Herrick became head of the personnel department of the New York Herald Tribune, with occasional editorial assignments. She used her columns to defend democratic procedures and individual rights. In one of her early editorials, "Reforms That Unions Must Have," Herrick urged labor unions to eliminate objectionable practices and constitutional provisions that discriminated on racial and gender basis. In another column, Herrick defended State Department employees who had been dismissed under loyalty requirements: "When the Government discharges people for security reasons, it must let the accused know the charges and have a real opportunity to answer."

In addition to her editorials for the Herald Tribune, Herrick contributed articles to New Republic, Nation, Independent Woman, and The New York Times Magazine, among other periodicals. Outside of employment responsibilities, she served the labor panel of the American Arbitration Association and the arbitration panel of the New York State Board of Mediation. She was also an organizer and director of the American Labor Party's campaign for reelection of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1936.

Herrick, who was once described as "a good mother, cook, executive, mechanic, mediator, dressmaker, philosopher, and scrapper," relaxed by playing the piano and puttering in her garden. Plump and decidedly unglamourous, she was an open, friendly woman with a well-documented sense of humor. Once, as she viewed a photograph of herself taken at a Todd ship launching just as champagne splattered all over her, she remarked, "Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?" Elinore Morehouse Herrick retired in 1954, due to ill health, and died in 1964 in North Carolina.


Rothe, Anna, ed. Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1947.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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