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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 1054, CD-125

Papers of Miriam Tane Siporin, 1934-2019 (inclusive), 1937-1999 (bulk)

Overview

Correspondence, poetry, fiction, journals, and advertising copy of Miriam Tane Siporin, union organizer and "poet laureate" for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union and writer of advertising copy for women's fashions.

Dates

  • 1934-2019
  • Majority of material found within 1937-1999

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Miriam Tane Siporin is held by Judith and Rachel Siporin during their lifetimes. Upon their deaths, copyright will transfer to the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Extent

3.34 linear feet ((8 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 4 folio+ folders, 1 photograph folder, 1 compact disc.)
The collection documents Miriam Tane Siporin's life as a union organizer and official; a poet and fiction writer; and a writer for advertising campaigns. It includes correspondence (with many early letters describing her work in Illinois for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union); poems and articles published in union newsletters and elsewhere; drafts of novels, poems, and stories; and advertising copy, including ads for women's and girl's fashions. Also included is a recording of a speech Tane Siporin made about her experiences working with unions in the 1930s. Judith Siporin organized the material, primarily by year, before donating it to the Schlesinger Library, and the archivist has largely maintained this arrangement. Most folder titles are those created by Miriam Tane Siporin or Judith Siporin; titles created by the archivist appear in square brackets. Judith Siporin also provided detailed notes on the contents of individual folders; the archivist has placed this information in the scope notes for relevant folders, in quotation marks.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online.

BIOGRAPHY

Miriam Tane Siporin was born in New York City in 1916; she had seven siblings. Her parents were eastern European, Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Tarnapol (formerly Poland, now in the Ukraine). Her father worked as a garment presser in sweatshops and was a member of the local union. Tane Siporin's involvement in leftist politics began as early as high school, when she joined the National Student League. On the advice of her father, she took a business course of study at James Monroe High School, rather than the academic track, so she could get a secretarial job. She quickly came to regret this decision and began working in an exclusive dress shop while taking academic classes at night school, ultimately gaining admission to Hunter College. Her belief in radical politics and desire to improve the conditions for working people during the Depression led her to leave college after just a year and a half. She ultimately completed her undergraduate degree at the Harvard Extension School, at the age of 67. In 1937 United Auto Workers hired her to help organize workers at the Ford Automobile Plant Somerville, Massachusetts. The following year she returned to New York City and took a job as a "finisher" in a garment factory, clipping threads from newly manufactured clothes. In the late 1930s, the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union recruited her to organize workers and agitate for better working conditions in Elkhart, Indiana, and Albion, Illinois. Both these small towns were resistant to unions and the work was dangerous, involving violent protests and confrontations with police armed with billy clubs. She began work on a novel based on these experiences but did not complete it. A draft manuscript appears in #1.14.

Writing was a lifelong pursuit for Tane Siporin and her work was strongly informed by her political beliefs and her union activities. While working at the garment factory, she wrote poetry during her bathroom breaks, keeping a small notebook in her pocket for this purpose. More than a hundred of her poems appeared in Justice, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union magazine and her distinctive voice attracted attention, leading to her being designated "poet laureate" of the union from 1939 to 1946. She also wrote theatricals, song lyrics, and a radio soap opera for the union. In the late 1930s, she was named director of education of the Chicago chapter of the union and among her other duties, wrote a "Direct from the Director" column, focused on cultural and educational opportunities for workers, for the chapter's newspaper, Good News. During World War II she wrote a column titled "Women Take Over," aimed at women who had been hired to fill men's jobs during the war. This column appeared in the Packinghouse Worker, a union newspaper, under the name "Miriam Laurence." With the exception of this column, all of her writings appeared under the name "Miriam Tane."

In the 1940s Tane Siporin relocated to New York City, where she worked as a copywriter for a few small agencies but taking a job with Sterling Advertising. Her work for the latter agency involved writing retail and trade copy, promotional material, and radio commercials for prominent fashion accounts. (According to her daughter Judith Siporin, she was well aware of the irony of working first for the people who made the clothes and then for the people who sold them.) Her ads appeared in Vogue, Glamour, Harper's Bazaar, The New Yorker, and similar magazines. She left the agency in 1945 to marry the Social Realist painter Mitchell Siporin when he returned from military duty in North Africa and Italy. Between 1945 and 1949 she worked as a part time and freelance copywriter for small advertising agencies in New York City, planning national advertising and promotional campaigns for the Charles Jay Advertising Company as well as more small-scale work for smaller companies.

In 1949, Mitchell Siporin was one of the recipients of the American Academy in Rome's Rome Prize in Visual Arts, resulting in a yearlong study fellowship at the Academy; Tane Siporin accompanied him to Rome. In 1951, soon after their return, Mitchell Siporin was hired by Brandeis University, where he founded the Department of Fine Arts. He served on the department's faculty until his death in 1976. The couple settled first in Brookline, Massachusetts, where their two daughters were born, and then in Newton, Massachusetts. Tane Siporin continued her literary pursuits, finding inspiration in newspaper articles and headlines that struck her fancy, and in the people around her; while in the hospital after the birth of her first daughter, she kept detailed notes on the experiences of the other women in the ward. She also wrote unpublished novels based on her husband (Standing Figure) and her experience on a jury (All Rise). She regularly sent articles, poems, and stories to publishers, newspapers, and literary journals and while she received far more rejection letters than acceptances, several of her poems were published in poetry magazines and one appeared in The New Yorker. In addition, The New York Times printed an article about a trip she made to Wales in tribute to the poet Dylan Thomas and in the 1980s a series of her book reviews appeared in the Virginia Quarterly. From 1984 to 1985 she was a resident at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts.

In 2004, John Marsh, a PhD candidate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign devoted a chapter of his dissertation to Tane Siporin's early poetry. This chapter, titled "The Justice Poetry of Miriam Tane," was published in Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers in 2006. In 2007, Marsh included a selection of her poems in his anthology, You Work Tomorrow: American Labor Poetry, 1929-41. A photograph of Tane Siporin and two other women standing in front of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union New York City headquarters is on the book's front cover. Miriam Tane Siporin died of complications from Alzheimer's disease in 2007.

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 2020-M20

The papers of Miriam Tane Siporin were given to the Schlesinger Library by her daughters Judith and Rachel Siporin in February 2020.

SEPARATION RECORD

Donors: Judith and Rachel Siporin

Accession number: 2020-M20

Processed by: Susan Earle

The following item was removed from the collection and added to the Schlesinger Library's Periodicals Collection:
  1. The Word Guild Magazine, Vol. 3 No. 11 November 1978, Vol. 5 No. 2 February 1980, Vol. 5 No. 3 March 1980, Vol. 5 No.4 April 1980
The following item was removed from the collection and offered to Harvard University's Houghton Library:
  1. Writers' Resources, Number 8, Sept. 1977
The following items have been removed from the collection and offered to Harvard University's Lamont Library:
  1. The Literary Monitor, Vo. 3 No. 3/4, 1980
  2. Manhattan Poetry Review 4, Winter 1984-5
  3. Mirare, Spring 1993 Volume 1 Number 1, Spring 1994 Volume 2 Number 1, Fall 1994 Volume 2 Number 2
  4. Onionhead Literary Quarterly, July 1990

Processing Information

Processed: August 2020

By: Susan Earle.

The Schlesinger Library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.  Finding aids may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

When samples of weeded documents are retained, it is indicated in the finding aid.
Link to catalog
Author
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Sponsor
Processing of this collection was made possible by the Radcliffe Class of 1955 Manuscript Processing Fund.
EAD ID
sch01729

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future.

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