Encyclopedia Womannica

Feminists: Rosina Tucker

Episode Summary

Rosina Tucker (1881-1987) was a teacher, musician, and community organizer, who fought at the heart of America’s labor and civil rights movements.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, Grace Lynch, and Maddy Foley. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit. Theme music by Andi Kristins. 

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan, and this is Encyclopedia Womannica

If you’re just tuning in for the first time, here’s the deal. We’re telling the stories of women from throughout history and around the world who you may not know about but definitely should. Each month is themed and in honor of Women’s History Month, March is all about feminists, women who fought for gender equity. 

Today’s feminist was a woman of many strengths. She was a teacher, musician, and community organizer, who fought at the heart of America’s labor and civil rights movements. Let’s talk about Rosina Tucker.

Rosina Budd Harvey was born in 1881 in Washington, DC. She was one of nine children born to Henrietta and Lee Roy Harvey, two former slaves from Virginia who moved to DC after their emancipation. 

As an adult, Rosina fondly remembered childhood music lessons with her father. Thanks to his teaching, Rosina and her siblings entered school with an above average bent for music. She also already knew how to read and write. 

In 1899, Rosina married her first husband, James Corrothers, a well-known preacher and poet. The couple lived in New York City and then Michigan. While James focused on preaching and writing, Rosina taught music and played organ for the church. James passed away in 1917. Rosina then moved back to Washington, DC and worked as a file clerk for the government.

In 1918, Rosina married her second husband, Berthea J. Tucker, or “BJ.” Rosina’s partnership with BJ pushed  her towards activism. BJ was a Pullman porter -- a man hired by the George Pullman train company to help passengers with their luggage. George Pullman was a major employer of Black men, but he was so adamant about cutting costs and wages that his workers were often unable to pay rent.

Before the 1920s, Black men didn’t have any unions. That enabled the company to demand long work hours with hard labor. Some attempts to unionize in the early 20th century were unsuccessful. But eventually,  workers in New York came together and formed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters under the direction of A. Philip Randolph. When Randolph came to Washington DC to expand the union, many porters were reluctant to join. BJ joined the cause right away, with Rosina at his side. When the union really caught on in DC, women were actually often the ones driving the cause while the men were away working.

Rosina quickly became a union leader.. When the union was first formed, it was dangerous for someone to even show interest. Rosina personally delivered secret messages and union literature in her handbag under the guise of making social visits.

When Rosina’s dealings with the union became public, BJ was immediately fired -- that is, until Rosina marched to Union Station and argued with the company’s regional director until her husband was re-hired!

Rosina then started working more publicly with the Union. She created the Women’s Economic Councils, which hosted parties and dinners, and raised money  for the union. The organization was a predecessor to the International Ladies' Auxiliary to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Rosina also wanted to organize women workers and eventually the Women’s Economic Councils formed connections with unions of all races and genders.

Rosina stayed close with A. Philip Randolph and the rest of the union for decades. She helped organize marches and boycotts even into her 80s, many of which led to major change, including the desegregation of the military. 

Rosina Tucker passed away in 1987, at the age of 105. 

Rosina saw many incredible historical events. She mourned at the funeral of Frederick Douglass, and witnessed Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. She personally changed the course of  history, as one of the most influential labor and civil rights organizers of last century.

All month we’ve been talking about feminists. We’ve covered feminists in every theme so far. What differentiates this month is that we will be looking at women who were particularly important to the women’s rights movement, the suffrage movement, and/or modern feminism and feminist theory. On Saturdays, we’re talking about modern feminists brought to you by this month’s sponsor, Fiverr. On Sundays, we’re highlighting favorite feminists from past months chosen by other podcast hosts we love. For more on why we’re doing what we’re doing, check out our new Encyclopedia Womannica newsletter. You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram @EncyclopediaWomannica and you can follow me directly on twitter @jennymkaplan.

This month of Encyclopedia Womannica is brought to you by Fiverr, an online digital services marketplace connecting businesses with women who are creating, designing, copywriting, programming, editing, and more.

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Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator!

Talk to you tomorrow!