Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: MC 1197

Papers of Maida Springer Kemp, 1942-1996


Correspondence, speeches, reports, etc., of Maida (Stewart) Springer Kemp, trade union activist.


  • Creation: 1942-1996


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Maida Springer Kemp as well as 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.


.83 linear feet (2 file boxes)

This collection consists of correspondence, speeches, reports, clippings, printed material, and photographs documenting some of Maida Springer Kemp's trade union activity in the United States and her extensive work on behalf of the emerging trade union movement in Africa. The emphasis is on Kemp's work in Africa--in particular the Trade Union Scholarship Program for Africa, an AFL-CIO effort, and her efforts to provide assistance to union leaders--from the mid 1950s through 1980, especially in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanganyika, Uganda, and the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

Because Kemp traveled widely as International Representative of the AFL-CIO and later the African-American Free Labor Institute and Asian-American Free Labor Institute, and because she was also an active ILGWU member, papers from various aspects of her career are often interrelated. As Kemp became a prominent trade unionist, and increasingly prominent as a Black woman, she was asked to speak and write on a wide range of national and international issues. The complexity and overlapping of her activities are reflected in the arrangement of the papers.

The papers arrived with a partial list of contents (#1), which was helpful in arrangement. They needed some reorganizing, however, to make them conform to Kemp's apparent classification scheme.

Additional material received in 1997 was added to the collection in August 2022. This material is housed in folder #9a. At the same time, a previously undescribed and unnumbered folder of material was added to finding aid and is housed in folder #44a.

Speeches, reports, etc. (#2-4) were kept together and arranged in chronological order. Some items from Kemp's "miscellaneous letters" list were added but most are in the correspondence folders (#5-7), which contain correspondence with people of note from the United States and abroad covering the years 1944-1979; items other than correspondence were placed in appropriate folders and correspondence with Tom Mboya in #26. Clippings concern events in which Kemp participated and are in #8. Where possible, distinct activities or organizations have been given their own folders (#9-16), and each country has one or more folders (#17-42). Within folders chronological order has been imposed. Photographs are filed in separate folders following those containing papers on the same topics; most photos are of trade unionists and most include Kemp. Items on the "List of Articles Sent" have been placed in the appropriate clipping, photograph, speech, or country folders.

The collection has been arranged in two series. The division is somewhat artificial, since both series cover similar periods; they differ in provenance, however. Kemp's work in specific countries (Series II) stands somewhat apart from her activities in the United States, but speeches and correspondence often cover a multiplicity of topics.

Series I, Activities primarily in the United States, 1942-1996 (#1-16), consists of speeches, reports, correspondence, clippings, etc., from Kemp's labor union and related activities.

Series II, Activities abroad, mainly in Africa, 1950-1980 (#17-44a), documents Kemp's activities as an international representative of the AFL-CIO. This series is organized by country, beginning with three regions of Africa: West, East and South, followed by countries outside Africa.


Maida Springer Kemp was born in Panama, Central America, in 1910, and moved to New York City with her mother, Diane Stewart, in 1917.

In 1932 Kemp went to work as a pinker, hand finisher and subsequently a sewing machine operator in a garment factory in New York. She joined Local 22 of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) in 1933; this was the beginning of her involvement in the American trade union movement, which eventually included participation in the workers' education movement, African trade union movements, labor education worldwide (particularly for women), and the women's movement.

From 1933 to 1941 or 1942 Kemp was active in Local 22 of the Dressmakers' Union; she served on the executive board and the education committee, and as a shop representative to settle prices. She took union training and education courses through the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the Wellesley College Institute for Social Progress, and the Hudson Shore Labor School.

For the next nine years Kemp was increasingly active in trade union and other activities, largely in New York. She was Education Director of Local 132 of the Plastic Button and Novelty Workers' Union, 1942-1945, and ran for State Assembly from the 21st Assembly District (Harlem) of New York County on the American Labor Party ticket (1942). She was appointed to a War Price and Rationing Board of the Office of Price Administration (1944), and in 1945 became the first Black woman to represent the AFL abroad, serving as its delegate on a trip sponsored by the Office of War Information to observe wartime conditions for workers in Great Britain. Also in 1945 the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) chose her as one of the twelve outstanding women of the year; in 1946 Kemp received the NCNW's merit award. She was the Executive Secretary of the Fair Employment Practices Commission rally at Madison Square Garden in 1945, and that year joined the staff of the Dress Joint Board, becoming business agent for Dressmakers' Union Local 22 of the ILGWU in 1948, a post she held for thirteen years.

Beginning in 1951 Kemp became increasingly active, through the AFL, in labor unions in several African countries that were simultaneously working for national independence. For six weeks in 1951, Maida Springer Kemp went to observe workers' education associations in Sweden and Denmark, her trip sponsored by the American Labor Education Service and the American Scandinavian Foundation. This was followed by eight months at Ruskin Labor College, Oxford University, made possible by an Urban League Fellowship and a sabbatical from the ILGWU. Kemp took courses and met many African students who were trade unionists and/or nationalists in their respective colonies.

In the mid 1950s Kemp became an active observer, and later an organizer, for the AFL and, after 1955, the AFL-CIO programs for and in Africa. She first traveled to Africa in 1955 as one of five non-African observers (and the only woman) at the first International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) conference, held in Accra, Gold Coast (later Ghana). In 1957 she attended the First African Regional Trade Union Conference (Ghana) and organized a meeting of American labor leaders to discuss Kenya's labor needs; out of this meeting came the funds to build Solidarity House in Nairobi. In 1958 Kemp attended the All-African People's Conference in Accra. In 1959 the State of Israel invited her to study African and Israeli-African labor relations, and the next year she joined the AFL-CIO Department of International Affairs as representative to Africa.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Kemp lived on and off in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Nairobi (Kenya), and Brooklyn, New York, and traveled extensively in Africa for the AFL-CIO; she was responsible for the selection of students for the American Trade Union Scholarship Program for Africa. She was an invited guest at the national independence ceremonies in Ghana (1957), Nigeria (1960), Tanzania (1961), and Kenya (1963).

In 1964 Kemp was advisor to and member of the workers' delegation from the United States to the 48th Session of the International Labor Organization conference in Geneva. In 1966 she returned to the ILGWU as a general organizer, and later worked with the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

Kemp attended the International Women's Year conferences in Mexico (1975) and Nairobi (1985), and the 1977 Pan African Conference on the Role of Trade Union Women. She was a member of the National Council of Negro Women, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the African-American Free Labor Institute, the Asian-American Free Labor Institute, the National Organization for Women, and the Coalition of Labor Union Women. In the late 1920s Kemp married Owen Springer; they had one son, Eric. In 1965 she married James Kemp. She had two grandchildren. Kemp died on March 29, 2005.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 80-M22, 80-M52, 80-M202 81-M45, 82-M159, 97-M41

These papers were given to the Schlesinger Library by Maida Springer Kemp in February, March, and September 1980, February 1981, August 1982, and March 1997.

Related Materials

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see the Maida Springer Kemp interview in the Interviews of the Black Women Oral History Project, 1976-1981 (OH-31).


  1. Box 1: Folders 1-23
  2. Box 2: Folders 24-44a

Processing Information

Preliminary inventory: March 1988

By: Nancy Falk

Updated and additional materials added: August 2022

By: Paula Aloisio

Springer, Maida. Papers of Maida Springer Kemp, 1942-1996: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

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. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

3 James St.
Cambridge MA 02138 USA