Exhibit Narrative for Mollie West: A Century of Activism

The structure of our final project’s narrative focuses on the life of one woman, labor leader and activist Mollie Leiber West, and traces her life story from her birth in Poland in 1916 until her death in 2015. During the course of her long and productive life, Mollie experienced some of the most significant events of the twentieth century including the Great Depression and World War II. Along the way, she fiercely advocated for the rights of workers to unionize and peacefully demonstrate and advocated for the equality of women in the labor force. Her collection, house at the Women and Leadership Archives on Loyola University Chicago’s campus, offers researchers not only essential information concerning the labor movement in Chicago, but also showcases the life of a singular woman who dedicated her life to causes of social justice.

Our exhibit will follow Mollie’s life chronologically from 1916 onward. Beginning in Poland, we will recount the early years of her life and their lasting significance throughout her years of young adulthood as an immigrant to the United States. Overcoming a language barrier and education gap, Mollie enrolled as a freshman at Marshall High School in 1930 after only a year of catch up at Shepard Elementary School.

We begin the narrative of Mollie’s work as a labor activist in 1934 when she and some of classmates were arrested and held overnight preparing for a strike to oppose cutting funding for extracurricular activities at their school. This event spurred her involvement in larger organizations defending the rights of workers to unionize. Her subsequent involvement in labor union leadership and sympathies toward the ¬†Communist party can be traced back to the events of May 30, 1937, when Mollie witnessed the police brutality against peaceful protesters in what became known as the Memorial Day Massacre. In addition to turbulent political activities, Mollie experienced great personal tragedy during the years of World War II when her first husband Carl Leiber died in France. In the face of this tragedy, Mollie would go on to hold leadership positions in a number of labor organizations, found CLUW, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and be entered into the Chicago Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990.

Since the Women and Leadership Archives houses the records of Mollie West, and will host the exhibit through the Loyola University Chicago Special Collections, the social media campaign will mostly be focused on reaching out to the public through both of these institutions’ blogs, twitters, and Facebook pages. In addition to publicizing the exhibit through these channels, we will reach out to the Illinois Labor Historical Society, as Mollie was a member of their Executive Committee, to do promotion of the exhibit. By reaching out through those channels, the exhibit will reach the Loyola University Chicago Community and potentially all of Chicago.

 

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