On this holiday we celebrate the American worker and his or her contribution to our American life, but the holiday was actually born as a way to appease workers after a brutal crackdown on the workers and the union during the Pullman strike of 1894.

The people who made the Pullman railroad cars lived in a company town. They were paid by the Pullman Company, lived in company housing and had their rent automatically deducted from their paychecks. When the economy crashed in 1893 there were layoffs, and wage cuts, but no decrease in rents.

The workers walked out.  They were soon joined by railroad workers led by the young Socialist leader Eugene Debs. Train service was disrupted.  The mail could not get through. There was rioting and destruction of railroad equipment, sometimes by mobs of non-union workers. 80 million dollars of damage was done and thirty people died.

The strike became a national issue.  Unable to resolve the labor dispute President Grover Cleveland declared the strike a federal crime and sent troops to disband the strike.

Pullman Strikers Confronting the National Guard

Eventually the workers were overpowered and forced to sign a pledge never to unionize again.  Eugene Debs, defended by Clarence Darrow, saw the charge of obstructing the mail dropped, but spent six months in prison for violating a federal injunction.  He continued to organize. When he ran for President in 1920 on a Socialist ticket he won a million votes.

Labor had long pressed Congress for a Labor Day holiday.  The bill was passed by both houses and hit Cleveland’s desk six days after the end of the strike.  The bill was signed into law as a means of appeasing the labor movement.   The new holiday was seen by labor not just as a holiday, but as a day for organizing.

Today we see Labor Day as the holiday that marks the end of summer.  Kids go back to school, parents breathe a sigh of relief, we grill things and try not to think about cold weather and heating bills.

Of course, genealogists think about their ancestors and I am no exception.  Here are some of our great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and their labors.

Samuel Bublick opened a candy store, what we might consider a convenience store in New York City.

Joseph Mason

 

Joseph Mason worked as a leather cutter making ladies handbags.  He was a wiry little man with arms of steel.

Morris Silverman was a capmaker in New York City.

Morris Silverman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

His son Alex would organize for the capmakers union.

Alex Silver

Alex’s son, Stanley would work for the Signal Corp and then as a salesman.  He would be a union steward.

Stanley Silver

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am Stanley’s daughter.

 

John and Annie Costello homesteaded a farm in Sprague, Washington.

James and Sophie Cole

James and Sophie Cole homesteaded a farm in Primrose, Nebraska.

Edwin Cole

 

 

 

 

Their son Edwin would cook in a lumber camp, pour cement for the WPA and work as a janitor in a hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edwin’s son Merwin would become a union organizer, a carpenter and a contractor.

Marian and Merwin Cole

 

My husband is Merwin’s son

 

 

 

 

 

Stanley’s daughter and Merwin’s son got to go to college and now work at jobs that leave them trying to figure out how to get enough exercise. Wow!

Merwin’s son and Stanley’s daughter post exercise

 

 

 

Now that the 1940 census is more or less fully indexed I took a lazy woman’s stroll through some of our ancestor’s records.  I wasn’t expecting much new information.  My mother and mother-in-law both remembered that time and filled me in on the stories of our grandparents.  With such low expectations I was all but assured of finding something of interest and, of course, I did.

My husband’s grandfather worked for the WPA in 1940.  The WPA or Works Project Administration was founded in 1935 by the order of President Roosevelt to alleviate unemployment and start the country on the road to recovery from the Great Depression. At it’s peak in 1938 it provided jobs for 3,000, 000 people.  Edwin Cole was one of them.

In the 1940 census Edwin reports that he is working in “cement” and employed by the WPA.    My husband remembers being told that his grandfather traveled around Seattle pouring cement porches for people with an African-American partner.  Such a partnership would be unusual in the 30′s and 40′s, but maybe not if the WPA was involved.  The NAACP praised the WPA for providing African-Americans with real opportunity.  I would love to know if this partnership started with the WPA and continued on afterward.  There is so much rich history to be discovered in WPA records, but I haven’t scratched that surface yet.

Today, I am simply wondering what brought Edwin Cole to need the help of the WPA.

Edwin emigrated from Northern Ireland as an infant and lived with his parents in Nebraska and then Oregon.  In Oregon he met Rosa May Martin and married her in 1907. The marriage announcement states that Ed is “a prominent young businessman”..  By 1908 they were settled in Seattle.  A daughter was born and died in that year.  The 1909 city directory shows Edwin owning a grocery store at 2422 2nd Av.  Edwin and Rosa were living above the store.

The next city directory entry I can find is 1914.  By then Edwin and Rosa are living at 927 N. 87th St..  They owned that house and would live there for many years.  The grocery store is gone and through the years that followed until1929 Edwin worked at various jobs in a shipyard.  I expect there was work to be had in the shipyards prior to and during the First World War and Edwin seems to have found steady employment there.  By 1920 two sons had joined the family in the house on N 87th street.

Edwin Cole as chief janitor in the Arkade Bldg

After the stock market crash in 1929 America’s industries, including ship building, ground to a halt.  In the 1930 census Edwin is listed as a houseman in a hotel.  A houseman is a janitor in a hotel. I imagine Ed lost his job and counted himself lucky to be working as a janitor in 1930.  Although things must have been difficult Ed and Rosa were still able to deed two wood lots to their sons in 1934.

By 1935 things got worse.  Ed was unemployed and then in June Rosa died.  Ed couldn’t find full employment until the WPA provided a job for him.  I’m not sure when he started working for the WPA, only that he continued at least until 1940.  In 1938 he married Effie Kane and the two moved to a small house on Interlake Av. next door to Effie’s son. Ed made a total of $700 in 1939.  These were hard years in America and in the Cole household.  As America geared up for the Second World War the economy recovered and the austerity of the 30s eased.

I think Ed and Effie had a few good years until Effie’s death in 1945.  Ed continued for as long as he could and eventually moved in with my mother-in law and father-in-law.  He died in 1959.

As for me, I seem to need to continually relearn the classic genealogy lesson,  just when you think you’ve got it all figured out…

 

On Thursday, July 19th I was finally able to visit the Willamette Heritage Center and meet all of the people who have done so much for me. I have written about the wonderful file of 80 family photographs and their journey to our generous donor, Mary O’Meara and finally to me. If you haven’t read that post please click here and read this great story.

I was lucky enough to be visiting Portland, Oregon for the wedding of a good friend’s daughter. The wedding was a wonderful excuse for a meeting with a group of old friends, so I was accompanied to the museum by my husband and three good friends, including the mother of the bride.

Before our visit to the museum Norman and I were able to visit the family graves and the house that Amy and Jessie Martin lived in  during much of their time in Salem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kylie Pine, the director of acquisitions was waiting for us at the museum. She was accompanied by Mary and Mary’s friend Carol and our fabulous volunteer Kaylyn Mabey.

Mary, Judy, Norman, and Kaylyn

I can’t begin to tell you what an exciting day this was for me and for my husband, the actual descendent of the Martin sisters. We had a good look at all of the photographs, talking and laughing and telling some family stories with the entire group.
My dear friend Pat, the alternate author and administrator of this blog was in Portland with her husband for the wedding. She was unable to make the trip to Salem, but thoroughly debriefed me on my return to Portland.

As we looked through the photos we were all struck by the excellent state of preservation. My new best guess is that these photographs were cherished and protected by Amy Martin, until her death at 101. At that point there were no family members in Oregon and the photos probably came to Mary’s neighbor when he was given the task of cleaning her room. I don’t have any idea if this is true but it seems a good guess.

Before we arrived Kaylyn went above and beyond my wildest expectations.  She assembled death certificates, cemetery info, and William Martin’s probate file.  Thanks to Kaylyn I now have information about William Martin’s first wife, daughter and grandsons.

After viewing the photos and talking we were able to tour the museum.  It is a wonderful place with permanent and changing exhibits.  This month’s exhibit about beer brewing in the Willamette Valley was enjoyed by all, even though there were no samples.  There is even a small glass case with photos and information about the Martin sisters.

If you live near Salem or are traveling through I highly recommend a stop at the Willamette Heritage Center.  I will look back on my visit with the warmest of memories for many days.

On this Mother’s Day 2012 my thoughts have turned to the women in our families who were not mothers.

Today motherhood is a choice, many women both married and unmarried live fulfilling lives without children, but what about our ancestors.  In the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth marriage was the norm and children were Social Security. For women without children the end of life was often difficult. I like to find the stories of these women in our past and be sure that they are remembered

Here are two very different stories from my husband’s side of the family.

 

Amy and Jessie Martin:

Jessie and Amy Martin

Jessie and Amy martin

I have written before about Jessie and Amy Martin.  They were born in Michigan in 1873 and 1881 and moved to Oregon with their parents.  They spent decades as schoolteachers in Oregon.  The end of life was very difficult for them.  They struggled with financial hardship and poor health, as Amy wrote in a letter to my mother-in-law in 1959, “There were so many things she would have liked to do but lack of money was the drawback for all of us.”  They both passed away in the Methodist home in Salem, Oregon, Jessie in 1959 and Amy in 1982.

 

Eliza Jane Cole

Eliza Cole Thorpe

Eliza was born in Ireland in 1870 and came to America with her family in 1873.  The family moved to Nebraska and then to Oregon.  Eliza became a Seventh day Adventist Minister.  She married for the first time at the age of 50 to George Thorpe. I believe it was the first marriage for George as well. Eliza seemed to thrive as a minister and was well cared for by the Adventists.  She was visited several times a week by her niece and nephew.  A letter to my husband’s grandfather from Eliza’s nephew states, “We see Eliza once or twice a week.  She always speaks so fondly of you.  You know, of course, that she has not been in her own home for this past year.  The conference has substantially increased her allowance and that plus rental from her home leaves her well provided for.”  Eliza died in Vancouver, WA in 1955.

There are many more examples on both sides of our families. This is a busy time in my life and I have had little time for research.  I expect things to slow down a bit in September and I also intend to find out about these women’s lives and bring them back, if not to life, to remembrance

 

 

My mother-in-law, Marian Costello Cole, graduated from the University of Washington in 1936.  She went off to San Francisco, rented an apartment with a friend,  and went to work. She stayed in San Francisco until my father-in-law came to marry her in 1939.  This has always seemed to me like quite an adventure for the 1930′s  and I started to wonder about the history of young women in the workforce.

Marian and Merwin San Francisco

Of course, women have always been part of the work force. In the latter half of the nineteenth century women made up as much as 15% of the workforce, mostly as teachers or dressmakers, but a few as ship riggers and locksmiths.

By 1900 conventional morality dictated that a woman remain with her parents until she married an appropriate man, but in 1917 the First World War saw an increase in American production and an influx of women into factory jobs.  Secretarial and shop jobs followed quickly.  Young women left their small towns and headed to the big city for work. But where were they to live?  Certainly not on their own.  They needed a place where they could be protected and supervised after work, hence the birth of residences for young women.

I found one of our Cole relatives living in such a residence in Portland, Oregon in 1930.

click to enlarge

Phyllis Cole is listed as a guest in a hotel on 10th street.  She is one of about 150 single young women living in the hotel.  Phyllis is listed as a saleslady in a department store. Her fellow guests were stenographers, clerks, waitresses and teachers.  Breakfast and dinner were generally provided and men were certainly not allowed above the ground floor common spaces.

In New York City the Barbizon Hotel was the most well-known ladies’ residence. This was not a place for the poor.  Its illustrious residents included Grace Kelley, Sylvia Plath, and Joan Crawford.  The Barbizon started taking on male guests in 1981 and is now a condominium development.

Barbizon Hotel 1927

 

Other unmarried, working women were housed by their employers. The house next door to my husband’s Costello grandparents in Spokane, Washington was occupied by eleven teachers, mostly in their twenties.  An older woman listed as a servant lived with them.

Another relative, Bee Campbell, was a nurse in 1930 and is listed living in the Loma Linda Sanatorium and Hospital.  250 nurses, student nurses, and patients are listed as residents of the sanatorium.

These residences are relics of a bygone era.  My unmarried daughter lives in an apartment that she loves and comes and goes as she pleases, but she might be a bit envious of some aspects of life in the last two women’s residences in New York City.  Both closed in 2000, but until that time the terms of the lease included breakfast, dinner, and maid service for $600 per month.

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