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Arthur, Peter M. (1831–17 July 1903), labor leader, was born in Paisley, Scotland. Although he was born Peter McArthur, a payroll error later in his life listed him as Peter M. Arthur and he used that name thereafter. Little is known about his parents or early boyhood, but in 1842 he immigrated to the United States, where he settled on his uncle’s farm in New York state. After dropping out of school early, he worked for his uncle, then for another farmer, and later he tried unsuccessfully to establish himself in the carting business in Schenectady. In 1849 he went to work for a railroad line that soon merged with the New York Central Railroad; after a brief period as an engine wiper, a maintenance position, he was promoted to locomotive engineer....

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Dave Beck Opening the Teamsters Union convention in Miami Beach, 1957. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-99543).

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Beck, Dave (16 June 1894–26 December 1993), labor union leader, was born David Daniel Beck in Stockton, California, the son of Lemuel Beck, a carpet cleaner and part-time auctioneer, and Mary Tierney, a laundress. His father, who had migrated to California from his native Tennessee in search of work, moved his family to Seattle, Washington, when Beck was four years old. Beck had dreams of becoming a lawyer but dropped out of high school at the age of sixteen to help support his chronically impoverished family. After four years of odd jobs, he found steady work driving a truck for the laundry where his mother was employed and developed a lucrative route of his own. At night he took extension courses in law, economics, and business administration at the University of Washington. Beck enlisted in the navy in 1917 and saw action as a gunner on anti-zeppelin patrols over the North Sea. While on furlough the next year, he married Dorothy E. Leschander of Seattle. The couple had one child, Warren David, who later legally changed his name to Dave Beck, Jr....

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Belanger, Mark (08 June 1944–06 October 1998), baseball player and union leader, was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the son of Ed Belanger, a factory worker and technician, and Maria Bianchi Belanger. An excellent all-around athlete, Belanger stood out in basketball as well as baseball at Pittsfield High School, once scoring 41 points in a basketball game that gave his school the Western Massachusetts championship in 1962. After being scouted by Frank McGowan and Joe Cusick, he signed with the Baltimore Orioles as a free agent and began his professional career with Bluefield (West Virginia) in the Rookie League. Under the tutelage of manager Billy Hunter, the right handed hitter and thrower averaged .298 at the plate with 3 home runs and 23 runs batted in. In 1963 Belanger entered the Army and served one year, after which he returned to the minor leagues with Aberdeen (South Dakota) in the Northern League. He was named “Rookie of the Year” in 1964 despite only hitting .226. He advanced to Elmira (New York) in the Eastern League the following year and, despite a weak batting average of .229, was named to that league's all-star team....

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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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Berry, George Leonard (12 September 1882–04 December 1948), labor leader, was born in Lee Valley, Tennessee, the son of Thomas Jefferson Berry and Cornelia Trent. Berry claimed that his father was a judge and legislator, but this is not confirmed by state records. His father died when Berry was very young (some accounts indicate 1884, some 1888). Unable to support the family, his mother placed the boy in an orphan asylum; he was later moved to a foster home in Mississippi. Berry said that when he was only nine years old he ran away and began working as a newsboy for the Jackson, Mississippi, ...

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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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Boyle, Michael J. (11 June 1879–17 May 1958), labor leader, was born in Woodland, Minnesota, the son of Michael Boyle and Ann Kelly, farmers. In 1895 Boyle left school and started working as a utility company lineman in St. Paul. After holding similar jobs in Ohio and Michigan, Boyle moved to Chicago, where he became a wireman with the Chicago Tunnel Company. In 1902 he married Minnie Alice Oberlin; they had three children. Boyle had joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) when he took his first job, and in 1904 he transferred his membership to the union’s Local 134, which had jurisdiction over “inside” electrical work in Chicago. In 1908 he became business agent for the local....

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Boyle, William Anthony (01 December 1904–31 May 1985), labor union leader, was born in Bald Butte, Montana, the son of James P. Boyle, a coal miner, and Catherine Mallin. He attended public schools in Idaho and Montana and graduated from high school. Like his father, who came from a family of Irish immigrant coal miners in England and who emigrated to the United States, William A., better known as “Tony,” Boyle became a coal miner. Like most miners in the state of Montana, he joined the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), the union that by the middle of the 1930s represented nearly all the nation’s coal miners. On 3 June 1928 Boyle married Ethel V. Williams; they had one child....

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Bridges, Harry Renton (28 July 1901–30 March 1990), labor leader, was born Alfred Renton Bridges in Kensington, Australia, a suburb of Melbourne, the son of Alfred Bridges, a real estate agent and promoter, and Julia Dorgan, a sometime shopkeeper whose parents were Irish. He began while a teenager to call himself Harry, after an uncle who advocated trade unionism and the socialism of the Australian Labor party. Upon completing the tenth grade, Bridges began a college preparatory program but dropped out and soon went to sea....

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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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Brophy, John (06 November 1883–19 February 1963), coal miner and union organizer, was born in St. Helens, Lancashire, England, the son of Patrick Brophy, a coal miner, and Mary Dagnall. John spent his early childhood in a predominantly Catholic working-class community where union membership was the norm for most coal miners. He attended parochial school until the age of nine when, in December of 1892, his family immigrated to Philipsburg, Pennsylvania....

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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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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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Cameron, Andrew Carr (28 September 1836–28 May 1892), labor leader and editor, was born in Berwick-on-Tweed, England, the son of a Scots printer (his father’s occupation and nationality are all that are known about his parents). After only a brief time in school, Cameron went to work in his father’s shop. In 1851 he emigrated with his parents to the United States, settling just outside of Chicago....

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Chaplin, Ralph Hosea (30 August 1887–23 May 1961), radical labor editor and artist, was born in Cloud County, Kansas, the son of Edgar Chaplin and Clara Bradford, farmers. Hard times forced his family to leave Kansas when Chaplin was an infant, and he was raised in Chicago, where his family moved frequently and struggled against poverty....

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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 ...