By Monica Nieves, undergraduate student, Central Connecticut State University
Helen Chisaski was born Helen Zglinski on May 31, 1885 in Poland to Constantine Zglinski and Joseph Zglinski. She had five siblings, Frances Studzinski, Winifred Grynski, Jennie Stafford, William Zglinski, and Walter Zglinski. Chisaski married Phelix (Felix/Felix R.) Chisaski at twenty-six years old around 1911 and had three children, Edwin, Alexandra (Zandra Marian), and Raymond.
Prior to 1919, Chisaski worked as a munitions worker in Bridgeport, Connecticut and was involved with the machinists union. Chisaski had not had any educational training in a school setting, but was able to read and write according to the 1930 Census. The machinists union, presently known as the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), was founded in 1888 due to the need for a union to represent machinists in their particular craft. Originally founded to represent skilled and white male workers, the union changed their constitution to include unskilled workers as well as females, which allowed Chisaski a chance to become a member of the machinists union while working in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Around a similar time frame, (within the same decade), the National Woman’s Party had opened its headquarters in Washington, D.C. Many women workers from all over the country supported the National Woman’s Party (NWP) because of its ongoing support and dedication to the suffrage movement and its call for a federal suffrage amendment. On January 13, 1919, the NWP held one of many demonstrations in Lafayette Square which eventually moved across the street to the White House. The suffragists, including Helen Chisaski, were protesting the president's lack of action to secure needed Senate votes for the suffrage amendment.
The protest became a clash between suffragists and soldiers/sailors. Women suffragists burned copies of speeches given by President Wilson and held aloft a banner claiming Wilson to be a “false prophet of democracy.” The burning of Wilson’s speeches in a metal cauldron lead to naming these protests the “Watchfire” demonstrations.
During the demonstration many women were arrested and placed in jail including Helen Chisaski, who spent five days in jail. Many of the women were arrested because of the violation of park rules. Eventually, Chisaski was released and returned to Connecticut.
By 1930, Chisaski was living at 343 Humphrey Street in New Haven, Connecticut with her husband and three children. Chisaski’s husband died November 21, 1955 and Chisaski passed away in Los Angeles, California on March 18, 1964.
California Department of Public Health. 1964. "California Death Index, 1940-1997." California Death Index, Los Angeles.
Cronan, Carey. 1957. "Morano Pays Tribute to Women of State." The Bridgeport Post, July 29: 4.
Georgia State University Library: Special Collections and Archives. 2016. "Southern Labor Archives: Archives of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospacee Workers: History of the IAM." Georgia State University Library: Research Guides. April 27. Accessed April 30, 2017. http://www.research.library.gsu.edu/IAMAWCollections.
Mrs. Joseph Zglinski. Obituary, Hartford: The Hartford Courant, 1930
Stevens, Doris. 2014. Jailed for Freedom. CreateSpace Publishing.; originally published, 1920.
The Hartford Courant. January 13, 1919. "Soldiers and Sailors Clash With Suffragists In Washington Riot: Members of National Woman's Party Knocked Down by Charging Crowd During Lafayette Park Demonstration: "Suff" Banner Calls President "False Prophet of Democracy."." 2:1.
United States. "1930 United States Federal Census."
"New Haven, Connecticut, City Directory, 1928." U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, New Haven.
Irwin, Inez Haynes. The Story of Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party. New York: Dellinger's Publishers, Ltd., 1977, 405-06.