Helfgott, Anna (1899-1996)

  • By Marge Leuders
  • Posted 11/17/2002
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 4020
Anna Helfgott was a vigorous activist for progressive causes and a leader in Seattle's Gray Panthers. In her working years she was a dressmaker and fitter, and was an early member of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). This obituary was written by Marge Leuders and is reprinted from the Gray Panthers of Seattle Newsletter.

Anna Helfgott: One of a Kind

October 3, 1899 -- January 21, 1996

How can Anna be described? She was one of a kind that you just don't see around much, these days. Loved, respected, and surrounded by her caring family, Anna died January 21 [1996], most likely impatient to the end, that she just couldn't get everything done that she wanted to do.

Anna was an ardent supporter, spokesperson, and volunteer for the Gray Panthers of Seattle. Since our founding in 1976, she gave her considerable skills in organizing, especially in the office, where she worked until the early 1990s, when her physical capacities weakened, much to her annoyance, and she had to take it easy.

Here are some remarks from a 90th birthday party presented by Gray Panthers of Seattle to her and fellow Gray Panther member Bodil Campbell:

Anna's marriage and childrearing days were spent in Baltimore. Her early work experience was as office-worker, fitter, and dress-maker in a department store. She moved to Bellingham in 1964 to be near her adult children, and took part there in the Bridge Program at Western Washington University. As a volunteer in the food stamp program, she was cited by the Governor at a special ceremony. [Ed. Note: Anna moved to Boston in 1964 to become a VISTA volunteer. For two years she lived in Boston's South End Settlement House and worked in that community. She moved to Bellingham in 1970.]

Though her first loyalty was always to Gray Panthers "because it was the first one to actively promote intergenerational concerns," Anna was also active in the Elder Citizens Coalition, Citizens for Improvement of Nursing Homes, and the Puget Sound Council of Senior Citizens, and supported the work of the Older Women's League and the International League for Peace and Freedom.

Between 1976 and perhaps 1992, Anna regularly worked eight hours a week in the Gray Panthers' office, keeping membership and financial records current, handling and referring incoming mail, and most importantly, as a wise and listening ear for phone calls. She also served on the local Gray Panthers Board, and as President.

In her working years Anna was a member of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) and a strong supporter of social and economic justice issues, as well as the Labor movement whose beginnings she had witnessed.

Anna used her sewing skills throughout life, making and altering her own garments. She had a skillful and pointed way with words, writing her ideas and opinions, often in clever verse. You would find her anywhere there was a march or demonstration against injustice, or signatures to be gathered on a petition, or where signs and banners needed to be held aloft. She spoke out in a strong voice against what she saw as wrong-doing at any level of bureaucracy.

Often the telephone voice for Gray Panthers of Seattle, Anna always gave generously of her time, warm heart, an experience to ill, anxious, confused callers. Gray Panthers of Seattle was very fortunate to have Anna's support and loyalty. We miss her.

Unity (by Anna Helfgott)

Without the farmer
We'd have no wheat.
Without the cowboy
We'd have no meat.

Without the builder
We'd have no house.
Without a mate
We'd have no spouse.

Without the tailor
We'd have no clothes.
Without the actor
We'd have no shows.

Without each other
We'd have no unity.
Let's work together
For a better community.

Sources: This is a reprint of Marge Leuders, "Anna Helfgott," Gray Panthers of Seattle Newsletter, March/April 1996, p. 3. Additional information and the poem provided by Esther Helfgott, November 17, 2002.

Related Topics:   Biographies | Jews in Washington | Organizations | Women's History

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