I recently discovered a number of photos of Matilda Rabinowitz (aka Matilda Robbins) at the Walter Reuther Labor Library at Wayne State University, posted last year by an “eclemens.” Matilda was a labor organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World who played a key leadership role, along with Helen Schloss, in the Little Falls Textile Strike of 1912. Those unfamiliar with that struggle of the largely women workers of a century ago can see The Red Sweater Girls of 1912 or my novel based on the strike, The Red Nurse. The novel includes a chapter from Matilda's unpublished memoir shared with me by her granddaughter, Robbin Legere Henderson.
One of the photos at the Reuther library shows Matilda at work during the Little Falls strike, probably in the old Sokol Hall on Flint Avenue which served as the strike headquarters.
Another photo shows Matilda with her younger brother Herman, possibly in their hometown of Bridgeport Connecticut.
Here is Matilda after being arrested for strike activities in Detroit, perhaps at the Studebaker or Ford plants.
These photos show Matilda with strikers from the Fort Pitt Steel Casings Co. in McKeesport, Pennsylvania.
A group portrait of participants in the 1913 IWW convention in Chicago show a beaming Matilda (in the hat) and identifies the man to her left – with his arm around her – as “Bill Fletcher.” This may actually be Bill Legere, whom she met during the Little Falls strike and with whom she had a long and often difficult relationship. In her unpublished memoir, Matilda had this to say about leaving Bill in the Herkimer County jail:
Ben's trial was soon to begin, so when I left Little Falls in February the IWW headquarters approved a tour for me for the purpose of raising funds for the Légère/Bocchini defense. Ben and I parted abruptly, following the last of many tempestuous and agonizing visits in the Herkimer jail. I never saw Bocchini again. Although he was in a highly emotional state, our parting was comradely and he was grateful for the little I had done for him. Ben played the martyr role, and I left him in a flood of bitter discontent and suspicion. While he played the role, as well of great labor leader, my fellow workers, even on short acquaintance in Little Falls, seemed to have little respect for his ability or integrity. I went through much torment and disappointment, but my vision of him was not so clear then as it would later become, and I still condoned much. I was determined to make the separation complete, however, and though I would do everything possible for the defense, but I would sever all intimate contact. I was determined that our romance was finished. Was I still in love with him? It was a question I could not then answer.
Matilda Robbins Papers, contain personal writings, photographs, and clippings and are a tremendous resource toward understanding the philosophies of an early women’s rights activist.