This year’s Clara Lemlich Award recipients, from left, Doris Diether, Dr. Melissa Freeman, Ronnie Eldridge, Philoine Fried and Elba Cabrera.
Village’s Diether honored for activism
BY TEQUILA MINSKY
While fashionistas were recently
showing off their wildest
creations and tying up traffi
c around the Metropolitan Museum,
a heartfelt gathering was taking place
just a bit farther Uptown on Fifth Ave.
On the Museum of the City of New
York’s piazza overlooking Central Park,
community organizers and labor activists
mingled for a simple reception, entertained
by the New York City Labor
Chorus. They gathered to recognize
stellar women among their own.
Labor Arts started the Clara Lemlich
Awards ceremony on the 100th anniversary
of the deadliest industrial fi re
in New York City, the 1911 Triangle
Shirtwaist Factory Fire in Greenwich
Village, in which 146 garment workers
Each year, the event honors fi ve
women over age 80 working most of
their lives in the tradition of those who
sparked reforms in the Triangle fi re’s
Clara Lemlich led a life of activism
and impact, continuing from when, at
the age of 23 in 1909, at The Cooper
Union’s Great Hall, this immigrant interrupted
union labor leader Samuel
Gompers shouting, “I have something
Her inspiring speech led to an unexpected
vote to strike, which would become
known as the Uprising of 20,000.
The awards honor those who follow in
“These women are entirely inspirational,”
said Esther Cohen, co-founder
of the event, greeting the packed room.
“They are strong and certain and intelligent
and unexpected and fi ghting
Among the fi ve recipients was Village
icon Doris Diether, introduced by
housing activist Katie Goldstein, the
daughter of Donna Schaper, pastor of
Diether, 90, Manhattan’s longestserving
— 52 years — community board
member, is not shy when it comes to
going up against powerful fi gures. She
started her lifetime of activism with a
protest against Robert Moses over a
plan to do away with Shakespeare in
During her acceptance remarks,
Diether talked about organizing strategies.
PHOTO BY TEQUILA MINSKY
She and her activist friends — including,
notably, Jane Jacobs — divided
the Village into mini-regions, each one
with a group of neighbors similarly
committed. When important hearings
took place, each activist showed up with
numbers of Villagers taking a stand.
Another honoree was Melissa Freeman,
a Harlem-based doctor, granddaughter
of a slave. She has been
practicing medicine since 1961, and is
on the front line of opioid-addiction
treatment. Elba Cabrera, a supporter
of Latino artists, who, with her two
sisters, changed New York’s cultural
landscape, particularly the Bronx, also
received an award.
At age 102, the oldest recipient this
year was Philoine Fried, daughter of legendary
labor leaders Bessie Abramowitz
and Sydney Hillman. She worked for
decades with the Jewish Labor Committee
and is a founding member of the
New York Labor History Association.
Lifelong feminist and former politician
Ronnie Eldridge was among this
year’s youngest honorees. Eldridge
advocated for women as a special assistant
to Mayor John Lindsay and was
the only female in Governor Mario
Cuomo’s cabinet and later represented
the Upper West Side in the City Council
from 1989 to 2001.
“There were a few of the previous
honorees in the audience over 100!”
Cohen glowingly noted. Indeed, among
them were Bea Klier, 102, an early
scientist, as well as Naomi Replansky,
a prize-winning poet/activist, who
turned 101 on May 23.
A plethora of speakers connected to
civic commitment by work, politics,
family and heart gave remarks.
In the spirit of Clara Lemlich, attendees
affi xed buttons provided that read,
“I have something to say!”
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22 May 30 - June 12, 2019 MEX Schneps Media