Q. A hundred years before the Women’s March on Washington, another women’s uprising took place, in which Marie Ganz, known as Sweet Marie, played a leading role. Who was she and where did she get her nickname?
A. Newspapers of the day said Ms. Ganz, who was arrested in the food riots of 1917, was incendiary and cursed like a sailor. So naturally, cynical reporters called her “Sweet Marie,” according to Thai Jones, the curator for American history in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University. In 1925, however, another reporter said that she had received the name “because of an intriguing smile and an engaging personality.”
In 1914, Sweet Marie carried a pistol into the Standard Oil Building in New York and threatened to shoot John D. Rockefeller Jr. Fortunately, Mr. Rockefeller, whom Sweet Marie blamed for brutalizing striking miners in Colorado, was not in.
“She spent 60 days in jail for it, and it was the main thing on her political résumé, if you can call it that,” Dr. Jones said, adding, “She was kind of a street-corner speaker and definitely a rabble-rouser.”
The food riots began on the morning of Feb. 19, 1917, when women who had gone to the food market area in Brownsville, Brooklyn, found that prices, which had already been rising, had gone up again.
The trouble began at 10 a.m., “when a woman who didn’t have enough cash to cover her purchases overturned a pushcart,” William Freiburger wrote on a CUNY web page about the episode.
“As the peddler protested and attempted to chase after her,” he continued, “hundreds of women surged in upon the hapless businessman.”
The police contended with a thousand rioters for two hours before order was restored, Mr. Freiburger wrote.
The next morning, The New York Times said, 400 mothers, many carrying babies, stormed City Hall to demand cheaper food. An official met with Sweet Marie and other protest leaders, promising a meeting with the mayor. The crowd began to disperse. Then Sweet Marie “harangued the crowd in bitter language, and soon everything was confusion.” She was taken into custody.
Outbreaks of violence continued into March, Mr. Freiburger wrote, and protests spread to Philadelphia and Boston.
In March, Eric Ferrar wrote on the Lo-Down website, the city helped to defuse the crisis by “securing thousands of pounds of low-cost produce,” which allowed wholesalers to lower prices.
“I was concerned almost entirely about the poor and the problems with which they had to contend,” she said, adding: “More than anything else, perhaps, it is an empty stomach that makes a real radical. This is a fact that should compel vital attention of all parties even today.”
The full story is at The NY Times.