Saturday, September 1, 2012

So…which Maguire started Labor Day?

And Samuel Gompers is also in the mix
Labor Day Parade, Union Square,
New York, 1882

According to the New Jersey Historical Society in Newark, Matthew Maguire (1855-1917) was not only a force to be reckoned with in the formation of the American labor movement, but quite probably behind the creation of Labor Day. Maguire, in his fervor to improve working conditions, led his first strike for shorter working hours in the 1870s.
The first Labor Day parade was held in New York City on September 5, 1882 with participation estimated to be 10,000 strong.  It was led by Matthew Maguire and his wife, who shared the carriage with the famous social reformer and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher.

Now we come to Peter Maguire (no relation).  Peter was instrumental in forming New York’s Central Labor Council, and in 1897 he claimed to be the founder of Labor Day. He did, in fact, make a speech on that first Labor Day. So what’s up with that? Enter Samuel Gompers.
Ted Watts, author of a booklet The First Labor Day Parade, suggests that Matthew Maguire’s radicalism was simply unacceptable to the labor mainstream in general and Samuel Gomper’s American  Federation of Labor in particular. Thus, Matthew Maguire’s efforts were “swept under the rug” to make the movement seem more moderate and less political.

It all hit the fan when President Cleveland declared he was giving the pen that signed the holiday into official existence to Samuel Gompers. The Paterson, NJ, paper The Morning Call immediately hit the streets with a blistering editorial, “Honor to Whom Honor is Due.”  The souvenir pen, it cried, “should go to Alderman Matthew Maguire of this city, who is the undisputed author of Labor Day as a Holiday.”
Grace-Ellen McCrann of the New Jersey Historical Society, concedes, “It looks as though Matthew Maguire of Paterson, NJ, just really might be the true ‘Father of Labor Day”!

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