by Mary Cronk Farrell
Fannie Never Flinched is the true and tragic life story of early labor leader, Fannie Sellins, but it is also the heartbreaking story of tens of thousands of laborers in the United States. Fannie first became interested in the rights of American workers when she was forced to work in a garment factory sweatshop after the death of her husband. Working conditions in the late 1800s were harsh—long hours, dangerous conditions, and extremely low pay.
In 1902, Fannie launched Ladies' Local 67 of the United Garment Workers of America, eventually earning a shorter work day and increased wages for the new union. Seeing that other Americans were suffering as well, Fannie became an outspoken labor leader. She traveled the country supporting other unions, including coal miners working under horrific and deadly conditions in Missouri, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Although her activism ended in her murder by sheriff's deputies in a Pennsylvania coal mining town, her legacy lives on.
Fannie Never Flinched is a treasure-trove of annotated images and photos chronicling the American labor struggle. At one point, Fannie was briefly jailed. Readers can see one of the many postcards sent to President Wilson to petition for her release. In telling her story, the author uses Fannie's words whenever possible,
"Help us fight," she told union coal miners during a speech in Illinois in November 1909. "We women work in factories on dangerous machinery, and many of us get horribly injured or killed. Many of your brothers die in the mines. There should be a bond of sympathy between us, for we both encounter danger in our daily work."The struggle for American labor rights is a story of individuals striving for fair wages and safe workplaces, realizing that there is strength in numbers. Fannie Never Flinched is a well-researched, compelling story of the individual human sacrifices that were made for the common good, in order to provide future generations with things that we now take for granted—weekends, lunch breaks, the 8-hour-day, safety regulations, and vacations. There will always be friction between employers and workers. The struggle continues today.
The miners stomped their feet and shouted their agreement. Some were so moved by Fannie's speech, they wiped tears from their eyes.
The book's end matter includes an Author's Note, Glossary, Time Line of Select Events in the American Labor Struggle 1877-1935, Notes, Sources, Websites for More Information, Books for Further Reading, Acknowledgments, and Index.
A memorial to Fannie Sellins is located in the Union Cemetery in Arnold, Pennsylvania.
My local library did not own a copy of Fannie Never Flinched, so I requested that they purchase it, which they did. It's a wise addition to any library collection.
Also by Mary Cronk Farrell:
Pure Grit: How American WWII Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific