The first Monday in September. The “official” end of summer vacation. And in the bygone days, the last day to wear seersucker or white.
Labor Day and the weekend preceding it have a special feel to them. The weather is still nice enough to enjoy the final remnants of summer with parades, grilling, and time spent in the lake or pool.
Many people “know” that Labor Day is meant to honor working men and women, but do you really know the origins of the holiday?
History of Labor Day
The first parade to honor “Labor Day” before it was a nationally recognized holiday was on September 5, 1882, in New York City. “Working Men on Parade” highlighted the orderly demonstration of more than 10,000 men. The laborers wanted city officials to understand that they were a large, united force to be reckoned with.
The event that would spark the working class and their fight for better working conditions happened in Chicago and would become known as the Haymarket Riot. On May 1, 1886, striking workers congregated to hear “three Anarchist agitators” give impassioned speeches. Police were called to the scene, and the resulting aftermath was horrific. “Bloodshed in Chicago” provided a detailed account of the riot at Haymarket.
Nationally Recognized in 1894
In the summer of 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed into law a bill that recognized Labor Day as a national holiday. A month later, Canadian Prime Minister John Thompson would follow suit and declare the first Monday in September as an official holiday.
Old newspapers in the United States and Canada created a snapshot of the happenings of 1894. “United Labor Had a Big Day,” and many smaller pieces in the Janesville Gazette immersed readers in the celebrations of the day.
The Evening Star in Washington, D.C. included several pieces with news like “What Famous Labor Leaders Say of the Holiday,” “Origin of the Day,” and “Labor Celebrating” to widely cover the newly passed holiday.
Canada also celebrated the first official Labor day with “The Monster Parade,” published by the Winnipeg Daily Tribune. The “greatest spectacle ever seen in the city” would rival the Lord Mayor’s show in London, England.
Even though Labor Day as a national holiday began in 1894, the Fair Labor Standards Act initiating minimum wage, a shorter workweek, and limited child labor would not take effect for another 44 years. Check out our post about the history of minimum wage in America.
Specialized Newspaper Publication
At NewspaperArchive, we pride ourselves in our digitized collection and some of the unique newspaper content we have available. The Everett Labor Journal was a publication based in Everett, Washington, devoted specifically to organized labor. Our collection contains issues from 1909-1922. The September 2, 1910, issue showcased two articles about Labor Day: “Labor Day Should Prove Worth of Organization” and “Lessons That Labor Day Should Teach to the Men and Women of Toil.”
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