Stay up to date with the latest from MAKERS delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for new stories from trailblazing women, a big dose of inspiration, and exclusive MAKERS content.

Newsletter Confirmation

Thank you for joining! Please check your inbox for our special welcome letter
with exclusive updates from MAKERS.


Splitting Women Workers

Splitting Women Workers

More From Karen

In this video

Nussbaum considers how the advances of women at the top may have taken steam out of the movement to help all workers, whose conditions have only worsened since the 70s.

Karen's Biography

Childhood dream: To become a social worker.
First Job: Babysitter
Favorite advice: “Keep an open mind but don’t let your brains fall out.”
Cause of Choice: Working America

Karen Nussbaum is an activist, labor leader, and founder of 9to5, a pioneering labor organization for female clerical workers. She has also served as Director of the Women’s Bureau of the Labor Department during the Clinton Administration, and as the head of the Working Women’s Department of the AFL-CIO from 1996-2001.
Nussbaum was born in Chicago in 1950, where her mother worked as a publicist and her father as an exterminator. She dropped out of the University of Chicago after a year and a half in order to move to Boston and devote herself to the anti-Vietnam movement. During this time she began supporting herself as a clerical worker at Harvard University, an experience that opened her eyes to the inequities and privations faced by middle and lower income working women throughout the United States.
By 1973, she and several colleagues had formed 9to5, an organization that sought to address these issues and forged a union for female office workers in 1975. In contrast to many labor organization, 9to5 focused on the plight of what Nussbaum calls “mainstream working women,” many of whom were performing the same work as men but for lower pay. Within just a few years the organization had gained national attention and, in 1981, it joined with the SEIU to form a partnership known as District 925.
Nussbaum served as director of District 925 from 1981 to 1993 when she stepped down to join the Clinton Administration. She held the position of director of the Department of Labor Women’s Issues—the highest ranking position devoted to women’s issues in the government—for three years before joining the AFL-CIO. She currently heads Working America, the community affairs affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Related Videos

Brenda Berkman
Brenda Berkman
First NYC Female Firefighter

Brenda Berkman served the City of New York for 25 years before retiring in 2006 as a captain in its storied Fire Department. Her bravery was twofold: Berkman was summa cum laude gr...

Amy Richards
Amy Richards
Co-Founder, Third Wave Foundation

Richards is best known for creating the Third Wave Foundation as well as for her writings on contemporary feminism. Besides her books, Manifesta, Grassroots and Opting In, Richard&...

Jane Pratt
Jane Pratt
Editor-In-Chief, xoJANE.COM

Over the last 25 years, Jane Pratt has given an authentic voice to women through media. She is the founding editor of "Sassy", "Jane", current editor-in-chief o...

Yan Geling
Yan Geling
Novelist and Screenwriter

Yan Geling grew up in Shanghai with very artistic parents, her talent for dance winning her a place in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) dance troupe at the young age of 12,...