“God blessed thousands of Guild members by giving us Edna Berger. He blessed the publishers by making only one Edna Berger.” So wrote Harry S. Culver, former chair of The Newspaper Guild, on the occasion of Edna Berger’s 80th birthday in 1995. For unionists whose lives Edna touched, she embodied their vision of a vibrant, robust and expansive labor movement. Tall and brash, Edna charmed those who knew her with a ferocious love for working people paired with a knack for creative obscenity. Stories from friends and colleagues tell of a woman who was generous to a fault, giving of her money, time, and, even once, the winter coat off her back to the workers and younger activists she mentored.
She was unafraid of the newspaper publishers, intolerant of nonsense at the bargaining table, and quick to speak up on behalf of the workers. “I remember one occasion,” wrote Culver, “when she talked a cop out of hauling a Guild picket off to jail. She simply cussed out the cop, as only Edna could, and told him he ought to be ashamed.”
Her husband, Gerald Marks, was an equally vivid personality, squiring Edna around New York with a mixture of theatricality, panache, and devotion. “This whole foundation is a love story,” said Foundation Chair Louise Walsh, explaining that it was partly the mutual love that Gerald and the Newspaper Guild women activists had for Edna that inspired the Foundation’s creation.
It is “the unconditional love [Edna and Gerald] gave their friends of all ages” that continues to inspire the Foundation to give the Edna Award and Awards of Distinction. This investment in young women activists, many of them labor activists, represents one way in which the Foundation is carrying Edna’s legacy forward.