This text is a part of Overlooked, a sequence of obituaries about exceptional folks whose deaths, starting in 1851, went unreported in The Instances.

It was in northeastern Pennsylvania that Min Matheson earned her status for fearlessness. Over her 20 years as director of the Worldwide Girls’ Garment Employees’ Union there, she repeatedly confronted down mobsters in her combat for truthful wages and protected situations for ladies employees.

In a single incident, she confronted a number of menacing “robust guys,” as she referred to as them, in Pittston, Pa., the place she was marching on a picket line alongside different girls.

She instructed them, “You rotten hoodlums! What are you doing on this city?” she recalled in an oral history interview. “You don’t reside right here. We reside right here. That is our city, not yours.”

Close by owners opened their home windows to observe the ruckus. “There are witnesses to something you suppose you’re going to do,” Matheson instructed the thugs. They slinked away.

“These males virtually went loopy,” she mentioned later. “It was like, my God, how are you going to do something with a bunch of loopy girls like that?”

5-foot-two and with appreciable charisma, Matheson had big success as a union organizer starting within the mid-Nineteen Forties, when she grew to become head of the I.L.G.W.U.’s northeastern Pennsylvania area.

On the time, many attire producers had been shifting their operations there from New York’s garment district, the place wages had risen. The anthracite coal trade that had fueled the area’s financial system was in decline, and arranged crime performed a significant function in operating the attire trade, even proudly owning many factories. With males shedding their jobs within the mines, the factories provided their wives employment and alternatives to assist their households.

When Matheson arrived, solely six of the world’s attire factories and 650 employees had been unionized. By the point she left, in 1963, 168 factories with greater than 11,000 employees had been unionized.

At first, lots of the factories had been soiled, dreary and cramped, with girls hunched over stitching machines. The bosses screamed and belittled them and would bar them from going to the toilet besides throughout sanctioned breaks. Many factories provided low charges per piece and cheated employees by undercounting what number of clothes they labored on.

Matheson gained raises and well being advantages, maternity advantages, demise advantages and higher remedy for the employees. And her union created free night lessons, a cellular well being care unit and a scholarship program for employees’ youngsters.

She additionally sought to shake up the mob-dominated establishment, and the mobsters pushed again, menacingly. She had tense confrontations with them — on the road close to the union’s places of work, outdoors factories when she talked to employees, or throughout strikes.

“Her life was threatened many instances, however she by no means gave in,” Matheson’s daughter Betty Matheson Greenberg mentioned in an interview. “They threw a purple paint bomb at our home. It might have been an actual bomb. The entire neighborhood needed us to get the hell out.”

Minnie Hindy Lurye was born on Jan. 19, 1909, in Chicago to Max and Anna (Kahn) Lurye, Jewish immigrants from Russia. Her mom raised Min and her seven siblings, certainly one of whom died as a child. Her father was a cigar trade employee and a labor activist who took Min alongside to union conferences. After cigar corporations blacklisted him for pushing to unionize, he scraped by as a junk peddler.

Min dropped out of college within the ninth grade and took a job as a secretary. When she was 19 she met Invoice Matheson, a union activist. They moved east in 1932 to affix a textile employees’ strike in Paterson, N.J.

She labored for a number of years as a garment employee in Manhattan, with the hope of touchdown a job with the I.L.G.W.U. She did, changing into the top of a 32,000-member I.L.G.W.U. native in New York in 1937.

In 1941, Min had a daughter, Marianne; she and Invoice married the identical yr. Their second daughter, Betty, was born in 1943. The subsequent yr, Min and Invoice moved to Kingston, in northeastern Pennsylvania, after I.L.G.W.U. leaders instructed them to “clear up the mess down there.”

For Matheson, fearlessness was a household custom. A number of days after her father spoke out at a gathering towards Al Capone’s efforts to muscle in on the junk sellers’ enterprise, a gangster shot him thrice within the groin. He survived.

Her brother William Lurye, who was additionally an I.L.G.W.U. organizer, was stabbed to death in a cellphone sales space in Manhattan in 1949 whereas working to unionize a number of mob-affiliated factories. His funeral procession attracted 100,000 folks. Two males had been indicted however never convicted.

“What occurred to her father and brother gave her further motivation to combat for the union and combat towards organized crime,” mentioned Robert Wolensky, who, alongside along with his brother, Kenneth, has written extensively about Matheson. “She realized that ‘if I don’t do that, if we let these bastards win, then my father’s entire life is wasted, my brother’s entire life is wasted, and my life is wasted.’”

Her combat concerned impassioned speeches and tireless dedication; many mornings she left dwelling for picket strains earlier than her daughters wakened. “The employees noticed her as somebody who was utterly dedicated to the trigger,” mentioned David Scott Witwer, a Penn State Harrisburg professor of American research who has written about Matheson. “She was completely fearless on the picket line.”

A mobster as soon as approached Matheson whereas she was picketing and instructed her that she ought to carry her “weakling husband” there and see how lengthy he would final. Her husband was the union’s schooling director for japanese Pennsylvania.

Matheson then walked over to a person standing close by: Russell Bufalino, the area’s prime crime boss. “I don’t must carry Invoice right here, Russ,” she instructed him, according to oral history interviews with her and different employees, “as a result of I’m twice the person you’ll ever be.”

A method the mob sought to take care of management was by stopping girls within the space from voting, so Matheson accompanied a feminine employee to a polling place to verify she voted.

“All the pieces she did for the union was to raise girls in society,” mentioned Catherine Rios, a Penn State Harrisburg professor of humanities who has written about Matheson.

To assist arrange employees, Matheson’s union constructed sturdy neighborhood ties. It joined charity drives and arrange a refrain, a e-newsletter and a radio present.

Matheson took a realistic strategy, not eager to drive retailers out of enterprise and trigger employees to lose their jobs.

“She was truthful to the house owners of the costume retailers,” her daughter Marianne Kaufman mentioned in an interview. “She knew that they needed to make a dwelling. She would get some flak from New York headquarters, saying she wasn’t setting her sights excessive sufficient in negotiations. She would inform them: ‘This isn’t New York. We are able to’t ask for a similar stuff you ask for. We have now to be truthful.’ The manufacturing unit house owners got here to understand she simply needed a good wage and good working situations for the ladies.”

In 1963, David Dubinsky, the union’s president, transferred Matheson to Manhattan to go the Union Label division, which urged customers to purchase attire that had an I.L.G.W.U. label. The division developed the favored “Look for the Union Label” jingle.

Matheson noticed unions as pivotal to empowering common employees. She mentioned, “For those who don’t have a labor union otherwise you don’t have a company to symbolize you on the job, you’re actually being denied your rights, your democratic rights.”

Matheson retired in 1972, and she or he and her husband moved again to northeastern Pennsylvania that yr, arriving a number of months earlier than Hurricane Agnes destroyed or broken hundreds of properties there. She based the Flood Victims Motion Council, which pushed for catastrophe aid. She also made national headlines when she confronted George Romney, the U.S. secretary of Housing and City Growth, at a information convention, shoving a photograph of the flood destruction in his face and saying, “You don’t give a rattling whether or not we reside or die.”

Matheson died on Dec. 8, 1992, in a hospital in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. She was 83.

Rios mentioned somebody as gifted as Matheson ought to have risen increased within the I.L.G.W.U. “There have been no girls within the union’s nationwide management crew,” she mentioned. “She would have stepped proper as much as the highest of the ladder if she had been given the chance.”



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