100 Years Ago Today

A History Of Events And Happenings From Exactly One Hundred Years Ago

Archive for the category “Labor”

Painting the Brooklyn Bridge

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Eugene de Salignac was born in Boston in 1861 into an eccentric family of exiled French nobility. In 1903, at the age of 42, his brother-in-law found him a job as an assistant to the photographer for the Department of Bridges, Joseph Palmer. After 3 years of apprenticeship, Palmer suddenly died, and in October 1906, de Salignac assumed his duties.

As the sole photographer for the department, he documented the creation of the city’s modern infrastructure—including bridges, major municipal buildings, roads and subways. Most notably, he documented the construction of the Manhattan Bridge and the Queensboro Bridge, and the Manhattan Municipal Building.

On January 3, 1915 de Salignac took this photo of bridge workers painting the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, New York.

Parcel Post Begins In US

Sending a letter is only two cents but a larger, heavier item can be very expensive. International Parcel Post between the US and foreign countries began in 1887 when the US Post Office and the Postmaster General of Canada established parcel post service. While Parcel Post service between the US and other countries grew with the signing of successive postal conventions and treaties, the US did not institute a domestic parcel post service for it’s own nation. In August 1912 Congress approved Parcel Post stamps to cover the rates of postage on fourth-class mail.

On January 1, 1913 Parcel Post rates went into use. It will now be far cheaper to send packages and bundles in the US.

1 cent Parcel Post stamp showing the pre-mechanized sorting of mail in 1913

1 cent Parcel Post stamp showing the pre-mechanized sorting of mail in 1913

Prison Transport In Florida

The 13th Amendment of the Constitution outlawed slavery but allows for penal labor as it states that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” This led to the “convict lease” system which became popular in the South in the late 19th century. State governments who could not afford penitentiaries and needed money could leased out prisoners to work for private individuals and companies. This brought about the “chain gang.” Tens of thousands of African-Americans were arbitrarily arrested and leased to coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, quarries and farm plantations. Since the responsibility to provide food, clothing, shelter, and medical care for the prisoners was put upon the “employer,” extremely poor conditions, numerous deaths, and a system of near-slavery existed in the penal systems of the southern US.

On November 30, 1912 a photo of a cage used to transport prison labor was taken in Florida.
Prison labor transport cage used to transport convicts from camp to work on the road between DeLand and Daytona, Florida November 30, 1912

Prison labor transport cage used to transport convicts from camp to work on the road between DeLand and Daytona, Florida
November 30, 1912

Bread And Roses Strike Leaders Acquitted In Massachusetts

Lawrence, Massachusetts became a textile center in the mid 1800’s. By 1900 local textile mills employed 32,000 half of whom were girls between 14 and 18 who earned less than $9.00 a week for 56 hours of work. In 1911 Congress enacted laws that limited the number of weekly hours that women and children could work. Factory owners reacted by reducing pay to match the shorter hours. The women and children were already working for subsistence level wages were angered by the cuts in pay and some went out on publicized strikes. Within a week more than 20,000 workers were on strike. To circumvent an injunction against loitering in front of the mills, the strikers formed the first moving picket line in the US. Many held signs that read “We want bread but we want roses, too.” The strike was called “The Bread and Roses Strike.”

Whereas the skilled laborers were English, Irish and American and represented by the American Federation of Labor, the strikers were viewed as uneducated immigrants and not laborers worthy of representation by the AFL. This left more radical labor groups such as the International Workers of the World to step in and take control. The IWW organized all workers, regardless of skill level, immigrant status, gender or skin color. The committee, which arranged for its strike meetings to be translated into 25 different languages, put forward a set of demands; a 15% increase in wages for a 54-hour work week, double time for overtime work, and no discrimination against workers for their strike activity. Those opposed to the strike saw the strikers as dangerous, un-American and perhaps worst of all, atheists. They formed the Citizens Committee to fight radicalism stating they were for God and country and against the IWW’s “principles and methods,” denouncing union leaders and members as “godless communists.”In January 1911 a peaceful parade of the strikers was charged by the militia and officer Oscar Benoit fired into the crowd killing striker Anna Lo Pezza. Strike leaders Joseph Ettor of the IWW and Arturo Giovannitti of the Italian Socialist Federation of the Socialist Party of America were charged with the murders even though they had been 3 miles away speaking to another group of workers at the time. The authorities declared martial law, banned all public meetings and called out 22 more militia companies to patrol the streets. The IWW raised funds on a nation-wide basis and arranged for several hundred children to go to supporters’ homes in major east coast cities for the duration of the strike. When city authorities tried to prevent 100 children from going to Philadelphia in February 1911 by sending police and the militia to the station to detain the children and arrest their parents, the police began clubbing both the children and their mothers while dragging them off to be taken away by truck; one pregnant mother miscarried. Public opinion turned against the mill owners.

On November 26, 1912 in Salem, Massachusetts Ettor and Giovannitti were acquitted of charges of murder resulting from the strike. Ettor addressed the court in his closing statement :

“Does the District Attorney believe . . . that the gallows or guillotine ever settled an idea? If an idea can live, it lives because history adjudges it right. I ask only for justice. . . . The scaffold has never yet and never will destroy an idea or a movement. . . . An idea consisting of a social crime in one age becomes the very religion of humanity in the next. . . . Whatever my social views are, they are what they are. They cannot be tried in this courtroom.”

Acquitted Bread and Roses Strike leaders – Joe Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti
1912

Children Gambling In Rhode Island

Lewis Hine was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in September 1874. He studied sociology at the University of Chicago, Columbia University and New York University and became a teacher in New York City at the Ethical Culture School. He used photography in his classes and realized the camera could be an effective tool for social change. In 1908 Hine became the photographer for the National Child Labor Committee documenting child labor in American industry. His photographs were instrumental in bringing about reforms to end child labor.

Selling newspapers was an important source of income for boys from low-income urban families. “Newsies” were the main distributors of newspapers to the general public from the mid-19th to the early 20th century in the United States. Many newsboys quit school and sold newspapers during the day. They were not employees of the newspapers but rather purchased the papers from the publishers and sold them as independent agents. Not allowed to return unsold papers, the newsboys typically earned around 30 cents a day and often worked until very late at night. Cries of “Extra, extra!” were often heard into the morning hours as newsboys attempted to hawk every last paper. Many of these boys were orphans who led a very hard life.

On November 23, 1912 Hine took a picture of newsboys gambling at midnight in Providence, Rhode Island.

“A midnight crap game in the street near the Post Office. One 12 years old, one 14. One had been shooting here a couple of hours.”
Photograph and caption by Lewis Hine
November 23, 1912

Socialist Publisher Commits Suicide In Missouri

Julius Wayland was born in Versailles, Indiana in April 1854. His father and four of his brothers and sisters died of cholera when he was 4 months old and his family lived in poverty. After 2 years schooling, Wayland was forced to find work. He eventually found work as a printer’s apprentice on the Versailles Gazette. By 1874 he owned the paper and turned it into a highly profitable periodical.

Wayland became a socialist and when his political views were expressed in his newspaper, he was forced to leave Indiana after threats of violence. He moved to Pueblo, Colorado where in 1893 Wayland began publishing THE COMING NATION. It became the most popular socialist newspaper in America. In 1895 he moved to Missouri and began publishing the socialist journal APPEAL TO REASON. Contributors included Jack London, Mary ‘Mother’ Jones, Upton Sinclair and Eugene Debs. The journal commissioned Sinclair to write a novel about immigrant workers in the Chicago meat packing houses. This was serialized in APPEAL TO REASON and eventually became the novel “The Jungle” . The novel was an immediate success and a best-seller all over world. In 1911 Appeal To Reason published a series of articles about corruption and homosexuality in Leavenworth Prison. Wayland was charged with sending “indecent, filthy, obscene, lewd and lascivious printed materials” through the post. Conservative papers like THE LOS ANGELES TIMES attacked Wayland and printed slanderous stories about alleged crimes of his family and that Wayland was guilty of seducing an orphaned girl of fourteen who had died during an abortion in Missouri.
On November 10, 1912 Wayland was depressed by the recent death of his wife and the continuing smear campaign against him. He committed suicide and left a note that read : “The struggle under the competitive system is not worth the effort.” His family plans to sue the publications that drove him to take his own life.

Julius Wayland

Anti-Union Parade For Columbus Day In Massachusetts

In 1911 Congress enacted laws that limited the number of weekly hours that women and children could work. Factory owners reacted by reducing pay to match the shorter hours. The women and children were already working for subsistence level wages were angered by the cuts in pay and some went out on publicized strikes such as the Bread and Roses Strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The strikers were viewed as uneducated immigrants and not laborers by unions like the American Federation of Labor. This left more radical labor groups such as the International Workers of the World to step in and take control. The IWW organized all workers, regardless of skill level, immigrant status, gender or skin color.They were viewed as dangerous, un-American and perhaps worst of all, atheists. People who opposed the IWW and strikes formed the Citizens Committee to fight radicalism stating they were for God and country and against the IWW’s “principles and methods,” denouncing union leaders and members as “godless communists.”

On October 13, 1912 the Citizens Committee of Massachusetts organized a demonstration on Columbus Day called the God and Country Parade to voice opposition to the union. Lawrence, Massachusetts was draped in mill-funded flags and bunting. As many as 50,000 people marched in or watched the parade.

Menders and burlers from the Wood and Washington mills
1912 God and Country Parade
Lawrence, Massachusetts
October 13, 1912

Workers Strike At Textile Mill In New York

Little Falls is a city in Herkimer County, New York incorporated in 1811. It was a town on the route of the Erie Canal. By the late 1800’s a textile industry grew in Little Falls utilizing young immigrant women and children as the primary work force. After the Triangle Factory Fire in New York City in 1911 the state legislature reduced the work week for women from 60 to 54 hours. The owners of the Gilbert and Phoenix knitting mills reduced the pay of women to match the shorter hours. The women and children were already working for subsistence level wages were angered by the cuts in pay.

On October 9, 1912 80 workers spontaneously walked out of the Phoenix Mill in protest. Police were called and the strikers were evicted from mill property. The treatment of these women and children has caused outrage among other mill workers.

Phoenix Mills
Little Falls, New York
1912

Postmarked September 18, 1912

Gary, Indiana is a company town founded in 1906 by the United States Steel Corporation as the home for its new plant. The city was named after the lawyer and founding chairman of the United States Steel Corporation, Elbert Henry Gary. The city seal is a bucket of molten steel covering the Earth.

“Greetings From Gary, Ind.”

“The Most Dangerous Woman In America” Leads 3,000 Striking Miners To March

Mary Harris was born in Cork, Ireland in the 1830’s. As a teenager her family emigrated to Canada. She was a teacher in a convent when she married George E Jones, a member and organizer of the National Union of Iron Moulders in Memphis, Tennessee in 1861. She lost her husband and 4 children to Yellow Fever in Memphis and when she moved to Chicago to start a dress-making business she lost everything in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. This changed her life and she became a labor activist, joining the Knight of Labor. As labor became more radicalized over the years, Mary Jones kept pace and joined in on strikes and led women and children in support. The was active with United Mine Workers and the Socialist Party of America. She became one of America’s best union organizers. In 1902 West Virginia district attorney Reese Blizzard, in 1902, at her trial for ignoring an injunction banning meetings by striking miners, said “There sits the most dangerous woman in America. She crooks her finger, 20,000 contented men lay down.”

Jones is against Woman Suffrage. She feeels that the neglect of motherhood is a primary cause of juvenile delinquency. “You don’t need the vote to raise hell!” She assumed the persona of Mother Jones by claiming to be older than she actually was, wearing outdated black dresses and referring to the male workers that she supported as ‘her boys’.In April 1912 in Kanawha County, West Virginia two streams, Paint Creek and Cabin Creek contain 96 coal mines employing 7500 miners. 41 of the mines were unionized with the UMW but the owners were not allowing workers at other mines to follow. The hired the Baldwin–Felts Detective Agency to break the strike with more than 300 mine armed guards. In May 1912. Jones arrived in June 1912 as mine owners began evicting workers from their rented houses and brought in replacement workers. Beatings, sniper attacks, and sabotage were daily occurrences. Jones would agitate a crowd with storytelling and liven her rhetoric with real and folk-tale characters, encourage participation from audience members, flavor it with passion, and include humor-ridden methods such as profanity, name-calling, and wit. In July 1912 an incident left 12 strikers and 4 guards dead.

In the first week of September 1912 a force of over 5,000 miners joined the strikers’ tent city. West Virginia Governor Glasscock establish martial law and 1,200 state troops confiscated arms and ammunition from both sides. Strikers were forbidden to congregate and were subject to fast, unfair trials in military court.

On September 6, 1912 Mother Jones made an appeal and led 3,000 miners to march through the streets of Charleston, West Virginia to demonstrate against martial law and it’s restrictions.

“Oh, men [speaking of mine owners], have you any hearts? Oh, men, do you feel? Oh, men, do you see the judgment day on the throne above, when you will be asked, “where did you get your gold? You stole it from these wretches. You murdered, you assassinated, you starved, you burned them to death, that you and your wives might have palaces, and that your wives might go to the seashore.”

Mother Jones’ speech from Charleston, West Virginia – September 6, 1912 from Appalachian History :http://www.appalachianhistory.net/2010/02/you-murdered-that-you-and-your-wives.html

Meanwhile 16 miners have been tried and found guilty by the military courts.

Mary Harris “Mother” Jones with the families of striking miners
Charleston, West Virginia
September 1912

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