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Edith Van Horn Papers

Identifier: LP001698

Scope and Content

The papers of Edith Van Horn consist of reports, minutes, speeches, notes, flyers, correspondence, clippings, articles and labor and feminist publications. They primarily cover her years at Dodge Main and her activism in women's issues in the 1970s and '80s. Of special interest are her "Red Squad" files, which consist mostly of police files from the late 1940s and 1950s dealing with her alleged connection to the Communist Party. Also of interest is Ms. Van Horn's correspondence with feminist, Gloria Steinem, which spanned more than 20 years.

Important subjects covered in the collection are: Abortion Auto Industry Worker- Michigan Child Care Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) Communist Party Civil Rights Democratic Party Dennison University Detroit (Michigan)- Crime Detroit (Michigan)- Public Works Employment Discrimination Equal Rights Amendment Feminism Infant Mortality National Organization of Women (NOW) National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC) Pornography Pro-Choice Movement Rape Red Squad Reproductive Rights Sexual Abuse Sexual Harassment Sterilization Trade Unions- Automobile Industry Workers Trade Unions- Elections Trade Unions- Organizing Unemployment Violence Against Women Women and Politics Women Labor Leaders Women’s Rights Working Women

Among the important correspondents are: Bill Dodds Geraldine Ferraro Douglas Fraser Erma Henderson Mildred Jeffrey Odessa Komer Olga Madar Joyce Miller Roy Reuther Walter Reuther Gloria Steinem Steven Yokich
Contents: Part 1, Boxes 1-8, 1939-1987: Correspondence, clippings and other material relating to Edith Van Horn's work at Dodge Main and her interest and activities in women's issues, such as rape, abortion and pay equity.

Part 2, Boxes 9-15, 1945-1997: Correspondence, clippings and other material relating to Edith Van Horn's work at Dodge Main and her interest and activities in women's issues, such as rape, abortion and pay equity.


  • 1939 - 1997
  • Majority of material found within 1952 - 1990


Language of Materials

Material entirely in English.


Collection is open for research.


Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials. Restrictions: Researchers may encounter records of a sensitive nature – personnel files, case records and those involving investigations, legal and other private matters. Privacy laws and restrictions imposed by the Library prohibit the use of names and other personal information which might identify an individual, except with written permission from the Director and/or the donor.


Harriet Edith "Edie" Van Horn was born in Rangoon, Burma on February 7, 1919. She was the daughter of Baptist educational missionaries, Clarence Eugene and Alice (Owells) Van Horn. In 1926 her family returned from Burma and settled in Nashville, Tennessee. Ms. Van Horn attended Denison University in Granville, Ohio to study art and philosophy. There she served as vice president of the Alpha Omega Pi sorority. She graduated from Denison in 1941 with a bachelor of arts degree. Subsequently, she set her sights on graduate school and accepted a position as graduate assistant at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio.

Before she could finish her graduate studies, the United States entered World War II. Therefore, in 1942 Ms. Van Horn took a job on the assembly line at Goodyear Aircraft Corporation in Akron, Ohio. She served as a committeeperson in the United Auto Workers Local 856. When she was laid off from Goodyear in 1944, she traveled to Santa Monica, California and accepted a job at Douglas Aircraft Corporation, where she served as chief steward to Local 17.

In 1945 she moved back to the Midwest and began working as a wire harness assembler in the wire room at Chrysler's Dodge Main plant in Hamtramck, Michigan. In 1946 she was elected chief steward of Local 3 and became entrenched in union activities and issues concerning working women. As chief steward, she was the first woman to serve on the UAW Local 3 Executive Board. She was elected a delegate to the UAW constitutional convention several times as well. In 1952 and 1954 Ms. Van Horn was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in Detroit and in 1957 she was subpoenaed to appear before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee in Washington, D.C. In 1958, while she was laid off, she co-chaired the Production and Skilled Workers Unemployment Committee of Local 3. She served as chief steward at Dodge Main until 1963, when she was appointed International Representative in the UAW's Citizenship Department (now called the Community Action Program or CAP).

In the 1970s, while still working for the UAW, Ms. Van Horn's interests turned more towards issues regarding women and minorities. Early in the decade she helped to found the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC) and was also a charter member of the National Organization for Women (NOW). She was a member of the NAACP and also one of the union women who took part in the founding conference of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) in 1973. She served as national coordinator of CLUW and shared the position of Midwest chairperson with Addie Wyatt of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America. In 1975 the Detroit chapter of NOW named her "Feminist of the Year."

In 1981 Ms. Van Horn became interested in violence against women, specifically as it relates to the criminal side effects of pornography. She retired from the UAW in April of 1984, but was called back the same year to work on the Mondale-Ferraro presidential campaign. During this election year, she was appointed chairwoman of the subcommittee on rape of the City of Detroit's Task Force on Crime. As a resident of Detroit, she was involved with the City Planning Commission on issues like flooding and abandoned houses as well.

In 1986 she was honored by her alma mater, Denison University, as the first recipient of the "Women's Week Alumna Award," where her good friend Gloria Steinem spoke at the ceremony. In her later years Ms. Van Horn moved to Empire, Michigan and took pleasure in working with the Empire Beautification Group. She died on January 27, 1998 at the age of 78.


7.5 Linear Feet (15 MB)


Labor and women’s rights activist Edith Van Horn began her career in the labor movement during World War II, when she left graduate school to join the war effort as an assembly line laborer for Goodyear Aircraft, where she joined United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 856. Ms. Horn later held posts as chief steward of Douglas Aircraft UAW Local 17, chief steward of Chrysler’s Dodge Main Local 3, where she was the first woman to serve on Local 3’s executive board, as a delegate to the UAW Constitutional Convention, and as the International Representative to the UAW’s Community Action Program. Ms. Horn was a founding member of the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC), the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), and was active in various Detroit area committees addressing violence against women and urban housing issues.

Ms. Horn’s papers largely document her work at Dodge Main and her extensive involvement in women’s issues. Of particular interest is the investigation into Ms. Horn’s alleged affiliation with the Communist Party, and her correspondence with Gloria Steinem.

Arrangement of the Records

Arranged in 2 parts - Part 1 (Boxes 1-8), and Part 2 (Boxes 9-15). Folders are arranged alphabetically.


The papers of Edith Van Horn were deposited in the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs in October of 1997 by Ms. Van Horn. Additional papers were placed in the Archives after her death in 1998.

Related Material

Coalition of Labor Union Women Records, Mildred Jeffrey Papers, and the UAW Local 3 Records.


One storage box of photographic prints and negatives related to Edith Van Horn's private and public life, campaign stickers of various women candidates and a couple of medals have been placed in the Archives Audiovisual Collection.

Processing History

Finding aid written by Walter P. Reuther Library in May 1998. Finding aid updated in July 2000.
Guide to the Edith Van Horn Papers
Processed by Walter P. Reuther Library.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

5401 Cass Avenue
Detroit MI 48202 USA