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Anna Sullivan: Labor’s First Lady in Western Massachusetts with historian Mara Dodge

Wednesday December 2, 2020 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm

Heralded by Senator Ted Kennedy as “Labor’s First Lady in Western Massachusetts,” those who knew Anna Burns Sullivan (1903-83) used similar terms to describe her: she was a “dynamo” and “a real fighter for her people.” Although well-known throughout her lifetime as “the little fireball from Western Massachusetts,” her memory has been all but forgotten. Equally forgotten is the experience of an entire generation of textile mill workers who labored in obscurity from the Great Depression to the closing of the New England textile mills in the 1950s and 1960s. Although nicknamed the “Paper City,” Holyoke’s textile plants employed far more workers than did the less labor-intensive paper mills. The textile industry also employed more women (50-60% of workers) at far lower wages. In Holyoke, until recently, most popular histories celebrated the alleged benevolence and paternalism of the mill owners, championing Holyoke as a city where class conflict did not exist. The fact that 5,000 Holyoke workers participated in the 1934 national textile strike was rarely mentioned. This presentation explores Anna Sullivan’s pioneering work as a female labor union activist, the role of unions in creating the middle class, and the impact of deindustrialization.

Anna Sullivan

A Holyoke resident, historian Mara Dodge teaches U.S. history at Westfield State University. She spent years researching Sullivan’s life and the history of the textile worker’s union (TWUA). She is passionate about Massachusetts history and serves as editor of the Historical Journal of Massachusetts (HJM). Her 35-page article about Anna Sullivan and Holyoke history is available on the HJM website (Summer 2008). Published twice a year, each issue is 180-200 pages; subscriptions are only $12.00. Her areas of research include labor and women’s history. Her book, “Whores and Thieves of the Worst Kind”: Women, Crime, and Prisons, 1835-2000, received an outstanding book award. She is currently working on an edited volume, A Peek into Westfield’s Past, 1669-2019 commemorating its 350th anniversary.

Professor Mara Dodge

To Register for this Program: Please register below for the link to this live lecture, hosted on Zoom. You must have a free Zoom account to attend. Instructions on accessing the lecture will be included in your confirmation email.

This program is funded by a Community Development Block Grant. The demographic information collected in this registration form will be used only to help us report back regarding our community impact and for no other purpose. Additional support has been provided through NEH CARES Act funding granted by Mass Humanities.

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