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Lora Jo Foo papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00561

Scope and Contents

The Lora Jo Foo Papers document her work as a lawyer, activist, and labor organizer, advocating for the rights of immigrant workers in the U.S., primarily via the Asian Law Caucus, National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, and Sweatshop Watch. Included are legal and legislative documents from garment worker and sweatshop labor lawsuits and legislative initiatives in which Foo was involved: the Korean immigrant electronic workers (In re: USM Technology, for unpaid wages); Cuadra v. California Labor Commissioner (overturning State policy of awarding partial rather than full wages to workers who utilize its hearing process); Bay Area Garment Industry (charges of conspiracy between clothing manufacturers, designers and retailers, and passage of California Assembly Bill 633); and Chan v. Ocean Garment (re: liability for unpaid wages). Other cases include: Florentino V. Ramirez et al. v. American Mutual Protective Bureau (Filipino private security guards allegedly being transferred away from their jobs due to their accents); 1980 San Francisco Hotel Strike (stalled contract negotiations between hotel workers and the Hotel Employers Association); St. Francis Maids Arbitration (dispute between St. Francis Hotel and Local 2 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees and Bartenders Union re: maids being allowed to take their breaks). Foo also lead political campaigns related to anti-fracking initiatives and the California state Legislature. Types of materials include correspondence and emails, writings, audiovisual materials, reports, grant proposals, speeches, interviews, legislative documents, legal files, notes, research files, conference materials, and memorabilia. There are also printed materials generated by Sweatshop Watch; conference materials from the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China; the National Lawyers Guild; videotaped interviews; and a large number of digital files from Foo's anti-fracking campaign work.

Dates of Materials

  • 1973 - 2009


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use with the following restrictions on access, at the direction of the donor: Diaries and journals besides the two listed below are closed until January 1, 2026. Binder on 1970's organizing - Koret of California – Garment Workarea Sumup – 1977; Lee Mah Workers Struggle, 1975; Jung Sai Garment Workers is closed until 2042. Journals on Koret of California/ILGWU 1976-1978 and Shop Steward Duties are cloesd until 2042.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that she owns copyright, Lora Jo Foo has retained copyright until her death. After Foo's death, copyright in these works will transfer to Smith College. Copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For those few instances beyond fair use, or which may regard materials in the collection not created by Lora Jo Foo, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Lora Jo Foo is a labor organizer and attorney specializing in employment/labor law. She is a native of San Francisco, born and raised in the Chinatown community, where she began working as a garment worker in a sweatshop at the age of 11. She went back into a garment factory to work after college, this time as a union organizer. She then became a hotel worker and was a leader in the 1980 citywide strike of 6000 San Francisco hotel workers. After graduating from law school, she worked for a private labor law firm representing unions.

From 1992 to 2000, she was the employment/labor attorney for the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, California where she represented Asian American immigrant workers in sweatshop industries - garment, restaurant, construction, domestic and other low-wage industries, in their struggles for decent wages and working conditions. Ms. Foo's numerous litigation successes as an attorney for the Caucus include the 1993 case of Anna Chan et al v. Moviestar, in which she obtained the first judgment from a California court holding a garment manufacturer responsible for the wages of its subcontractor's employees. In 1998 she won the Cuadra et al v. Labor Commissioner case before the state Supreme Court, a case which ensured that workers throughout California who utilize the administrative process to recover unpaid wages would recover 100% instead of a diminished portion due to an arbitrary method of calculations by the agency. In 1999 she led a statewide coalition of garment worker advocates in passing the California Garment Accountability Bill, which holds retailers and apparel firms strictly liable for the minimum wage and overtime violations of their contractors.

Ms. Foo stopped litigating in 2000, returned to school, and obtained a Masters in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2002. In 2004, she returned to her roots as a labor organizer and was the National Coordinator of the AFL-CIO's Voting Rights Protection Program, where she launched programs to protect the vote in 11 battleground states. In 2006 she joined the California Faculty Association as its Northern California Organizing Director. In 2014, Foo helped lead the campaign, Measure J to ban fracking in San Benito County, California. After the election in 2014, San Benito became the first county in California to ban fracking.

Foo co-founded the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum and was its National Chair from 1996 to 1998. She is also a co-founder of the California-based Sweatshop Watch and served as its Board President from 1995 to 2004. In 1995 she attended the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. She is the author of Asian American Women: Issues, Concerns and Responsive Human and Civil Rights Advocacy, published by the Ford Foundation in September 2002 (second edition, 2007).


15.229 linear feet (20 containers)

2 Gigabytes

Language of Materials



Lawyer; Labor organizer. Materials documenting Foo's activism in advocating for the rights of immigrant workers in the U.S., primarily via the Asian Law Caucus and Sweatshop Watch; plus published writings, speeches, and interviews.


This collection has been added to over time in multiple "accessions." An accession is a group of materials received from the same source at approximately the same time. Note that in most cases, container numbers start over at 1 with each new accession.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

This collection contains materials received from the donor in digital form that are not currently available online. Please consult with Special Collections staff to request access to this digital content.

Other Finding Aids

One or more content listings to individual accessions in this collection are available for download. Links can be found in the description of the individual accessions.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Lora Jo Foo Papers were donated to the Sophia Smith Collection by Lora Jo Foo from 2007 to 2019. Periodic additions to her papers are expected.

Related Materials

Lora Jo Foo's oral history is in the Voices of Feminism Oral History Project [researchers must request permission from Lora Jo Foo to access her interview].

Processing Information

Accessioned by Burd Schlessinger.

The contents of computer media in this collection has been copied to networked storage for preservation and access; the original directory and file structure was retained and file lists were created.

Material from Legal records and writing, Accession 2019-S-0057 was accessioned by Althea Topek in October 2020.

Emails documenting anti-fracking campaigns in San Benito, CA, Accession 2022-S-0004 was accessioned by Carolina Quezada Meneses in February 2022.

Processing Information

Starting in September 2022, Smith College Special Collections will be renumbering many boxes to eliminate duplicate numbers within collections in order to improve researcher experience. A full crosswalk of old to new numbers is available.

Finding Aid to the Lora Jo Foo papers
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Finding aid prepared by Burd Schlessinger.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:20-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2020-04-06: Description added for born-digital content.
  • 2020-04-30: Added accessions 07S-11, 07S-59, 07S-87, 09S-27, and 14S-05, updated dates
  • 2020-10-27: Added new series, Legal records and writings, Accession 20219-S-0057
  • 2022-02-09: Added accession 2022-S-0004

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063