Ruth Newell Dies;
Ruth Newell, an outstanding UE organizer in the 1940s
whose work for the union continued intermittently into the early 1970s, died March 13. She
was the mother of former UE Genl. Sec.-Treas. Amy Newell.
Ruth Voithofer was born in 1915 in Whittsett, Pa. a mining hamlet near the
West Virginia border. The daughter of a union coal miner and one of 11 children, she grew
up in a mining camp in Scotts Run, W. Va.. As a young girl, she was an enthusiastic
participant in a mission opened by the Presbyterian Church, which encouraged an interest
in education. She became the first in her family ever to attend high school. She went on
to attend College of Wooster in Ohio, graduating in 1937.
"The education I had acquired at Wooster and the abilities I had
taken there with me and had sharpened during those four years would be used to make life
better for the working people and their families," she resolved. "I knew I could
never forget where I had come from."
Just out of college, the young woman taught for a year at Commonwealth
Labor College in Mona, Ark. before returning to the coal fields of northern West Virginia
where her father and brother worked as miners. Backed by the United Mine Workers Union and
Marion County Industrial Union Council, Voithofer set up and directed an educational
program for miners and their families; classes covered labor history, health, education,
legislation and consumer issues. Out of these classes came a statewide campaign that led
to the formation of the West Virginia CIO Council of Womens Auxiliaries. Voithofer
served as director of the council from 1940 to 1942.
As Ruth Allen (following marriage), she became an organizer for UE in late
1942, at the time when the union was the third largest CIO affiliate. She wrote a
significant chapter in the unions history by leading successful organizing campaigns
in the Sylvania chain in the 1940s.
The breakthrough occurred in September 1944, when the 2,225 war workers
employed by the Sylvania Electrics Altoona, Pa. plant voted by a two-to-one margin
for UE representation. Allen led the drive at this plant and others in western
Pennsylvania which fell into the UE column.
On May 4, 1946, the UE NEWS exultantly announced that the union won
a Labor Board representation election at the Sylvania companys home plant in
Emporium, Pa. It was the tenth Sylvania plant brought into the union. Victory came after
"a vicious, company-inspired slander campaign" and "several years of
organizing work," the paper reported. "The solid organization that had been
built in the plant during the past several months under the direction of Field Organizer
Ruth Allen withstood all the conniving of the company."
The following week, the UE NEWS announced that Sylvania had agreed
to negotiate a national contract with UE. Field Org. Allen joined top UE officers, local
representatives and other staff at the negotiating table. The national agreement would
improve the wages and conditions of tens of thousands of Sylvania workers and their
In 1946, Allen married Charles Newell, who had been one of the first four
organizers hired by UE and business agent of UE Local 601 at the flagship Westinghouse
plant in East Pittsburgh, Pa. She left her full-time position with the birth of their
children. After moving with her family to California in 1957, she became active in local
labor struggles, youth activities, the YWCA and the Womens International League for
Peace and Freedom. But she never completely severed her connection with UE.
Ruth Newell made two extended trips to Emporium, Pa. in the late 1950s,
taking part in UE campaigns that successfully repulsed raids on UE Local 639. Amy Newell
recalls her mother working on an organizing campaign with Humberto
Camacho and Pat Chaplin in Santa Barbara in the mid-1960s. In the late 1960s and early
1970s she worked on organizing campaigns in the Silicon Valley (where daughter Amy began
working not long after).
She is survived by her husband Charles, daughter Amy, son Gerry and
grandson Fred. Memorial contributions may be made to the Pajaro Valley Branch of the
Womens International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), 85 Live Oak Road,
Watsonville, CA 95076.