A Tale of Two Museums
Ester Rachel Kaminska Theater Museum Collection

The Establishment of the Hebrew Actors Union (HAU), 1889.

US 91 - New York, 1899 - Hebrew Actors Union Photomontage - not descreened.jpg


The Establishment of the Hebrew Actors Union (HAU), 1889.


The Hebrew Actors’ Union (HAU) was the first theatrical union in the United States to protect actors from exploitation by managers, bar none. It was originally founded in New York City in 1888. During a December 1899 strike held by the actors at the People’s Theatre against the managers, Jacob Adler, Boris Thomashefsky, and Joseph Edelstein, the United Hebrew Trades sent Jewish labor leader Joseph Barondess to organize the actors and reorganize the union. After a few weeks, Thomashefsky recognized the union and the strike ended. The Hebrew Actors’ Union Local 1 received its charter from the American Federation of Labor on December 31, 1899, and soon started collecting dues and holding weekly meetings. It was also a member of the United Hebrew Trades, and assisted striking unions belonging to the UHT. Prior to the founding of the HAU, Yiddish theater actors could be fired without notice and received commissions based upon the success of their performances and popularity instead of receiving regular salaries. They were not compensated for their rehearsal time, worked seven days a week, and were often treated quite poorly by theater managers. The HAU established rules for working conditions, fair wages, and payment schedules and was closely affiliated from its beginning with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and with the general and Jewish labor movement.


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“The Establishment of the Hebrew Actors Union (HAU), 1889. ,” YIVO Online Exhibitions, accessed February 29, 2024, https://ataleoftwomuseums.yivo.org/items/show/2918.
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