Tag Archives: Labor History

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.

Unique ‘Activist New York’ Exhibit Opens in NYC


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“Activist New York,” the inaugural exhibition in the Museum of the City of New York’s new Puffin Foundation Gallery, will examine the ways in which ordinary New Yorkers have advocated, agitated, and exercised their power to shape the city’s – and the nation’s – future. Centuries of activist efforts, representing the full spectrum of political ideologies, will be illuminated through a series of installations featuring 14 New York movements ranging from the mid-17th century to today.

The exhibition will feature historic artifacts and images from the museum’s collection as well as pieces on loan from other collections, along with interactive elements that enable visitors to explore and express their own views. For the first three weeks of the exhibition attendees will have a chance to view the original “Flushing Remonstrance,” the 1657 landmark document protesting restrictions against Quakers in New Amsterdam.

“Activist New York” begins and ends with questions of religious freedom, from the struggle for religious tolerance in Dutch New Netherland, to today’s debate over a Muslim Cultural Center near Ground Zero. In between, the exhibition examines a wide range of social movements that transformed laws and assumptions regarding race, gender, class, sexuality, economic justice, and other issues.

The Puffin Foundation Gallery is situated in a newly renovated and climate-controlled 2000 square foot south gallery on the Museum’s second floor, and named for the foundation that has supported the gallery with a gift of $3.25 million.

The exhibition unfolds through a series of 14 examples of New York activism:

1. Let Us Stay: The Struggle for Religious Tolerance in Dutch New Netherland, 1650-1664

The exhibition features the Flushing Remonstrance, one of the earliest arguments for religious liberty and tolerance in American history.

2. Beware of Foreign Influence: Nativists and Immigrants, 1830-1860

This section explores efforts to prohibit or limit immigration and contain its impact on 19 th -century New York. Nativists fought to curtail the largely Catholic immigrant community’s access to citizenship, the vote, and public office. The section also illustrates the ways Catholic New Yorkers combated nativism by establishing their own independent institutions to support their community.

3. What Has New York to Do with Slavery? 1827-1865

While New York City was a center of the abolitionist movement, it was also home to many people who sided with the Southern slave owners. This conflict was dramatically revealed in the Draft Riots of July 1863, where the issues of class and race came to a head in a harrowing, violent confrontation. The exhibition chronicles the efforts of both sides of the debate.

4. New York is the Battleground: Woman Suffrage, 1900-1920

In the early 20 th century,New York became the epicenter for organizational activity of the national woman suffrage movement, with suffragists pioneering new methods of behind-the-scenes organizing and media-savvy publicity. The installation also documents the movement against woman suffrage through anti-suffrage images and messages published by aNew York lithograph firm.

5. Houses of Welcome: The Settlement House Movement, 1890-1925

Immigrants in New York at the turn of the 20th century faced overcrowding, illness, and poverty. This section of the exhibition shows how a new type of agent for change—the settlement house worker—combated those conditions by moving into slum neighborhoods to provide instructions in parenting, health, and citizenship.

6. I Am a Working Girl! Upheaval in the Garment Trades, 1909-1915

This installation examines the events that led to reform and improvement of deplorable workplace conditions, including the 1909 “Uprising of the 20,000,” an industry-wide strike by workers affiliated with the fledgling International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, and the 1911 Triangle Waist factory fire tragedy.

7. Art for the Masses: An Activist Theater, 1930-1945

This movement looks at the politically engaged New Yorktheater groups that used their art to confront Depression-era poverty, labor exploitation, political corruption, racial tension, and the rise of Fascism and Nazism in Europe.

8. We Shall Not Be Moved:New York and Civil Rights, 1945-1964

This installation revealsNew York City’s role in the early Civil Rights struggle of the post-World War II era, from the “Boycott Jim Crow” and anti-lynching movements through the emergence of CORE and SNCC, to the Black Power era of the mid-1960s.

9. What’s Wrong with New York? Conservative Activism, 1962-1973

This segment of the exhibition looks at groups, such as “Parents and Taxpayers,” that were unhappy with a leftward drift in the city and blamed it for an increase in disorder, crime, and the swelling municipal budget. Many joined a new third party, the Conservative Party of New York, formed in 1962.

10. Stop the Wrecking Ball! Preserving Historic New York, 1955-1970

This case study shows how the loss of some of the city’s greatest cultural and architectural landmarks fed the efforts of the early historic preservation movement and eventually led to the creation of New York’s groundbreaking Landmarks Preservation Law.

11. “Gay Is Good”: Civil Rights for Gays and Lesbians, 1969-2012

This installation shows how the Stonewall Riots galvanized the modern gay rights movement in New York and led to the creation of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, ACT UP, and other organizations. The installation brings the story up to date with the successful campaign to secure the legalization of gay marriages in New York State.

12. “Don’t Move, Improve”: Reviving the South Bronx, 1970-2012

The South Bronx became an international icon of urban blight in the 1970s. This section of the exhibition examines grassroots advocacy groups, community organizations, and church congregations that took ownership of the rebuilding of their neighborhoods into livable, affordable communities.

13. Love Your Lane: Bicycle Advocacy, 1965-2011

Amid concerns about ecology, traffic congestion, and pollution, pioneering activists lobbied for changes in the traffic laws. Today, as part of the Bloomberg administration PlaNYC’s effort to build a greener, more sustainable city, bike lanes proliferate, as does agitation against for and against them, as this installation documents.

14. Park 51: 2010-2012

This section provides a detailed exploration of the controversy over the construction of an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan, which is reminiscent of the long and turbulent saga of activism surrounding issues of religious expression in New York City.

Interactive elements throughout the exhibition provide opportunities to dig more deeply and bring the historic stories up to date. A series of touch screens present a timeline of the history of activism in the city, with more than two hundred examples ranging from slave revolts of the 18th century to the Newsboys’ Strike of 1899 to the woman behind the movement that led to New York’s 1978 “pooper scooper” law. Additional kiosks with touch screens invite visitors to explore the work of contemporary activist groups and send email messages to these groups expressing the visitors’ views on current activism. In addition, members of the general public may submit photographs of contemporary activist in the city to a photo blog housed on the Museum’s website (www.mcny.org) and carried live in the Puffin Foundation Gallery.

“Activist New York” has been organized by an exhibition team led by Sarah M. Henry, the Museum’s Deputy Director and Chief Curator. Steven H. Jaffe served as guest curator, and Christina Ziegler-McPherson as associate guest curator. The exhibition team was aided by the Puffin Foundation Gallery Advisory Committee, chaired by Peter G. Carroll, Executive Director, Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, and comprising scholars and activists Esther Cohen, Joshua Freeman, Victor Navasky, Bruno Quinson, Christopher Rhomberg, Tom Roderick, and Perry, Gladys, and Neal Rosenstein.

Photo: Picketers during a 1910 garment workers strike (Library of Congress)

Modern New York: Recent NYC Economic History


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The economic history of New York is filled with high-stakes drama. In Modern New York: The Life and Economics of a City (2012, Palgrave Macmillan), journalist, economist and political commentator Greg David (who edited the regional Crain’s New York Business for more than 20 years and is now director of the business and economics reporting program at the Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY), tells the story of the city’s financial highs and lows since the 1960s.

David fairly conservative approach looks at how Wall Street came to dominate the economy in the years following a decade of economic decline. He argues that New York City’s great recession is not happening now, and it didn’t happen after 9-11. “The Great Recession That Wasn’t”, is David’s term for the current American economic disaster.

“By comparison, the city’s great recession had occurred between 1969 and 1977, when a stock market crash devastated Wall Street and the city’s manufacturing sector collapsed and it’s competitiveness waned as the city hiked its tax burden,” David writes. “Some 650,000 jobs disappeared over those years, and the population fell by almost 1 million people, two little-discussed factors that were as important as budget chicanery in created the Fiscal Crisis that almost sent the city into bankruptcy.”

This understanding of New York’s post-war period rests in part on the neo-liberal interpretation of New York City’s recent history. It goes something like this: the anti-business policies (regulation, and higher taxes) of liberal machine politicians like John Lindsay (Mayor from 1966 to 1973) and Abe Beame (Mayor from 1974 to 1977) led to the loss of manufacturing and then the flight of New Yorkers from a desperate, crime-ridden and “grimy” Gotham. Only the pro-development policies of Ed Koch and the great victory of Rudolph Giuliani, reformist street cleaner and crime fighter, kept New York City from becoming another Detroit.

That’s more or less the story told here in chapters like “Structural Not Cyclical”, and “Making New York Safe For Commerce”. David chastises leaders for failing to recognize long term manufacturing declines, and points to unions, burdensome taxes, and restrictive zoning as the major culprit. Perhaps due to the author’s limiting regional scope and focus on the perspective of the business community, significant American trends such as baby-boom suburbanization, container shipped goods from low wage workers in Asia and elsewhere, and media-based perceptions about crime and quality of life issues are set on the back burner.

For example, a wider perspective in Modern New York would include worker struggles to retain the wages and benefits that made living in the city attractive. New York City’s economic decline coincided directly with unprecedented attacks on the city’s workers. Witness, for example, the 1966 transit strike during which Lindsey refused to negotiate and mocked workers to the press. Or the seven-month teacher strike in 1968 that was the result of the firing of teachers opposed to Lindsey’s contract negotiation plan to divide their union. These strikes were followed by actions on Broadway, and the sanitation strike in the fall of 1968. In 1971 the city’s AFSCME workforce walked off the job. One might argue that workers simply had no interest in living in the city’s difficult employment environment. Whatever the cause of the city’s working class losses, Modern New York could have offered a deeper, more multidimensional understanding of the city’s recent economic history.

In David’s interpretation, after 9-11 the finance industry and tourism stepped in to help save the day, at least temporarily. In a chapter entitled “Three Sectors To The Rescue”, the author suggests that film and television production, higher education, and the technology sectors are the future of New York, leaving the contrary reader to wonder how the city can survive without its working class.

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History of Technology in Western New York Exhibit


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The University at Buffalo Libraries has announced a new exhibit, “History of Technology in Western New York” at the 2nd Floor, Oscar A. Silverman Library, Capen Hall, University at Buffalo North Campus. Researched and written by Nancy Schiller, Engineering Librarian, and produced by Rose Orcutt, Architecture & Planning Librarian, “History of Technology in Western New York” offers a glimpse into Western New York’s rich industrial heritage.

The exhibit pays homage to Buffalo’s iconic grain elevators, to Pierce-Arrow and its sleek automobiles and even sleeker advertising, to the region’s contributions to early aviation, and to the massive steelmills in Lackawanna, and the men and women who labored in them.

Photographs, text and images featured in the exhibit recallan era when 50 percent of Buffalo’s population was engaged in industrial endeavors of one sort or another, and factories, grainelevators, blast furnaces and steel refineries dotted the local landscape.

Inspiration for the exhibit came from a recent UB Honors Seminar taught by Professor John Van Benschoten, Department of Civil, Structural, and Environmental Engineering. The course explored the role of Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and Western New York in our nation’s history, and provided students with an opportunity to consider the history of Western New York and its future through anunderstanding of technology, and the benefits and costs that come with it.

The exhibit is open during regular library hours and runs through May 31, 2012.

Photo: Great Northern Grain Elevator (2007), courtesy forgottenbuffalo.com

Women’s Rights NHP Showing ‘Top Secret Rosies’


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Women’s Rights National Historical Park will show the documentary film Top Secret Rosies this Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31, at 12:00 noon.

Top Secret Rosies documents the lives of the female mathematicians who designed ballistics tables and programmed computers for the United States Army during World War II. This film is 60 minutes long.

The film is being shown as part of Women’s Rights National Historical Park’s first Winter Film Festival. The park exists to commemorate and preserve the events of the First Women’s Rights Convention that was held in Seneca Falls in 1848. “We are proud to be part of the National Park system, and we invite everyone to join us in celebrating our shared history and culture through film,” said Superintendent Tammy Duchesne.

The park is also showing the film as part of its celebration of Women’s History Month in March. “We are inspired by the courage of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and countless other women and men who struggled for equal rights in this country,” said Duchesne. “Their stories continue to resonate with people across the globe.”

Top Secret Rosies is approximately 60 minutes long and intended for a general audience. All Winter Film Festival movies will be shown at 12:00 noon on Fridays and Saturdays, November through April, in the Guntzel Theater, located at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park Visitor Center at 136 Fall Street in downtown Seneca Falls. Because film lengths vary, visitors are encouraged to call if they are interested in a particular showing. All park programs are free and open to the public. For more information, please visit call 315.568.0024.

You can also follow the park’s social media sites for Facebook and Twitter to learn more about their upcoming events and programs.