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Anderson, Mary (27 August 1872–29 January 1964), labor leader and federal administrator, was born in Lidköping, Sweden, the daughter of Magnus Anderson and Matilda Johnson, farmers. She received her only formal education at a local Lutheran school. Inspired by letters from her older sister Anna who had moved to the United States, Mary and her sister Hilda traveled to Ludington, Michigan, in 1889. Sixteen years old when she arrived in America, Anderson struggled to learn English while she worked as a dishwasher and cook in a boardinghouse for lumber workers....

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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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Bellanca, August (14 March 1885–13 November 1969), trade union and political activist, was born in Sciacca, Sicily, Italy. His father was a farmer and a baker, but little else is known of his parents or his childhood in Sicily. Bellanca attended elementary school in Sciacca and went to work at age sixteen, when he was apprenticed to a tailor and a barber in Sciacca. Some time between 1900 and 1905, he immigrated to the United States and worked as a cigar maker in Tampa, Florida, and San Francisco, California, until he moved to the Northeast. Bellanca helped found the Brotherhood of Tailors, which became an important dissident group in the United Garment Workers of America (UGWA), a conservative affiliate of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Bellanca’s own immigrant background enabled him to become an organizing force among the garment workers, a group composed primarily of Italian and Eastern European Jewish immigrants who maintained their roots in ethnic communities and cultures....

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Beyer, Clara Mortenson (13 April 1892–25 September 1990), reformer and labor law administrator, was born in Middletown, California, the daughter of Danish immigrants Morten Mortenson, a carpenter and unsuccessful chicken farmer, and Mary Frederickson. Her father died in a trolley accident when she was fifteen. As the eldest of four children remaining at home, Beyer delayed further schooling until her mother sold the farm. She then worked her way through high school and the University of California, Berkeley, gaining firsthand understanding of labor conditions and unskilled workers’ lives. At Berkeley she absorbed the institutional approach to labor economics, which emphasized the law and social institutions rather than market forces; she received a B.S. in 1915 and an M.S. in economics in 1916 with a thesis called “Organized Labor in San Francisco, from 1892–1902.”...

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Biemiller, Andrew John (23 July 1906–03 April 1982), labor lobbyist, was born in Sandusky, Ohio, the son of Andrew Frederick Biemiller, a traveling salesman who sold dry goods to small general stores, and Pearl Weber. Andrew Frederick was also chairman of the Republican Committee in Sandusky and a member of the Knights Templar. After her husband’s death in the great flu epidemic in 1918, Pearl Biemiller ran a boardinghouse....

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Browne, Carl (1846–16 January 1914), political agitator, reform journalist, and organizer of "Coxey's Army", political agitator, reform journalist, and organizer of “Coxey’s Army,” was born in Springfield, Illinois. (The date and place of his birth are sometimes less reliably given as 4 July 1849 in Newton, Iowa). Browne was working as a sign painter in western Iowa in 1869 when he suddenly decided to move to California. At that time he desired more than anything else to paint a gargantuan panorama of the Yosemite Valley. He later exhibited this painting up and down the Pacific Coast, such panoramas being a popular form of folk art in the nineteenth century. One unfriendly critic observed, “As an artist Carl Browne belongs to a distinct school. In fact, he constitutes the entire school.” Browne’s response to critics was to affirm that as a young man he had apprenticed with a carriage and house painter (an experience that probably accounted for his love of huge panoramic images and garish colors such as might adorn a circus wagon)....

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Budenz, Louis (17 July 1891–27 April 1972), labor organizer and anti-Communist government witness, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, the son of Henry Joseph Budenz, a bank cashier, and Mamie Gertrude Sullivan. Both parents were devout Catholics. After graduating from Indianapolis Law School in 1912, Budenz served as national organizer for the Catholic Young Men’s Institute. Although he was admitted to the bar, he never worked as a lawyer. A brief stint as editor of the Carpenters’ Union journal from 1912 to 1913 ended with his move to St. Louis to work for the Central Bureau of the Catholic Central Verein, where his main task was to try to secure passage of state workmen’s compensation laws. During his stay in St. Louis, Budenz, an independent radical, helped lead a strike of 4,000 women working in department stores and fought for public ownership of utilities....

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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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Collins, Jennie (1828–20 July 1887), labor reformer and woman suffragist, was born in Amoskeag, New Hampshire, to humble circumstances. Orphaned by the age of fourteen and largely self-taught, Collins joined the ranks of New England women employed in the textile mills of Lawrence and Lowell, Massachusetts. In the 1840s she moved to Boston, where she worked briefly as a domestic servant and then became a tailor in the city’s prospering garment industry....

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Jacob Coxey. "'Coxey's Army' approaching Washington, April 30th. 'General' Coxey, accompanied by reporters with bicycles … From sketches by T. Dart Walker." Illustration from Harper's Weekly, 12 May 1894. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105022).

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Coxey, Jacob Sechler (16 April 1854–18 May 1951), businessman, politician, and head of "Coxey's Army" of the unemployed, businessman, politician, and head of “Coxey’s Army” of the unemployed, was born in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, the son of Thomas Coxey, a stationary engineer, and Mary Sechler. Six years later his family moved twenty miles farther north to Danville, in Montour County, where his father worked in an iron-rolling mill. Young Jake attended public school for eight years and, at age sixteen, took a summer job as a water boy in the mill with his father. He quickly advanced to machine oiler and then boiler tender. By the time he left the mill at the age of twenty-four he had become a stationary engineer like his father....

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Eugene V. Debs. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105054).

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Debs, Eugene Victor (05 November 1855–20 October 1926), labor organizer and presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America, was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, the son of Marguerite Bettrich and Daniel Debs, Alsatian immigrants and retail grocers. Following the completion of ninth grade, Debs left school to work as a paint scraper on the Terre Haute and Vandalia Railroad. Within a year he rose to locomotive fireman but was laid off in the sustained economic depression of the mid-1870s. Searching for work in St. Louis in 1874, he encountered extensive urban poverty for the first time....

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Dodd, Bella Visono ( October 1904–29 April 1969), teachers' union lobbyist and lawyer, teachers’ union lobbyist and lawyer, was born Maria Assunta Isabella Visono in Picerno, Italy, southeast of Naples, the daughter of Rocco Visono, a grocer, and Teresa Marsica. She was raised in the nearby village of Avialano by foster parents until she was old enough to join her family in New York City at the age of five. Her family moved several times and finally out of the tenements into a large house in Westchester left to her mother by two elderly women for whom she had worked. Determined to become “an American,” Bella excelled in school, rejected Catholicism, and, after World War I, avidly began reading newspapers....

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Dreier, Mary Elisabeth (26 September 1875–15 August 1963), labor reformer and suffragist, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Theodor Dreier, a partner in an iron firm and elder in the German Evangelical church, and Dorothea Adelheid. Mary Dreier attended George Brackett’s School in Brooklyn and was tutored in music, art and language. Her parents raised Dreier and her siblings to be independent and morally responsible. After her father died in 1897, her mother founded a rest and recreation home for poor women in his memory before she died two years later. A large inheritance allowed her to live comfortably and dedicate her life to social reform....

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Drury, Victor S. (24 February 1825–21 January 1918), labor leader and political radical, was born in France. Little is known of his life before he participated in the overthrow of Louis-Philippe in 1848, except that he was a fresco painter. Drury was a delegate to the (First) International Working Men’s Association in 1864, where he witnessed debates between Karl Marx and anarchist followers of Auguste Blanqui and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. In 1867 Drury emigrated to New York City and organized French-speaking sections of the International. He contributed articles to the radical journals ...

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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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Dunn, Robert Williams (01 June 1895–22 January 1977), labor organizer, economic researcher, and political activist, was born in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, the son of a lawyer. Little is known about his early life. He graduated from Yale University in 1918.

Throughout his career, Dunn perceived labor issues and the rights of workers and their unions as closely related to the right to free speech. From 1918 to 1920 he worked in New England for the Amalgamated Textile Workers Unions as organizer and researcher. In 1920, during the aftermath of the Palmer Raids, he founded the New England Civil Liberties Union in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1923 he and ...

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Fechner, Robert (22 March 1876–31 December 1939), labor union and New Deal official, was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the son of Charles Robert Fechner, a carriage trimmer, and Virginia Roberts Fechner. Fechner grew up in the Georgia towns of Macon and Griffin. He briefly attended the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, but he left school at the age of sixteen and apprenticed himself in the Augusta shops of the Georgia Railroad as a machinist. His training as a machinist lasted until 1896....

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Foner, Morris Moe (03 August 1915–10 January 2002), labor leader and political activist, was born in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, the third child of Abraham Foner, a seltzer delivery man, and Mary Smith Foner; both were Jewish immigrants from Bielsk, Russia (now Poland)....