Volume 7, No. 8
September 2020

This issue includes: 
  • An article on the anniversary of women's suffrage and the Fair Tax 
  • A tribute to the late Sammie Dortch, and
  • An article on the Chicago garment workers strike of 1910  

100 Years Later: Women and the Vote

by Gwen Vaughn and Joan Morris

Nursing Home Workers of SEIUhchill for Illinois Fair Tax
 Photo: SEIUhchill website
The 19th amendment enfranchised all American women to vote and declared for the first time that they, just like men, deserve all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. After the founding of the United States in 1776, the 13 states were left to decide separately about their voting rights, a right known as women's suffrage. This left women and especially Black men and women disenfranchised. During this time women were not allowed to own property, had no legal claim to any money they earned and did not have the right to vote. Women were expected to focus on being a mother and maintaining the house. However, during this time there were anti-slavery organizations in which women were on the front line.    

The Fight for the Right to Vote
During the 1800's, 1848 to be exact, women launched the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. This began what is known as the women's suffrage movement. 

Later in 1869, according to the History Channel, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, along with Susan B. Anthony and other activists like escaped African American slave and activist Frederick Douglass raised public awareness and lobbied the government to grant voting rights to all women. Increasing numbers of women organized for social reform. In 1869 Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) with her eyes on a federal constitution that would grant women the right to vote.

However, there was a debate over the 19th amendment where white suffragists Stanton and Anthony did not want Black men to get voting rights before white women and ignored and discriminated against Black women and men. So, Black suffragists who had fought hard for equal rights: Ida B Wells, who carried on the work of Sojourner Truth; Harriet Tubman; Mary McLeod Bethune; Mary Church Terrell; Frances Ellen Watkins Harper; Harriet Forten Purvis; and Mary Ann Shadd Cary, formed The National Association of Colored Women.  

According to the History channel, even after the passage of the 19th Amendment it took decades for Black women to achieve suffrage: Poll taxes, and other restrictions continued to block women of color from voting. Black men and women also faced intimidation and often violent opposition at the polls or when registering to vote. It would take more than 40 years for all women to achieve voting equality.

One thing for sure women were a force to be reckoned with! Finally, after decades of lobbying and protest on August 18, 1920, women achieved voting rights, when Tennessee became the final state that was needed to ratify the 19th Amendment. ONE vote made the difference. All women were not treated equally or included in this amendment. Black women in the south and Latinas in the southwest were still barred from voting by restrictions. They were ignored and discriminated against by many suffragist organizations. 

Here we are today in the year of 2020 and we're still facing voter suppression: to combat this, strategies have been put place in Black and Brown communities. As the banner reads BLACK LIVES MATTER! However, all communities need to make sure everyone gets out and vote, or vote by mail.

Why Voting is so Vital
Here we are 100 years after the passing of the 19th Amendment facing an election year in which the vote has never been as important! We are facing the most controversial president in United States history. We're living in a time when we have been subjected to the pandemic, economic instability, police brutality, political unrest and systemic classism, racism, sexism. With this election, history is being made in that for the first time, a Black and Asian woman has been nominated as vice president by a major party.

Photo: SEIUhchil website

Illinois Fair Tax
In addition, Illinois voters will see on the November 3, 2020 ballot a proposed constitutional amendment, referred to as the Fair Tax Amendment, that provides for a graduated state income tax. Currently, Illinois has a flat tax state which means that everyone pays the same percentage of taxes no matter how much you earn. For example, if someone earns $50,000 vs someone earning $250,000, they both pay the same tax rate or the same percentage in taxes. 

Governor Pritzker has proposed a Fair Tax structure that will take the burden off working families and raise the taxes on the rich in Illinois. This could allow more dollars to help workers and their families, such as homecare, childcare, hospital and nursing homeworkers who have been predominantly women and are standing on the front lines for a Fair tax structure.
What Would the Illinois Fair Tax Mean?             
At the State level
Overall, the League of Women Voters believes "that a progressive or graduated income tax is a more just approach to taxation, a Fair Tax."
  • Stable and Responsive: Good tax policy allows for flexibility to design revenue structures to fit economic reality. As the income gap grows, taxing the highest wage earners at a rate proportionate to their means could more effectively access additional needed revenues. 
  • Equitable: The Fair Tax is based on the ability to pay.
  • According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the bottom 20% of wage earners in Illinois have 2X the state and local tax burden of the top 1%. The Fair Tax will help lift this disproportionate burden.
Many unions along with SEIUhcilin also agree with The League of Women Voters and support the Illinois Fair Tax.

What's a Fair Tax?
A Fair Tax means working families pay less, the rich pay their fair share, and we could invest in quality care, quality jobs, and the services we all deserve. A Fair Tax can help move us closer to racial, social, and economic justice.

It is an income tax in which families with lower incomes pay lower rates and families with higher incomes pays higher rates. Governor Pritzker's Fair Tax plan will provide $3.4 billion per year in additional revenue to fund vital state services so we can correct these injustices.

When women and people of color can have affordable child care, affordable housing, home care for their loved ones, and get a decent wage, they can start to gain wealth and have security for their families. Also, these services help families in ALL of our communities.
  • Illinois is 1 of only 4 states that mandates a flat tax in its constitution
  • 32 states, D.C., and the federal government use a fair tax structure
A fair tax helps create a more equitable tax system by placing a greater tax burden on affluent families than on low- and middle-income families, when tax burden is measured as a percentage of income.
With the Governor's Fair Tax Plan:
  • 97% of taxpayers could get tax relief
  • The same or lower tax rate for all income under $250,000
  • Expanded property tax credit and child tax credit 
So, this November, voters have an exciting opportunity to have their voices heard.

The Right to Vote has been a hard won right. On November 3rd get out and vote and make sure your neighbors do too!
For more info on the Illinois Fair Tax see:


The League of Women Voters of Wilmette  


Sammie Dortch:
A Personal Remembrance
by Jackie Kirley

Dr. Sammie Dortch, Ed.D

When on July 19 of 2020 I opened my email and read that Sammie was gone, I gasped out loud and felt gutted. Frantic phone calls and emails did not yield much information, except that everyone was, like me, stunned and devastated. In fact, as I discovered in subsequent conversations about her, I was not the only one who did not know much about Sammie's personal life. Sammie was always present, but she kept her life story to herself. 
Sammie and I go way back from the time we both taught at Harold Washington College, she in the Applied Science Department-later the chair of the department-and I taught in Social Science. In those days many more faculty had full-time positions and hence the time and energy to engage in activities devoted to issues beyond their classes. Sammie and I worked for several years on a committee to establish a Student Resource Center. I would describe our relationship as that of colleagues who had warm feelings for each other, but the relationship did not extend to socializing outside of the college. 
In retirement our paths crossed very occasionally around local nonprofits, but our relationship was solid enough that I felt perfectly comfortable calling her out of the blue to get some information that I thought she could provide, and I would guess she felt the same. I made such a call in August 2019. Our phone call extended into a conversation about the project I was working on. Sammie seemed quite interested so I popped the question: "Want to join the committee?" After a bit of hesitation, she did. From then until her death, we were in touch. The initial planning committee of three, Sammie being one of us now, met either at Sammie's home or mine. Planning meetings (pre-pandemic) always included a dinner, examining and admiring each other's art, and engaging in general conversation. This more intimate setting plus our work together brought Sammie and me closer. The third committee member thanked me, after Sammie's death, for introducing her to Sammie.   
In order to write this tribute (and also in order to process her loss), I spoke with a number of people who knew her. For all, there was a massive void. "She leaves us with a huge sense of loss that is hard to define!" And although people recognized the extent of the community work she performed, the loss was about her - her person. So, what was there about Sammie that generated this response? (To learn about her work, please read the Community Renewal Society's beautiful tribute "In Memoriam.") 
One person told me that when Sammie walked into a room, she changed the tenor of the room. She was a "presence." Yet she did it in a way that was the absolute opposite of someone who is driven. A comment on the Community Renewal Society's memorial described Sammie "sashaying up to you with her arms crossed." Immediately I could picture her. If anything, she'd be leaning back and have a smile on her face. She came across as friendly and very approachable. 
Then there was Sammie's way of communicating. Multiple people spoke of how well she listened and really, how little she spoke, but when she did, people listened. A person who saw her for the first time on a Zoom call described being "inspired" by her. A person who'd worked with her a great deal said that although Sammie didn't often volunteer ideas, if one asked, she came out with many well-formulated ideas. One friend of hers said that what he'd miss of her was being unable to tell her something, to share an observation or idea. I commented that this was how one missed a family member, and he said she felt like one.  
Sammie's community work was mainly with religious organizations, yet nothing in her speech or outward behavior suggested traditional piety; in fact, I found her usual observations of life to have a kind of knowing cynicism about them. Sammie's piety was expressed in action. The origins of the title of the nonprofit she founded, "Off the Pews and Into the Streets," came from her exasperation with older parishioners whose response to the youth violence on the South Side was to denigrate the youth as being bad and never amounting to anything. Sammie, too, was dismayed at the violence but she wanted the older parishioners to get off their backsides and get into the streets to do something that would give the youth an alternative model of adult behavior.  
Remember the idea of Sammie not appearing driven? It's true, but the evidence suggests otherwise.  Sammie organized to make churches, organizations, and individuals with particular expertise make an activity happen. One source was impressed that she got the youth involved in gardening when she knew nothing about gardening, but she learned and she found people who knew. Another source told me that if Sammie wanted something done, it was almost impossible not to do it for her. She was a presence AND a force. 
Programs Sammie organized promoted mutuality and cooperation. Off the Pews programs had older people teaching the youth how to use cameras and younger people teaching their elders about computers. There was also an annual intergenerational fundraiser filled with music: gospel, jazz, rap.  A source from Off the Pews described Sammie's approach as "very collaborative" and she attributed the success of their programs to their practice of letting the selected person carrying out the project have the freedom to do it without interference.  A second characteristic of how Sammie organized is that she didn't step out front and take the credit. Offer her a microphone and she'd defer to others, so they could speak and be seen.  
From our recent collaboration, two episodes stand out. The event that we had been part of organizing was successful, especially in the fairly open talk that occurred among audience members across race and about race. In a private conversation, I commented on this to Sammie. She responded, "You have to plan for that very, very carefully." The second episode occurred on our last Zoom meeting and the last time I saw her. We were speaking about the need for diversity on the committee. I, rather glibly, looked around, saw Blacks and whites and said, "Well, aren't we?" Quietly, Sammie said, "Well . . ., I look around and I don't see any young people."  Oh. 
If I can absorb some of Sammie's teachings in words or in manner, I believe I will be a better activist and maybe a better person. And perhaps, it will also be a way for me to absorb her loss. 

The 1910 Chicago Garment Workers Strike: 
Why It is Important to Us

by Amy Laiken

This September marks the 110th anniversary of the start of a strike that eventually drew in thousands of workers in Chicago. In was in that month in 1910, that Hannah Shapiro, a 17-year old immigrant garment worker at Hart Schaffner & Marx realized that her pay for piecework had been reduced from 4 cents to 3¾ cents, and complained to her foreman. He responded that nothing could be done about it. She later conferred with coworkers, and subsequently talked to management, again with no results. Fed up, five workers in the shop, led by Shapiro (later Glick), initiated a walkout on September 22, 1910. By the end of the first week, 2,000 workers were taking part in the strike. Later, after the United Garment Workers sanctioned the strike, 41,000 workers from some 250 enterprises had joined it.
Many, if not most, of the workers were immigrants speaking Yiddish, Italian, Russian, and German. Another young immigrant, Bessie Abramowitz, age 20, also established herself as a strike activist. Her future husband, Sidney Hillman, had an active role as well.

While the strike continued, violence erupted several times as five people were killed during it; some shot by detectives hired by the manufacturers and at least one died at the hands of the police. The strike would go on to last four months, but eventually, the United Garment Workers withdrew its support. During this period, however, the Chicago Federation of Labor continued to support the workers and collected and distributed donations from various union locals and organizations to help the strikers weather the hardships.

In January 1911 Hart Schaffner & Marx agreed to arbitration. In mid-January of that year, workers there began returning to their jobs, having been promised higher wages, better working conditions, no retaliation against the strikers, and the creation of a committee of workers and management to resolve workers' issues. Other garment factories, however, held out awhile longer. The strike eventually ended in February 1911, but according to a January 17, 2019 Chicago Tribune article, the employers refused to make union membership a condition of employment. Although the strike ended with mixed results, it showed that women were asserting themselves and becoming leaders in the labor movement.

Carrying the History Forward
After tensions developed within the United Garment Workers following the 1910 strike, Sidney Hillman and others went on to found the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union in 1914, which later merged with the Textile Workers Union of America to form the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU). These unions and others (International Ladies Garment Workers Union, Union of Needle Trades, Industrial and Textile Employees) are antecedents of Workers United. An SEIU affiliate, Workers United represents workers in the United States and Canada who are employed in the garment, retail, home furnishings, and other industries. The Workers United building in Chicago also houses the Sidney Hillman Health Centre, named for the late activist.

In 1974, 64 years after the garment workers strike in Chicago, the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) was formed and according to the CLUW website, "to address the critical needs of millions of unorganized working women and make unions more responsive to the needs of all working women." The only national organization specifically for union women, CLUW was founded to empower women to increase their participation in all levels of the union movement. WWHP is proud to have Katie Jordan, President of the Chicago Chapter of CLUW on our board. She has been with WWHP since its inception; has served on the National Executive Board of CLUW; and has been a member of Workers United and its predecessor unions for over four decades.

Recent Victories
Despite some setbacks for unions over the last several decades, there have been some encouraging signs for the labor movement locally. In November 2019, the Chicago Teachers Union ratified a new contract, winning raises and increases of services for public school students. During the Covid-19 pandemic, CTU members have fought against a potentially unsafe reopening of schools this fall.
In addition, earlier this year, Instacart workers in Skokie won a union election and are now represented by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1546.

Although the garment industry in this country is not the size it was 100 years ago, it is important to remember the struggles of the workers who fought back in that era and remind ourselves that in our diverse workforce, solidarity among workers of different backgrounds is possible and makes us stronger.     

The Center for WorkLife Law does research on, and advocates for, workers who are experiencing difficulties and discrimination in the workplace. 

Its website is: https://worklifelaw.org  

Its helpline email is: [email protected]

and its phone number is: (415) 703-8276


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Please contact us through Amy Laiken