Library Unveils Exhibit Celebrating Chicago’s Labor History

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DePaul University Library is proud to present its new exhibit for Spring Quarter, Our Better Natures: Labor in Chicago, 1880-1920. 2016 marks the centennials of two important pieces of labor legislation: the Adamson Act, which established the eight-hour work day in the United States, and the short-lived Keating-Owen Act, the first federal attempt to impose restrictions on child labor (which was later struck down by the Supreme Court). Both were seen as long-fought victories for the labor movement. This exhibit seeks to explore some of the causes of the rise of organized labor in Chicago during the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, its successes and defeats, and the influences of key individuals on both sides of “the labor question.”

There is little doubt that Chicago is a historical center of the American organized labor movement. It has been called “the best organized city in the world.” It has birthed unions like the Industrial Workers of the World, fostered organizations of socialists, anarchists, and progressives, informed union leaders and community organizers, and become the crucible for a radical reform movement that was not wholly successful, but that did change the way Americans worked and lived in cities.

Chicago is also a historical center of industry, represented by companies and corporations that employed millions by the early 20th century. It has been a center of steel production, meatpacking, and agricultural machinery manufacturing, all of which depended on the city’s position as a national railroad hub. It has been home to business magnates like Field, McCormick, Crane, and Pullman, with whom unions and their supporters fought bitterly. We see echoes of these conflicts not just through the lens of history, but in struggles currently playing out all over this city, country, and world.

Our Better Natures: Labor in Chicago, 1880-1920 is located on the first floor of the John T. Richardson Library (3240 N. Kenmore Ave.), and runs through the end of June.

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