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Volume 2, Issue 12, August 30, 2017
My prayers go out to the people affected by Hurricane Harvey. Watching the storm unfold reminds all of us the power of nature, the determination to help those in need, and the resilience of the human spirit.

September is around the corner and with it comes the national holiday created to honor the American worker--Labor Day. It isn't just the labor itself that is honored but also the contributions related to the work environment such as improvements of physical conditions and better pay. Featured in this issue are two historic sites that played a major role in the fight for better working conditions: one dealt with railroad car workers and the other with silk mill workers.

Cynthia Collins
Cynthia Collins 

Pullman National Monument
Pullman National MonumentThe Pullman National Monument is a historic district in Chicago, and the first planned, industrial community in the nation. Owned by the wealthy engineer, George Pullman, the town was where the Pullman dining and sleeping cars for trains were built and where employees and their families lived. It had its own hotel, roughly 1,300 housing units made of red brick on tree-lined streets, an administration building and factory. The Pullman Palace Car Company was considered a model community, providing safety, indoor plumbing, and daily trash pick-up. It opened in 1880 and, within three years, had a population of roughly 8,000.

Problems were brewing just beneath the surface regarding both employment issues and residential. People who lived in the company town had to pay rent and were not allowed to own their own home. The rent was deducted from their paychecks. Many moved outside the 4,000-acre community to areas where they could own their home, attend the house of worship of their choice, and have access to other businesses nearby.

Pullman strikers outside Arcade BuildingWhen the demand for Pullman cars decreased in the early 1890s, paychecks shrank but the rents did not. This barely left any money for families to live on. Workers voiced their grievances and joined the American Railway Union, formed in 1893. Pullman workers went on strike on May 11, 1894. George Pullman refused to negotiate with his workers and the union organized a boycott of trains with Pullman cars. U.S. marshals and Army troops were called in to end the boycott.

The preserved buildings tell a variety of stories of urban planning, architecture, plight of workers, immigrants, strikes and national consequences, and how social, racial, and employment rules have changed. It has been a National Historic Landmark since 1970 and became part of the National Park Service in 2015 under President Obama.

American Labor Museum 
American Labor MuseumThe American Labor Museum, in Haledon, NJ, is in a 1908 house built for Italian immigrants, Pietro and Maria Botto. This was where striking silk workers gathered for weekly rallies from March to June in 1913. Each week, the crowds protested long hours, low wages, and unsafe conditions in the silk factories of Paterson, NJ. On one day, union leaders addressed a crowd of 20,000 workers from the house's balcony.

The strike escalated after power looms replaced handlooms. The workers were European immigrants who owned their own handlooms, were skilled in their craft, respected in their community, and owned their own home. Industrialization took priority over being a skilled artisan, power looms were cheaper to operate, and workers were expected to handle up to four power looms at once. The skill level of using handlooms was not reflected in workers' wages. Even though there had been protests since 1909, it wasn't until 1913 when the strike was supported by workers of skilled and unskilled labor, different nationalities, and gender.

Paterson Silk Strike of 1913In addition to the silk workers, the strike caught the attention of the industrial workers' union, and artists and writers living in Greenwich Village, The writer, Upton Sinclair, was interested in the weekly rallies at the Botto House. As the strike continued, it was difficult for workers to feed their children so Margaret Sanger helped send the children to other families in the area until their parents could afford food. A fundraising event took place at Madison Square Garden with an audience of 15,000 people. When the strike ended, management reduced the 55-hour work week to 9 hours a day, and reduced the operation of four looms at a time per person to two per person. 

Exhibits at the American Labor Museum include detailed information about the Paterson Silk Strike, the common goals of factory workers, daily life of the Botto family, and the role immigrants played in the American workforce. The house is a National Historic Landmark and a New Jersey State Historic Site. It illustrates the importance of free speech, the right to assemble, and its importance within the labor movement.

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The Unicorn Tree
The Unicorn Tree by Cynthia Collins

A teenage girl whose brother is lost at sea –

The diary of a nineteenth-century woman –

And the special place that binds them…

For reviews, excerpts, and summary, see

Ghost story and maritime adventure...
Available at
Photo credits: Pullman National Monument: courtesy of NPS. American Labor Museum: courtesy of American Labor Museum.

All articles in this newsletter are by Cynthia Collins. The featured historic site section contains general information. The other articles may not be reprinted without written permission. Subscriber lists are not sold or given to any third parties and historic sites are not charged for being featured. To suggest historic sites for future issues, request article reprint permission, or any comments/questions regarding this newsletter, please contact Cynthia Collins.
Copyright © 2017 Cynthia Collins, All rights reserved.

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