Yolanda “Bobby” Hall (1922-2015)

September 14, 2015
By
Chicago Friends of the Lincoln Brigade and Ed Balchowsky
Committee, in 2000. Standing (l-r): Peter Glazer, Utah Phillips, Brian
Peterlinz, Stuart McCarrell; seated: Jeff Balch, Maple Balch,
Bobby Hall, and Chuck Hall.

Chicago Friends of the Lincoln Brigade and Ed Balchowsky
Committee, in 2000. Standing (l-r): Peter Glazer, Utah Phillips, Brian
Peterlinz, Stuart McCarrell; seated: Jeff Balch, Maple Balch,
Bobby Hall, and Chuck Hall.

Progressive organizer Yolanda “Bobby” Hall, a lifelong political activist, social justice advocate and educator who served on ALBA’s Board of Governors, died on June 19 at her home in Oak Park, Illinois. She was 93.

Bobby, together with her husband, Chuck, a veteran of the Abraham  Lincoln Brigade founded the community based group Chicago Friends of the Lincoln Brigade following the 60th anniversary reunion of the International Brigades in Spain in 1996. She was instrumental in creating numerous public events surrounding the Spanish Civil War.

Bobby developed her political consciousness early on. As a teenager growing up in the close-knit Hungarian community on Chicago’s Northwest side, she responded to the calamities of the Great Depression by supporting workers’ rights. As a teenager she went door-to-door collecting food for families during the Chicago taxi drivers strike–the strike later made famous in Clifford Odets’ play, “Waiting for Lefty.”

In 1940, when she was 18 years old, she married Charles “Chuck” Hall, her husband of 64 years until his death in 2005. The two met and fell in love in 1939, soon after Chuck’s return from Spain. Chuck also served in World War II—the newly married couple had his gold band engraved with the inscription, “To Victory and Our Reunion.”

On the home front, Bobby worked at the Bendix aviation plant as a tool grinder. She was the only woman in the all-male domain and at first it was tough going.  As she recalled in a 1999 radio interview, “We were making carburetors for aircraft. Tools were hidden on me and blueprints were changed.” Over time, she earned support and respect of her co-workers. She organized the first union at her shop and was elected president of UAW Local 330 in 1944. After the war, she was often blacklisted from shop jobs. She eventually embarked on a new career in public health.

In the 1960’s Hall, along with research cardiologist Dr. Jeremiah Stamler, after being subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee, initiated a landmark and successful court case challenging its constitutionality on First Amendment grounds. Their efforts contributed decisively to the demise of the infamous congressional committee.

Hall joined the faculty of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Rush University as an assistant professor in 1980 where she taught until 1989.  She became a founding member of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group. HMPRG honored her in 2011 for her lifelong commitment to social justice and the elimination of health inequities by creating the “Bobby Hall Social Justice Internship.” In 1995 she founded the Working Women’s History Project, whose mission was to promote education on the role of women and labor in Chicago’s history. She received their Mother Jones award in 2002.

“The fabric of our family,” says her daughter Toni Henle, “was that people stood up for the underdog, that everybody was the same no matter what color their skin, that working people had many things about them that were not appreciated by the larger society. Those were the family values…it was part of the air you breathed.”

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