Though she stood at just four feet and eleven inches, Evelyn Dubrow’s beliefs towered over a nation. A relentless and powerful activist she began her career in the 1930’s during the Spanish Civil War handing out flyers in downtown Manhattan. A Paterson New Jersey native, Dubrow joined her first trade union while working for a local paper. After joining the Newspaper Guild, union issues were soon to become her full time focus. She became the assistant to the president of the New Jersey Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). She worked as an organizer and political education director for the Textile Workers of New Jersey. In 1956 she was hired by David Dubinsky to be the International Ladies Garment Workers Union representative in Washington- A position which required her to push for higher minimum wage, fair trade laws, pay equity for women, universal health care, and civil rights. Formed in 1900, most of the ILGWU members were Jewish immigrants working in sweatshops, yet under Dubinsky‘s leadership the union grew from 45,000 members to almost half a million. A young congressman from Massachusetts was extremely supportive of Dubrow’s work; soon to be President John Kennedy, who sponsored her amendment to outlaw secondary boycotts. That being her first campaign on Capital Hill, she quickly received a reputation for the vigorous and determined way in which she protected the rights of low waged workers.
Born in poverty to immigrant parents from Belarus her father worked as a carpenter and also belonged to a trade union. She rose above her conditions to become the voice of the union worker. The New York Times reported in 1987 that, “Everyone knows Evy; Senators, Representatives, Aides, Receptionists, The Capitol Police.” President Clinton even described her as a “tenacious and effective union activist,” who was able to bring people of opposing
View points together. Known for her 15-hour workdays, Evy visited up to 30 senators in a day. Chris Chafe, a friend and chief of staff for the labor union UNITE HERE, the successor to the International Ladies Garment Workers Union has said; “Virtually every piece of legislation that impacted working people that was voted on between 1950 and 2002, Evy Dubrow had a hand in crafting it and lobbying for it,”
“The bottom line was that Evy’s great strength was her ability to relate as a friend to a garment worker on the shop floor as well as walk into any senator’s office and at 4 foot 11, take them on and stand like a giant on behalf of those same garment workers.”
In 1999, President Clinton presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in honor of her lifetime of service. “For more than five decades, Evy Dubrow has fought to improve the lives of America’s working women and men . . . Renowned for her grace, candor, and integrity, she has earned the respect of opponents and allies alike.” In addition to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she has been awarded the Women’s Research and Education Institute’s Dubrow Fellowship in her name, Citizens Action’s Lifetime Achievement Award and Washington Magazine’s 100 Top Women.
Evelyn K Dubrow died on June 20, 2005 yet her legacy will live on forever. Alice Walker once said; “ Activism is my rent for living on the planet.” The truth is that all of us should have the same mentality. Standing up for what you believe in and for the rights of others isn’t just a choice it is an obligation.