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450 S Michigan Ave, AUD 1851
Chicago IL 60605
United States


Illinois Labor History Society

Biographies: S

Biographies: S

Morton S. Schaffner

(1953-1973) Grave 64, Sector G

Mort Schaffner is one of the youngest progressives to be buried alongside the Haymarket Martyrs monument; he died of heart failure at the age of 20. In high school he helped organize others to fight for the re-instatement of four teachers who were fired for their opposition to the Vietnam War. In 1971, he ran for the Niles Township School Board to challenge the law that minors couldn't run. Although he was ruled off the ballot, three weeks later the law was changed to make 18-years-olds eligible. Schaffner was a member of the IBEW Local 1031, the Young Workers Liberation League, and the CPUSA.

Nathan Schaffner

(1908-2002) Grave 65,  Sector G

Nathan Schaffner was born in the Jewish ghetto of Narodich, Ukraine. He was the youngest of 14 children. His family emigrated to the United States in about 1921, settling in Chicago.

Nate attended the Jewish People's Institute. In 1924, he was a founding member of the YCL. While he never finished school, he was a life-long reader of books and magazines, in both English and Yiddish. From 1927 until he retired in 1973, he was a milkman, starting out on a horse and buggy. He was a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters all his working life, was active in the union and its rank-and-file, but never held office. In his retirement, he was on the executive committee of the Milk Drivers' Retirees Council.

Nate was a member of the CPUSA, from the first decade of its founding. In 1991 he became a founding member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. During the 1990's, Nate was one of the organizers of the annual Warsaw Ghetto memorial tribute and spoke at community meetings against the planned Nazi Party march through the streets of Skokie.

Ruth Schaffner

(1910-1995) Grave 65, Sector G

Ruth Schaffner was born in 1910 in Vinnitsa, Ukraine. At the end of the decade, she, along with her parents, Bertha and Jacob Weinroth, emigrated to the United States, making their way through Romania, evading the Horthy fascists, then through France. The family settled in Chicago.

After high school Ruth's first job was at Goldblatt's department store. A customer asked what she thought of the ties she was selling and she replied "they're cheesy." She was promptly fired – the "customer" was Louis Goldblatt, the storeowner. Shortly after, she was hired as secretary to Studs Terkel in a WPA job.

In 1950, Ruth met her future husband, Nathan Schaffner, at an event for Progressive Party candidate Max Naiman. She was a secretary and violin teacher. After the family moved to Skokie, she was active with the Emma Lazarus Jewish Women's Clubs, and the Chicago Peace Council. Ruth was a founder, and the first secretary of the Skokie Valley Symphony Orchestra. She spoke at community meetings in opposition to the planned Nazi march through the streets of Skokie.

Ruth was a long-time member of the CPUSA and became a founding member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism

Michael Asher Schwab, Haymarket Martyr

(1854-1898) Grave 66, Sector A

Schwab was editorial writer for the German language worker's journal, Arbeiter-Zeitung. With August Spies he helped write the leaflet protesting the police attack on McCormick strikers and announcing the Haymarket rally on May 4, 1886. He briefly attended the rally, but had to leave to speak to a group of workers at the Deering Harvester plant on Clybourn Avenue. He was miles away from the rally when the bomb exploded.

In a travesty of courtroom justice, Schwab and the other members of the Haymarket Eight were found guilty of conspiring to throw the bomb that exploded at the rally. Schwab was originally given the death sentence, which was changed to life imprisonment by Governor Oglesby. He served 6 years in the Joliet penitentiary before he was pardoned by Governor John Altgeld. After his release, Schwab returned to work again at the anarchist daily Arbeiter-Zeitung, but resigned from the paper in 1895. He died 3 years later, leaving his wife Maria Schnaubelt Schwab and children.

Art Shields

(1888-1988) Grave 67, Sector B

Thomas Arthur "Art" Shields was sometimes called the "Dean of American Working Class Journalists," Shields was born in Barbados to missionary parents of the Moravian Church. Art was involved in his first strike at age 12, as a newspaper delivery boy. He grew up to become one of the chief chroniclers of working class struggles in the 20th century. Shields wrote for numerous publications, and edited Solidarity, the newspaper of the IWW. But his greatest fame came after joining the CPUSA, covering strikes and international events for the Daily Worker and its successors. In 1923 Art married Esther Julia Lowell. Shields died at the age of 99 in the Soviet Union, while working on the third volume of his autobiography.

Esther Lowell Shields

(1900-1989) Grave 67, Sector B

Esther was the lifelong companion and colleague of Art Shields. In 1922 she graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, calling San Francisco her birth city. She was a pioneer among women in journalism and a member of the CPUSA. As a reporter for the Federated Press, she covered the textile strikes in Passaic and Winston-Salem. She later worked on the first American staff of TASS, the Soviet news agency, and the Daily Worker. In 1956 Esther Shields was summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Descended from the aristocratic Lowell family of Massachusetts, Esther became a staunch advocate of women's equality and workers' rights in the 1920's. Believing marriage to be a bourgeois concept, she and Art Shields never legally married, but remained together as lovers and comrades for more than 60 years.

Robert Siegel

(1931-2004) Grave 68, Sector C

Robert Siegel was born in a TB sanitarium in 1931, where his mother was being treated for tuberculosis. During his early years he lived in various foster homes and when his mother recovered they reunited. He had his first job as a teenager and when he was able, purchased a home for himself and a place to care for his mother.

Robert worked for ETNA Bearing Company. He gave his life to the union, the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), the one he considered the Left union. He served various posts in the UE Local from president to chief steward. Robert was a life-long diabetic but while seldom absent from work, the company used the health issue to terminate him, to punish him for his union activity. Workers responded to the attack by calling a work stoppage and won his job back.

Bob met his wife Ruth Ramirez, a UE organizer who served the union at Bob's place of work.

Anna Sosnovsky

(1900-1949) Grave 69, Sector G

Anna Sosnovsky was born in the Ukraine, in a family of 5 siblings. She came to New York with her mother, aunt and three sisters. Her oldest sister was already in the U.S. with her husband and father. Anna was a bright and natural leader.

On Aug. 21, 1918, Anna was part of a group of young anarchists protesting WWI. They threw leaflets (in English and Yiddish) out a NYC building window proclaiming such "outrageous things" as "there is only one enemy in the world and that is capitalism." The U.S. Supreme Court found them guilty of sedition and those they caught faced jail and deportation. Anna and her sister escaped New York and later Anna returned with a new last name. She became an organizer in New Jersey for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union ILGWU.

Anna and Abraham Winokour met and became active in the defense of Sacco and Vanzetti, two anarchists who were arrested during the "Red Scare" of 1919-20 (and eventually wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for their alleged role in a robbery and murder). In the spring of 1927, while pregnant with her first child, Anna took a cross-country fundraising tour. Her daughter Tisa, named after a combination of the last syllable of Vanzetti and the first of Sacco. Their second child was named Voltairine de Cleyre Winokour.

Charles Spencer

(1908-2004) [ashes scattered]

Charles Spencer was one of 9 children, born on a dairy farm in North Adams, MA. As a teenager, he often traveled to Union Square in New York City to hear speakers discuss the struggles of the working class. He attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison in the mid-1920's, choosing the school because it had a reputation for progressive thought. He was a history major, but he left after 2 years because he couldn't afford the tuition.

In the early 1930's, Charles joined the CPUSA and worked as an organizer in the coal fields of Pennsylvania. During WWII he served in the Philippines as a soldier in the Army. In 1948, he worked at Republic Steel in Chicago and served as a "grievance man" in United Steelworkers Local 1033. Because of his efforts, a plaque commemorating the Memorial Day Massacre of 1937 is on the wall of the union's headquarters.

Charles met his wife to be, Jean Sondin, at a political meeting in 1968. After retiring in 1973, Charles Spencer helped invigorate the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees as it worked to secure benefits for former steelworkers and their spouses. Charles wrote 2 books: Blue Collar, about his experiences as a steel worker, and Left, Two, Three, a novel about the Memorial Day Massacre.

August Spies, Haymarket Martyr

(1855-1887) Grave 70, Sector A

August Spies came to the U.S. in 1872 and traveled around the country. He settled in Chicago in 1873, bringing to his new home his mother and siblings from Germany. The most educated of the Haymarket martyrs, Spies felt that his philosophy for social change would bring an industrial reformation. Active in the causes of Chicago workers, Spies joined the Socialist Labor Party and was a delegate to the Socialist Convention of 1881. He organized support for striking miners and other workers. At the time of the Haymarket Affair, Spies was the editor of the anarchist daily Arbeiter-Zeitung, the largest German language newspaper in the city. He was the first speaker to address the crowd on that fateful night. He was hanged on November 11, 1887. Spies married Nina Van Zandt in 1886 and the couple had 5 children.

Nina Van Zandt Spies


(1862-1936) Grave 71, Sector A [unmarked grave]

The Vassar-educated Nina Van Zandt fell in love with August Spies during the Haymarket trial and helped him write his autobiography. For this a wealthy aunt disinherited her. Nina was a familiar figure at Chicago's Hobo College, IWW meetings and May Day commemorations. After Albert Spies death, Nina married Stephen A. Malato in 1895 and they divorced in 1902. In her later years Nina marched with Lucy Parsons in many labor and civil rights demonstrations, and Parsons spoke at her funeral in 1936. When she died, apparently penniless, it came to light that she had willed $3,000 to Irene Castle's retreat for animals.

In the cemetery record books, lot number 1043 shows 2 adjacent burials, one of James T. Lee, and adjacent to his grave is the unmarked grave of Nina Van Zandt Spies. The proximity of the two burials is something that needs more study--we need to know more about Lee. Research for this publication determined for the first time the precise location for the grave of the Nina Van Zandt Spies.

Jack Stachel

(1900-1965) Grave 72, Sector B

At 19, already a veteran of New York's sweatshop garment industry, Stachel became a charter member of the CPUSA. He was an activist in the YCL, serving for a time as its educational director. He helped organize his fellow garment workers and led demonstrations of the unemployed—including the historic Bonus March in Washington, D.C., in 1932. In the early 1930's, Stachel headed the Trade Union Unity League, the successor to the TUEL in which he was one of the leaders.

Stachel also served as executive secretary of the CPUSA and later as its organizational secretary. He remained active in trade union organizing, and the CIO years helped organize steelworkers, coal miners, and autoworkers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan.