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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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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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Conboy, Sara Agnes McLaughlin (03 April 1870–07 January 1928), trade union official, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Michael McLaughlin and Sara Mellyn. Her father died when she was eleven years old, and young Sara, the oldest of several siblings, went to work in a local candy factory. There she earned $2.50 for a sixty-hour workweek. She then worked for a time in a button factory before going to work in a carpet factory in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Still working sixty hours a week, Sara was able to make at most $12 or $13 weekly as a skilled weaver. After only two years of marriage to Joseph P. Conboy, a Boston postal worker, Sara was suddenly left a widow with an infant to support. She returned to the Roxbury Carpet Company, continuing to work long hours and subject to frequent layoffs if looms needed repair or the company had excess stock....

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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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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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Dubinsky, David (22 February 1892–17 September 1982), labor union official, was born David Dubnievski in Brest Litovsk, Poland (now Brest, Belarus), the son of Bezalel Dubnievski, a bakery owner, and Shaine Wishingrad. The family moved to Lodz, Poland, where Dubinsky attended primary school. At the age of eleven he left school and became a baker’s apprentice. Four years later he advanced to master baker and joined the socialist General Jewish Workers Union, known as the Bund. Over the next several years, he was jailed and exiled to Siberia for his union activities....

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Ettor, Joseph James (06 October 1885–19 February 1948), labor activist, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Manilo Ettore, an Italian immigrant laborer, and Maria (maiden name unknown), natives of Rome. Soon after Joseph’s birth, the family moved to Chicago, where the boy received his elementary education and his first jobs as newsboy, railroad waterboy, saw filer, and cooper. His father was a militant worker who had participated in the Haymarket Square demonstration of 1886) and had been wounded by the bomb that exploded there. Around 1900 Ettor went to San Francisco, where he learned iron working skills and cigar stripping. He worked in a hotel kitchen during the San Francisco earthquake and later assisted in organizing common laborers involved with clearing quake damage. While on the West Coast, he was attracted to the Socialist party and the radical labor movement....

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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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Giovannitti, Arturo Massimo (07 January 1884–31 December 1959), poet, journalist, and labor leader, was born in Ripabottoni (Molise), Italy, the son of Domenico Giovannitti, a physician and pharmacist, and Adelaide Levante. Raised in a family of middle-class professionals in southern Italy, Arturo Giovannitti was educated at the Collegio Mario Pagano in Campobasso, the regional capital, where he first demonstrated his literary ability by winning a national contest for poetry. Rather than attend university in Italy, Giovannitti decided to “visit the world,” immigrating to Canada by himself at age sixteen or seventeen. Little is known about Giovannitti’s activities in Canada before he enrolled in a theological seminary affiliated with McGill University in Montreal and became a pastor’s assistant at a Presbyterian mission for Italians. His early attraction to Protestantism has never been adequately explained....

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Gompers, Samuel (27 January 1850–13 December 1924), cofounder and first president of the American Federation of Labor, was born in the working-class East End of London, England, the son of Solomon Gompers, a cigar maker, and Sarah Rood, Dutch Jewish immigrants. At age six he attended the Jewish Free School, where he studied Hebrew and French, but four years later the family’s economic needs required that he apprentice himself first to a shoemaker and then a cigar maker. Difficult economic times continued for the Gompers family, however, and with financial aid from his father’s union, Samuel and his family immigrated to the United States, arriving in New York City on 29 July 1863....

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Green, William (03 March 1870–21 November 1952), American Federation of Labor president, was born in Coshocton, Ohio, the son of Hugh Green, a coal miner, and Jane Oram. Green’s father had come to the United States two years earlier, bringing with him a heritage of trade unionism and an unshakable Baptist faith, both of which he imparted to his son. Green was born in a miner’s shack in the “Hardscrabble Hill” section of town. He was an energetic and precocious child, excelling at school and developing an appetite for reading. In a rare achievement for a miner’s son at the time, he completed the eighth grade before his labor was needed to supplement the family income. An intensely religious youth, Green aspired to the Baptist ministry, but his family could not afford the training for such a career. Later, as a local union official, Green would conduct Sunday school classes, and as AFL president he welcomed opportunities to address church and religious organizations....

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Hinchey, Margaret (10 December 1870–29 February 1944), suffragist and labor leader, was born in Limerick, Ireland, the daughter of Thomas Hinchey and Mary Maloney. Known informally as “Maggie,” she immigrated to New York City in 1897. Little record survives of her early life, but irregular spelling and grammar in her later correspondence suggest limited formal education....

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Jones, Mother (01 August 1837–30 November 1930), labor organizer, was born Mary Harris in Cork, Ireland, the daughter of Ellen Cotter and Richard Harris, a laborer. In her 1925 autobiography, Jones claimed to have been born on May Day, 1830, but this was part of her habit of exaggerating her longevity in the labor movement. Late in the 1840s her father fled the potato famine, and around 1852 the family joined him in Toronto, Canada, where he had gone to work on railroad construction. She often declared that before they migrated, her people had been active in the Irish resistance against England. Thus hard physical labor, exploitation, class consciousness, and political dissent were part of Mary Harris’s heritage....

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Kirkland, Lane (12 March 1922–14 August 1999), labor union leader, was born Joseph Lane Kirkland in Camden, South Carolina, the son of Randolph Withers Kirkland, a cotton buyer, and Louise Richardson Kirkland. He grew up in nearby Newberry, where many of his public school classmates had to work long hours after school in substandard conditions; Kirkland would later credit this exposure as the source of his interest in improving the lives of working men and women. Following the outbreak of World War II, he twice unsuccessfully tried to enlist in the Canadian armed forces—prior to the entry of the United States into the war—before returning to South Carolina, where he enrolled at Newberry College. In 1940 Kirkland dropped out of school and spent a year as a deck cadet with the merchant marine before enrolling in the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. After graduating from the newly opened facility in 1942, he spent the remainder of the war as a chief mate on various cargo ships. In due course he received his master's license and subsequently joined Local 688 of the International Organization of Masters, Mates, and Pilots; it was to be his only direct experience as a rank-and-file union member....

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Lewis, John L. (12 February 1880–11 June 1969), labor leader, was born John Llewellyn Lewis in Lucas County, Iowa, the son of Thomas Lewis, a coal miner and policeman, and Ann Louisa Watkins. Both parents were Welsh-born. Through the 1880s and into the early 1890s, the family lived in ill-constructed, company-owned houses with an outdoor privy....

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Meany, George (16 August 1894–10 January 1980), labor leader, was born in New York City, the son of Michael J. Meany and Anne Cullen, both of whom were American-born children of Irish families that had migrated to the United States during the early 1850s. In 1899 the Meanys moved across the East River to a comfortable working-class neighborhood in the Bronx, where George (the first name on his birth certificate, William, seems never to have been used) grew up. Mike Meany was a plumber, and against his father’s hopes for something better for his son, George Meany chose to follow in his father’s footsteps. He left school at fourteen, worked for over a year as a messenger for an advertising agency, and in 1910 was taken on as a plumber’s helper. He was inducted into Local 463 as a journeyman plumber in early 1917. By then his father had died, and when his older brother left for the army in April 1917 he became the sole supporter of his large family. In 1919, after a prolonged courtship, he married Eugenie McMahon, a garment worker. They had three daughters and a happy home life, which Meany assiduously shielded from his public career as a rising labor leader....

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Parsons, Lucy Eldine (1853?–07 March 1942), labor activist and writer, was born in north central Texas. Information about her parentage is inconclusive, though she may have been the daughter of Pedro Diáz González and Marie (maiden name unknown); her ancestry was in part African American. At the time she met her future husband in the early 1870s she lived with Oliver Gathings, a former slave. After using many maiden names, Lucy finally settled on González when she married in an attempt to establish a more acceptable Mexican ancestry....

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Perkins, Frances (10 April 1880–14 May 1965), reformer and public official, was born Fannie Coralie Perkins in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Frederick W. Perkins, a wholesale stationer, and Susan Bean. Perkins changed her name to Frances in 1905 when she joined the Episcopal church. After attending the primarily male Worcester Classical High School, she earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and physics from Mount Holyoke College in 1902. As a student there, Perkins helped establish a chapter of the National Consumers’ League, an organization dedicated to the abolition of sweatshops and child labor. She had been inspired by her economic history professor Anna May Soule and by the league’s general secretary, ...

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Pesotta, Rose (20 November 1896–07 December 1965), labor organizer and union officer, was born in Derazhnya, Ukraine, Russia, the daughter of Itsaak Peisoty and Masya (maiden name unknown), grain merchants. Despite the pogroms and social unrest of prerevolutionary Russia, she enjoyed a happy, traditionally Jewish childhood. Her formal education consisted of two years at Rosalia Davidovna’s school for girls and tutoring at home. Equally important was her political apprenticeship in local leftist groups. She read Kropotkin, Bakunin, and Proudhon and joined the political activity of the young radicals, which opened a window on the possibilities of a wider world. She found in the movement female role models who renounced traditional marriages to devote themselves to the revolutionary cause. She rebelled against her parents’ plan to marry her to a local boy and in 1913 joined her sister in the United States, where “a decent middle class girl can work without disgrace.” At Ellis Island, her name was changed to Pesotta....

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Phillips, Wendell (29 November 1811–02 February 1884), orator, abolitionist, and women's rights and labor advocate, orator, abolitionist, and women’s rights and labor advocate, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of John Phillips, a well-to-do politician and philanthropist, and Sarah Walley. The youngest of eleven children, Wendell received strict and loving attention from both of his parents. From the first he was trained to see himself as a great leader, committed to addressing the great moral and political questions of his age. This drive for leadership was compounded by his early discovery that he possessed extraordinary gifts as an orator. Athletic, handsome, and intelligent, he impressed teachers and classmates alike with his unusual capacity to express himself and to influence others with eloquent speaking. After attending the Boston Latin School, he graduated from Harvard in 1831 and obtained a Harvard law degree in 1833. For the next three years Phillips resided in and around Boston as he attempted, halfheartedly, to establish a legal practice, a career for which he felt no great enthusiasm. Instead he yearned to pursue a vocation worthy of his august legacy. That vocation, finally, was the cause of abolitionism, which he discovered through the process of courtship and marriage....