The Depression Strikes Indiana County

The Great Depression of 1929-32 without question was one of the watershed periods in American history. Joseph Alex Morris once wrote that “people later would speak of ‘before 1929’ or ‘after 1929’ as Noah’s children may have spoken of the days before and after ‘The Flood.'” The personal deprivation and social upheaval of those times sent shock...
read more

Black Steelworkers in Western Pennsylvania

Blacks constituted a sizable core of workers in the iron and steel industry of western Penn­sylvania between 1900 and 1950. Most had migrated to the Pittsburgh vicinity from the agricultural South during the two World Wars in hopes of improving their economic plight by obtaining jobs in area mills and foundries. However, racial discrimination prevented the majority of them from advancing beyond...
read more

Blacks and the Labor Movement in Pennsylvania: The Beginnings

I It is important to understand the relationship be­ tween Black and white labor from the time of slavery to the Civil War in order to understand the position of Blacks in the early labor movement. Since the early trade unions were primarily for skilled workers, the elimination of Blacks from the skilled trades helps explain their absence from the unions. In addition, the conflict between white...
read more

Teetering on the Brink of Rebellion?

Nineteenth century Harrisburg’s most rousing labor disorders erupted in July 1877 as part of the wave of spontaneous railway strikes sweeping the nation. The rioting that disrupted the quiet city overlooking the broad Susquehanna River was part of the country’s first wide­spread labor upheaval. The Great Railway Strikes, in turn, were a product of the Panic of 1873, then in its...
read more

Soft Coal’s Soft-Spoken Diplomat

Wearing a straw boater, he rode in the passenger seat of the Cadillac, and forlornly surveyed the pick­eting miners who blocked the lane leading into the village of St. Benedict in Cambria County. He sig­naled his manservant – serving now as bodyguard and chauffeur as well – to proceed through the human blockade. Angry strikers taunted them, shouting obscenities, as they drove up the...
read more

Unity House, A Workers’ Shangri-La

I can imagine the hundreds of people who were here on any summer evening,” recalls Nelson Whittaker, veteran custodian of twenty-five years. “They’d be walking around, talking, going to a theater performance, dancing in the ballroom, listening to a lecture, enjoying a fantastic meal. Now, it’s all gone.” For most of the twentieth century, garment workers –...
read more

Born to Organize

For nearly two decades, from 1944 to 1963, in northeastern Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley, a center of anthracite mining, Min L. Matheson (1909-1992) and the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) were synonymous with notions of “community.” A charitable event? Count on the ILGWU to provide volunteers and raise money. Patients at an area veterans’...
read more

The UMWA Wins America’s Approval: John Mitchell and the Anthracite Strike of 1902

Labor leader John Mitchell’s reputation seemed to precede him no matter where he traveled during the summer of 1902. Coal miners throughout northeastern Pennsylvania’s anthracite region referred to the boyish-looking thirty-two-year-old president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) as their beloved “Johnny d’Mitch.” His photograph hung in their homes beside...
read more

Living for Reform

For too long, Joseph A. Yablonski (1910-1969) – known to most simply as Jock – had seen things go wrong in the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), once a respected labor union. He had served in its hierarchy but with an increasingly troubled conscience. What mattered to him most was that things had to change and he had to lead the charge to change them. He ardently believed that...
read more

Baseball’s One-Armed Wonder: An Interview with the Late Great, Pete Gray

On Sunday, May 20, 1945, thirty-six thousand spectators packed Yankee Stadium, in the Bronx, for a doubleheader that pitted the New York Yankees against the defending American league champions, the St. Louis Browns. The Yankees, who had finished in third place in the previous season, six games behind the Browns, had something to prove that afternoon. Even though the World War II had stripped...
read more