"It Had a Lot of Advantages"Alfred DuBray Praises the Indian Reorganization Act
The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, which became known as the Indian New Deal, dramatically changed the federal government's Indian policy. Although John Collier, the commissioner of Indian affairs who was responsible for the new policy, may have viewed Indians with great sympathy, not all Native Americans viewed the Indian New Deal in equally positive terms. But in this 1970 interview, Sioux tribal leader Alfred DuBray argued that the Indian New Deal, on balance, brought positive changes.
Slumming Among the Unemployed: William Wycoff Studies Joblessness in the 1890s
Even before the 1890s depression struck with devastating force in 1893, large numbers of jobless men and women competed in tight labor markets and faced homelessness. One of the best first-hand descriptions of "what it is to look for work and fail to find it" comes from political economist Walter Wycoff's two-volume study of The Workers: An Experiment in Reality, first published in 1899. Wycoff had abandoned his studies at Princeton to seek a more concrete appreciation of social problems. His re
A German Jewish Woman Settles in North Dakota
Women who settled the West in the years after the Civil War often faced harsh and unremitting toil. Laboring from well before dawn until well after the sun had set, women helped plant and harvest crops, raised large families, and kept house with the most rudimentary of equipment. Long periods of isolation from neighbors and kin were common; social occasions or visits by travelers and kin were rare and cherished events. Sarah Thal, a German Jew who immigrated to North Dakota in 1882, recalled tha
"All That Is Passed Away": A Young Indian Praises U.S. Government Policy in the Late 19th century
Federal officials and reformers regarded education as the linchpin in the government's efforts to Americanize and assimilate Native Americans, which became the dominant federal policy starting in 1887. They placed the greatest stock in off-reservation boarding schools, because they removed Indian youths from their home environment and culture. The U.S. Training and Industrial School founded in 1879 at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, was the model for most of these schools. Ellis B. Childers, a
The Bum as Con Artist: An Undercover Account of the Great Depression
Middle-class observers reacted to hoboes and tramps of the Great Depression with an array of responses, viewing them with suspicion, empathy, concern, fear, sometimes even a twinge of envy. For some, stolidly holding onto traditional values of work and success, the "bum" was suspect, potentially a con artist. Tom Kromer's "Pity the Poor Panhandler: $2 An Hour Is All He Gets" exemplified this stance, urging readers to resist the appeals of panhandlers and refer them to relief agencies, where prof
"It Didn't Pan Out as We Thought It Was Going To"Amos Owen on the Indian Reorganization Act
The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, which became known as the Indian New Deal, dramatically changed the federal government's Indian policy. Although John Collier, the commissioner of Indian affairs who was responsible for the new policy, may have viewed Indians with great sympathy, not all Native Americans viewed the Indian New Deal in equally positive terms. In this 1970 interview with historian Herbert T. Hoover, Amos Owen, Mdewakanton Sioux tribal chairman, gave a mixed verdict on the Indi
"A Perfect Hailstorm of Bullets": A Black Sergeant Remembers the Battle of San Juan Hill in 1899
The best-known image of the Spanish-American War is that of Teddy Roosevelt on horseback charging with his Rough Riders up San Juan Hill in Cuba. But not only was the role of the Rough Riders exaggerated, it also displaced attention from the black soldiers who made up almost 25 percent of the U. S. force in Cuba. Indeed, the Spanish troops, who called the black soldiers "smoked Yankees," were often more respectful of the black troops than were the white officers who commanded them. Here Sergeant
"The Baby Was Made 'Delegate No. 800'": Frances Willard Meets Elizabeth Rodgers in the 1880s
The commitment of the Knights of Labor to equality for women was more than rhetorical, as seen in the career of Elizabeth Rodgers, the Master Workman, or head, of the organization's giant Chicago District No. 24. This 1889 portrait of Rodgers, offered by leading national anti-liquor activist Frances Willard, underscored the desire on the part of many Knights, both men and women, to connect the struggle for labor reform with a broader vision that included vehement opposition to liquor. It also sh
"Still Livin' Under the Bonds of Slavery": Minnie Whitney Describes Sharecropping at the Turn-of-the
The emergence of the sharecropping system in the South in the last three decades of the 19th century rested on an uneasy compromise between black farming families and the white landowners on whose land they labored. Sharecropping was an oppressive system but the experience of sharecropping families varied. In this interview done by historian Charles Hardy in 1984, Minnie Whitney, born in 1902, described the determined efforts of more progressive farmers like her father, who along with her mother
"Organize among Yourselves": Mary Gale on Unemployed Organizing in the Great Depression
The Communist-led Unemployed Councils were the first and the most active of the radical movements that sought to mobilize the jobless during the Great Depression. In this interview, which is taken from the radio series "Grandma Was an Activist," relief worker Mary Gale, who was sympathetic to radicals and the jobless, described how she worked behind the scenes to encourage her clients to organize and demand better treatment. The jobless and the poor had few advocates for them, and radicals like
"Oh God, For One More Breath": Early 20th century Tennessee Coal Miners' Last Words
Coal mining and railroad work were the two most dangerous trades in the United States in the early 20th century. Coal miners frequently died in spectacular explosions and cave-ins that could kill dozens or even hundreds at a time. Although most testimony about coal mining disasters came from survivors and observers, the men who suffocated to death in the Fraterville, Tennessee mines in May 1902 left behind their own grim account. Trapped in the mine after an explosion and with their air rapidly
Kate Richards O'Hare's Life as a Socialist Party Organizer
In her autobiographical essay, "How I Became a Socialist Agitator," which was first published in Socialist Woman in October 1908, Socialist Party organizer Kate Richards O'Hare credited her career as a "Socialist agitator" to her youthful exposure to poverty and "sordid suffering." As she explained in this essay, her disillusionment with the church and a talk by labor organizer "Mother"Jones further pushed her toward socialism.
A Georgia Sharecropper's Story of Forced Labor ca. 1900
At the turn of the century the group of black women most subject to sexual exploitation and abuse were those who lived under the system of quasi-slavery known as "peonage."Under contract labor laws, which existed in almost every southern state, a laborer who signed a contract and then quit his or her job could be arrested. The horrors of this system of forced labor (as well as the equally horrific system of convict labor) are detailed in this stark, turn-of-the-century personal account of life u
"Forty-Two Cents an Hour" for Twelve to Fourteen Hours a Day: George Milkulvich Describes Work in th
In the dramatic 1919 steel strike, 350,000 workers walked off their jobs and crippled the industry. The U.S. Senate Committee on Education and Labor set out to investigate the strike while it was still in progress. In his testimony before the committee, George Milkulvich, an immigrant from the Croatian region of Dalmatia (along the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea), gave a straightforward explanation of what he was striking for--"better treatment."
"It Is Entirely the Bolshevik Spirit": Mill superintendent W. M. Mink Explains the 1919 Steel Strike
In the dramatic 1919 steel strike, 350,000 workers walked off their jobs and crippled the industry. The U.S. Senate Committee on Education and Labor set out to investigate the strike while it was still in progress. In his testimony before the committee, W. M. Mink, mill superintendent at the Homestead steelworks, testified that the cause of the strike was simple--the infection of "the Bolshevik spirit"among "the foreigners."
"They Are Mostly All Foreigners on Strike": Joseph Fish Speaks on the 1919 Steel Strike
In the dramatic 1919 steel strike, 350,000 workers walked off their jobs and crippled the industry. The U.S. Senate Committee on Education and Labor set out to investigate the strike while it was still in progress. In his testimony before the committee, Homestead, Pennsylvania, steelworker Joseph Fish described conditions in the steel mills as good and maintained that only "one or two" Americans have joined the strike.
"The Men Seem To Be Pretty Well Satisfied": John Anderson on the 1919 Steel Strike
In the dramatic 1919 steel strike, 350,000 workers walked off their jobs and crippled the industry. The U.S. Senate Committee on Education and Labor set out to investigate the strike while it was still in progress. In his testimony before the committee, John Anderson, a helper in the open-hearth furnace at the Homestead steelworks in Pennsylvania, maintains that the steelworkers were satisfied with conditions. Although born in Scotland, Anderson identified himself as an"American" in distinction
"Please, Let Me Put Him in a Macaroni Box" The Spanish Influenza of 1918 in Philadelphia
In 1918 and 1919 the Spanish influenza killed more humans than any other disease in a similar period in the history of the world. In the United States a quarter of the population (25 million people or more) contracted the flu; 550,000 died. In the early 1980s, when historian Charles Hardy did interviews for the Philadelphia radio program "The Influenza Pandemic of 1918," he was struck by the painful memories as many older Philadelphians recalled the inability of the city to care for the dead and
"Nobody Would Eat Kraut": Lola Gamble Clyde on Anti-German Sentiment in Idaho During World War I
When the United States went to war against Germany in 1917, German Americans faced vicious and unfair attacks on their loyalty. Many anti-German incidents were not recorded, but they lived on powerfully in people's memories. In this 1976 interview, Lola Gamble Clyde, the daughter of an Irish-born Presbyterian minister and a teenager during World War I, described the "hysteria" that faced German Americans in rural Latah County, Idaho.
"Eight Hours a Day and Better Conditions": Andrew Pido Explains His Support for the 1919 Steel Strik
In the dramatic 1919 steel strike, 350,000 workers walked off their jobs and crippled the industry. The U.S. Senate Committee on Education and Labor set out to investigate the strike while it was still in progress. In his testimony before the committee, Slavic steelworker Andrew Pido described the discrimination faced by some immigrant workers and how that discrimination - along with long pay and poor conditions--encouraged them to unionize and strike.