Women and Leadership Archives Presents New Digital Exhibit
The Women and Leadership Archives is proud to present a new digital exhibit, “Women and Labor: The Story of Mollie West.” This online exhibit explores the history of 20th Century Labor and Women’s Movements through the story of Mollie West, a Chicago activist and leader. Using photographs, documents, and videos from the Women and Leadership Archives’ Mollie West Collection, the exhibit highlights the triumphs and struggles of Mollie and others who strove to expand women’s and worker’s rights.
West, a Polish immigrant to Chicago, began her activist career early when she organized a strike at her high school to protest funding cuts brought about by the Great Depression in 1934. She continued to be active in politics and labor organizing, and helped establish the Midwest Daily Record in 1938. She was drawn to the Communist Party and was active as an organizer in the 1940s and early 1950s, and was under investigation by the FBI and eventually called to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1960. After beginning a new career as a printer in 1961, West left the Communist party, but stayed involved in the labor movement. She became a leader in the Chicago Typographical Union, and fought to broaden women’s involvement and influence in labor unions. West began pursuing a degree in Labor Education from Mundelein College in 1976, at the age of 60, and graduated two years later in 1978. After her retirement from the printing trade, she began volunteering with the Illinois Labor Historical Society. Her contributions to the labor and women’s movements in Chicago were recognized many times, and she was inducted into the Chicago Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2005, and passed away in 2015 at the age of 99.
The digital exhibit was created by Caroline Lynd Giannakopulos on behalf of the Women and Leadership Archives. Professors Kyle Roberts and Michelle Nickerson of the History Department were part of the project committee, along with Kathleen Maas Wigert of the Sociology Department, Nancy Freeman, Director of the Women and Leadership Archives, and Stephanie Seawell Fortado, Executive Director of the Illinois Labor History Society.