One Woman’s Courage in the Strug­gle for Amer­i­can La­bor Union Rights

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Middle Grade Books -

Mary Cronk Far­rell, Abrams Books for Young Read­ers, Hard­cover $19.95 (56pp), 978-1-41971-884-7

On Au­gust 26, 1919, Fannie Sellins was shot dead in Na­trona, Penn­syl­va­nia, while try­ing to defuse a fight be­tween strik­ing coal min­ers and po­lice deputies. In Fannie Never Flinched, Mary Cronk Far­rell charts her hero­ine’s trans­for­ma­tion from sweat­shop worker to union pres­i­dent and mar­tyred pro­tester. Broad­en­ing her scope, she also spring­boards off of Fannie’s ex­pe­ri­ence to give a con­cise his­tory of the la­bor move­ment in Amer­ica.

At the turn of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, Fannie, a thir­tysome­thing wi­dow, was work­ing in St. Louis, Mis­souri’s, Marx & Haas Cloth­ing Co. fac­tory to sup­port her four chil­dren. The sweat­shop de­manded 10- to 14-hour days, six days a week, in poor work­ing con­di­tions. Fannie and her fel­low seam­stresses formed a lo­cal branch of the United Gar­ment Work­ers of Amer­ica union in 1902. Marx & Haas soon agreed to nearly dou­ble wages and shorten the work­day. It was just the first of Fannie’s many tri­umphs. She trav­eled be­tween the Mid­west and the East Coast to hold the picket line dur­ing strikes and ne­go­ti­ate for pay rises.

Hers was a life of highs and lows: she be­came the pres­i­dent of the lo­cal union branch in 1909, but in 1913 she was ar­rested dur­ing a fight sur­round­ing a West Vir­ginia coal min­ers’ strike and held in the county jail for four months. Though Far­rell brands Fannie’s death a mur­der, a coro­ner’s jury ex­on­er­ated the po­lice in­volved, say­ing Fannie had in­cited a riot.

“To­day, we still need lead­ers with Fannie’s courage, com­mit­ment, and com­pas­sion, lead­ers who will not flinch but will keep dream­ing of and work­ing to­ward fair­ness for all,” Far­rell in­sists. Her book—full of archival re­search, pe­riod pho­to­graphs, and back­ground in­for­ma­tion on the la­bor strug­gle, in­clud­ing a time­line of key events and a glos­sary of terms like ar­bi­tra­tion and xeno­pho­bia— is a wor­thy tribute to Fannie.

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