Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909
Author: Michelle Markel
Illustrator: Melissa Sweet
Grade Level: 3-5
Summary: Brave Girl tells the story of Clara Lemlich, an immigrant who traveled to America with her family. Clara’s father cannot find work, however there is plenty of work for young women in the clothing industry so Clara trades her education to work as seamstress to help support her family. The conditions of the garment factories are appalling. Girls work from dawn until dusk in the factories, sharing only two toilets for three hundred of them. Clara decides that the factory girls are being treated like they are slaves and they need to take action. Clara leads several strikes, where she is arrested and beaten repeatedly. But it’s not enough, so Clara fights for more and leads a general citywide strike, which begins the largest walkout of women’s workers in United States history.
Element: Brave Girl is a precise example of Element Four: Social Movements and Social Change because it provides children with a learning experience about standing up for what they believe in. It also provides young girls with a female role model in United States history who is not commonly mentioned in the women’s rights movement. Brave Girl is a story of empowerment and fighting even with everyone against you.
Activities: Brave Girl provides the opportunity of teaching students to find unity in one another and fight for the things they believe in. A community social action activity would be a really interactive and beneficial activity that would teach children about social movement and social change and Brave Girl would be easily integrated into this activity. If an activity like this was not able to be done, another beneficial way to discuss the topic could be having each child choose something they feel passionate about, no matter how large or small it is and write about how they would like to make a change regarding with this topic.