History of Labor Day

ILGWU Local 62 marches in a Labor Day parade. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kheelcenter/5278801929/in/photolist-7iEKir-93teUn-93wkss-93v4aV-93wxPL-21eteK3-93wxK1-93wkjy-93tf1z-93wiWj-93wiSJ-93teFx-93wUPj-93teXv-93wYkh

Observed the first Monday in September, Labor Day is an annual celebration of the social and economic achievements of American workers. The holiday is rooted in the late nineteenth century, when labor activists pushed for a federal holiday to recognize the many contributions workers have made to America’s strength, prosperity, and well-being.

Early Adopters

A postcard shows a horse-drawn float. The caption reads: Labour Day Float, 1916.

Before it was a federal holiday, Labor Day was recognized by labor activists and individual states. After municipal ordinances were passed in 1885 and 1886, a movement developed to secure state legislation. New York was the first state to introduce a bill, but Oregon was the first to pass a law recognizing Labor Day, on February 21, 1887. During 1887, four more states – Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York – passed laws creating a Labor Day holiday. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 more states had adopted the holiday, and on June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday.

McGuire v. Maguire: Who Founded Labor Day?

Black and white portraits of machinist Matthew Maguire and carpenter Peter McGuire.

Who first proposed the holiday for workers? It’s not entirely clear, but two workers can make a solid claim to the Founder of Labor Day title.

Some records show that in 1882, Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, suggested setting aside a day for a “general holiday for the laboring classes” to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”

But Peter McGuire’s place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many believe that machinist Matthew Maguire, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday.

Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, New Jersey, proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.

According to the New Jersey Historical Society, after President Cleveland signed the law creating a national Labor Day, the Paterson Morning Call published an opinion piece stating that “the souvenir pen should go to Alderman Matthew Maguire of this city, who is the undisputed author of Labor Day as a holiday.” Both Maguire and McGuire attended the country’s first Labor Day parade in New York City that year.

The First Labor Day

A sketch shows a large crowd gathered to watch a parade. The image is labeled September 5, 1882, New York City. The First Labor Day Parade.

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

By 1894, 23 more states had adopted the holiday, and on June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a law making the first Monday in September of each year a national holiday.

A Nationwide Holiday

Women's Auxiliary Typographical Union

Many Americans celebrate Labor Day with parades, picnics and parties – festivities very similar to those outlined by the first proposal for a holiday, which suggested that the day should be observed with – a street parade to exhibit “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day.

Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

American labor has raised the nation’s standard of living and contributed to the greatest production the world has ever known and the labor movement has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pays tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership – the American worker.

from U.S. Department of Labor

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Adiós to Jon 

Jon and the crew in Albany for State Advocacy Day, February 2020

After 13 years, we cannot believe that we will say goodbye to our very own Jon Eckblad this Friday. While Jon has worn many hats at University Settlement, you may know him as our program’s assistant director. You may not know that he started our school blog here at usadultliteracy.com, over ten years ago! I’ll never forget all the videos he created for our program and the blog. Throughout his time here, Jon captured our uproarious holiday parties, garnered participation from his colleagues to make grammar videos, and showed us how easy it is for students to advocate for their own education and other programs. Jon is a reason we have a YouTube channel today, starting from his first video for our program. Professor June Foley of the NYU Gallatin Writing Program had the honor of interviewing Jon as he reflected on his fondest memories, what he’s learned about running an adult ESOL program, and what he’s up to next.

How did you first get involved with University Settlement Society? 

When I first moved to New York, I worked at some for-profit ESOL schools and after a couple years I felt like I wanted to explore non-profit work. So I think I just looked for jobs online, applied to University Settlement, had an interview, accepted the job, filled out my W2 (or is it a W4?), and the rest, as they say, is history.  

Can you tell us about your various positions and responsibilities over the years?  

I started as a part-time ESOL teacher, then I became a full-time ESOL teacher, then I became Curriculum-Technology Specialist, and finally Assistant Director. I’ve really been a jack of all trades: teaching and subbing, writing curriculum, interviewing and hiring, doing advocacy work, making videos and doing blog posts, ordering books and supplies and taking inventory, registering and testing students, arranging and leading workshops, going on field trips, helping write grant proposals and funding applications, updating computers, doing data entry, filing papers, hauling boxes and office furniture, serving food at class parties, co-leading teacher orientations, doing class observations, participating in union negotiations, revising student resumes, making calls to NYCHA about repairs, collaborating with other University Settlement programs, making work schedules, attending tons of meetings (both in person and on Zoom) and writing countless emails.      

Has there been one aspect of your job that’s your favorite? 

Of course, it’s the students. I’ve always enjoyed meeting and interacting with people from all around the world and trying to help them reach their goals. I also really get a kick out of assigning writing assignments—having students write on certain topics, revising, then having them read aloud in class and having their classmates respond. And then submitting to the Literacy Review, which a few of my students were lucky enough to get into.   

What has been your greatest challenge?  

Scheduling. My sense of time is really hazy, and I simply cannot wrap my head around multiple days, dates, hours, and locations.  

Any special memories? Any special memories of colleagues and students? 

My memory is very bad, but I always enjoyed attending the Literacy Review readings at NYU with my students. And often, when I’m walking around the Lower East Side or Chinatown during my lunch break, I run into former students. It’s really great seeing familiar faces by accident—it feels like I’m living in a small town where everyone knows each other rather than a metropolis. It’s also been a pleasure to see current and former students become my colleagues. Quite a few have gone on to work for other programs at University Settlement and three now work in our program, Meribeth Gao, Khanbibi Ybrash, and Mayra Mantilla. Mayra is actually going to be my replacement, which I think is great! It’s also been great working with director Lucian Leung and program associate Leanne Fung, who have been working in the program a year longer than I have. I started in 2009 and they started in 2008, I think. 

What are some things you’ve learned from your experience? 

I’ve really become a more disciplined and detail-oriented teacher and administrator, which is mostly due to the influence of Lucian. I think I’ve also learned just about everything that goes into running a free English program in NYC—and let me tell you, there’s a lot that goes into it. 

What do you plan to do now? Will it involve travel?  

Yes, in September I’m going to Greece, where I will hike to the top of Mount Parnassus and also consult with the Oracle of Delphi about next steps.   

Anything you’d like to add?  

I’m grateful for the opportunity Lucian gave me to become Assistant Director, and also the guidance both she and Jennifer Vallone, who is the Associate Executive Director of Adult Programs, provided me over the past few years. Additionally, I’m at ease knowing that my old duties will be in the very capable (more capable than mine, to be honest) hands of Mayra, who will do a great job and who has already done so much for our program. I also want to wish everyone a happy and successful school year and I’m sure I’ll see you all around…  

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Farewell to Professor June

For 20 years, Professor June Foley, who is the Senior Director of the Writing Program at NYU Gallatin, has been teaching an advanced writing class here at University Settlement. June has also been responsible for the editing and publishing of the Literacy Review, an annual collection of writing from adult education students throughout NYC. A new compilation of writing from University Settlement students, 20!, will be released soon and Friday, August 26, will be her last day leading her class. We sat down to talk with her about the past, the present, and the future.

Tell us a little about yourself…

I was born and raised in Trenton, New Jersey, into a working-class family, in what sociologists have called an “urban village.” I was the first of an eventual 40 first cousins, with dozens of relatives living within a couple of miles. I received my M.A. and Ph.D. in English and American Literature from NYU. My husband, Bob Stark (a native New Yorker) and I have been together for 38 years, and I have a 50-year-old son, Max Lindenman, from a previous marriage.

How did you first get involved with University Settlement and whose idea was it to start the writing class?

As the new Writing Program director, I was asked by the Writing Program chair to audit the first “Literacy in Action” (now “Race, Social Justice, and Adult Literacy”) class. The “volunteer work” the six students and two auditing faculty did was all at our first partner—University Settlement. Everyone else taught conversation, but I chose to teach writing. And I’ve been doing it ever since. 

Can you describe the format of the writing class?

Though I facilitate the class, with two Gallatin undergrad student teachers, the class is student-centered. The students write on any topic, in any genre. The student teachers and I edit the works (minimally), each writer reads her work aloud during class, and the other students offer comments about both the content and the style. The students are inspired and encouraged by one another. 

Any special memories of the writing class? Any memorable students?

To tell my special memories of the class, I’d have to write a book. Instead, I’ll quote from my introduction to 20!, our new book. In my introduction to one volume, I noted that almost all the original students came from China and many had survived Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. Lisa Lee wrote that when she was growing up, many neighbors were so poor that “they sold their children to the rich”; Yuqing Gu wrote about being ordered, as a physician, to perform a forced abortion on a woman eight months pregnant because neighbors had informed the authorities that she already had one child; Biming Long remembered the Communist Party labeling a beloved teacher a traitor, hounding him into suicide. Many stories set in New York City described working many hours every week in sweatshops or restaurants. Nelson Feng described how his restaurant delivery bike was stolen, he was threatened with a gun, and a customer whose dinner cost $57.75 tipped him 25 cents.

There was joyful writing, as well: Ofelio Chen’s about his “first friend,” a calf on his family farm in China; John Cheng’s about meeting his father in New York City, after running away from home many years earlier in China; Wen Fei Liang’s whirlwind trip to Europe, using her wheelchair; David Chen’s about receiving two unjust summonses as a mini-pancake sidewalk vendor, writing careful descriptions of the experience, reading them in court, and having the summonses dismissed.

Over time, the class became increasingly diverse, with students from Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern and Western Europe, and the writing also became more varied. Jackie Leduc’s brilliant introduction to the previous compilation, Remember, mentions the political issues of Bangladesh, passionately discussed by Afroza Yasmin and her son, Mahir Rahman; and the complex, frequently dark stories of the Brazilians Marilia Valengo, Vini de la Rocha and his wife Mariana Lemos Duarte. This year, we read Jennifer Alonzo’s love letter to her husband; Gabriela Robles’s story from the point of view of a Central Park bench; Annette Huang’s exhortations toward love and compassion; Grace Zhang’s writing about neighborhood tensions in Brooklyn; Fatima Sore’s fictionalized tales of women’s lives on the Ivory Coast, and much more.  

Did you learn anything from your students?

Again, I could write a book. As I also say in my intro, they’ve taught me much more than I’ve taught them. I’m in awe of their intelligence, thoughtfulness, courage, resourcefulness, resilience, patience, determination, compassion–and their writing talent. 

Can you describe the genesis of the Literacy Review?

LR started after I compiled that first little book of USS writing. The students were so thrilled to see their words in print that my class expanded. Soon I asked a few Gallatin students if they’d like to get together to create a book of the best writing from all NYC ESOL and adult education students. 

What are some important things all writers should remember?

The writer Henry James said, “Observe perpetually.” In addition, I’d say never stop reflecting, reading, and writing. 

What do you plan to do now?

I’ll be teaching one Gallatin course per semester in my field, the Victorian novel, at least for a year. 

Who will take over the writing class and Literacy Review?

Allyson Paty, a graduate of Gallatin who has an MFA in poetry from NYU and has been the Writing Program associate director for a number of years, will succeed me as WP director on September 1st. Corinne Butta, who was the WP’s graduate assistant for two years, received her M.A. from Gallatin in May, and has experience as an editor, will take over the advanced writing class. They are terrific!

Anything else you’d like to add?

Many, many thanks to the director of the Adult Literacy Program, Lucian Leung; to Jon, the assistant director; and to Leanne Fung, program associate. You have all been so wonderfully supportive over the years. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to work with you at University Settlement. 

Thank you, June! We’ll miss you!

To check out past blog posts about June, the writing class, and the Literacy Review, click here!

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Workforce Recovery Hub & Related Scholarships

Please see below for LaGuardia Community College Workforce Recovery Hub and Scholarships information. The scholarships cover partial or full cost of the training programs offered in the Fall 2022 and details can be found on the second page. Each training program has its own orientation / intake pre-requisites. 

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We are Writers!

The students here at University Settlement are hard workers!

Let’s show off some more of our students’ writing!

One we had a theme:

How would you feel about having a neighborhood safety watch?

Our E4 students had very strong opinions!

Another student had a different opinion!

What is YOUR opinion? What do you think? Do you want a neighborhood watch in your neighborhood?

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