Honoring Labor: Remembering the Pullman Strike and Boycott

2019 marks the 125th anniversary of the Pullman Strike and Boycott, a momentous event in the history of organized labor in Illinois and the U.S., taking place throughout the late Spring and Summer of 1894. In commemoration of the Pullman Strike, the IDHH  examines its place in the history of labor and workers’ rights movements in Illinois and U.S. Collections provided by the Pullman State Historical Site provide particular insight into the event and its cultural and historical milieu. The scholarship of and input from Pullman State Historical Site Services Specialist, Martin Tuohy, was indispensable in developing this post.

The Pullman Strike and Boycott began as a walkout of the Pullman Palace Car Company by shop workers in May 1894. By July, it included 150,000 railroad workers over 20 railroads across 27 states. Pullman workers and allies across the country protested both the particulars of the Pullman workers’ grievances, such as layoffs and deep wage cuts while the Pullman company town maintained its rent rates, as well as the power of capital over workers that the grievances represented. The strike and boycott was part of wider developments in Workers’ Rights organization and came in the wake of several other significant demonstrations in the late 19th century along with the often oppressive responses to grassroots organization by companies and industry leaders. Company founder, George Pullman, played a significant role in exacerbating tensions between workers for obstinately emphasizing the company’s right to rent profits over most workers’ grievances.

Beyond Pullman and throughout the late 19th Century U.S., increased mechanization during the Second Industrial Revolution played a role in depressing wages and an ever increasing division of labor often alienated workers from their work and the products they produced. Moreover, while westward expansion in the late 1860s and early 1870s brought with it an increase in industry and investments, especially those related to railroads, the 1870s and 1880s were marked by significant economic declines. When times were difficult, workers were often hardest hit, facing frequent layoffs and wage cuts between the early 1870s and mid 1890s. In response, workers increasingly organized and acted by facilitating collective bargaining, and striking and boycotting when necessary. Strikes by miners and other factory workers throughout the 1880s and 90s, including the Haymarket Affair, set important precedents for the Pullman Strike. Oppressive responses by capital against unions, activists, and union leaders often left workers feeling, at best, under-represented and, at worst, at the whims of their employer.

The Pullman Strike and Boycott had some key differences from earlier actions, however; instead of organizing via craft unions, the Pullman Workers had the support of the fledgling but formidable American Railway Union (ARU), which included members across a range of professions and company leadership roles. Workers from the Midwest to Washington State struck and boycotted trains with cars built by the Pullman Company. It became the largest and one of the longest work stoppages up to that time in U.S. history and effectively shut down railway travel from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest. The strike was ultimately broken by a combination of the limited resources of workers after going months without pay, injunctions by federal courts, military force, and the imprisonment of union leaders and activists, including ARU president, Eugene V. Debs. Its leaders indicted or imprisoned and hundreds of its members blacklisted from future employment, the ARU collapsed.

The Pullman Strike precipitated the role of the state as an arbitrator between workers and railroad companies with the passing of the Erdman Act in 1898. This was the first in a series of Congressional acts aimed at regulating and reforming railway labor which laid the foundation for national labor laws enacted in the 1930s. The strike and its aftermath also raised important questions about the proper role of law enforcement, the military, and the state in cases of mass demonstrations within and beyond the realm of workers’ rights and industrial interests. At the local level, the Illinois Supreme Court forced the Pullman Company was forced to sell its residential property and many workers were able to purchase their long-rented abodes. The original town of Pullman is now a National Monument and Illinois State Historic District.

For further reading, refer to Martin Tuohy’s articles on the “Pullman Strike and Boycott” and “George Pullman” in Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working-Class History (2007). All of the IDHH items related to the Pullman Strike can be found here. Explore material related to George Pullman, including correspondence and portraits.

Welcome Des Plaines Memory!

The IDHH welcomes the Des Plaines Public Library as a new stand-alone contributor. For years, the Des Plaines Public Library has contributed content through the Illinois Digital Archives. Now, Des Plaines provides over 1200 additional items through their own digital library, Des Plaines Memory, including hundreds of photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, and more that document the diverse history, people, and cultures of the city.

Des Plaines Memory includes a range of artifacts documenting life, history, and culture in the town of Des Plaines. This includes a big arts scene, local musicians, painters, writers, dancers, and many others. Many artists celebrate rich, multicultural heritage.

Des Plaines’ collection boast a rich record of the distant past as well, including diaries from the Civil War. This collection boasts several objects, including journals and images and is growing, and is a truly remarkable addition to the many Civil War artifacts available in IDHH collections.

Black and white photograph of Charles E. Bennett, bearded, wearing a dark overcoat.
Portrait of Chester E. Bennett. 1890. Des Plaines Public Library. Des Plaines Memory. Permission to display was given by Des Plaines Public Library.

In addition to the Civil War diaries, Des Plaines Memory holds a host of content related to wartime in the U.S. The collection includes images and documents from both World Wars, the Korean War, Vietnam, and more recent conflicts and commemorations. There are also numerous images and documents pertaining to the McDonnell Douglas factory once located in Des Plaines. The images below depict men and women who served in World War I and World War II.

Finally, Des Plaines memory includes selected works of local artist, Edward Dougal (1937-2016). Dougal was a versatile artist with expertise in several forms and a host of media. He was a painter, sculptor, wood worker, and a writer and illustrator of children’s books. His pieces incorporating mirrors are among the most interesting, some of which are featured below.

World Cat Day

Happy World Cat Day! Also called International Cat Day, the holiday was first established by the International Fund for Animal Welfare in 2002. However, national holidays celebrating our feline friends have observed in countries around the world for decades. To celebrate, the IDHH spotlights items from Illinois State University’s collections.

First, behold the artwork of talented youngsters who loved their cats enough to immortalize them in pencil and watercolors. The paintings below are from the International Collection of Child Art and were created by children ages 8 through 13 from Colombia, Wales, and the U.S. The children’s attention to detail show how dear their furry friends were.

Next, here are toys from Japan featured from the Ethnology Teaching Collection, including a papier-mâché cat in a basket and the famous good luck charm of the waving cat, or ‘Maneki-Neko’. These figurines were placed in shop windows, inviting customers in and waving good-bye on their way out.

See all items in the IDHH related to cats.

Summer Fun in Chicago Parks

It’s the middle of summer and with the warm weather and school vacations, it’s peak season for outdoor activities. This time of the year, kids in Chicago take advantage of the city’s more than 500 parks, over 90 of which are featured in the Chicago Public Library’s Chicago Park District Records Photographs collection.

What better way to keep cool during the summer heat than at the pool? Chicago’s parks boast more than 70 pools across the city, just three of which are pictured below. As these photos suggest, pools have been an integral part of outdoor summertime activities in Chicago at least since the turn of the twentieth century.

On cooler days or when kids would prefer to stay dry, there are the Chicago Park District’s more than 300 playgrounds around the city. Beyond the slides, swings, merry-go-rounds, and more unusual features, the playground has long been a central place for after-school and summertime activities.

For more summer fun, search for related items from all IDHH collections. Or maybe visit your local park!

Celebrating Illinois Writers

July 21 marks the 120th birthday of Illinois-born, internationally-acclaimed author, Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961). To celebrate, the IDHH highlights collections that include materials on several Illinois literary giants, including Gwendolyn Brooks, Carl Sandburg, and Hemingway himself.

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) is one of the most celebrated U.S. poets, poet laureate of Illinois, and longtime Chicago resident. In 1949, She became the first African American writer to win a Pulitzer Prize. Brooks has a deep connection to African American history and culture, public life, and academics in Illinois. Throughout her life, Brooks spoke at libraries and campuses throughout the state, as demonstrated below in the photographs from the Lake Forest Academy and Ferry Hall Archives collection and Elgin Community College’s campus history collection. Gwendolyn Brooks came to Ferry Hall in 1969 and Lake Forest Academy in May of 1994 to speak to classes and give a reading of her poems. She visited Elgin Community College in 1995 to speak to high school and college English students. Brooks has perhaps the strongest connection to Illinois Wesleyan University, visiting the campus five times from 1972-1999, receiving an honorary doctorate there in 1973. See materials from her visits to Wesleyan here. See all of material in the IDHH on Brooks here.

Coincidentally, July also marks the death of another of the most celebrated writers in the state and the U.S., Carl Sandburg (1878-1967). Though best known for his poetry, especially his breathtaking naturalist and modernist pieces on urban life in Chicago, he was also a musician, editor, and prose author. One of his three Pulitzers was awarded for a biography on Lincoln. Sandburg was an advocate for civil rights and received an award from the NAACP in 1965. In the photo below from the Chicago History Museum’s Prints and Photographs Collection, Sandburg sits with his biographer, Harry Golden. Sandburg lived most of his life outside of Illinois but occasionally returned to his home state, including a visit to Knox College in 1958. Search all of the materials in the IDHH relating to Sandburg here.

Writers Carl Sandburg (left) and Harry Golden sit in Golden's office following the publication of his biography of the poet titled Carl Sandburg
Haun, Declan, 1937-1994 (photographer). Carl Sandburg and Harry Golden in Golden’s office. 1961. Chicago History Museum. Prints and Photographs Collection. Permission to display was given by Chicago History Museum.

Finally, the remarkable photographs below from the Ernest Hemingway Foundation, digitized by the Oak Park Library collection in the Illinois Digital Archive, showcase the early life of the author and his family in his hometown, a suburb of Chicago. Hemingway authored more than a dozen novels and short story collections throughout his life, receiving a Pulitzer for The Old Man and the Sea in 1953 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.  He is pictured below with his siblings, two of whom, Marcelline and Leicester, also became talented writers. Check out all of the IDHH materials on Hemingway here.

A Beach in Illinois

The IDHH rings in the season of Summer featuring a remarkable Illinois outdoor attraction, courtesy of the Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County.

Being a landlocked state, Illinois is not known for seaside attractions. Illinois is, however, home to one of the largest bodies of water in North America, Lake Michigan, along which sits the Illinois Beach State Park and the Illinois Beach and North Dunes Nature Preserves. Pictured below are images provided courtesy of the Dunn Museum’s Lake County History in Postcards. The location is just an hour’s drive north of Chicago.