Helen Quirini Papers, 1898-2010
- Quirini, Helen, 1920-2010
- This collection documents the life, work and activism of Helen Quirini of Schenectady, New York. The collection represents Quirini's numerous activities and interests including her early work owning a local market with her brother, her 39 year employment for General Electric, her activism in unions during her employment and retirement, as well as her charitable activities where she pursued civil, housing, pension, women's and senior citizen's rights.
- 50.89 cubic ft.
- English and English
- Preferred citation:
- Preferred citation for this material is as follows: and Identification of specific item, series, box, folder, Helen Quirini Papers 1898-2010 (APAP-102). M. E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University at Albany, State University of New York (hereafter referred to as the Quirini Papers).
Access and Use
- Conditions Governing Access:
Access to this record group is unrestricted with the exception of a small number of select folders marked below.
The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of copyright. Whenever possible, the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives will provide information about copyright owners and other restrictions, but the legal determination ultimately rests with the researcher. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the Head of Special Collections and Archives.
- Scope and Content:
This collection documents the life, work and activism of Helen Quirini of Schenectady, New York. The collection represents Quirini's numerous activities and interests including her early work owning a local market with her brother, her 39 year employment for General Electric, her activism in unions during her employment and retirement, as well as her charitable activities where she pursued civil, housing, pension, women's and senior citizen's rights.
The M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives received this collection through multiple donations. Helen Quirini donated material over approximately 10 years and her nephew Rudy Quirini donated the final materials following Helen Quirini's death in 2010. Many of the papers lacked original order and therefore archivists needed to impose order throughout the collection. Archivists created the series structure to represent Quirini's personal life, employment, labor union work and activism. She held many executive board positions after her retirement and remained an active volunteer and labor rights activist until her death. There is occasional overlap between topics and series such as senior citizens (Series 6, Subseries 5) and pension rights (found in General Electric Series 5).
Quirini spent nearly her entire life in Schenectady, New York. This collection offers a perspective into industrial work during World War II and the life of a female union activist in the mid-20th Century through photographs, diary entries, labor union literature, grievance reports Quirini filed and labor union convention materials. The collection documents the workings of various local organizations through meeting minutes, budgets, correspondence, publications, by-laws, treasurer's reports and other internal documents. Quirini also worked for local chapters of larger organizations. Quirini was active in her local community and corresponded with State and National legislators about a variety of topics, including day care services, labor unions, local government, Schenectady County development, senior citizens' issues and more.
Quirini maintained extensive subject files with clippings, articles, photographs and reports. Also available are collections of publications and newsletters from relevant organizations, such as UE and IUE publications and the New York State Wide Senior Action Council's newsletter.
The audiovisual portion of this collection includes audio and video cassettes, DVDs, CDs, reel-to-reel tapes, 8mm film and 45 RPM record singles.
Please note that not all dates are inclusive.
Related collections in the Department of Special Collections and Archives include the records of IUE-CWA Local 301 (APAP-023), Ralph Boyd Papers (APAP-165, Helen Quirini's friend and fellow advocate for the rights of GE Retirees), Associated Industries of New York State, Inc. (APAP-043) , and the New York State Wide Senior Action Council (APAP-111). Issues of the newspapers of Local 301 are available in microfilm, paper, and electronic format in the records of IUE-CWA Local 301 (APAP-023) including special Local 301 publications from the 1966 and 1969 strikes.
Quirini deposited various materials at other repositories including the: Schenectady Public Library (material related to Georgetta Dix) and the NYU Tamiment Libraries and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Her nephew Rudolph Quirini also donated materials to the Grems-Doolittle Library at the Schenectady County Historical Society.
Reproductions of items from this collection are available in the exhibit Documenting Labor Inside and Out: Labor History in New York State's Capital District.
- Biographical / Historical:
Helen Quirini (1920-2010) was a lifelong resident of Schenectady, New York. She was known for her dedication to numerous causes, such as organized labor, the YWCA of Schenectady, gender and racial equality, social welfare, and local activism. Although Quirini focused primarily on the Capital Region, she also worked for statewide and national causes. She advocated the repeal of the Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988 and participated in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. During her 39 year employment at General Electric (GE) and her 30 year retirement, Quirini advocated for the better treatment of employees and retirees by the management of GE.
Born March 9, 1920 to Marie Ogonowski and Frank K. Quirini, Helen Quirini was the youngest of four children and attended Mont Pleasant High School. On April 1, 1941, at the age of 21, Quirini began working for GE's Schenectady plant doing piece work in the factory. The United States' entrance into World War II interrupted her initial plan to save money in order to attend college. Quirini decided to work at GE throughout the war as a service to her country. By 1945 she had established a pattern of union leadership and community activism that continued for the rest of her life.
At General Electric she joined the Athletic Board, advocated for equal treatment for female employees and organized drives for the local Red Cross. She joined a union, Local 301, which was first affiliated with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE) and later, beginning in 1954, with the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (IUE). Quirini held many executive leadership positions with Local 301, served on numerous labor committees, was a union shop steward and regularly attended union conferences and conventions. Quirini was a vocal force for employee rights, both in boardroom meetings with GE executives and during strikes, protests and work stoppages. In 1953 Quirini mobilized mass protests to advocate for equal pay for women workers at GE. She walked picket lines in all types of weather in support of union solidarity. While employed at GE and as a member of Local 301, Quirini achieved a number of firsts. In 1953, she became the first woman elected chairperson of the special UE-GE Conference Board Meeting, held that year in Chicago. Quirini also was the first woman and hourly representative elected chairperson of the GE Employees Share Fund in 1975.
Quirini was accused of Communist Party affiliation during the McCarthy era because of her union advocacy. She received a subpoena and testified in a pre-hearing that she was not a proponent of Communism, but sought equal rights for all individuals. She testified that she had attended a Communist meeting, and even mentioned seeing "company men" from General Electric there. The case against her was dropped. Quirini filed a Freedom of Information Act request decades later to review the documents held by the FBI from the McCarthy era. Redacted copies of the completed request are available in Series 2.
After her retirement from General Electric in 1980, Quirini became well known for her attempts to win greater benefits for GE retirees through advocacy, shareholder proposals and her annual speech at the GE shareholders meeting. Always wearing a bright T-shirt with the words "GE Brings Good Things to Retirees, Please" Quirini, along with other retirees and their supporters, frequently picketed at General Electric in Schenectady and at the annual shareholder meetings. She served as president of Local 301 Retirees Council and co-founded the GE Retirees Justice Fund. Her highly visible role at shareholder meetings brought her to the attention of Jack Welch, the chairman and CEO of General Electric from 1981-2001. Local playwright Gail George wrote a one-woman play about Quirini's relationship with Welch entitled Helen and Jack.
During her employment for GE, Quirini volunteered for non-union related causes. She joined the YWCA of Schenectady in 1943 and eventually became its president. Through her United Way work with Local 301, she began working with the Refreshing Springs Child Day Care alongside her friend Reverend Georgetta Dix in 1970, where her varied executive duties lasted until 1987.
Quirini continued her activism during her retirement by volunteering for the rights and benefits of seniors and community causes in Schenectady County. She was a member or director of a wide variety of civic and labor organizations, including: the American Association of Retired Persons Chapter 490, Better Neighborhoods Inc., Citizens for Preservation and Revitalization, Human Services Planning Council's Aging Committee, IUE Local 301 Retirees Council, New York State Wide Senior Action Council, Schenectady Council of Senior Citizens, Schenectady County Committee on Health Care Issues, Schenectady County Council of Child Day Care Centers, and Schenectady County Human Rights Commission.
Quirini also was the recipient of many awards. She received the United Way Joseph A. Beirne Award, the YWCA of Schenectady Jefferson Award and the General Electric Gerald L. Phillippe Award. She also received the Patroon award, the highest honor given by the City of Schenectady. Series 1 contains many more awards and related material.
Selections from Helen Quirini and General Electric: A Personal Memoir of World War II are made available online through the University at Albany Department of History's History and Media Initiatives website and a copy of the full memoir is found in Series 1.
Quirini also appeared in other publications about unions, women and community activists. Her work for GE retirees garnered her and the pension cause coverage in major newspapers and magazines across the country. In the 1990s, the Schenectady General Electric in the 20th Century Project extensively interviewed Quirini and different periods of her life are documented in articles and student research papers, many of which are available in the collection.
- Acquisition information:
All items in this manuscript group were donated to the University Libraries, M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, by Helen Quirini in conjunction with the University at Albany, SUNY Department of History's Schenectady General Electric in the Twentieth Century Project in November 1999. Additional accessions of records were received from Quirini in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. After Quirini's death in 2010 her nephew, Rudolph Quirini, donated additional materials.
- Processing information:
Processed in 2013 by Katie Quinn and Brian Keough.
Social Activists and Public Advocates
Schenectady, New York
Medicine and Health Care
African Americans and Civil Rights Organizations
Women in community organization--United States
Community organization--New York (State) --Schenectady
Pensions--Cost-of-living adjustments--United States
Retirees--New York (State)--Finance, Personal
Labor union locals--New York (State)
Labor union meetings--New York (State)
Labor union members--New York (State)
Labor unions--Recognition--New York (State)
Labor unions and communism--New York (State)
Women labor union members--New York (State)
Strikes and lockouts--New York (State)
Older people--New York (State)
- Quirini, Helen--1920-2010
Welch, Jack, 1935-
United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America
International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine, and Furniture Workers
Coalition of Labor Union Women (U.S.)
Labor Union Democracy--United States
New York State-wide Senior Action Council
Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation
New York (State--Public Service Commission