I’ve not traditionally given Labor Day much thought. When I was younger, it signaled the beginning of school, about which I usually had mixed feelings (loved the new school supplies, dreaded science class). Now it means a day off work, some shopping, and of course, grilling.
However, when I contemplated what to write about today, I considered how I really don’t know much about this federal holiday. When did it start? What is its purpose? How was it traditionally celebrated?
Well, of course I’m not going to leave you hanging. I consulted the U.S. Department of Labor’s website to answer all those burning questions. Here’s what I found out:
There is still some disagreement over who first proposed a national labor day – some credit it to Peter J. McGuire, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, while others say it was Matthew Maguire, a machinist, who deserves the credit. Scholars seem now to lean toward Maguire, who was serving as secretary for the Central Labor Union (CLU) in New York City at the time. The CLU was the first organization to implement a labor day celebration in 1882. The CLU encouraged other cities to adopt the idea, and just a few years later, city centers across the nation were hosting their own festivities. On June 28, 1894, Congress enacted legislation that made the first Monday in September a day to celebrate the economic and social achievements of workers. Cities were encouraged to start the day off with a parade, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of laborers and their families.
I don’t know that many cities still have parades and big festivals for Labor Day, but I do like the sentiment of honoring all of us who work hard to make this country run. Let’s give ourselves a big pat on the back! After all, “it is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership – the American worker.” (U.S. DOL website)
And because I can’t resist drawing this directly back to the library, we just ordered a fascinating book on this very subject entitled Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work. It should be at the library soon, so be sure to check it out!