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Bagley, Sarah George (29 April 1806–?), millworker, reformer, and physician, was born in Candia, New Hampshire, the daughter of Nathan Bagley and Rhoda Witham, farmers.

Bagley grew up in a family whose economic situation became increasingly precarious during the course of the nineteenth century. Nathan Bagley originally farmed land in Candia, which he had inherited from his father, but he later moved on to farming land in Gilford, New Hampshire. After losing litigation in 1822, he sold his land in Gilford and eventually moved to Meredith Bridge, New Hampshire (now Laconia), where he became an incorporator of the Strafford Cotton Mill Company in 1833. However, Nathan Bagley did not own a home after 1824; it was Sarah Bagley who made the down payment on a house for her family in Meredith Bridge in the 1840s. She probably used money she had saved during her stints as a factory worker in Lowell, Massachusetts....

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Barnum, Gertrude (29 September 1866–17 June 1948), settlement-house worker and labor reformer, was born in Chester, Illinois, the daughter of William Henry Barnum, a Cook County circuit court judge, and Clara Letitia Hyde. Growing up in suburban Chicago, Barnum had a privileged childhood. As a young adult, she appears to have rejected the dictates of her class when she refused to make her formal debut into Chicago society. At the age of twenty-five she went to the University of Wisconsin, majoring in English. However, after one year of study at which she excelled, Barnum left the university to become an activist for social change in the settlement-house movement....

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Bass, Robert Perkins (11 September 1873–29 July 1960), governor of New Hampshire, conservationist, and labor relations adviser, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Perkins Bass, a lawyer, and Clara Foster. Bass’s interest in politics was likely influenced by his father, who served as ...

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Bloor, Ella Reeve (08 July 1862–10 August 1951), radical labor organizer and feminist, was born on Staten Island, New York, the daughter of Charles Reeve, a successful drugstore owner, and Harriet Amanda Disbrow, a community affairs activist. While still a child, Ella moved to Bridgeton, New Jersey, where her family led a conservative, upper-middle-class life. An important counterinfluence was Ella’s great-uncle Dan Ware, a former abolitionist, liberal, Unitarian, greenbacker, and general freethinker. After attending local public schools, Ella spent a year at Ivy Hall Seminary, a finishing school she disliked. When she was fourteen, her mother began tutoring her at home....

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Brooks, John Graham (19 July 1846–08 February 1938), reformer and sociologist, was born in Acworth, New Hampshire, the son of Chapin Kidder Brooks, a merchant, and Pamelia Graham. During his youth he worked at the store owned by his father, who also represented the town of Acworth in the state legislature. After graduating from Kimball Union Academy in 1866, Brooks attended the University of Michigan Law School but soon changed his mind about studying law. He left after a year and taught the next year on Cape Cod. In 1868, after a summer in Quebec perfecting his French, he enrolled in Oberlin College, in Oberlin, Ohio. After graduating in 1872 Brooks returned to New England and enrolled in the Harvard Divinity School, where he graduated with a degree in sacred theology in 1875. He was soon ordained and served as a Unitarian minister in Roxbury, Massachusetts. In addition to his pastoral duties, he involved himself in labor reform and organized classes in history and economics for the workingmen of the neighborhood. His liberal sermons attracted listeners from Cambridge and Beacon Hill. He was soon addressing informal groups on social problems. In 1880 he married the widow of another Unitarian minister, Helen Lawrence Appleton Washburn, who shared his reform impulses; they had three children....

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Calloway, Ernest (01 January 1909–31 December 1989), African American labor and civil rights leader, journalist, and public intellectual, was born in Heberton, West Virginia. His father, also named Ernest, was a coal miner, and his mother, Mary Hayes, was the elder Calloway’s second wife. In 1913 the family moved to Jenkins, Kentucky, where Calloway spent his teenage years. A bright and restless youth, Calloway rebelled against the racial segregation and tight social control he experienced in a company-dominated southern coal town. After working in the mines with his father, he hoboed across the United States during the early years of the Great Depression. In March 1934 Calloway’s first published article appeared in a National Urban League magazine and led to his receiving a scholarship to attend Brookwood Labor College, an independent school that supported working-class insurgency. Calloway’s stint at Brookwood imbued him with commitments to industrial unionism, interracial organizing, and democratic socialism that endured throughout his long career....

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Carr, Charlotte Elizabeth (03 May 1890–12 July 1956), social worker and reformer, was born in Dayton, Ohio, the daughter of Joseph Henry Carr, a successful businessman, and Frances Carver. Carr developed an early sensitivity to problems of poverty and injustice, and when her parents insisted on her becoming a debutante instead of going to college she ran away and got a job in Pittsburgh. Her parents relented and enrolled her at Vassar College. Carr later said she learned little at Vassar; her higher education began in 1915 when she graduated and started “bumming around.” After serving as a matron in an Ohio orphan asylum Carr moved to New York, where she worked for the State Charities Aid Association and then for the New York Probation and Protective Association. Next came a stint as a policewoman, doing night patrols in the Brooklyn Bridge area. She then did personnel work at the American Lithographic Company and Knox Hat Company in New York (1921–1923) and at Stark Mills in New Hampshire (1923)....

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César Chávez Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111017).

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Chávez, César Estrada (31 March 1927–23 April 1993), labor leader and social activist, was born in North Gila Valley, near Yuma, Arizona, the son of Librado Chávez and Juana Estrada. In 1888 two-year-old Librado, his siblings, and his mother immigrated to the Arizona territory to join his father, who had fled the harshness of life at Hacienda del Carmen in Porfirian, Mexico. Juana Estrada, also a native of Chihuahua, married Librado in 1924, and soon after the couple purchased a small grocery/garage/pool hall not far from his parents’ 160-acre ranch and raised six children. After losing their property during the depression, the family soon joined the migrant harvest circuit....

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Coles, Edward (15 December 1786–07 July 1868), slavery opponent and second governor of Illinois, was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, the son of Colonel John Coles and Rebecca Tucker, wealthy, slaveholding planters. The eighth of twelve children, almost from the day of his birth Edward was associated with the great and near-great in revolutionary American society. One of the first families of Virginia, the Coles moved in a social circle that included national figures such as ...

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Cook, Alice (28 November 1903–07 February 1998), international labor scholar, educator, and advocate for workingwomen, was born Alice Hanson in Alexandria, Virginia, the eldest child of August Hanson, the son of Swedish immigrants, and Flora Kays, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Along with her two younger brothers, the family traveled the country following her father's work for the railroads. From her close-knit family Alice learned civic responsibility and activism at an early age, joining her mother and grandmother in a suffragists’ picket line at the White House during President ...

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Dudley, Helena Stuart (31 August 1858–29 September 1932), settlement house worker and peace activist, was born in Florence, Nebraska, the daughter of Judson H. Dudley, a land developer, and Caroline Bates. Her early life was rather unsettled as the Dudley family moved about the West in pursuit of her father’s real estate ventures. Helena Dudley did not attend college until the age of twenty-six when she spent a year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She then went on to Bryn Mawr college, graduating with the first class in 1889 with a degree in biology. Like so many other college-educated women of her generation, she became a teacher, first at the Pratt Institute and, a year later, at the Packer Institute, both in Brooklyn, New York....

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Evans, George Henry (25 March 1805–02 February 1856), labor editor and land reformer, was born in Bromyard, in Herefordshire, England, the son of George Evans, who served in the British army during the Napoleonic Wars, and Sarah White, who came from the modestly landed gentry. When she died in 1815 George Henry remained with his father to receive a “scholastic” education while his younger brother Frederick William was sent to live with relatives. In 1820 Evans immigrated to the United States with his father and brother; he was apprenticed to a printer in Ithaca, New York, where the family settled. The Evans brothers studied the writings of ...

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Elizabeth G. Flynn Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97791).

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Flynn, Elizabeth Gurley (07 August 1890–05 September 1964), labor organizer and activist, was born in Concord, New Hampshire, the daughter of Thomas Flynn, a quarry worker and civil engineer, and Annie Gurley, a tailor. Both parents were descended from a long line of Irish rebels. During Elizabeth’s childhood, the family was poor due to the hard times and her father’s preference for political argumentation over earning a living. In 1900 the Flynns moved to a cold-water flat in the Bronx, which became a gathering place for Irish freedom fighters and prominent socialists. Impressed by Elizabeth’s intelligence and militancy, they encouraged her activism....

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Galarza, Ernesto (07 August 1905–22 June 1984), scholar and union activist, was born in Jalcocotán in the state of Nayarit, Mexico. His parents, about whom few details are known, were farm workers. In 1911 Galarza went to the United States with his mother and two uncles to escape the dangerous conditions of the Madero revolution in Mexico. Galarza began his formal education in 1911 in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, and continued his schooling in Sacramento, where his family eventually settled. As a child, Galarza held a number of jobs, including positions as a messenger, drugstore clerk, court interpreter, and cannery and field worker, but with the aid of his uncle he was also able to continue his education. Even as a young boy Galarza became something of an activist. As he was fond of recalling in later years, he became a leader and negotiator for the adult workers in his Mexican community at age eight because he knew perhaps two dozen words of English. Galarza’s mother died when he was only twelve years old. Encouraged by his uncle, Galarza entered Occidental College in Los Angeles on scholarship in 1923....

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Grigsby, Snow Flake (13 February 1899–22 March 1981), civil rights advocate and trade unionist, was born in Newberry County near Chappells, South Carolina, the son of Fred Grigsby and Kitty (maiden name unknown), farmers. Named in the African manner for the unusual snowfall that fell on his birth date, he learned the lesson of fending for one’s self in a family of twelve children raised by religious, education-minded, politically active parents. He embraced individualism but benefited from philanthropy and endorsed government activism. He left home to receive his high school diploma at Harbison Junior College (1923) in Irmo, courtesy of the Presbyterian Church. Heading north to look for what he called “rosy opportunities,” he worked menial jobs by night and attended the Detroit Institute of Technology by day. He graduated in 1927 but failed to find employment as a pharmacist. Like his father, a one-time federal mail contractor, he became a postal employee. He married Eliza Red, and they raised a son and a daughter....

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Harrison, Hubert Henry (27 April 1883–17 December 1927), black intellectual and radical political activist, was born in Concordia, St. Croix, Danish West Indies (now U.S. Virgin Islands), the son of William Adolphus Harrison and Cecilia Elizabeth Haines. Little is known of his father. His mother had at least three other children and, in 1889, married a laborer. Harrison received a primary education in St. Croix. In September 1900, after his mother died, he immigrated to New York City, where he worked low-paying jobs, attended evening high school, did some writing, editing, and lecturing, and read voraciously. In 1907 he obtained postal employment and moved to Harlem. The following year he taught at the White Rose Home, where he was deeply influenced by social worker Frances Reynolds Keyser, a future founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1909 he married Irene Louise Horton, with whom he had five children....

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Hutchins, Grace (19 August 1885–15 July 1969), labor researcher and social reformer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Edward Webster Hutchins, a lawyer, and Susan Barnes Hurd. Descendants of early Massachusetts colonists, her parents held an elite position in Boston society, were members of the Trinity Episcopal Church, and were actively involved in the community. Her father helped form the Boston Bar Association and founded the Legal Aid Society. Her mother participated heavily in philanthropic work....

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Kallet, Arthur (15 December 1902–24 February 1972), engineer, labor activist, and founder of the Consumers Union, was born in Syracuse, New York, the son of Barnett Kallet and Etta Kaplan. Kallet received a B.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1924 and then accepted a position with the New York Edison Company performing editorial work. Three years later Kallet married Opal Boston, with whom he had one child. The marriage lasted until her death in 1952. He remarried in 1954, to Mary R. Fitzpatrick, with whom he had two children....