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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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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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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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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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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)....

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Ford, James William (22 December 1893–21 June 1957), labor leader and Communist party official, was born James William Foursche in Pratt City, Alabama, the son of Lyman Foursche, steelworker, and Nancy Reynolds, a domestic. Not long after his birth, the family began to use a new surname when a white policeman questioning his father insisted that “Foursche” was too difficult to spell and changed the name to Ford. The most traumatic experience of Ford’s boyhood was the lynching of his grandfather, a Georgia railroad worker. Ford started work at thirteen, joining his father at the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company, where he worked as a water boy, mechanic’s helper, and then steam-hammer operator. Nevertheless, he managed to complete high school....

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Haessler, Carl (05 August 1888–01 December 1972), journalist and socialist trade unionist, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the son of Herman F. Haessler and Elizabeth Wagner. The political life of that city was dominated at that time by immigrant German social democrats. Haessler earned a B.A. at the University of Milwaukee, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University, where he studied for two years. He completed his formal education with a Ph.D. degree from the University of Illinois, where he also taught. In 1917 he married Mildred Barnes; they had two children....

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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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Haywood, William Dudley (04 February 1869–18 May 1928), labor leader and political radical, known as “Big Bill,” was born William Richard Haywood in Salt Lake City, Utah, the son of William Dudley Haywood, an itinerant worker, and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). The senior Haywood died when his son was three years old. Four years later Elizabeth married a hard-rock miner (name unknown). Haywood changed his middle name from Richard to Dudley in 1878. He received a rudimentary education and began working as a youngster at the odd jobs available in a small mining camp or in Salt Lake City, where his family occasionally lived. At the age of fifteen he became a miner, and that remained his primary occupation until 1901, when he became a full-time union official....

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Iglesias, Santiago (22 February 1872–05 December 1939), labor organizer and Puerto Rico's territorial representative in Congress, labor organizer and Puerto Rico’s territorial representative in Congress, was born in La Coruña, Spain, the son of Manuel Iglesias, a carpenter, and Josefa Pantín. At age twelve, when his father died, he became a carpenter’s apprentice. When his employer denied workers permission to attend a Sunday meeting to protest sales taxes, he organized a walkout in 1884 that was broken up by soldiers who fired on the protesters....

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Jackson, Gardner (10 September 1896–17 April 1965), newspaperman, public official, and liberal gadfly, also known as “Pat,” was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the son of William Sharpless Jackson, a wealthy banker and railroad magnate, and Helen Banfield. In the Jackson family, affluence mingled with sympathy for the oppressed: Jackson’s father was a Quaker, and his mother was the niece of his father’s late and revered second wife, ...