Lobbyist Evelyn Dubrow, 95; Worked for ILGWU, Civil Rights

President Bill Clinton hugs Evelyn Dubrow after giving her the Medal of Freedom. Other honorees applauding are Edgar M. Bronfman and Gerald Ford.
President Bill Clinton hugs Evelyn Dubrow after giving her the Medal of Freedom. Other honorees applauding are Edgar M. Bronfman and Gerald Ford. (1999 Photo By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 22, 2006

Evelyn "Evy" Dubrow, 95, an indefatigable lobbyist for garment workers for almost 50 years and the only person on Capitol Hill allowed to share the congressional doorkeepers' chairs outside the House chambers, died June 20 of a heart attack at George Washington University Hospital.

Miss Dubrow, the 4-foot, 11-inch, throaty-voiced representative for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and its successor union from 1956 until about two years ago, wore out countless pairs of size 4 shoes in the marble halls of the Capitol, where she advocated for a higher minimum wage, fair trade laws, family and medical leave policies and civil rights.

"Everyone knows Evy," said one newspaper profile of the friendly activist. Another said, "She stands eye-to-eye with Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich and goes toe-to-toe with the big boys, whether the late [House Speaker Thomas P.] O'Neill . . . or Sen. Alan K. Simpson, the 6-foot-7 Republican from Wyoming."

"Evelyn Dubrow is the union label," Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) once said.

"By the accounts of her best friends in Congress, most of them Northern liberals, she is the model of the effective lobbyist -- persistent but not pushy, knowledgeable and persuasive but not dogmatic," New York Times reporter David E. Rosenbaum wrote in 1970.

Her longevity gave her knowledge of the institution and an understanding of when to compromise. "There's no point trying to organize an industry if there are no jobs," she said in 1985, explaining why labor supported a protectionist textile bill. It also gave her a seat just outside the House chambers; as speaker, O'Neill ordered the doorkeepers to share their seat with the representative of seamstresses, hemmers and buttonhole girls. The apparently unprecedented courtesy lasted until Newt Gingrich won the speakership and barred lobbyists from the second floor during votes.

Miss Dubrow worked 15-hour days and outlasted almost everyone. For years, she kept her age a secret even while spreading her secrets to successful lobbying: Never beg for votes, don't assume you know everything and don't threaten anyone.

"She carries no flip phone, beeper or Powerbook," the Baltimore Sun said in 1995. "[Miss] Dubrow keeps her daily schedule on a card in her appointment calendar in her purse. And her yearly expenses are less than what some spend in telephone bills alone."

President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999, calling her "a tiny woman, larger than life" who was "renowned for her grace, candor, and integrity, [who] has earned the respect of opponents and allies alike."

Unapologetically liberal, she had friends among both Republicans and Democrats, telling Washingtonian magazine in 1997: "In Washington you should never write off anybody. You'll be surprised where tomorrow's allies come from."

She came from Paterson, N.J., the daughter of immigrants from Belarus who found work in factories of New York and New Jersey. She got her start in labor activism handing out fliers about the Spanish Civil War in New York's Union Square. She graduated from New York University's School of Journalism and joined her first union, the Newspaper Guild, while working at the Paterson Morning Call newspaper.

She soon moved into full-time union work, as a secretary in the Textile Workers Union and as an assistant to the president of the New Jersey Congress of Industrial Organizations. She was one of the organizers of Americans for Democratic Action in 1947 and worked for the ADA until 1956. Legendary labor leader David Dubinsky hired her as lobbyist for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and sent her to Washington.

Miss Dubrow was in her mid-forties when she became one of a mere handful of female lobbyists in Washington. When she started, the federal minimum wage was $1 an hour, equal pay was rarely mentioned and the law allowed discrimination in housing, hiring and health care. She fought long and hard for improvements in all those areas, and later, against the North American Free Trade Agreement, which eroded the jobs of American union members who made clothes.

"When I started this job, we were worried about sweatshops," she told The Washington Post in 1997. "Today we're still worried about sweatshops."

She was named vice president of the ILGWU in 1977, and when the union merged with another to form UNITE! (United Needleworkers, Industrial and Textile Employees), she became vice president and legislative director, then special assistant to its president. She was a founder of the Coalition of Labor Union Women.

Miss Dubrow became well recognized off Capitol Hill in time. In 1971, Ladies' Home Journal named her one of the 75 most important women in America, and in 1982, the old Washington Business Review called her one of the city's top 10 lobbyists.

Never married, with no immediate family survivors, she reveled in her many nieces and nephews. She also enjoyed poker, gin rummy and reading the classics.

In the 1970s, she endured four years of Metrorail construction in front of her D Street SE home. Her only complaint about it, she told The Post in 1977: "Their construction in front of my house caused my shoes to get muddy. But for two weeks, every day, one of the workers would go have them polished and bring them back to me."

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