NYC Teachers' Union Member
Photographer for the New York Hotel Trades Council
Mildred Grossman was an award-winning photographer, a teacher and an active member of the New York City Teachers' Union in the 1940s. Her work was part of a collection that has been hailed as the most successful exhibition of photography ever assembled. "The Family of Man," which included two of Grossman's photographs, debuted at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in January 1955, circulated internationally for eight years, and then sold more than 4 million copies in book form. This collection of 503 photographs was curated by Edward Steichen, the Director of MOMA's Department of Photography at the time, who has been recognized as one of the great 20th century photographers. In the same year that "The Family of Man" debuted, Mildred Grossman began working as a photographer for the New York Hotel Trades Council.
Before her career as a photographer took off, Grossman was a labor activist within the teachers' union and a member of the American Labor Party. She was subjected to an investigation by government officials during New York State's McCarthy-era "loyalty" hearings. Such hearings were common throughout the second Red Scare, when federal and state agencies took the opportunity provided by wartime and post-war insecurities to arrest, deport, and otherwise intimidate immigrants, leftists, and activists of all sorts under the guise of national security.
Grossman was interrogated in an old warehouse without legal counsel, suspended from her teaching position, and finally dismissed along with 38 other NYC teachers in 1952, in accordance with New York State's Feinberg Law. The 1949 law required school districts to investigate teachers' loyalties to the United States government. Another 283 teachers resigned or retired to escape the state's abusive, unfair, and stigmatizing interrogations.
After she was effectively barred from teaching, the New York Hotel Trades Council commissioned Grossman to work as a photographer beginning in 1955, having seen the high quality of her work on display at the MOMA. In her later years, she, along with other NYC teachers who fought against the Feinberg Law, received the New York Civil Liberties Union Florina Lasker Civil Liberties Award from the NYC Human Rights Commission. She passed away in 1988 in her hometown of New York City.
While working for the New York Hotel Trades Council, she photographed HTC members on the job, participating in union elections, on the strike line, and at the Union hall. Her powerful and moving images were used in our Hotel Voice, the Hotel, Motel, and Club Voice magazine, and displayed in her art exhibit Portrait of a Union. They have become an essential- and treasured - part of our Union's historical record.
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