Tag Archives: Labor History

Volunteers Sought For Lake George Excavation


By on

0 Comments

excavatingVolunteers are being sought to help excavate at Wiawaka Holiday House at the southern end of Lake George to help document the early years of the Holiday House by looking at the materials the visitors, staff, and organizers left behind. Wiawaka Holiday House was founded in 1903 to provide affordable vacations for the working women in the factories of Troy and Cohoes, New York. The work is being directed by Megan Springate, a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland working on her dissertation looking at the intersections of class and gender in the early twentieth century.

No previous archaeological experience is necessary. Participants will learn archaeological techniques hands-on at the site. All equipment will be provided. Accommodation and meals are available at Wiawaka Holiday House for a fee.* There is no charge to volunteer. Those without previous archaeological experience are asked to volunteer for three or more days. You must be 18 years of age or older. Excavation Dates: Monday to Friday, June 16 through July 11, 2014. Continue reading

Ladies’ Mile Historic District: Plan Will Demolish Buildings


By on

0 Comments

unnamed(10)Today, the owner of 51 and 53 West 19th Street in the Ladies’ Mile Historic District in New York City will request the Landmarks Preservation Commission for permission to demolish two buildings and to construct a 14-story building in their place. Unfortunately, this is not an April’s Fool joke.

51 and 53 West 19th Street are five-story, residential buildings built in 1854 which were converted to commercial and/or manufacturing use in the 1920s. Such a history is very much in keeping with the Ladies’ Mile Historic District. In fact, the designation report lists “converted dwellings” as a building type in the district along with “residential construction”, “office buildings”, “store and loft buildings”, and “retail stores/department stores.” The report points out that after World War I, the shopping district had moved north and the area’s focus shifted to manufacturing. The 1916 zoning resolution had prohibited the construction of tall buildings on mid-block sites, and so instead the surviving residential buildings were converted. Converted dwellings are obviously a part of the fabric of the district, and these two nicely-designed buildings are good examples of this typology. Continue reading

Frances Perkins: Secretary of Labor Under FDR


By on

1 Comment

Frances Perkins meets with Carnegie Steel Workers in 1933Any recognition of influential and famous American women should include Frances Perkins and rank her close to the top of such a list. Perkins was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s secretary of labor during his entire time in office, from 1933 to 1945, and the first woman cabinet member in our history.

Although she is largely unknown to most Americans, many historians credit Perkins as being the architect and driving force responsible for the key achievements of FDR’s New Deal program during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Continue reading

The Chaos of States’ Rights and Daylight Saving Time


By on

0 Comments

NYH DSTime01Described here is a real-life scenario that was once possible. The timeline might be tough to follow, but it’s early May, and we’re strolling down the main street of a North Country community, running several errands. First stop: the Peoples Bank, where we make a deposit and then exit at exactly 1:15 pm. Down the street, we stop at the Citizens Bank to open an account, but the sign on the door says they’re closed for lunch until 1 pm. Glancing inside the restaurant next door, we see several bank employees eating lunch beneath a wall clock that says 12:20 pm. Rather than wait, we move on.

Down the street, we pick up a few items at the US Brush Company, leaving there at 1:30 pm. Next stop: the post office, to buy some stamps. But the door is locked. On the knob hangs a sign stating that the clerks will return at 1 pm.

Off we go to the nearby grocery, picking up a few items and exiting the store at 1:40 pm. Just a few doors down, we stop at the Star Theater to pick up tickets for tonight’s play. But the ticket window hours are 1–4 pm, and the clock inside says 12:45 pm, so we move on to the Muslin Underwear Company and buy a new supply of unmentionables. Continue reading

1860: Married Women As Wage Slaves


By on

2 Comments

cotton-mill-workers1As the national debate over the extension of chattel slavery into the territories heated up in February and March of 1860, women’s rights advocates were storming the capitol in Albany demanding an end to what they felt was another form of slavery—wage slavery for married women.

Under the law in effect until March 20, 1860 in New York State, married women did not have legal control over any money they earned working for themselves or others. All of it belonged to their husbands! As Lucy Stone explained it to the National Women’s Rights Convention in 1853, “unless by cunning she can keep her earnings away from him, he can and does take them to pay the drunkard’s bill, and to squander upon abandoned women.”

According to women’s rights supporters, there were tens of thousands of these kinds of ne’er-do-well husbands, most of whom were cigar-smoking drunkards and/or womanizers, who paid their bills with money they took from their wives’ bank accounts without their permission. Continue reading

Troy Labor History:
Kate Mullany 150th Anniversary History Walk


By on

0 Comments

kateimage-201x300The Rensselaer County Historical Society (RCHS) is hosting a special event this Saturday, February 22nd commemorating the 150th anniversary of Kate Mullany’s historic formation of the Collar Laundry Union in Troy. The event begins at 11am at RCHS and includes a walk from RCHS to the Troy Farmers Market at 12pm and concludes with speeches at the Farmers Market at 12:30. This event is free to the public.

At the age of 23 Kate Mullany organized 300 of her fellow laundry workers to strike for higher wages and improved working conditions in the collar laundries. This Saturday, February 22nd, RCHS will commemorate Mullany’s creation of the 1st sustained female labor union in America’s history. The event begins at 11am at RCHS (57 Second St., Troy, NY) where the public will be invited to create strike signs in keeping with the historic celebration of the strike. Continue reading

The Communist Party in Schenectady, 1930s-1950s


By on

0 Comments

Communist Party Recruitment PosterUtilizing oral history excerpts, union and corporate archival documents, state police files, and newspapers, Dr. Gerald Zahavi will explore the beginning of aggressive communist organizing in Schenectady during the Great Depression and afterward.

Zahavi will focus on the men and women in the party as well as those who actively fought it — opponents in state and local government, unions and corporations (especially General Electric), religious organizations, and civil rights groups. Continue reading

Reformer and Suffragist Charlotte Smith


By on

0 Comments

Charlotte Odlum SmithIn the world of women’s rights, there has been great progress across many issues that are still being debated. A North Country native stands at the forefront of the ongoing battle, taking on a number of concerns: jobs for single mothers; equal pay for equal work; the negative effects of drugs and cigarettes on young women; the horrors of trafficking in women for sexual purposes; food labeling; the restriction of food additives; the rights to patented and copyrighted works; women’s ability to serve in the military; and the issues faced by families of soldiers serving overseas.

If you follow the news, you’ll recognize most of those topics from current or recent headlines. They are the very same issues that were current between 1880 and 1900, when St. Lawrence County’s Charlotte Smith was American’s groundbreaking and leading reformer in the fight for women’s rights. Continue reading

North Country History: Danger with Dynamite


By on

0 Comments

1899 Ad dynamiteI enjoy all kinds of stories, and true “Oops!” moments are among them. Like the time my dad, always a do-it-yourselfer (and a good one), was working on the house, and with hammer in hand, instinctively tried to shoo away a nuisance bee buzzing around his head. The result? Let’s just say an empty hand would have worked much better. Or when a friend of mine, a nice guy who didn’t always think things through, made the surprise announcement that he had bought a jeep from a buddy. I knew he couldn’t afford it, but he loved the open-air concept of the Wrangler.

As it turned out, during the tryout phase, he decided to cut some old trees for firewood, and yes, he managed to drop a tree on the jeep. You break it, you bought it.

I’ve collected a few North Country Oops! stories over the years. Here are some involving dynamite, leaving behind few injuries but plenty of red faces. Continue reading

18th Century Artificers’ Encampment at Saratoga Battlefield


By on

0 Comments

Artificer at WorkFrom 10 AM to 4 PM on Saturday and Sunday, July 13 – 14, 2013, learn “how it’s made” 18th century style at a special Artificers’ Weekend at Saratoga National Historical Park, located between Routes 4 and 32 in Stillwater, NY.

What’s an artificer? Eighteenth century artificers were professional tradesmen working with armies to provide or repair supplies needed by the troops. Blacksmiths made and repaired iron and steel implements. Tailors sewed uniforms for soldiers. Woodworkers built or fixed wooden items like boxes, benches, or tool handles. Tinsmiths made or fixed canteens, cups. bowls, or lanterns. Continue reading

Ulster County Philanthropist: Marion Borden


By on

5 Comments

Borden_Condensed_Milk_1898There is a mansion on a large bluff overlooking the Wallkill River Valley. It stands watch over what was once the Borden Farm, center of the Borden Condensed Milk empire. Sweeping views are forever tied to the mansion; from the Hamlet of Wallkill and farm fields, to the Lyon’s Dam on the Wallkill River and the Shawangunk Mountains. It was here that the daughter of John G. Borden, son of the founder of condensed milk, decided to make her home starting in 1900. Continue reading

Torcedores: Gotham’s Hispanic Cigar Rollers at Work


By on

2 Comments

NYC Cigar StoreIt now seems hard to believe that for most of the latter part of the 19th century, New York City was the cigar making capital of the United States.

New York State as a whole had 364 cities and towns with 4,495 cigar factories and 1,875 (41%) of these were operating in mid and lower Manhattan. The island which then comprised the City, made 10 times the number of cigars as Havana, Cuba.

At the city’s peak before WWI and the beginning of the Machine-Age, approximately 3,000 factories, including many of America’s largest, rolled cigars in Manhattan. Continue reading

Free Love: Emma Goldman and Victoria Woodhull


By on

0 Comments

Victoria Woodhull 1828-1927

Love was too important to be left in the hands of the state, thought Victoria Woodhull. And she said so, at Steinway Hall just off Union Square in New York City in 1871, speaking to a packed audience on the principle of “social freedom,” the code word for the right to choose your sexual partners.

“Yes, I am a free Lover, I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long a period as I can, to change that love every day if I please.” The audience went wild. Continue reading

Peter Feinman On New York’s ‘Ruin Porn’


By on

3 Comments

Ruin porn is in. Ruin porn is hot. Ruin porn is sexy. Ruin porn is the term coined by Jim Griffioen, who writes a blog about his life as a stay-at-home dad in Detroit.

As part of that effort he periodically posts photographs he has taken of the more than 70,000 abandoned buildings in his city. Such images included (as reported in the New York Times) “‘feral’ houses almost completely overgrown with vegetation; a decommissioned public-school book depository in which trees were growing out of the piles of rotting textbooks”. The term has become a familiar one in the city not without some misgivings by the locals as they watch tourists take souvenirs of their city back home. Continue reading

Lyon Mountain Mines: George Davies of Clinton County


By on

0 Comments


George Davies of Standish in Clinton County was about as tough an Adirondacker as you’ll find anywhere. Standish was the sister community to Lyon Mountain during its century-long run of producing the world’s best iron ore. Davies (1892–1983) was among the many old-timers I interviewed around 1980 for my second book, Lyon Mountain: The Tragedy of a Mining Town. He was kind, welcoming, and honest in describing events of long ago.

George was a good man. The stories he told me seemed far-fetched at first, but follow-up research in microfilm archives left me amazed at his accuracy recounting events of the early 1900s. His truthfulness was confirmed in articles on items like strikes, riots, injuries, and deaths.

When I last interviewed George in 1981 (he was 88), he proudly showed me a photograph of himself as Machine Shop Supervisor in the iron mines, accepting a prestigious award for safety. I laughed so hard I almost cried as he described the scene. George, you see, had to hold the award just so, hiding the fact that he had far fewer than his originally allotted ten fingers. He figured it wouldn’t look right to reveal his stubs while cradling a safety plaque.
In matter-of-fact fashion, he proceeded to tell me what happened. Taken from the book, here are snippets from our conversation as recorded in 1981: “I lost one full finger and half of another in a machine, but I still took my early March trapping run to the Springs. I had a camp six miles up the Owl’s Head Road. While I was out there, I slipped in the water and nearly froze the hand. I had to remove the bandages to thaw out my hand, and I was all alone, of course. It was just something I had to do to survive.

“When I lost the end of my second finger in an accident at work, I was back on the job in forty-five minutes. Another time I was hit on the head by a lever on a crane. It knocked me senseless for ten minutes. When I woke up, I went back to work within a few minutes. [George also pointed out that, in those days, there was no sick time, no vacation time, and no holidays. Unionization was still three decades away, and the furnace’s schedule ran around the clock.]

“When I started working down here, the work day was twelve hours per day, seven days a week, and the pay was $1.80 per day for twelve hours [fifteen cents per hour] around the year 1910. That was poor money back then. When they gave you a raise, it was only one or two cents an hour, and they didn’t give them very often.

“In one month of January I had thirty-nine of the twelve-hour shifts. You had to work thirty-six hours to put an extra shift in, and you still got the fourteen or fifteen cents per hour. It was pretty rough going, but everybody lived through it. Some people did all right back then. Of course, it wasn’t a dollar and a half for cigarettes back then [remember, this was recorded in 1981].

“Two fellows took sick at the same time, two engineers that ran the switches. They sent me out to work, and I worked sixty hours without coming home. Then the boss came out to run it and I went and slept for twelve hours. Then I returned for a thirty-six hour shift. No overtime pay, just the rate of twenty-five cents per hour.” Now THAT’s Lyon Mountain toughness.

The tough man had also been a tough kid. “When I was thirteen years old, I worked cleaning bricks from the kilns at one dollar for one thousand. On July 3rd, 1907, when I was fifteen, I accidentally shot myself in the leg. I stayed in Standish that night, and on the next day I walked to Lyon Mountain, about three miles of rough walking.”

His father was in charge of repairing the trains, and young George climbed aboard as often as he could. “I was running those engines when I was sixteen years old, all alone, and I didn’t even have a fireman. I always wanted to be on the railroad, but I had the pleasure of losing an eye when I was nine years old. I was chopping wood and a stick flew up and hit me in the eye.

“I pulled it out, and I could see all right for a while. Not long after, I lost sight in it. The stick had cut the eyeball and the pupil, and a cataract or something ruined my eye. The doctor wanted to take the eye out, but I’ve still got it. And that’s what kept me off of the railroad. That was  seventy-nine years ago, in 1901.”

Next week: A few of George Davies’ remarkable acquaintances.

Photo: George Davies.

Lawrence Gooley has authored 11 books and more than 100 articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 32 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing

The Railroad Wars of New York State


By on

0 Comments

New York’s railroads were born of the cutthroat conflict of rate wars, bloody strikes and political graft. The railroad wars began as soon as the first line was chartered between Albany and Schenectady when supporters of the Erie Canal tried to block the new technology that would render their waterway obsolete.

After the first primitive railroads overcame that hurdle, they began battling with one another in a series of rate wars to gain market share. Attracted by the success of the rails, the most powerful and cunning capitalists in the country—Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, Daniel Drew and other robber barons—joined the fray. Continue reading

Dolly Sloan and The Lawrence Strike Children in NY


By on

2 Comments

Artist John Sloan is better known but his wife Dolly was a tireless campaigner for causes in the Village. Sloan’s diaries are full of vignettes describing her buzzing off to demonstrations for the Socialist Party, the International Workers of the World (IWW), and Suffrage. He seems to be following her, and soaking up the atmosphere, more than out there professing his beliefs.

However, Sloan supported votes for women and rights for workers, and drew illustrations for such left wing publications as The Call. Continue reading

1934: A New Deal for Artists Exhibit in Albany


By on

0 Comments

During the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised a “new deal for the American people,” initiating government programs to foster economic recovery. Roosevelt’s pledge to help “the forgotten man” also embraced America’s artists.

The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) enlisted artists to capture “the American Scene” in works of art that would embellish public buildings across the country. They painted regional, recognizable subjects – ranging from portraits, to cityscapes and images of city life, to landscapes and depictions of rural life – that reminded the public of quintessential American values such as hard work, community and optimism. Continue reading