Carolyn Jacobson, who roused organized labor to confront sexism in its ranks and helped place women’s health care on its bargaining agenda, died on March 23 at her home in Washington. She was 67.
The cause was cancer of the uterus, her niece, Clarice Jacobson, said.
During her 40-year career in the union movement, Ms. Jacobson galvanized support for her agenda from several platforms, beginning as communications director for the Bakery, Confectionary and Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers.
She was also a founder of the Berger-Marks Foundation, which trained women union organizers; a founding member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women; and a member of the International Labor Press Association (now the International Labor Communications Association).
“I am one of many women labor leaders that stand on her shoulders and have benefited from her legacy,” Elizabeth H. Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said in an email.
Ms. Jacobson’s commitment ran deep. As a college senior, her research paper was titled “Women and Work.”
“Little did we know at that time,” Robert Malofsky, special counsel to the Amalgamated Transit Union and a former classmate, said in his eulogy, “that she had just launched what would become her lifelong work and passion: to inject and secure recognition of women’s issues within the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the ranks of labor; and to encourage and enroll women into positions of influence in the labor movement.”
Ms. Jacobson familiarized unions with their rights to demand medical benefit coverage for contraceptives, and she organized educational and fund-raising campaigns to reduce the rates of cervical cancer and coronary artery disease.
She also challenged entrenched sexism, which manifested itself with wide-ranging effect, from barriers that kept women from the higher ranks of labor unions to the regular publication of cheesecake “Miss Union Maid” photographs in the International Association of Machinists newspaper until the mid-1970s.
Ms. Jacobson also prodded the A.F.L.-C.I.O. to bolster its belated support for the so far failed Equal Rights Amendment and to lobby successfully for the Family and Medical Leave Act.
“I cannot prove that Carolyn alone produced these changes,” Mr. Malofsky said, “but I know they would not have happened as they did, or when they did, without her.”
Carolyn Judith Jacobson was born on June 2, 1950, in Mineola, N.Y. Her father, David, was a lawyer. Her mother, Eleanor, taught in a religious school. Both were active in Democratic politics on Long Island.
“She was raised, in the context of the ′50s and ′60s, in a progressive household,” Clarice Jacobson said, “which influenced her desire to make a difference once she set out on her own.”
She graduated in 1975 with a bachelor of science degree from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations (now known as the ILR School) at Cornell University and earned a master’s in communications from American University.
Ms. Jacobson joined the bakery workers union after an internship in the publications and public relations departments of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. She was communications director for 28 years.
She had also been secretary-treasurer of the Berger-Marks Foundation since it was formed in 1996 to honor Edna Berger, a pioneering organizer for the Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America, through a bequest from her husband, Gerald Marks, a musician who wrote, among other songs, “All of Me” with Seymour Simons. The foundation closed its doors in 2017.
Also in 1996, the ILR School honored her with the Groat Award, its foremost alumni distinction.
In addition to her niece, she is survived by her brother, Myron.