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March 2021

Grounded in History
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The IBEW's Historic Firsts

The IBEW is an organization blessed with a rich history. From our humble beginnings at the dawn of the electrical age, we have persevered through economic depressions, employer intimidation, world wars, and, yes, pandemics. Through it all, our members continually rose to the challenge, fighting not only to secure our rights as workers but our rights to a dignified life as well. This year the IBEW will celebrate its 130th anniversary, and we would do well to reflect upon the great legacy our forebears left us. A genuine understanding of the past allows for a better appreciation of the present, and it is for that reason that we introduce this new monthly feature.

Drawing from our extensive historical archives to find the stories, people and artifacts that helped shape our legacy, we hope you'll find something unexpected here each month and that you'll be inspired by the accomplishments and activism of your IBEW sisters and brothers who came before you.

In celebration of this first article, we thought it fitting to highlight other "firsts" in the IBEW's history. Before our founders could ever dream of championing workers' rights, they first had to find and convince disparate tradesmen to join up. This effort was often obstructed by barriers such as hostile work environments, intimidation from corporate bosses and even violent struggle. But the barriers of race and gender were in many ways the least acknowledged and still the hardest to overcome. Below you will find a small sample of IBEW pioneers who broke through those barriers and made our organization better for it.

Mary Hoznik: In 1893 Hoznik joined Local 1 as stenographer for Grand Secretary-Treasurer John T. Kelly. In 1896, she became the National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers' first woman organizer.

Local 80, Cleveland, Ohio: Chartered in 1897 as the first local made up entirely of female electrical workers, its president was Mae Patterson of The Walker Manufacturing Co.

Local 100, Jacksonville, Fla.: Chartered in 1900 as the first local exclusively for African-American workers. Its president was J.H. Mays of the Southern Bell Telephone Co. Fierce debate over its legitimacy led to a national referendum in 1901 to address "the color line." Although the vote failed, it didn't stop Boston Local 103 and New York Local 119 to begin issuing cards to African-American workers in large numbers.

Julia O'Connor: In 1919 O'Connor was elected president of telephone operators Local 1A in Boston. She then led a successful 5-day strike against New England Telephone, securing workers' rights to collective bargaining. In an acknowledgment of her efforts, the IBEW created a Telephone Operators Department at the International Office and installed O'Connor as its director, the first woman to hold this title.

Rufus Taylor: In 1919 Taylor joined Chicago Local 134 and became the city's first African-American electrical worker.

Charles Stewart: A member of Local 134, Stewart was hired by Berry Electric Co. in 1942 to become the first African-American foreman.

Lawrence Tafoya: A member of Los Angeles Local 1710, Tafoya was appointed an International Representative in 1967, the first Mexican-American to hold that title.

Marlene Motel: In 1969 Motel joined Cicero, Ill., Local 1859 and began her apprenticeship at Western Electric's Hawthorne Manufacturing Plant. She graduated in 1972 as one of the nation's first journeywoman electricians.

Roy Stafford: A member of Chicago Local 1806, Stafford became the first African-American on the international staff when he joined the newly created Department of Organizing Operations in 1972.

Cathy Spielfogel: In 1972 Spielfogel graduated from the climbing school of Newark, N.J., Local 826 and became the IBEW's first linewoman.

Renata Loveless: A member of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Local 204, Loveless became the first female foreman in 1985 when she oversaw 10 laborers at the Duane County Energy Center.

Asenath McLeod: A member of Durham, N.C., Local 553, McLeod became the IBEW's first woman business manager in 1991.

Royetta Sanford: A member of Los Angeles Local 18, Sanford became the first African-American director at the International Office when she was hired as the Director of the Human Services Department in 1992.

Keith Edwards: A member of Local 48 in Portland, Ore., he became the first African-American to be elected business manager of a construction local in 2001 and currently serves as president of the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus.

Have you visited the Henry Miller Museum in St. Louis, located in the renovated boarding house where the National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers was born? Plan a visit and help support the Electrical Workers Historical Society at Have an idea for "Grounded in History?" Send it to


IBEW Founding Fathers