Tag Archives: Labor History

The Chaos of States’ Rights and Daylight Saving Time


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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’


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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

Henry Markham: NY’s Governor of California (Part 2)


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Henry Harrison Markham, a native of Wilmington, New York, expanded his California business connections beyond the Pasadena area’s mines. He was president of the Los Angeles Furniture Company, and a director on the boards of two banks and the Southern California Oil Supply Company. Others like him led a surge of financial prosperity and population growth in southern California. In the upcoming political campaign, the south was hoping to wrest control from the northern power base at San Francisco.
Once again, the party turned to Markham, nominating him as the candidate for governor to avoid a party split. In a bitter, hard-fought battle, he defeated San Francisco Mayor E. B. Pond by 8,000 votes to become California’s 18th governor. The victory was attributed partly to Henry’s manner of personally greeting thousands of voters who became well acquainted with the “Markham Glad-hand.” It was his signature move—a firm, hearty handshake evoking sincerity.

While holding office from Jan. 1891–Jan. 1895, Markham did much to advance business in the state. When the Panic of 1893 struck (considered second-worst only to the Great Depression of the 1930s), he backed the idea for the California Midwinter International Exposition (a World’s Fair). With San Francisco as the host city, a massive parade was held. Represented were many businesses, civic organizations, and military groups. A work-holiday was imposed by the governor, to great effect. On the first day alone, more than 72,000 people attended.
During his tenure, Markham also handled the effects of a national railroad strike; led the second-largest fundraising effort among states represented at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893; secured military facilities that brought millions of dollars to California; forced a railroad company to pay $1.3 million it owed the state; helped bring trolley service to Pasadena; backed the building of the Santa Fe Railroad; and worked towards establishing a harbor facility in southern California.
Early in his tenure, an interesting meeting occurred when Governor Markham welcomed President Benjamin Harrison on a tour of California. The president was the grandson of another president, William Henry Harrison, and during the trip, California’s new governor revealed a personal connection to the First Family.
The elder Harrison’s election platform in 1840 had included tariffs that were meant to protect American businesses. Nathan Markham, an iron manufacturer at Wilmington, was so delighted when William Henry Harrison won the election in 1840, he named his newborn son Henry Harrison Markham. (Unfortunately, the president died after a month in office, the shortest term of any US chief executive.)
After a successful four-year stint as governor, Henry Markham decided not to seek a second term, returning to private life and the world of business, where he did well for more than two decades. He died of a stroke in 1923 at the age of 83, but was certainly not forgotten.

His impressive home was torn down in 1939, but through the years, the Markham Mansion had played host to many grand social occasions, both during his tenure and after his death. The family name also remained a fixture on streets, buildings, and other locations in Pasadena.

In 1963, forty years after the governor’s death, Markham Place was honored by the Pasadena Beautiful Foundation as its first Banner Block. The neighborhood was near Henry’s former mansion and orchard, where many old, beautiful homes had been restored. In 2010, popular tourist destinations include the Governor Markham Victorian District.
Was the old neighborhood really that impressive? Next door to Markham was Adolphus Busch (Budweiser, etc.). Nearby was the Gamble family (Procter & Gamble) and Bill Wrigley (Wrigley’s gum). Others locating in that vicinity over the years include the Maxwells (coffee), the Cox family (communications), and the Spaldings (sporting goods). The area was once known as “Millionaire’s Row” in the days when a million dollars suggested exclusivity.
And what of that wonderful playhouse so lovingly built by Henry Markham for his daughters? In 1970, the California State Historical Society became aware that after 85 years, it still existed. The family had passed it down so that subsequent generations of children could enjoy it.
Wishing to do the same, the owner contacted Governor Markham’s fourth daughter, Hildreth, 81 (born in 1889), obtaining permission to donate it to the Pacific Oaks Children’s School. Soon after, the house (which had been refurbished regularly in the past), was placed in a corner of the children’s play yard at the school, a memento of California’s governor from Wilmington, New York.
Photos: Top―Henry Harrison Markham. Bottom―California Midwinter International Exposition, 1894.
The story of Henry Markham is one of 51 original North Country history pieces appearing in Adirondack & North Country Gold: 50+ New & True Stories You’re Sure to Love (352 pp.), a recent release by author Lawrence Gooley, owner of Bloated Toe Publishing.

Lawrence Gooley: New York State’s Anti-Loafing Law


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History can offer valuable perspective on solutions to some of our problems, and can play an important role in how we view the present and future. It can also just plain surprise us by telling us more about who we are. For instance, most of us would agree that America is all about civil rights and personal freedom, two guarantees that are considered sacred.

It would be difficult for us to imagine a situation where, even in times of war or unemployment, citizens would be forced to work, or where young people would be required to take part in military training. While such measures sound very foreign to a democracy, unemployment was once declared illegal in a very familiar place. Idle men were forced to take jobs selected for them by local lawmen, and each man was required to work a minimum of 36 hours per week.

The government also passed a law ordering all teenagers 16 or older to attend military drills or perform military duties. Doing so earned them a certificate that was very important: without it, young men could not “attend public or private school or obtain employment.” That’s how it was written into the law.
What nation would order its citizens in such fashion? If we had to guess, most of us would name a communist country from the past, or a dictatorship in some far off land. Either could be right, but in this case, the country was much closer to home. In fact, that’s the answer: home.
The New York State Anti-Loafing Law was passed in 1918, less than a year after the US entered WW I. Maryland and New Jersey passed their versions first, and we were next. The law required all men between the ages of 18 and 50 to be “habitually and regularly engaged in some lawful, useful, and recognized business, profession, occupation, trade, or employment until the termination of the war.”
If a man didn’t have a job, a local authority was assigned to choose one for him. And no one could turn down a job because of the level of pay. Every man had to work. It was the law.
The law’s description of “useful” work had its implications as well. By order of the federal government, American men between the ages of 21 and 30 were “not permitted to be elevator conductors, club porters, waiters, pool room attendants, lifeguards at summer resorts, valets, butlers, footmen, chefs, janitors, or ushers in amusement places.”
Men of that age were needed for war. It’s interesting that those jobs, except for lifeguard at summer resorts, were generally filled by poorer folks who were serving the wealthy. Their work was considered plenty useful until war broke out. Suddenly, their jobs were declared “non-useful,” and many of them were consigned to the military.
New York’s government, indicating there would be few exceptions to the new state law, fed the media a wonderful sound bite taken directly from the text of the statute: “Loitering in the streets, saloons, depots, poolrooms, hotels, stores, and other places is considered prima facie evidence of violation of the act, punishable by a fine of $100 or imprisonment for three months, or both.” My innate cynicism notices no mention of hanging out (loitering) at gentlemen’s resorts, sporting clubs, and other places frequented by the idle rich.
Charles Whitman, governor of New York, added: “The purpose … is to force every able-bodied male person within the State to do his share toward remedying the conditions due to the present shortage of labor.” Whitman had a good reason for signing the law shortly after New Jersey passed theirs: if he didn’t, men from New Jersey would flood across the border into New York State to avoid being forced to either work or fight. The governor ensured they would find no safe haven here.
The methods of enforcement were clearly spelled out: “The state Industrial Commission will cooperate with the sheriffs, the state police, and other peace officers throughout the state to find the unemployed and to assign them to jobs, which they must fill. It will be no defense to anyone seeking to avoid work to show that he has sufficient income or means to live without work. The state has the right to the productive labor of all its citizens.”
That’s right … lawmen would track down the unemployed and assign them to a job. Even if a person had enough savings to survive for a few years, the law required everyone to work.
At the time, Governor Whitman admitted, “there may be some question as to the constitutionality of the law,” but enforcement began on June 1, 1918. Sheriffs across the state were required to act, and they did.  Some, like Clinton County Sheriff John Fiske, made sure there were no scofflaws, scouring local establishments as the law instructed, looking for loiterers.
Those who were jailed in Clinton County had to pay a fine and serve their time, just like the law said, but they weren’t allowed to sit idle. Fiske put them to work full-time in the community, ensuring they complied with both the letter and the intent of the law.
On the surface, those laws seem absolutely un-American and undemocratic. The argument was a familiar one: extreme times (WW I) call for extreme measures. Other states and countries (including Canada) passed similar laws during the war. Maybe New Yorkers were lucky. In Virginia, compliance was extended from ages 16 to 60―teens to senior citizens!
In comparison, the wars of recent years have been viewed by the general population with complacency, and the suffering has largely been borne by military personnel and their families. Perhaps we would be less likely to enter such conflicts if, as in some past wars, every single citizen was impacted, and everyone had to sacrifice.

The story of New York State’s Anti-Loafing Law is one of 51 original North Country history pieces appearing in Adirondack Gold: 50+ New & True Stories You’re Sure to Love (352 pp.), a recent release by author Lawrence Gooley, owner of Bloated Toe Publishing.

‘History Speaks’ Costumed Tours of FDR Home


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The Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites announce a new living history program allowing visitors to experience the FDR Home through the eyes of the Roosevelts’ staff.

“History Speaks” is a one-hour tour which introduces the visitor to the Butler, Cook, Maid, and one of FDR’s Secret Service agents. Visitors will step back in time to 1939 and be guided through the house by these costumed interpreters who reveal the inner workings of the Roosevelt household , including hosting a special visit of England’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Hyde Park earlier that year. This marked the first time in American history that a reigning British Monarch had visited the United States.

Sarah Olson, Superintendent of the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites, commented: “We’re excited to offer the public a unique way to engage with our national history, at a dramatic moment in Franklin Roosevelt’s Presidency.”

This first person costumed interpretive program will be offered on Saturday June 9, July 14, August 11, September 8, and October 8, 2012 throughout the day. Reservations can be made by calling 845-229-5320. Regular admission fee applies.