Above: A child-labor parade for silkworkers in 1913, with inset of Hannah Silverman.
ON THIS DATE in 1896, Hannah Silverman was born. At seventeen, she was one of the leaders of the Paterson (New Jersey) Silk Strike of 1913. International Workers of the World founder Bill Haywood called Hannah the “greatest little IWW woman in America,” and labor activist Helen Gurley Flynn called her “the heroine of this strike.” An assistant prosecutor, meanwhile, labeled her a “little agitator,” and a judge called her an “impudent girl.”
By the second week of the strike, which began on February 25, some 24,000 workers had walked off their jobs, shutting down 300 silk mills. Silverman emerged as a leader of the strikers, who were seeking eight-hour workdays and minimum pay of $12 a week, due to her public-speaking skills and passion. Addressing a crowd of 20,000 striking workers one Sunday she said, “I’ve been to county jail three times already, but they can’t keep me away from the picket lines!” The Paterson Daily News called Silverman “one of the leading lights in the present strike,” and The New York Times found her “pretty and intelligent” and a “match” for prosecutors in courtroom savvy.
Stretching over six long months, the silk-workers strike ended in defeat for the workers. It took until 1919 for silk mill employees to receive an eight-hour workday. Silverman’s labor activism ended with the close of the strike. She died in 1960 at the age of sixty-four.