On Equal Terms / MSU Museum Feb. 5 – May 13

   —by Susan Eisenberg
Stella set off by truck mid-January for Michigan, with her diamond hardhat and bathroom shack, and sporting a new flannel shirt in MSU green under her Carhartt coveralls. I arrived two weeks later, greeted at the airport by John Beck, director of Our Daily Work / Our Daily Lives, co-sponsor of the exhibition at the Michigan State University Museum Main Gallery. A terrific student crew worked on the week-long installation.

The larger space allowed me to expand and add several new elements that heighten focus on institutional issues, including We Remember: tiles, memorabilia and history of tradeswomen whose deaths were work-related. Thanks to the many labor leaders and tradeswomen — Wisconsin, California, Washington, Ohio, Massachusetts, New York, British Columbia — who suggested names and helped with research and the emotional processing of some of the more difficult stories. I’ve added a We Remember page to this blog.

The highlights of course were the events, and the chance to meet and learn from Michigan tradeswomen and other activists from the building trade unions and the UAW. A poetry reading in Lansing was hosted by Ann Francis as a tribute to local tradeswomen (posted on youtube by peaced: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkDOV3DgOdM). At the opening reception, tradeswomen from Boston, Detroit, Lansing and Cleveland gathered in the coffee break area.

On Equal Terms exhibits in East Lansing, MI, until May 13. Both Museum Director Gary Morgan and John Beck are glad for the gallery to be used as backdrop for discussions and events, or to host tours. Contact: beckj@msu.edu.



  1. Traveling from Cleveland, Ohio, I attended the opening in February. The exhibit had many artistic pieces reminiscent of my own experiences and job site settings. I was particularly saddened by the deaths of the tradeswomen featured throughout the exhibit.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the multi-faceted exhibit and meeting other tradeswomen attendees. The informative lunchbox talk on the following day educated the attendees who were unfamiliar with the struggle of tradeswomen.

    A big heartfelt thanks goes to Susan Eisenberg for her vision, her artistic abilities, her honesty and courage. For those of us on “the inside,” we truly respect her endeavors to bring a voice to tradeswomen.


  2. Susan,
    Thanks so much for your work. I’m currently an electrical apprentice, and wow . . . In many ways, this is one of the hardest things I have ever done. There are so few women that I can talk about this with, so I wind up scouring the internet to get inspiration from people like you. So much of your poetry really hits home. I’ve shown it to loved ones in an effort to express this situation to them. I really find it difficult to describe. Thanks again for your work. It helps me stay sane.


    1. Thank you! Gosh, as a writer, I’m incredibly heartened to know that the poems are useful. Writing has definitely been a life-raft for me, and helped me feel connected to a national community. But, as a longtime activist, it’s a real sorrow that the writing stays relevant — that so little has changed over decades despite amazing efforts and perseverance by so many remarkable people.
      I appreciate your ability to find ways to stay centered, and to ask people who are close to you to understand the situation you’re in.


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