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Edna Berger:

A pioneer for women's rights

36 years - our 'unconventional champion'

Charles Perlik, then-president of The Newspaper Guild, salutes Berger on her retirement

When Edna Berger retired after 36 years as an International Representative for the Newspaper Guild, the union presented her with an unconventional resolution of tribute at its 47th Annual Convention. Gerald Marks, the well known writer of popular songs who was Berger's husband sang her a song titled "All of Us," with delegates belting out the choruses. The resolution-song was to the tune of "All of Me," composed by Marks and Seymour Simons. The full text of "All of us" is reproduced in the right column.

Berger was "renowned throughout the union and much of the publishing industry as one of the most irrepressible, effective and unconventional champions of the industry's employees," said the Guild article describing the event. "The convention, to a delegate, along with TNG's officers and other staffers -- in an outpouring of affection that was simultaneously joyful and sad -- thanked her." 

Berger's career, as reported by the Guild Reporter:

Berger became an International Representative July 1, 1944, after 10 months on the then-American Newspaper Guild's staff as an administrative assistant, working both in research and for the Guild Reporter.

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A tale of a secretary's $5 raise

Edna Berger as young secretaryWhen Edna Berger was promoted from receptionist to secretary to the founding editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer's rotogravure magazine, the paper's top management refused the Guild demand that she get a $5 raise, to the $30-a-week minimum for secretaries. It took an arbitration and testimony by her boss, Emile Gauvreau, that she in fact was a secretary, to get it for her. And it cost Gauvraeu. . . his job. He tells about it in his book, "My Last Million Readers," published in 1941:

When the Guild subpoenaed him to testify in the arbitration, "I was informed by the management that it would claim Edna was a receptionist only.

"I felt I would have perverted the facts had I not supported the Guild's contention and from the witness seat I crowned Edna with her full title, which proved to be my last official act as an Inquirer executive," Gauvreau wrote. "No one tagged with the label of a boss was supposed to translate 'justice for the employed,' as our masthead called it, into such literal meaning as to fight for a girl entitled to more than $25 a week. . . .

"Two well-paid lawyers of the management's legal staff . . . unleashed upon me a venomous argument. . . . Nobody could have fought harder to keep a $5- bill in the cash box of a $15- million corporation," he wrote. Gauvreau said that when he said good-by to Edna. after the arbitrator ruled in her favor and he had resigned in the face of indirect pressure, "she wept a little."

In a word, Guild's first woman in the field was outstanding

A tribute by Louise Walsh, Berger-Marks Chairperson, written in August, 1996.

Edna BergerI'm one of many adult children Edna Berger mentored and "adopted" inside and outside The Newspaper Guild. A playmate, colleague and coconspirator. . .

The Baltimore Sun papers, El Mundo and others were notches on her colorful organizing belt. She signed up Ellis Baker and Carl Bernstein too. Dorothy Parker was a mentor to her and Jacquelin Suzann was her friend.

People tell "Edna" stories.

And her death after a long illness on August 10 became its own story. President Bill Clinton wrote to Gerald Marks upon hearing of Edna and her death from White House senior speech writer Carolyn Curiel, formerly a Guild member at The New York Times and The Washington Post. .

Condolences from President Bill ClintonClinton wrote: ". . . Edna made a wonderful contribution to our world during her rich life. . ."
So, the president took time to write, but the New York Times didn't find her obit fit to print, although she lived in Manhattan more than 50 years and made a mark as a "first" in the world of newspaper unions.

She would have loved it. . .

And on her organizing style, John Sloan, a former Guild International Representative, said after her learned of her death: “She understood you had to listen to people and ease off on the pitch.”

I met Edna in 1973 when I left United Press International to work for the Wire Service Guild. She’d been assigned to the Guild’s New York local, one flight up from my office. She showed me too many kindnesses to name, did not laugh when I took fledgling steps as a full-time union rep, and worsened my vocabulary.

Here are some of the best (and most printable!) among tributes given to her last year to mark her 80th birthday.

Former TNG President Chuck Dale wrote: "Edna was funny, irreverent, a talent for saying exactly the right thing on any occasion - caring and talented beyond the needs of the job. A legend. The union misses her.

"They don't make 'em like her anymore," he wrote.

From San Francisco and outside the Guild family, a physician who lived with Edna and Gerald while he went to Columbia medical school sent in a piece called "Political and Social Commentary 101 as delivered to Scott Campbell by Edna Berger Marks." Only a few samples can be printed: "On George Bush: 'spineless, gutless pig'; on FDR: 'Now honey, that was a man.' And finally to me when I most needed it: 'Whatever you do . . . I'm for ya.'

Thank you, Edna, for being the gold standard."

 

"All of me"

The song that made it happen

Listen to Edna Berger's husband Gerald Marks sing "All of Me," the song that won the nation's heart and later contributed so much to the Berger-Marks Foundation.

musical note

 

 

"All of us"

(As performed by Gerald Marks at TNG's Annual Convention in Toronto, June 27, 1980, when Berger announced her retirement.)

You took our kisses
And you took our love,
You showed us how to care;
Are we to be just the remnants
of a one-sided love affair?
All you took, we gladly gave,
There's nothing left for us to save.

(Chorus)
All of us, why not take all of us?
Can't you see, we're no good without you.
Take our lips, we want to lose them;
Take our arms, we'll never use them;
Your good-bye left us with eyes that cry,
How can we go on, dear, without you.
You took the part that once was our heart,
So why not take all of us.

With Perlik and Dale
this union never will fail,
Instead it will sail right up
to the top of the scale.

But, as Berger leaves,
So goes her vocabulary-
Precious words from no dictionary.

(Marks (spoken) : I take her retirement . . .
with my tongue placed firmly in my cheek,
and I say that Monday morning at 9 o'clock-- )

The phone will ring
and William Blatz will sing:
'Edie, dear, there's trouble in Phoenix --
Hop a plane and go
But don't spend much dough,
Or you will be breaking all of us.'