In Memoriam: Edith Gerber Shanker
We are very sorry to report that Edith Gerber Shanker, or Eadie to her friends, passed away on September 19, 2020. She was a great lady whose voice, intellect and energy will be sorely missed.
Born in 1933 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Eadie was just a year and a half old when her mother died. Her father died when she was seven, and she and her siblings were placed in orphanages and then a foster home together. When she was old enough, she worked herself through New York’s City College, while supporting herself as a waitress. After beginning a Masters degree in English literature, she decided to become a teacher.
She began teaching English at Junior High School 126 in Queens, NY, when, in September 1959, she went to a meeting to hear Albert Shanker speak. Al (who would eventually become the president of both the United Federation of Teachers and its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers), recruited her to join the New York Teachers Guild, a precursor of the UFT. She became a union activist and served as a delegate at the UFT’s founding. She was also named as a picket captain in the UFT’s first strike in November 1960. Although the union only represented a small proportion of teachers, the strike caused enough of a disruption that the UFT eventually became the first teachers union in the nation to gain collective bargaining.
Eadie Gerber and Albert Shanker were married the following year, in March 1961. In addition to raising her children, Adam, Jennie, and Michael, during the early days of the UFT's existence, Eadie helped Al as he developed organizing strategies and worked out of her home until money was available to hire union staff. When her children were a little older and all in school, Eadie went back to work. In 1978, she helped establish a “Basic Literacy” and GED program for adult union members who worked in New York City agencies. She also worked to create the City University of New York's Collaborative Programs for High School Dropout Prevention, and directed CUNY's High School-College Student Mentoring Program.
And in 2012, the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) honored Eadie Shanker with the 2012 Sandy Feldman Outstanding Leadership Award, which recognizes the contributions that women have made to the education union movement.
Those of us in the Institute that bears Albert Shanker’s name had the privilege of working closely with Eadie for many years, and we came to know her in her own right as a dedicated teacher, committed unionist and a tireless advocate for social justice. Even in her last months, she was organizing her retirement community in the fight for the very survival of American democracy that now confronts us. We will miss her, and her counsel, but will carry her spirit with us in the struggles ahead.
Eadie Shanker is survived by her children, Adam Shanker, Jennie Shanker, and Michael Shanker, her stepson Carl, her grandchildren, and many friends, relatives, and admirers. Information on services are yet to be announced.
(A 2012 Eadie Shanker tribute video is available here: https://youtu.be/84zhBpfc0aw.)