For most of us, Labor Day signals the unofficial end of summer. Vacations are finished, the kids are back in school and the cool autumn weather isn’t too far off. Labor Day is sometimes one of the few remaining days left to fire up the grill and to enjoy one last summer cookout and picnic. Have you ever wondered why we celebrate Labor Day and what its origins are?
The first Labor Day was celebrated in New York City in 1882. Even with its relatively recent history there is some controversy over who first championed the idea of a labor holiday. According to the Department of Labor’s website, Peter J. McGuire, general secretary for the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and later a founder of the American Federation of Labor, suggested a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold." Initially, this version of Labor Day’s history went unchallenged until the late 1960s, when a retired machinist claimed a deceased union brother of his, Matthew Maguire, originated the idea of a labor holiday.
Matthew Maguire, then serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union, proposed a
Initially Labor Day celebrations were an entirely local affair. During 1885 and 1886 various cities and municipalities passed ordinances recognizing the holiday. New York, New Jersey and Colorado were among the first states to legally establish the holiday. New York legislators first introduced a bill recognizing Labor Day. However, Oregon holds the record as being the first state to pass a bill, February 21, 1887. It wasn’t until 1894 that Senator James Henderson Kyle of South Dakota introduced a bill establishing the first Monday in September as Labor Day, making it a Federal holiday. The bill was approved on June 28, 1894.
From its origins as a way to commemorate workers and their unions, Labor Day has become a civic holiday. Besides featuring labor unions, Labor Day parades will also include various civic and fraternal groups, business members and elected officials. This year, while having one last picnic take a little time to remember all of America’s workers-past and present, male and female who work hard to make this country what it is.
Check out these links from the Department of Labor for more information on Labor Day and its history.
If you would like to learn more about Labor Day and the history of the modern labor movement the library has a wide selection of books. Here are some of the available titles:
For children and young adults:
Labor Day by Meredith Dash
General history on the labor movement in America:
"All Labor Has Dignity" by Martin Luther King Jr.
Sweat and Blood: A History of Labor Unions by Gina Skurzynski
Working Americans, 1880-2011 by Scott Derks
Good Girl Work: Factories, Sweatshops and How Women Changed Their Role in the American Workforce by Catherine Gourley