Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Josephine Roche - trail blazer and activist

Do you ever read about someone and think, 'Why haven't I heard of her before?!'

Well, in the case of Josephine Roche, I actually have heard of her before. See, I've been perusing this fantastic book, Beyond Suffrage: Women in the New Deal, by Susan Ware (herself a fantastic author of many books about women in US history), and the name Josephine Roche has come up quite a bit. And even so, I didn't know of all of her amazing activities!

The book focuses mainly on women working within the New Deal programs, so I assume that's why I know more about her work with the coal industry and health care. Well, that and the fact that I have only been scanning the book. I keep meaning to sit down and read it, cover to cover, but there's always something, right?

Reading more about her to find something a little more interesting to talk about for this, her birthday post, I discovered much, much more!

Like, for instance, she was the first female police officer in Denver, in 1912!
Roche’s family moved to Denver in 1908, and in October 1912 Roche left New York to become Denver’s first policewoman. As Inspector of Amusements, she supervised public dance halls and cafes and cleaned up the Red Light district – taking girls home to their families. In a battle with entrenched business interests, Roche and her boss, Commissioner Creel, were fired in early 1913. Community pressure obtained her reinstatement but official non-cooperation led to her resignation in August 1913.
(source: Vassar Encyclopedia)
This was after she'd graduated from Vassar with degrees in Economics and Classics. It was these economics courses where she turned against her anti-unionist coal-mining magnate father, and took up the causes of welfare and reform. She then worked on a Master's Degree in Social Work from Columbia University, where she graduated in 1910. So, here's this highly educated woman, steeped in social justice ideals, working in Denver in the early 1910s, when it was still a somewhat provincial town in the midst of the still somewhat raucous old west. Curious!

But, as you can see from the quote above, it didn't last long.
In 1915, President Hoover appointed Roche Special Agent of England and the United States for the Commission for Relief in Belgium. It was the first of many governmental appointments. From 1916-1918, she worked as Director of the Girls Dept. in Denver’s Juvenile Court. From 1918–1923, she directed the Foreign Language Information Service (FLIS) – a service providing legal assistance, news and information in many native languages and lobbying on immigrant issues.
(source: Vassar Encyclopedia)
Wow! What a whirlwind of jobs and opportunities! And all this happened before I 'met' her in my book. Just amazing.

She most well known for her work during the New Deal, of course, as it has had the most long-lasting impact. After her father died, she inherited his coal mines, and returned to Denver to take over. But with her own sensibilities about how they should be run -- safely and fairly for the miners! Keep in mind that this is during the period of the Labor Movement, and unions were being busted and workers were being beaten and sometimes shot by management forces. In fact, prior to his death, her father had called in the National Guard to break up a strike of his workers.
Josephine, now on the board of directors for the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company, did not agree with her father’s actions, especially, when the mine superintendent invited the strikers inside the now fenced-in mine to his office for coffee and doughnuts. The miners, who had checked in their weapons and were carrying American flags, were fired upon by guards using machine guns and gas bombs. The casualties were six killed and 20 wounded.
(source: Superior Colorado)
As you can imagine, she ran the company quite differently.
In March 1928, borrowing $35,000 from friends, Josephine Roche bought controlling interest in the fuel company, and over the next 6 months, she radically changed it. Issuing the revolutionary statement that “the men employed in the mines are as much an essential factor in the industry as the capital invested and have the right to act upon equal terms with the investor to determine working and living conditions," Roche recognized the United Mine Workers union at the RMFC, rehired strikers, raised pay, eliminated company scrip, instituted workmen’s compensation insurance and recruited workers to help sell union coal.
(source: Vassar Encyclopedia)
But she wasn't content to just sit back and run the company. Her progressive handling of workers' issues had brought her quite a bit of notoriety, and had even gained her the attention folks in Washington, D.C. She got a taste of politics when she was invited to the White House to help negotiate talks between coal executives and reformers during the National Recovery Administration's "coal code" talks.
In 1934 Roche ran for governor of Colorado on the motto: “Roosevelt + Roche = Recovery.” She lost the Democratic primary to the incumbent governor by 10,000 votes. In Nov. 1934, she joined FDR in Washington as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. “The baby member of the Brain Trust," Roche was in charge of the Public Health Service, Chair of the advisory board of the National Youth Administration and a participant in the committees formulating Social Security.

In 1937, Roche returned to the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company, commuting regularly, however, to Washington to chair the National Health Conference and the Interdepartmental Committee to Coordinate Health and Welfare Activities, groups that worked tirelessly for federal health subsidies and a broad government health plan for all US citizens.
(source: Vassar Encyclopedia)
What an amazing career, and this is just the first 20 years of it!
Josephine Roche, tireless activist for the rights of workers and children, was honored throughout her career, receiving honorary degrees from Smith (’32), Oglethorpe, Mt. Holyoke (’35), and the University of Colorado (’65). Cited by American Women as one of the 10 outstanding Women in the US in 1936 and by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1941, she received the US Steel National Achievement gold medal in 1935 and was called the nation’s most prominent and efficient business woman of 1935 by the 500 members of the Chamber of Commerce. She received the Albert Lasker Award from the American Public Health Assn in 1956 for her work with the UMW Health and Retirement Fund.
(source: Vassar Encyclopedia)
Yep. She's certainly someone worth reading more about. I'll keep you all posted as I learn more about this remarkable woman and her amazing life!

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In case you need a reminder... you are amazing!
I just love this poem. I revisit it whenever I'm feeling a down or frustrated or a little powerless. You are amazing. As.you.are. Stronger than you know. More beautiful than you think. Worthier than you believe. More loved that you can ever imagine. Passionate about making a difference. Fiery when protecting those you love. Learning. Growing.

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