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Labor in America

Street types of New York City: Emigrant and pretzel vendor
[Detail] Emigrant and pretzel vendor.
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There is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.
~Booker T. Washington (1895)

Every man is a consumer, and ought to be a producer. He fails to make his place good in the world unless he not only pays his debt but also adds something to the common wealth.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (1860)

online resources
Especially for Teachers...

America at Work - (Special Presentation) These films show people at work during the late 1890s and early 1900s.

American Memory Timeline: Labor Unions During the Great Depression and New Deal - (Feature) This timeline section focuses on the status of labor unions in the 1930s.

American Memory Timeline: The Great Railroad Strike of 1894 - (Feature) How did the railroad strike of 1894 impact America?

American Memory Timeline: Virginia’s Labor Problem – 1617-1620 - (Feature) This timeline section focuses on labor in 17th century Virginia.

American Memory Timeline: Work in the Late 19th Century - (Feature) Industrialization expands in the late 1800s.

American Women: Industry and Labor Union Journals - (Special Presentation) Trade and industry journals, especially in the fashion and clothing industries, yield frequent glimpses of women within this male-dominated realm.

American Women: Labor and Progressive Reform - (Special Presentation) During turn-of-the-century industrial America, women banded together to form national and local organizations dedicated to enhancing social justice and advancing the general welfare.

BE Online+ - (Internet Resources) Links to labor related internet sites from Business Reference Services.

Bringing an NCLC Photo Into Focus - (Prints and Photographs) Look closely and learn the story of one of Lewis Hines’ images in the National Child Lamor Committee collection.

Buckaroo: Views of a Western Way of Life - (Special Presentation) Read about the changes in ranching life in Nevada from 1945-1982.

Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" Photographs in the Farm Security Administration Collection: An Overview - (Prints and Photographs) Information about and links to 1936 Dorothea Lange photographs documenting migrant farm worker life in Nipomo, California.

Industry - (Prints and Photographs) View a selection of images depicting industry and mills from the online version of Pictorial Americana.

Labor and Labor Organizations - (Prints and Photographs) View a selection of images depicting labor and labor organizations from the online version of Pictorial Americana.

Life of the People: Realist Prints and Drawings From the Ben and Beatrice Goldsmith Collection, 1912-1948 - (Exhibition) View the Capital and Labor section of this exhibition for a variety of labor related prints and drawings.

National Child Labor Committee Collection - (Prints and Photographs) Click on Arrangement and Access to view more than 5,100 Lewis Hine photographs documenting working and living conditions of children in the United States between 1908 and 1921.

Northern Valley Archives: Developing Web-Based Activities from the American Memory Collection - (The Source) This article offers teacher created ideas for primary source lessons on the topics of Civil War, Industrial Revolution, Japanese Internment, the Progressive Era and Slave Narratives.

Primary Source Investigation - (Document) Use this primary source investigation strategy as a way for students to examine documents and think critically about their meaning. Themes include Civil War, reform movements, Harlem Renaissance and presidential campaigns.

Rosie Pictures: Select Images Relating to American Women Workers During World War II - (Prints and Photographs) These images from the Prints and Photographs collections were issued by the U.S. government or by commercial sources during World War II.

Rosie the Riveter: Real Women Workers in WWII - (Cybercast) Sheridan Harvey, Women’s Studies Specialist, explores the evolution of "Rosie the Riveter" in this Journeys and Crossings webcast.

Sheet Music Gives Clues to Labor Conditions - (The Source) Librarian Nancy Woodward describes how sheet music from American Memory can be used to teach about the labor movement in the late 1800s.

Today in History (September 5, 1882) The First Labor Day - (Today in History) Some 10,000 workers assembled in New York City to participate in America's first Labor Day parade.

Westinghouse World: The Companies, the People and the Places, The - (Special Presentation) Learn more about the history of the Westinghouse companies, working conditions, projects Westinghouse worked on and founder George Westinghouse.

Working in Paterson: Five Fieldworkers Impressions - (Special Presentation) This four-month study of occupational culture in Paterson, New Jersey (considered to be the cradle of the Industrial Revolution in America) was conducted in 1994.

  Especially for your Students...

American Treasures: Child Labor - (Exhibition) Learn about Lewis Hine’s role in campaigning against the abuses of industrial child labor.

American Treasures: Women’s Trade Union Seal - (Exhibition) The National Women’s Trade Union League was formed in response to the lack of interest of male unionists in the organization of women workers.

American Treasures: Women’s Work - (Exhibition) View a mid-nineteenth century occupational portrait of a woman milliner.

Buena Vista Labor Day Festival - (Local Legacies) Buena Vista's Labor Day Festival dates to the mid-1960s, when the city bought the Glen Maury farm, planning to convert it to a community park.

Jump Back in Time: September 5, 1882 - (America’s Library) Learn the history of the first Labor Day.

Labor and Luck - (Wise Guide) Read about the history of the first Labor Day in America.

Sit-Down Strike - (Local Legacies) The sit-down strike of 1936-1937 in Flint, Michigan, lasted only 44 days, but its impact would alter the course of the industrial labor movement forever.

St. Paul Trades & Labor Assembly's Annual Labor Day - (Local Legacies) The first St. Paul Labor Day picnic was held at Liep's Pavilion, a popular entertainment site on the shores of White Bear Lake, just east of St. Paul, MN.

Today in History (April 8, 1935) Works Progress Administration - (Today in History) On this date, Congress approved the WPA which employed 8.5 million people before it disbanded in 1943.

Today in History (August 20, 1866) Eight Hour Workday - (Today in History) The National Labor Union called on Congress to mandate an eight-hour workday.

Today in History (August 22, 1966) UFWOC formed - (Today in History) On this date the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC), later to be renamed the United Farm Workers of America, was formed.

Today in History (July 8, 1932) The Depths of Depression - (Today in History) On this date, the stock market fell to its lowest point during the Great Depression.

lesson plans

Use these lesson plans (created by educators for educators) to explore topics about science and invention with your students in your classroom:

Who Really Built America? - (Grades 6-12) Students examine child labor in America from 1880-1920 to gain a personal perspective of how work affected the American child.

United We Stand - (Grades 8-10) Students study the working conditions of American laborers at the turn of the century.

Child Labor in America - (Grades 6-12) Students critically examine, respond to and report on photographs as historical evidence.

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? - (Grade 10) Students investigate people who experienced the Great Depression and received relief from the New Deal.

Figuring Somepin 'Bout the Great Depression - (Grades 9-12) Students create a scrapbook from the point of view of a migrant worker.


Is there a title (or two) that you always read to (or with) your students when teaching about this theme? Are there invaluable reference books that you use? Staff from The Library of Congress have begun a collection of titles for the "Labor in America " theme. We hope you will contribute your favorites to our growing bibliography!

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collection connections

Create your own collaborative lesson plans using material related to this month's theme assembled from The Learning Page Collection Connections:

Working in Paterson: Occupational Heritage in an Urban Setting - (Summary Only) This collection of interviews and photographs represent a four-month study of occupational culture in Paterson, New Jersey, considered to be the cradle of the Industrial Revolution in America.

America at Work, America at Leisure: Motion Pictures from 1894-1915" - (Summary Only) This collection presents motion pictures that document the work and leisure activities of Americans at the turn of the century.

American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 - (Summary and Teaching Resources) The life stories in this collection highlight working conditions and the affect of industrialization on Americans. Search on work, labor, boss, factory, and specific types of occupations and industries.

Inside an American Factory: Films of the Westinghouse Works, 1904 - (Summary and Teaching Resources) View some of the earliest motion pictures made of industrial work in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century.

By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943 - (Summary and Teaching Resources) Works in this collection represent programs from President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Buckaroos in Paradise: Ranching Culture in Northern Nevada, 1945-1982 - (Summary and Teaching Resources) Use this collection to explore the impact of industrialization over the course of the twentieth century.

Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929 - (Summary and Teaching Resources) Use the terms "industrial strikes" or "labor" to search for documents describing working conditions, workers’ standards of living, and strikes in various industries during the 1920s.

America's First Look Into the Camera: Daguerreotype Portraits and Views - (Summary and Teacher Resources) Use the term "occupational portrait" to find a number of images documenting the different disciplines of this industrial age.

Chicago Anarchists on Trial - Evidence From the Haymarket Affair 1886-1887 - (Summary and Teaching Resources) Learn more about this1886 conflict between labor protestors and members of the Chicago police force.

Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten, 1932-1964 - (Summary and Teaching Resources) Use the occupational index to explore over one thousand portraits of creative individuals taken by photographer, Carl Van Vechten between 1932 - 1964.

Voices from the Dust Bowl: the Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection, 1940-1941 - (Summary and Teaching Resources) This collection documents the everyday life of residents of Farm Security Administration migrant work camps in central California in 1940 and 1941.

America from the Great Depression to World War II: Black and White Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945" - (Summary and Teaching Resources)

America from the Great Depression to World War II: Color Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945" - (Summary and Teaching Resources)

search terms

These terms may be useful when searching for items related to this theme in the American Memory collections.

Boss Job Picket line
Business Labor Production
Child labor Labor Day Salary
Depression Labor union Strike
Employee Manufacturing Types of industries
Employer Migrant worker Unemployed
Factory Mill Vocation
Hire Names of companies Wage
Industrial Revolution Names of occupations Work
Industrialization Occupation Worker

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Last updated 8/25/2004