Robbin Légère Henderson

New from Cornell University Press (ILR)

Immigrant Girl, Radical Woman, A Memoir from the Early Twentieth Century

By Matilda Rabinowitz

With Commentary and Original Drawings by Robbin Légère Henderson

Afterword by Ileen A. DeVault

$29.95/272 pages / Paperback

An immigrant woman’s life from the Pale of Settlement To the Wobblies

Matilda Rabinowitz’s illustrated memoir challenges assumptions about the lives of early twentieth-century women. In Immigrant Girl, Radical Woman, Rabinowitz describes the ways in which she and her contemporaries rejected the intellectual and social restrictions imposed on women as they sought political and economic equality in the first half of the twentieth century. Rabinowitz devoted her labor and commitment to the notion that women should feel entitled to independence, equal rights, equal pay, and sexual and personal autonomy. Rabinowitz (1887–1963) immigrated to the United States from Ukraine at the age of thirteen. Radi­calized by her experience in sweatshops, she became an organizer for the Indus­trial Workers of the World from 1912 to 1917 before choosing single motherhood in 1918. “Big Bill” Haywood once wrote, “a book could be written about Matilda,” but her memoir was intended as a private story for her grandchildren, Robbin Lé­gère Henderson among them. Henderson’s black-and white-scratchboard draw­ings illustrate Rabinowitz’s life in the Pale of Settlement, the journey to America, political awakening and work as an organizer for the IWW, a turbulent romance, and her struggle to support herself and her child.

  • “Immigrant, socialist, labor organizer, feminist, Matilda Rabinowitz lived an extraordinary life, and this is an extraordinary document. Her memoirs, vivid and precise, are a vital contribution to the history of American radicalism, and more urgently relevant than ever. Robbin Légère Henderson’s illustrations are nothing less than a marvel.”

    —Ben Ehrenreich, author of The Way to the Spring

  • “Matilda Rabinowitz, early twentieth-century socialist and traveling IWW organizer, had a hard immigrant life, moving from one job to another, dedicated to the struggle but dragged down by love for the wrong man. Her unpublished memoir has been resurrected by her granddaughter, and the result has enough social and economic detail for any labor historian and enough heartache for any lover of romance.”

    —Meredith Tax, author of The Rising of the Women

  • “This amazing project is a simultaneous reinvigoration of many cultural forms. It is a detective mystery, as Henderson travels around the Northeast discovering clues to her grandmother’s past, and a story of family separation and reunion not over great distances, but across a gulf of time. This book is a precious history of an American, and Jewish, immigration experience. It is a partnership between a writer and a visual artist, and ultimately it is a collaboration between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.”

    —Renny Pritikin, Chief Curator, Contemporary Jewish Museum


Project 01a
"Matilda Addressing the Studebaker Workers, Detroit, 1913," Serigraph, 22 x 15 inches, Edition 25.
Project 01b
"State of Nebraska," 15 x 22 inches, serigraph on archival paper, 2013. Edition: 25, from an original scratchboard drawing. This is the ship that brought my grandmother to America. It was nearly lost at sea carrying just over 1000 passengers more than 800 of them traveling "steerage."
Project 01c
Batchellor Brothers Corset Factory Workers, Bridgeport, 1910, Serigraph, 22 x 15 inches, Edition 25.