Skip to main content

Carola Woerishoffer and Why She Is Awesome

Have you ever heard of Carola Woerishoffer? Of course you haven't. Because as Americans, we hate hard-to-pronounce names, and she's basically the most obscure insanely awesome person I've ever heard of.

I came upon her name while finishing The Triangle Fire by Leon Stein (written in 1962 when survivors of the fire were still alive and could be interviewed). It's a well-paced, thoughtful and obviously moving account of the fire, the events leading up to it, and the repercussions/after-effects. Carola ('Woerishoffer' seems too forbidding) is only mentioned in one paragraph, but it interested me enough to read more about her. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of readily-available information, but there was a lengthy memorial by muckraker journalist Ida Tarbell. Here's the original paragraph I read. The setting is the shirtwaist strike of 1909, when the girls in the factories went on strike for three months. They were beaten in the streets and arrested for no legitimate reason:

Carola Woerishoffer, young, wealthy, dark-eyed, and a graduate of Bryn Mawr, did it her own way. She used her money to buy houses. Then she haunted the entrance to the Jefferson Market Court at Sixth Avenue and Tenth Street and whenever another group of arrested strikers was marched before a magistrate, she was with them in front of the bench armed with a deed, ready to slap it down for their release.

That would have been enough for me, but then I read Ida Tarbell's essay and was stunned. Carola Woerishoffer exemplified what Tarbell calls "the Revolt of the Young Rich." After the robber barons, steel tycoons and Wall Street magnates started accumulating their wealth, they had children. Who were, of course, very very rich children. And, possibly because of the socially turbulent and progressive times, they wanted to do something with their money; they wanted to help people and understand classes other than their own. Not all of them wanted to, of course, but enough that it became a marked trend. Carola worked in the steam laundries so she could report the working conditions to the Consumers' League. She did this for four months, in stifling conditions, with no hint given of who she really was.

This and the previous paragraph are two small examples of the good she did. Tarbell writes of strike funds established, factories inspected, gifts to the needy given (anonymously), and an unshakeable sense of what needed to be done, always followed up by action.

"To whom much is given, much is required"? She is one of the few I know of who lived up to and exceeded this maxim. I wish her life had been longer so that it was possible to see what she would have done in WWI and the Great Depression, but in 1911, at the age of 26, she was driving in bad weather, the car skidded and went down an embankment, and she died of resulting injuries.

Of course, the most sobering thing from all this is to look at her life, at the lives of her contemporaries, and then to look at their modern day counterparts: Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton. As my friend said while discussing this topic, "Sometimes I hate today."

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Harry Potter 2013 Readalong Signup Post of Amazingness and Jollity

Okay, people. Here it is. Where you sign up to read the entire Harry Potter series (or to reminisce fondly), starting January 2013, assuming we all survive the Mayan apocalypse. I don't think I'm even going to get to Tina and Bette's reunion on The L Word until after Christmas, so here's hopin'.


You guys know how this works. Sign up if you want to. If you're new to the blog, know that we are mostly not going to take this seriously. And when we do take it seriously, it's going to be all Monty Python quotes when we disagree on something like the other person's opinion on Draco Malfoy. So be prepared for your parents being likened to hamsters.

If you want to write lengthy, heartfelt essays, that is SWELL. But this is maybe not the readalong for you. It's gonna be more posts with this sort of thing:


We're starting Sorceror's/Philosopher's Stone January 4th. Posts will be on Fridays. The first post will be some sort of hilarious/awesome que…

How to Build a Girl Introductory Post, which is full of wonderful things you probably want to read

Acclaimed (in England mostly) lady Caitlin Moran has a novel coming out. A NOVEL. Where before she has primarily stuck to essays. Curious as we obviously were about this, I and a group of bloggers are having a READALONG of said novel, probably rife with spoilers (maybe they don't really matter for this book, though, so you should totally still read my posts). This is all hosted/cared for/lovingly nursed to health by Emily at As the Crowe Flies (and Reads) because she has a lovely fancy job at an actual bookshop (Odyssey Books, where you can in fact pre-order this book and then feel delightful about yourself for helping an independent store). Emily and I have negotiated the wonders of Sri Lankan cuisine and wandered the Javits Center together. Would that I could drink with her more often than I have.


INTRODUCTION-wise (I might've tipped back a little something this evening, thus the constant asides), I am Alice. I enjoy the Pleistocene era of megafauna and drinking Shirley Templ…

Yes, Frances Willard was as gay as Oscar Wilde. But in a lady-way.

Yup. We're gonna do it. We're gonna talk about Frances Willard and gayness. Look, it's not a major part of her life, and it's definitely not the main thing she should be remembered for, but the fact that a line is being put out that she was totally straight is complete hogwash and it upsets me.




The thing is, I get when people say it's anachronistic to put the cultural concept of "gayness" onto a person from a century other than the 20th/21st. I get that. And usually agree with it. But Frances Willard is one of the gayest people in history. I have zero problem labeling her with that. The fact that she didn't have the language to describe what she was experiencing is upsetting, but she managed to have a seemingly full and satisfying life anyway, so I am happy for her.

And for people annoyed when gay people say that someone from the past was gay, here's the thing: When you're completely whitewashed from history, it is a matter of TOTAL DELIGHT wh…