Women's Activism NYC

Caroline Mcreynolds

1919 - 2011

By: Erna Morgan-McReynolds | Date Added:

Activist? My mother was an activist in the most fundamental sense of that term. Here is how she inspired me and my sister. 1. She taught us to love family and to put that love into action. Her family was Orthodox. When - as a teenager - she married a Christian she became something of a non-person to the family. Yet when her parents were dying it was my mom who cared for them. She cared for them to their deaths, knowing she would not be allowed to attend their funerals. When my older sister fell on hard times, Mom welcomed her and her two children to our home and table. This meant five children to one bedroom, my sister on the couch, more water in the soup. Her house was tiny. Her home and heart were enormous. She encouraged my younger sister and me to take work cleaning houses after school when we were young. I was twelve. She taught us that it was only right that our money went to support the family. We lived in rural upstate New York. Fearful of prejudice against her daughters (Many from her family died in the Holocaust.) she concealed our Jewishness, even from us, for many years. 2. She taught us to work. And that there is dignity in all work. My father was much older than my mother. He fell ill with emphysema and could no longer work. She found work in a factory. One which laid off women first and men second - because "Men have families to support." Her skin and hair - and surely her lungs - became coated with the oil in the air of the factory. The factory laid her off several times. When laid off, and desperately poor, she refused to accept welfare. Instead, she found work as a waitress in a bar, although she hated alcohol and the inevitable tasteless treatment she got from some customers. She once took a job driving from forlorn house to forlorn house to explain welfare benefits to people who were not as poor as we were. 3. She taught us pride. We scrubbed our house every week. She taught us to make our clothes, sometimes from the fabric used for animal feed bags. She taught us to never leave the house unless our clothes - often hand-me-downs shiny with wear - were clean, starched and ironed. She taught us cleanliness and pride in our appearance. Baths were in a big metal tub, water heated by an immersion device. It was with pride she delivered us to our local bank to open savings accounts when we were in the first grade. Our deposits were usually no more than $1. It was with pride she drove us to hillside springs to draw water when our spring dried up. 4. She taught us the value of determination and grit. Despite her poverty and few skills, she taught us to save something, no matter our circumstances. When she retired from her factory it was in relative comfort because she had saved a considerable amount over the years as well as accumulating a union pension. 5. She taught us that education was the key to decent futures for us. She never finished high school. To her, our schoolwork was of utmost importance. My younger sister and I excelled throughout our school years. Many the time Mom took our report cards to her factory, waved them in the oil-soaked air, and boasted about her girls. 6. She taught us women were equal to men - despite how women were treated. Her way of dealing with the inequalities was to work harder. She was guided by a simple philosophy: You strive to live a decent life. You work as hard as you can. You always save something, no matter how little you earn. You help yourself. You help your family. My Mom. My heroine.

Share This Story

We'd Love Your Feedback

Share your thoughts on this story with us. Your comments will not be made public.


WomensActivism.NYC is a project of the NYC Department of Records and Information Services