A Gala Night at the Museum with Lillian Lifflander

On May 4, 2015, the elegant Museum of the City of New York on Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street  hosted the Fifth Annual Clara Lemlich Awards. One of this year’s seven recipients was our very own Lillian Lifflander, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers employee, World War 2 WAC, anti-war  activist, fair housing  and  education advocate, and film actor.

The balmy evening enabled appetizers and beverages to be served outdoors before the presentations and dessert afterwards. In between,  in the Puffin Gallery for Social Activism, a packed house listened to stories of the seven women who have dedicated themselves to lives of activism in economic and environmental issues, child advocacy, philanthropy, labor, housing and the arts. Lillian was introduced by Toby Emmer, former candidate for sheriff in Madison , Wisconsin, teacher and administrator and leader of the e UAW Region 9 Education Fund. After the lengthy speeches by both introducers and recipients, it  was in total character when Lillian responded to her introduction by simply saying “Thank you”.

This award was inspired by Clara Lemlich, a 23 year old garment worker who interrupted SAmuel Gompers and other labor leaders in the Great Hall of the Cooper Union in 1909. She shouted  in Yiddish, “I’ve got something to say!”, and what she said resulted in a strike which led to some reforms in the garment industry. Tragically, the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory refused to comply, and in 1911, 146 women died in the terrible fire from which they were unable to escape. Clara continued to be active in the labor movement, women’s suffrage, boycotting and campaigning for unemployment  benefits and tenants’ rights.

Former recipients of her award include the GPB’s Joan Wile, Molly Klopot, Lillian Pollak and Marie Runyon. A pretty good track record for the Granny Peace Brigade!

-Ann Shirazi
for the Granny Peace Brigade
Photos courtesy of Marty Rajandran

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