September 26, 1874 – Birth of Lewis Hine, the Photographer Instrumental in Changing U.S. Child Labor Laws

Lewis Wickes Hine was born on this date in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He studied sociology at the University of Chicago, Columbia University, and New York University, using a camera as both a teaching strategy and as a tool for social change and reform. As art critic Billy Anania observes, “Few American photographers have captured the misery, dignity, and occasional bursts of solidarity within US working-class life as compellingly as Lewis Hine did in the early twentieth century.”

The Washington Post reports:

In the early 1900s, Hine traveled across the United States to photograph preteen boys descending into dangerous mines, shoeless 7-year-olds selling newspapers on the street and 4-year-olds toiling on tobacco farms. Though the country had unions to protect laborers at that time — and Labor Day, a federal holiday to honor them — child labor was widespread and widely accepted. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that around the turn of the century, at least 18 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 15 were employed.”

The “breaker boys” at a Pennsylvania coal mine, photographed by Hine in 1911. (Library of Congress)

In 1907, Hine became the staff photographer of the Russell Sage Foundation. He photographed life in the steel-making districts and people of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for the influential sociological study called The Pittsburgh Survey.

In 1908 Hine left his teaching position to become the photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC). Over the next decade, he documented child labor, with a focus on the use of child labor in the Carolina Piedmont. In this capacity he aided the NCLC’s lobbying efforts to enact child labor laws better protecting children.

May 9th, 1910. Newsies in St. Louis, Missouri. (Wikimedia Commons)

However, as the International Photography Hall of Fame pointed out:

Child labor was extremely profitable and many business owners were unwilling to accept or adhere to the laws.”

Thus Hine’s work taking pictures for the NCLC was often dangerous. He was frequently threatened with violence or even death by factory police and foremen. To gain entry to the mills, mines and factories, Hine pretended he was there on some official business.

He published the photos he took along with background notes, which had great potency. The Washington Post noted:

Hine’s photos were paired with captions and stories from his interviews with the children, who would tell him their ages, backgrounds and working conditions.

If they didn’t know their own age, Hine would estimate it by measuring them. As a Bible salesman or in one of his other disguises — he posed as a postcard salesman and a machinery photographer, Hine could hardly be seen whipping out a measuring tape. That’s why he wore a three-piece suit. He could measure the children against the buttons on his vest.”

Maud Daly, age 5 and Grade Daly, age 3, photographed by Hine in 1911. Hine wrote that each girl picked a pot of a shrimp a day for a Mississippi oyster company. “The youngest said to be the fastest worker,” Hine noted. (Library of Congress)

The International Photography Hall of Fame recounted:

Eventually these images helped convince government officials to create and strictly enforce laws against child labor. The impact of these photographs on social reform was immediate and profound. They also inspired the concept of art photography, not because of the subject matter, but because the images showed a stark truth that dramatically differed from an emerging artistic character.”

During and after World War I, Hine photographed American Red Cross relief work in Europe. In the 1920s and early 1930s, he made a series of “work portraits,” which emphasized the human contribution to modern industry. In 1930, Hine was commissioned to document the construction of the Empire State Building. To obtain his famous pictures of the workers in precarious positions while they secured the steel framework of the structure, he took many of the same risks that the workers endured.

Icarus, Empire State Building, Lewis Hine (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Hine continued documenting conditions during the Great Depression, drought relief in the American South, life in the Tennessee Mountains, and he served as chief photographer for the Works Progress Administration’s National Research Project, which studied changes in industry and their effect on employment. Hine also made a visual record of working conditions of women during the 1920s and 1930s. Notably, Hine also photographed housewives; he believed that homemakers deserved recognition as workers.

Power house mechanic working on steam pump, 1920. (Wikimedia Commons)

Anania writes:

Hine once argued that a good picture is ‘a reproduction of impressions made upon the photographer which he desires to repeat to others.’ For him, an organized workforce was the epitome of empathy and mutual benefit, which he hoped to convey to the greater American public.”

The last years of his life were filled with professional struggles by loss of government and corporate patronage. Few people were interested in his work, past or present, and Hine lost his house and applied for welfare. He died on November 3, 1940 at Dobbs Ferry Hospital in Dobbs Ferry, New York, after an operation. He was 66 years old.

September 1, 1946 – The Great Hawaii Sugar Strike: “Rice and Roses”

Some 26,000 sugar workers and their families – 76,000 people in all – began a 79-day strike on September 1, 1946 – this day in history – that completely shut down 33 of the 34 sugar plantations in the islands. The Great Hawaii Sugar Strike, directed by the leadership of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU), ushered in a new era of participatory democracy both on the plantations and throughout Hawaii’s political and social institutions, according to the University of Hawaii ’s Center for Labor Education and Research.

Chinese contract workers on a Hawai’i sugar cane plantation

Historian Miyako Martinez argues:

Hawaii is an exceptional case in American labor history because of its workforce made up of mostly non-white and immigrant workers—particularly of indigenous Hawaiian, Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, and Portuguese descent.”

William Puette, Director of the Center for Labor Education and Research at the University of Hawaii – West Oʻahu observed: “In Hawaii, these plantations exercised what has really been described to a lot of people as ʻfeudalisticʻ control over workers.”

Martinez explains that a group of five families, from American, German, and English backgrounds, dominated the economic and political circumstances on the islands. They recruited contract laborers from other countries to build their workforce. She reports: “In 1922, 2,533 Portuguese, 16,992 Japanese, and 18,189 Filipinos” made up about 85% of the sugar production workforce.”

The workers had attempted strikes prior to this one, but because the labor unions had been organized by ethnic groups, internecine conflict plagued the efforts. In 1946, however, all the sugar workers of every ethnic group joined together in the same labor organization.

Plantation workers with clothing to protect skin and prevent centipedes from entering, via Topics of Meta

Puette outlines the challenges faced by the ILWU:

Understanding that every strike committee had to have Filipino and Japanese leadership and that all the meetings had to be conducted in English, Japanese, and Ilocano at the bare minimum, and sometimes also Visayan. . . . It’s amazing how they were able to do things. They were able to show the way for organizing and not by racial or ethnic groups, which was a pretty common thing to do in Hawaii before then and had never really been successful.”

Martinez documents how extensive the strike was, pointing out that ILWU dockworkers on the islands and on the U.S. mainland coasts shut down the flow of sugar and supplies. As the strike became more successful, union members also stopped picketing on the plantations and moved to mass picketing at managers’ homes.

The strike concluded with an agreement for the improvement of the material conditions of Hawaiian workers, including a wage increase and a ban on foreign contract labor. Other features were implemented such as “a nondiscrimination policy, a formal grievance procedure, increased sickness and vacation allowances (six to nine days) […] seniority preferences, pensions, and severance pay.”

The University of Hawaii labor center points out:

The strength of the 1946 sugar strike and the community organizing it built upon was so solid on the neighbor islands, especially Kaua’i and Hawai’i, that it soon became the bedrock of a new political order.”

December 21, 1916 – Birth of Labor Organizer Emma Tenayuca

Emma Tenayuca was born into a large Commanche family whose residence in South Texas predated both Mexican independence and the Mexico-U.S. War. Because of her work as an educator, speaker, and labor organizer, she became known as “La Pasionaria” (The Passionate One).

Emma Tenayuca in 1938

Emma’s family as well as those around her were hit hard by the Depression. She became a labor activist even before graduating from high school in San Antonio. Her first arrest came at the age of 16, in 1933, when she joined a picket line of workers in strike against the Finck Cigar Company.

After high school, Tenayuca obtained a job as an elevator operator, but spent most of her time pursuing her passion for labor rights. She founded two international ladies garment workers unions, and organized a protest against the beating of Mexican migrants by United States border patrol agents. In her early adulthood she was arrested for a second and third time: once on a charge of “disturbing the peace” during a nonviolent protest, and again for her leadership role in the 1938 Southern Pecan Shelling Company worker’s strike.

In the 1930s Texas pecans accounted for approximately 50 percent of the nation’s production, with nearly 400 shelling factories in San Antonio alone. But it was one of the lowest-paid industries in the United States, with a typical wage ranging between two and three dollars a week. According to the Texas State Historican Association:

“Working conditions were abysmal – illumination was poor, inside toilets and washbowls were nonexistent, and ventilation was inadequate. Fine brown dust from the pecans permeated the air, and the high tuberculosis rate of San Antonio – 148 deaths for each 100,000 persons, compared to the national average of fifty-four – was blamed at least partially on the dust.”

Tenayuca, only 21 years old in 1938, led 12,000 workers (mostly Hispanic women) in a strike of pecan shellers in San Antonio, Texas. Historians have described this as the first successful large-scale act in the Mexican-American struggle for civil rights and justice.

Union workers took over control of the strike, however, out of concern for Tenayuca’s controversial political ties. Like many other labor activists, she had joined the Communist Party in 1936.

The workers who picketed during the strike were gassed, arrested, and jailed. It ended after thirty-seven days when the city’s pecan operators agreed to arbitration. [Over the next three years, cracking machines replaced more than 10,000 shellers in San Antonio shops when the plant owners mechanized operations to avoid the higher labor costs.]

Emma Tenayuca

In 1939, Tenayuca was scheduled to speak at a Communist Party meeting in San Antono, but a crowd of 5,000 attacked the auditorium with bricks and rocks, “huntin’ Communists.” Police helped Tenayuca escape from the mob, but she was blacklisted and forced to move out of San Antonio.

Tenayuca moved to San Francisco where she majored in education. She later returned to San Antonio, earning a master’s in education. She went on to teach in San Antonio schools until her retirement in 1982.

In 1988, Tenayuca was interviewed by Luis R. Torres, as part of a project to document the history of the Mexican American civil rights movement. As the University of Texas at San Antonio reports:

During the 32-minute interview, Tenayuca discusses her family’s history in Texas, the genesis of her early radicalism and participation in the Communist Party during the 1930s, and her role in organizing the 1938 pecan shellers’ labor strike in San Antonio.”

Emma Tenayuca in 1988

You can watch a video of the interview here.

Shortly after retirement Emma Tenayuca developed Alzheimer’s disease and died on July 23, 1999.

December 16, 1884 – New Priest in Massachusetts Locked Out of Church For the Crime of Being Irish

Fall River, Massachusetts, approximately 50 miles south of Boston, was a leading textile manufacturing center in the 19th century. Many French Canadians came to the area to work, which caused tensions with the English Protestants and the Irish Catholics already battling for political hegemony and workforce dominance.

David Vermette, writing in Smithsonian Magazine, avers that the Canadians formed cultural archipelagos, “outposts of Québec scattered throughout the Northeast in densely populated pockets.” By 1900, he notes, one-tenth of New Englanders spoke French. And in the region’s many cotton mills, French Canadians made up 44 percent of the workforce—24 percent nationally—at a time when cotton remained a dominant industry.

Mass Moments, the daily almanac of Massachusetts history reports that the Quebequois who came to Fall River had no experience with factory work, and “their poverty gave them little choice but to accept lower wages than those paid to other groups.”

The Smithsonian article describes their poverty. According to journalist William Bayard Hale, who visited Little Canada in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1894, “It would be an abuse to house a dog in such a place.” Some Fall River tenements, continued Hale, “do not compare favorably with old-time slave-quarters.”

The willingness of the Quebequois to work for lower pay earned them the enmity of both the English Protestants and the Irish Catholics, especially in light of ongoing labor protests.

Textile mills via Mass Moments

“Mass Moments” recounts:

Throughout the 1870s, immigrant English and Irish textile workers organized a series of labor actions and strikes. The French Canadians did not support the strikes, and in their desperate poverty they frequently took jobs as scabs or ‘knobsticks,’ as they were called. The Irish hated the French Canadians for what they saw as betrayal . . . .”

Religion was a refuge for the Canadians; French-speaking priests provided ministry as well as community leadership and social services.

In August 1884, the French Canadian priest assigned to the church serving the French Canadians died suddenly. Three months later, the Bishop named a new pastor: Father Samuel P. McGee, an Irishman. The French Canadians were outraged. As “Mass Moments” relates the story, when the new priest arrived to say Mass in mid-December, he found the doors and windows nailed shut; when he managed to get into the building, several of the parishioners held him captive and threatened to kidnap him should he attempt to return to the church. Father McGee fled the pastoral residence and went into hiding. The Canadians collected money to send a delegation to Rome to plead for the appointment of a French-speaking priest.

Tensions escalated and fights broke out between those who were willing to accept the new priest and those who insisted on a French pastor. Angry crowds gathered outside the church and disrupted services. Police were dispatched to the church to prevent “sacrilege.”

On February 13, 1885, the Bishop closed the church and withdrew the priest. The church reopened the next year, under another Irish pastor, and conflict began again. “Mass Moments” observes that ethnic tensions between Irish and French Canadians in Fall River did not ease until the end of the century when the arrival of Portuguese, Greeks, Poles, Lithuanians, and Italian immigrants changed the ethnic, political, and social mix of Fall River and other Massachusetts cities.

November 13, 1933 – End of First Modern Sit-Down Labor Strike by Hormel Meat Packers in Austin, Minnesota

Ahmed A. White, Associate Professor of Law, University of Colorado School of Law, writing in “The Depression Era Sit-Down Strikes and the Limits of Liberal Labor Law,” 40 Seton Hall L. Rev. 1 (2010) (available online here) avers that the sit-down strike was relatively uncommon in American labor relations until the 1930s. He attributes part of the cause for this new aggression on the part of workers to the change in the status of labor rights. He notes:

Until the New Deal, basic labor rights were all but completely denied to workers by an array of legal doctrines that served the needs of anti-union employers, including the widespread use of injunctions, the enforcement of anti-radical statutes, the discriminatory enforcement of everyday criminal laws, and of course the absence of any laws of consequence affirmatively protecting labor rights.”

Then in 1932 Congress passed the Norris-LaGuardia Act, outlawing yellow-dog contracts (pledges by workers not to join a labor union) and significantly limiting the ability of employers to use federal court injunctions to undermine labor rights. Professor White also cites the importance of the passage in 1933 of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). This radical legislation required companies to write industry-wide “codes of fair competition” for the protection of consumers, competitors, and employers. It effectively fixed prices and wages, established production quotas, and imposed restrictions on entry of other companies into the alliances. Employees were given the right to organize and bargain collectively and could not be required, as a condition of employment, to join or refrain from joining a labor organization.

Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska and Representative Fiorello H. La Guardia of New York, the chief sponsors of the Norris-LaGuardia Act

Although the NIRA was rather rapidly found unconstitutional in A. L. A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States (295 U.S. 495, 1935), it still, along with the Norris-LaGuardia Act, “created a sense of overall change in labor’s legal condition and helped trigger an upsurge in labor-organizing efforts.”

It was in this charged atmosphere that the workers at the Austin, Minnesota Hormel meatpacking plant went on strike demanding recognition of their union, higher wages, and a safer workplace. The plant employed 2700 of the town’s 17,000 residents in 1933.

Larry Engelmann, in his history “We Were the Poor — The Hormel Strike of 1933,” Labor History, Fall, 1974, wrote of Hormel’s CEO:

Jay Hormel boasted brazenly in early 1933 that his unchallenged and unchecked power over the policies and personnel of George A. Hormel & Company packinghouse in Austin, Minnesota, was a ‘benevolent dictatorship.’ Laborers for the Hormel Company conceded that Hormel’s rule was dictatorial, but they disagreed with his use of the adjective ‘benevolent.’ More often the term ‘sheer tyranny’ was used often by workers to describe their take on Hormel’s labor policies within the giant meatpacking plant.”

Jay Hormel in 1938

Jay’s father George, who founded the company, was a different man altogether, often laboring alongside his workers. Engelmann informs us that George, who came from the same humble origins as many of his workers, was friendly and open with them, and receptive to their grievances. After an unfortunate incident involving the embezzlement of over a million dollars by one of his officers, however, George delegated significant control over the company to his son Jay, having Jay completely replace him when he retired in 1929.

Jay had a relatively privileged and sheltered childhood, and neglected to develop humility or empathy along the way. Jay’s tenure as the director of the company was further impaired by the onset of the Great Depression. Moreover, as Engelmann observed, “[Jay] Hormel successfully surrounded himself with a corps of unusually insensitive and often narrow-thinking foremen and straw bosses who seemed to take particular delight in attempting periodically to damage the self respect and sense of security of company laborers.”

Conditions for workers continued to deteriorate, and they tried work stoppages and other direct action techniques in an effort to force Hormel to agree to their demands. After Hormel attempted to bring scabs in to replace the workers, the sit-down strike began.

Workers striking at Hormel Packing Plant, Austin, 1933, via Minnesota Historical Society

On November 8, members of the Independent Union of All Workers (IUAW), formed that July, presented Hormel with five demands. Hormel replied to them in an open letter on November 10, 1933, basically claiming the company couldn’t afford to concede them. A strike was called that evening; work was suspended by most but not all workers; and picket lines organized. Engelmann reports:

Hormel worried about the twenty million pounds of meat he believed was spoiling on racks inside the plant and the massive $500,000 refrigeration system itself that was threatened. The pipes of the refrigeration system would freeze solid and burst within twenty-four hours unless the dynamos were turned back on.”

Strike at Hormel Packing Plant, Austin. Photograph by the St. Paul Daily News, 1933

Minnesota State Governor Floyd B. Olson, a member of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party, refused to send in the National Guard to break up the strike, as Hormel requested. Instead, he offered to take the lead in an arbitration. He managed to work out a compromise, with both sides agreeing to submit their problems to arbitration by the State Industrial Commission.

On November 13, 1933, this day in history, workers thus ended their labor action three days after it began.

On December 4, 1933, in accordance with a ruling by the State Industrial Commission, workers received an increase in wages, although less than the raises originally demanded. The Hormel Company made only minor concessions, Englemann argued, since the increases were in line with those that went into effect throughout the meatpacking industry that autumn.

Nevertheless, as the Encyclopedia of US. Labor and Working-class History, Volume 1 by Eric Armesen notes, the success of the Hormel strike “caught the imaginations of thousands of other workers,” and direct actions by workers to improve conditions and compensation spread around the country.

August 5, 1981 – President Ronald Reagan Fires Striking Air Traffic Controllers

On this day in history, President Reagan fired 11,359 air traffic controllers who ignored his order to return to work.

Two days earlier, on August 3, almost 13,000 air-traffic controllers went on strike after negotiations with the federal government to raise their pay and shorten their workweek proved fruitless. The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) was seeking an across-the-board annual wage increase for the controllers, and a reduction of their five-day, 40-hour workweek to a four-day, 32-hour workweek. The FAA made a $40 million counteroffer, far short of the $770 million package that the union sought.

Reagan speaking about the strikers on August 3, 1981

Across the country, some 7,000 flights were canceled. The same day, President Reagan called the strike illegal and threatened to fire any controller who had not returned to work within 48 hours. Robert Poli, president of the Professional Air-Traffic Controllers Association (PATCO), was found in contempt by a federal judge and ordered to pay $1,000 a day in fines.

As J.E. Murdock III and Lee Arnold point out in “The Congressional Mandate Against a Federal Strike: The Government’s Enforcement of That Statutory Guidance,” (47 J. Air L. & Com. 303, 1982, online here) “Congress has repeatedly and emphatically forbidden federal employees from striking. . . . No person or group is allowed to halt essential government services.” Thus it was against explicit warnings from each branch of the federal government that PATCO called for the strike.

Striking Air Traffic Controllers

Reagan not only fired the air traffic controllers who did not return to work, but declared a lifetime ban on the rehiring of the strikers by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). On August 17, the FAA began accepting applications for new air-traffic controllers, and on October 22 the Federal Labor Relations Authority decertified PATCO.

The FAA managed to convince 3,000 supervisors to join 2,000 nonstriking controllers and 900 military controllers in manning airport towers. Before long, about 80 percent of flights were operating normally. Air freight remained virtually unaffected.

March 31, 1933 – President Franklin D. Roosevelt Signs Emergency Conservation Work Act, Creating the Civilian Conservation Corps

The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that started in the United States after a major fall in stock prices. It was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century. It began after a major fall in stock prices on September 4, 1929 and spread worldwidewith the stock market crash of October 29, 1929, known as Black Tuesday. Some economies started to recover by the mid-1930s. However, in many countries, the negative effects of the Great Depression lasted until the beginning of World War II.

Men stand in line outside a depression soup kitchen, 1931, NARA

To help alleviate the devastating effects of joblessness, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as part of FDR’s “New Deal.” The CCC would provide manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state, and local governments.

Roosevelt made his request to Congress on March 21, 1933. Congress passed the enabling legislation on March 31, and Roosevelt signed it the same day. He then issued an executive order on April 5 creating the agency, appointing its director, and assigning War Department corps area commanders to begin enrollment. The first CCC enrollee was selected April 8, and subsequent lists of unemployed men were supplied by state and local welfare and relief agencies for immediate enrollment.

This voluntary public work relief program for unemployed, unmarried men operated from 1933 to 1942. Originally for young men ages 18–25, it was eventually expanded to ages 17–28.

Poster by Albert M. Bender, Illinois WPA Art Project Chicago (1935)

Through the course of its nine years in operation, 3 million young men participated in the CCC, which provided them with shelter, clothing, and food, together with a wage of $30 (equivalent to $590 in 2019) per month ($25 of which had to be sent home to their families).

By 1942, with World War II and the draft in operation, the need for work relief declined, and Congress voted to close the program.

CCC workers constructing a road in what is now Cuyahoga Valley National Park, 1933 (via National Archives)

January 17, 1915 – Labor Activist Lucy Parsons Leads March of Unemployed in Chicago

Lucy Gonzalez was born a slave in approximately March, 1853 of mixed heritage. In 1871, Lucy married Albert Parsons, a white Texan and former Confederate soldier who had become a radical Republican after the Civil War. Since the Ku Klux Klan presence in Texas was strong, it was too dangerous to sustain an interracial marriage there, so the couple moved to Chicago in 1873.

Lucy Parsons in 1920

In Chicago, Lucy and Albert Parsons became involved first in the Social Democratic Party, and when that organization folded, the Workingmen’s Party of the United States (WPUSA, known after 1892 as the Socialist Labor Party, or SLP). The Chicago chapter met in the Parsons home.

Lucy Parsons began her career as a writer for the WPUSA’s paper, the “Socialist,” and as a lecturer speaking for the WPUSA and the Working Women’s Union.

She and her husband Albert left the WPUSA in the 1880s and joined an anarchist organization, the International Working People’s Association (IWPA), believing that only violence would move working people to overthrow capitalism, and for racism to be ended.

In May, 1886, both Lucy Parsons and Albert Parsons were leaders of a strike in Chicago for an eight-hour work day. The strike ended in violence and eight of the anarchists were arrested, including Albert Parsons. They were accused of responsibility for a bomb which killed between four and seven police officers, though witnesses testified that none of the eight threw the bomb. The strike came to be called the Haymarket Riot.

Albert Parsons was among the four who were executed. Their daughter died shortly after.

Albert Parsons

Lucy started a paper, “Freedom,” in 1892, and continued writing, speaking, and organizing. She worked with, among others, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. In 1905 Lucy Parsons was among those who founded the Industrial Workers of the World (“Wobblies”) with others including Mother Jones, starting an IWW newspaper in Chicago.

In 1914 Lucy Parsons led protests in San Francisco. On this day in history, January 17, 1915, Lucy led a march of between 10,000 and 15,000 workers in Chicago. As explained by history professor Erik Loomis on the blog Lawyers, Guns and Money, the winter of 1915 had been extremely cold, exacerbating the unemployment crisis in Chicago. The situation created thousands of homeless people, including increasing numbers of women and children.

Professor Loomis contends that not only did being the wife of a Haymarket martyr lend Parsons political credence, but in addition she knew how to organize a public protest. She decided to hold an unemployment march. She was able to organize other radicals to put it together, and get handbills printed up and passed around the city.

It was during this protest that famous union hymn “Solidarity Forever” was completed by Ralph Chaplin. Here is a version of it performed by Pete Seeger:

In spite of the fact that “the speeches at the rally were relatively tame,” and the banners unfurled had no messages more “revolutionary” than“Hunger” and “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread,” the police came out in force.

According to the “Chicago Daily Tribune,” of January 18, 1915:

Shots were fired, clothes were torn, eyes blackened, and heads cracked while clubs, blackjacks, and revolver butts were used with bruising effect on heads, arms and knuckles.”

At each intersection along the route of the march arrests are made, and those taken prisoner charged with rioting, unlawful assemblage and parading without a license.

Parsons and twenty others, six women and fifteen men, were arrested. The papers the next day painted the march as an anarchist melee, accepting accounts by the police rather than by participants and witnesses.

But Parsons persisted. She herself led another march on January 31. Professor Loomis wrote:

Seeing the success of the march and concerned about unemployment generally, a second march was scheduled for February 12. This had the backing of not only Jane Addams, but also the American Federation of Labor and the Socialist Party, which was pretty moderate in its actions. . . . After that second march, which also had tens of thousands of people attending, the city agreed to a temporary employment program that would build sidewalks, shovel snow, and fill pot holes.”

Parsons continued to give fiery speeches in Chicago into her 80s, where she inspired Studs Terkel. He later said in an interview:

…I heard Lucy Parsons speak a couple of times. I’ll never forget. It was Lucy Parsons. An old, old woman was speaking, tattered clothes, sort of genteelly dressed, poorly dressed, but genteel. And she spoke, but she was fiery when she spoke. And they passed the hat. And someone passed her flowered hat around. I remember a guy dropping a bucket in. ‘Oh, my god, this guy!’ This guy’s an old, battered Wobbly. I knew him; he lived at the hotel. He didn’t have much, though he dropped a buck in. He said, ‘I’m doing this for Lucy Parsons.’ So, that’s my—that’s as close as I’ve come to the Haymarket people, but it was quite moving. I remember that. That was in the ’30s, as far—as recent as the—as recent as the ’30s, but it’s long after Haymarket. And these are memories.”

Parsons died on March 7, 1942, in a house fire in the Avondale Community Area of Chicago. She was believed to be 89 years old.

October 13, 1877 – Birth of Josephine Clara Goldmark, Labor Law Reformer

Josephine Clara Goldmark, born on this date in Brooklyn in 1877, was a vehement advocate of labor law reform who had outsized influence thanks to the fact that she was the sister-in-law of Louis Brandeis.

Josephine Goldmark

Goldmark was the youngest of ten children born to parents who had strong liberal beliefs. After her father’s death in 1881, the Jewish Women’s Archive recounts that two of her brothers-in-law became important father figures: Felix Adler, founder of the Society for Ethical Culture, who married her eldest sister, Helen, in 1880; and Louis D. Brandeis, who married her sister Alice in 1891. Brandeis, a Boston lawyer who in 1916 became the first Jewish justice of the United States Supreme Court, was a cousin of the Goldmark family; he and Josephine were descended from the same great-grandfather. Both the Brandeis and Goldmark families reportedly had a rationalist and assimilationist bent, but retained a strong Jewish identity.

Goldmark graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1898 and then taught for a while at Barnard College. One of her sisters introduced her to Florence Kelley, a powerful New York City reformer, and Goldmark left Barnard to work with Kelley at the National Consumers League (NCL). She eventually became chairman of the committee on labor laws. She investigated labor conditions extensively and wrote prolifically about her findings. It was the team of Kelley and Goldmark who approached Louis Brandeis to submit a brief on behalf of Oregon. As Mike Wallace notes in Greater Gotham:

Of the voluminous document, only two pages dealt with legal issues. The rest, compiled by researchers working under Goldmark’s supervision, provided an annotated compendium of social science and medical studies and reports on European practices all aimed at demonstrating the ‘special susceptibility to fatigue and disease which distinguished the female sex, qua female.'”

This document became known as the famous “Brandeis Brief” that her brother-in-law presented to the Supreme Court in Muller v. Oregon (208 U.S. 412, 1908), detailing the effects of industrial work, low wages, and long hours on workers, particularly women and children. The brief was instrumental in getting the Supreme Court to declare that state maximum-hours laws were constitutional, and the technique used – the gathering and presentation of socially relevant facts—became the main instrument for shaping American law according to social need rather than judicial precedent.

In 1911, Goldmark was part of the investigating committee into the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. The following year, the Russell Sage Foundation published her book Fatigue and Efficiency, a study of the effects of long hours on workers’ health and job performance. She continued to write and publish studies on working conditions for women and children until her death in December 1950 from a heart ailment.

July 25, 1937 – Testimony of “Radium Girls” Before Illinois Industrial Commission

The original group known as “Radium Girls” was made up of some seventy female factory workers, mostly between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, who contracted radiation poisoning from painting watch dials with glow-in-the-dark paint at the United States Radium factory in Orange, New Jersey around 1917. The brushes would lose shape after a few strokes, so the factory supervisors trained the girls to create a fine tip by twirling the brushes in their mouths, and shaping the points with their lips. This needed to be done every few brushstrokes. For fun, the girls also painted their nails, teeth and faces with the deadly paint produced at the factory; the women had been told the paint was harmless. (And in any event, the dial painting studios were so filled with the dust and residues from the paint that the women’s skin and hair actually glowed when they left work.) The owners and the scientists familiar with the effects of radium, however, carefully avoided any exposure to it themselves; chemists at the plant used lead screens, masks and tongs.

The women began getting sick and suffering from serious bone decay, including disintegration of their jaws. U.S. Radium and other watch-dial companies rejected claims that the afflicted workers were suffering from exposure to radium. At the urging of the companies, deaths of workers were attributed by medical professionals to other causes; syphilis was often cited in attempts to smear the reputations of the women. (In at least one occurrence, a worker went to a “physician” who examined her and then declared her to be perfectly healthy. An observer “physician” present in the room agreed with the conclusions. He was later revealed to be a Vice President of U.S. Radium Corporation. The examining “doctor”, only a toxicologist, later was shown to have no medical credentials.)

Five of the women challenged their employer in a court case, but by the time it came to trial all five were quite ill with radiation poisoning. When the first hearing came up in January of 1928, the women could not even raise their arms to take the oath. The next hearing was in April of 1928, but all of the women were too sick to attend. The company requested a delay of the case until the following September because most of their witnesses would be traveling to Florida or Europe for summer vacations, and would not be available to testify. (The judge, who was later exposed as a stockholder in the U.S. Radium Corporation, agreed.)

Women painting alarm clock faces with radium in 1932. (Daily Herald Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)

The case was settled in the fall of 1928, before the trial went to the jury. Payment for each of the Radium Girls was $10,000 (the equivalent of $127,589.47 in 2010 dollars) and a $600 per year annuity while they lived. All medical and legal expenses incurred would also be paid by the company. The five “Radium Girls” died in the 1920s and 1930s.

The practice continued elsewhere however. Besides Orange, New Jersey there were plants in New York, Connecticut, and Ottawa, Illinois. Illinois was particularly noteworthy because, as Illinois Public Media (NPR) reported, Illinois was one of the earliest adopters of workers compensation law in 1911. This law led to the creation of the Illinois Industrial Commission in 1917, and it was this body that sided with one of the workers at the Ottawa, Illinois Radium Dial Company in 1938:

Although dial painters in other states sought retribution for their fatal illnesses, those in Ottawa were the only ones ‘to win state sanctioned compensation for radium poisoning,’ wrote Claudia Clark in Radium Girls: Women and Industrial Health Reform, 1910-1935.

As in Orange, New Jersey, there was evidence that the executives of the Ottawa plant knew the radium was poisoning the women and that they deliberately lied to them.

After of the women in Ottawa, Catherine Donohue, became ill and parts of her jaw fell out, she and some of the other sick women got together to sue the company. They became known as “the society of the living dead.” Their first effort failed but then Illinois passed the Illinois Occupational Disease Act. The women tried again with a new lawyer, Leonard Grossman, Sr. Grossman took the case to the Illinois Industrial Commission, handling it for free because his clients were so poor.

Illinois Public Media reports:

During the trial, the ‘emaciated’ Donohue, as the February 11, 1938, Rockford Register-Republic called the young wife and mother of two, learned from a doctor that her condition was fatal and collapsed. The trial was continued at her home because she was too weak to travel. In his closing brief, Grossman Sr. said Radium Dial had denied the women’s requests to see their physical examination results, had produced no witnesses to contradict the workers’ testimony, and had admitted that radium was a poison, then denied it. He called the company a ‘predator’and said the radium would ‘bombard through [Donohue’s] very casket, like it wrecked and destroyed her jaw bone and her hip.’”

The women won, but the people in the town shunned them. Illinois Public Media explains that “It was the Great Depression and Radium Dial was providing well-paying jobs. Locals ‘kind of wanted the women to put up and shut up.’”

In addition, the women’s individual financial awards were fairly small. Some of the women got nothing. Radium Dial unsuccessfully appealed the decision many times, up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Donohue died before the appeals were finished.

Mrs. Catherine Donohue lying on her couch giving testimony at the hearing. Also present are her family as well as the lawyers and the arbitrator. Grossman is at the lower right.

Incredibly, Radium Dial’s president, Joseph Kelly, who was ousted in 1934, opened another company doing the same business with a new name, “Luminous Processes,” also in Ottawa. He even hired some of the same girls as workers.

Luminous Processes stayed in business until 1976, when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission fined it that year for having radiation levels “1,666 times” the allowable amount. After failing to make the necessary improvements, Luminous closed. An April 2, 1984, United Press International article, which called the company a “death factory,” reported that former workers were suing the company; cancer ran high among the former dial painters.

According to Claudia Clark, “To escape financial liability for environmental pollution and industrial diseases, Luminous Processes shuffled corporate assets into other holdings, in much the same way that Radium Dial had in the 1930s.”

Leonard Grossman, Jr., who has worked for the U.S. Department of Labor for many years on workers’ rights cases, stated:

In my work with the Department of Labor, employers make the same kinds of arguments that they made in the Radium Dial case. They say, ‘We would never harm our employees, this process is not harmful…’ The battle has to keep being won over and over and over.”