Labor Rights

Helen Chavez, a Founding Rock of the UFW, Remembered

The Feminist Majority Foundation celebrates the remarkable life of activist Helen Chavez, widow of the legendary co-founder of the United Farm Workers (UFW) Cesar Chavez.

“She was the rock and the unwavering foundation of UFW,” explained Dolores Huerta, UFW co-founder and FMF national board member.

Helen played a key role in the creation of the UFW movement and fought tirelessly for migrant workers’ and immigrant rights. Helen died at the age of 88 on Monday at Bakersfield Hospital, surrounded by most of her seven surviving children, 31 grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren.

Born in Brawley, California in 1928 to Mexican-American immigrant parents. Helen dropped out of high school during her sophomore year to help support her family, who had struggled since her father passed away when she was 12. She met Cesar Chavez in high school, and the two were married in 1948.

Although she didn’t like the spotlight and rarely spoke publicly, Helen believed deeply in migrant and workers’ rights, and was an essential part of the UFW movement. During the Delano Grape Strike, Helen protested with workers starting at dawn and then spent her days running the Farm Workers Credit Union, where she worked for over 25 years.

Beneath her quiet demeanor, Helen held strong beliefs and was deeply determined. In September 1965, for instance, Helen quickly and quietly settled the question of whether or not the young UFW should join a grape workers’ strike begun by a largely Filipino union with the simple question, “Are we a union or not?”

In her later life, Helen loved spending time with her large family and the many friends she made during her time working for the UFW. But although Helen was rarely seen as a public face of the movement she helped to create, she was an essential part of it. In a statement on her death, the UFW aptly stated that Helen’s “consistent humility, selflessness, quiet heroism and fiery perseverance were at the heart of the movement she helped build.”

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