In Memoriam ~Florence Rosenfeld Howe

Credit: A Life in Motion, Feminist Press

Credit: A Life in Motion, Feminist Press

Florence Rosenfeld Howe  (March 17, 1929—September 12, 2020) 

Central to Florence Howe’s long life was the importance of honoring those who came before her and teaching those who follow. In her numerous presentations, nationally and internationally, she evoked the theme of amnesia—“the loss of historical memory and the assumption that the past doesn’t matter.” A cultural worker, a founder of Women’s Studies and the Feminist Press, Florence resisted class amnesia. Born into the working class, she understood how individual intellectual and political actions were not solo efforts. She produced numerous essays, edited nine books and authored four, including a memoir, Life in Motion (Feminist Press 2011). In that last book Florence connected the private circumstances of her working-class childhood to the public pedagogical, institutional, and international edifices she built. “Like many other women of my class, and of varying cultural and racial backgrounds,” she wrote in 1994,  “I have begun to know, I have begun to understand the potential strengths of that underclass position” (Liberating Memory, 336-337). Florence put that strength to good use. She was pivotal to the reclamation of working-class writers, rescuing, with Tillie Olsen, a lineage of working-class cultural expression. Consider Agnes Smedley’s Daughter of Earth and the screenplay Salt of the Earth, published by the Feminist Press, as testaments to Florence’s foresight about the woven texture of class and gender. In Salt of the Earth the quiet protagonist Esperanza answers her husband as she claims her public voice:  I don’t want anything lower than I am.  I’m low enough already.  I want to rise. And push everything up with me as I go . . . because you can’t win this strike without me.  You can’t win anything without me!   Those words also sum up Florence Howe’s collective vision. She confronted invisibility and shame and found solace in productive work.  She will be missed.  ~ Janet Zandy