United Women Firefighters Records
Language of Materials
The United Women Firefighters (UWF) was founded in 1982 as a support organization for women firefighters in the New York City Fire Department. The UWF was founded to deal with the occupational and sexual discrimination women firefighters faced. The collection, dating from 1957 to 2022, covers founder Brenda Berkman's career, legal cases (Brenda Berkman et al. v. City of New York et al.; Brenda Berkman et al. v. City of New York et al., Appeal; and Brenda Berkman v. City of New York, Carlos Rivera, and Selig Ginsberg), and the founding and development of the United Women Firefighters of New York City and the related national support group, Women in Fire Service (WFS, alternately known as Women in Fire Suppression). The collection contains scrapbook material, personal correspondence, legal documents, organizational files, subject files, clippings, photographs, videos, and memorabilia. Also featured are audio visual and born-digital materials of presentations, news segments, interviews, photographs, and speeches by Brenda Berkman on behalf of the United Women Firefighters.
The United Women Firefighters (UWF) was founded in 1982 by the first group of New York City women firefighters to address occupational and sexual discrimination in the New York City Fire Department (NYCFD, also known as the FDNY by the department). Modeled on groups like the Vulcan Society (representing African-American firefighters), the UWF assists women firefighters who have encountered a wide range of problems on the job, from ill-fitting equipment to unjust probation and sexual assault. They have lobbied for training for all officers and firefighters on issues related to women on the job. Representatives of the organization have developed ties with other women firefighters' organizations, including the national coalition, Women in Fire Service. The United Women Firefighters publishes a monthly newsletter, the Voice Alarm.
The FDNY began accepting applications from women for the position of firefighter in 1977, but did not hire any women until after Brenda Berkman successfully sued the City of New York on behalf of herself and other women who had passed the written examination. Berkman, a law student at New York University at the time of her application, sued the City under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, questioning the validity of the physical exam. In 1982, Judge Charles Sifton ruled that the City had indeed discriminated against women through its physical exam, known as the 3040 exam, which included tests that were biased against women and unrelated to a firefighter's future performance on the job. The suit and Sifton's ruling sparked controversy in the Fire Department and the media. Litigation related to this original ruling continued until 1988. Berkman, who was a founding member and president of the United Women Firefighters, filed an additional lawsuit against the FDNY in 1992 challenging incidents of sexual harassment directed at women in the department.
The records are arranged in four series, two of which have been further divided into subseries. Series II: Legal Files is divided into subseries by legal case. Legal files in each subseries are arranged chronologically, and subject files are arranged alphabetically by subject. Series III: Organizational Files is divided into two subseries by organization. Files within remaining series files are arranged alphabetically by subject or record type. The series and subseries arrangement of the records is as follows:
Series I: Brenda Berkman Papers, 1977-2005
Series II: Legal Files, 1979-1993 Subseries A: Brenda Berkman et al. v. City of New York et al. (Case No. 79, C 1813)--Class Action Suit Legal Documents, 1979-1986; Subseries B: Brenda Berkman et al. v. City of New York et al. (Case No. 79, C 1813)--Class Action Suit Subject Files, 1979-1990; Subseries C: Brenda Berkman et al. v. City of New York et al. (Case no. 82-7654)--Appeal, 1982; Subseries D: Brenda Berkman v. New York City Fire Department, Carlos Rivera, and Selig Ginsberg, (Case no. E-92-0575), 1987-1993
Series III: Organizational Files, 1977-2002 Subseries A: United Women Firefighters, 1977-2002; Subseries B: Women in Fire Suppression and Women in the Fire Service, 1983-1999
Series IV: Photographs and Memorabilia, circa 1980-1999
Scope and Contents
The United Women Firefighters Records (dates 1957-2022, bulk 1979-1993) document the career of firefighter Brenda Berkman and the founding and operation of the United Women Firefighters. The collection consists of scrapbooks, personal correspondence, legal documents, organizational files, subject files, clippings, memorabilia, photographs, and videos. A large portion of the collection documents the life and career of founder Brenda Berkman, the successful legal actions Berkman brought against the City of New York and the New York City Fire Department (Berkman v. the City of New York; Berkman v. NYCFD) between 1977 and 1993, and the unsuccessful appeal by the City of New York to Judge Charles Sifton's 1982 ruling that the City had discriminated against women through its physical exam. Materials related more directly to Berkman's career include scrapbooks of her personal achievements; clippings, videos, and ephemera documenting her advocacy for women in male-dominated professions; recruitment correspondence; and condolences sent to Berkman following the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks. Also featured are audio visual and born-digital materials of presentations, news segments, interviews, photographs, and speeches by Brenda Berkman on behalf of the United Women Firefighters. The collection also documents the founding and operation of the United Women Firefighters, and the related national support group, Women in Fire Service. These organizational files largely consist of newspapers clippings, correspondence, and FDNY recruitment and sexual-harassment training documents.
Conditions Governing Access
Materials are open without restrictions.
Conditions Governing Use
This collection is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use materials in the collection in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).
Identification of item, date; United Women Firefighters Records; WAG 057; box number; folder number; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The original donation of material to the Wagner Labor Archives was made by Brenda Berkman and the United Women Firefighters in 1987. The accession numbers associated with this gift are 1987.005 and 1987.007. Berkman donated an additional four boxes in 2002. She made subsequent donations in 2005 and 2011. The accession numbers associated with these gifts are NPA.2005.179, 2011.111, and 2012.064. One box of photographs and memorabilia found in repository in 2013 was added to the collection in 2017. The accession number associated with these materials is 2017.021. Brenda Berkman sent an additional box of materials related to her continued advocacy for women firefighters in 2016. The accession number associated with this gift is 2017.037. Brenda Berkman donated eight posters from events celebrating women firefighters in December 2017. The accession number associated with this gift is 2018.003. Brenda Berkman made a subsequent donation in April 2018. The accession number associated with this gift is 2018.137. Joanne Jacobs donated an accretion of three folders of documents and photographs in January 2019; the accession number associated with this gift is 2019.061. Brenda Berkman donated an accretion of two folders in March 2023; the accession number associated with this gift is 2023.053.
Audiovisual Access Policies and Procedures
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Born-Digital Access Policies and Procedures
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About this Guide
Photographs and memorabilia were separated from this collection during processing and were established as a separate collection, the United Women Firefighters Photographs (NP 140). In 2013, the photograph and memorabilia collection was reincorporated into the United Women Firefighters Records (WAG 057). In 2016, papers and video recordings in Series V: Unprocessed Materials were incorporated into Series I: Brenda Berkman Papers and Series III: Organizational Files, Subseries A: United Women Firefighters.
In 2016, Brenda Berkman donated a box of materials related to her artwork and continued advocacy for women firefighters. These materials were incorporated into Series I: Brenda Berkman Papers in 2017.
In 2017 one box of photographs, memorabilia, and a report on the First National Conference of Fire Service Women was found in repository and integrated into this collection. Photographs were added to Series IV: Photographs and Memorabilia, and the report was added to Series III: Organizational Files, Subseries IIIB: Women in Fire Suppression/Fire Service with other materials in "Conferences -- First National, Boulder, CO." In 2018 an accretion of 8 posters was incorporated into Series IV: Photographs and Memorabilia.
In 2018, at the time of accessioning, materials were placed in new acid-free folders and boxes. The donation of photographs were added to Series IV and a file was added to Series II, Subseries A. The audio visual and born-digital materials were added to Series III. The two audio-visual VHS tapes were transferred to Box 12 and were not numbered with cuids. Electronic records on CD-R and DVD-R formats have been identified, labeled, and inventoried into Media Log, and they have been physically removed from their original box, but have not yet been imaged or analyzed. These digital materials have been transferred to Box 18. New York University Libraries follow professional standards and best practices when imaging, ingesting, and processing born-digital material in order to maintain the integrity and authenticity of the content.
In 2023, an accretion of two folders was rehoused in archival folders and intellectually integrated into Series II and IV of the collection.