Myra Wolfgang: New inductee to the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame

(33749) Portrait of Myra Wolfgang

The Reuther Library salutes Myra Wolfgang as she is inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame this month.

Almost 40 years after her death, Myra Wolfgang stands among the giants in Detroit’s labor movement. Her involvement in labor organizing began not long after graduating from Northern High School in Detroit in 1931. By the age of 23, she was leading strikes and directed organizing drives in local businesses, through the local chapter of the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Union (today known as UNITE HERE!). She first received national publicity for organizing a “pink-collar” sit-down strike among women workers at the Woolworth’s department store in Detroit in 1937.

Wolfgang served for 16 years as the first woman chief executive officer of the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Union Local 24 and later was vice president of the International Union. The Myra Wolfgang Papers and the records of the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Union Local 24 Records (HERE) at the Reuther Library illuminate her stature both locally and on the national stage. This ranges from photos of her leading the march on picket lines throughout Detroit to the Michigan Senate resolution honoring Wolfgang after her death in 1976.

Wolfgang was a staunch supporter of and organizer for women’s rights as well. In 1972, she received an invitation to lunch at the well-known Detroit Club, which was restricted to white men only. Women were only allowed as guests and had to use a side entrance to the building. Wolfgang accepted the invitation only if she could use the main entrance, which she did, hastening the disappearance of the separate entrance and eventually the acceptance of women members.

“We didn’t come here to swap recipes!” is the sentence famously stated by Wolfgang during the first convention of the Coalition of Labor Union Women Records (CLUW) in 1974. She set the tone for an agenda aimed at increasing women’s involvement and influence in labor unions. The CLUW records at the Reuther Library demonstrate the commitment of the organization and of Myra Wolfgang to issues still relevant today: affirmative action, pay equity, sex discrimination, child care and family issues, ERA and reproductive freedom.

With her induction into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame, Wolfgang joins a list of other labor-related inductees whose papers reside at the Reuther Library, including Genora Johnson Dollinger, Dorothy Haener, Mildred Jeffrey, Joyce Kornbluh and Olga Madar.

Click here for more information on the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame.