Today in the 1913 Copper Strike

One of several plaques adorning the Italian Hall memorial arch at the heritage site in Calumet. (Photo by Lindsay Hiltunen, June 2013)

One of several plaques adorning the Italian Hall memorial arch at the heritage site in Calumet. (Photo by Lindsay Hiltunen, June 2013)

100 years ago today the Women’s Auxiliary of the Western Federation of Miners hosted a Christmas party for striking miners and their families. Organized by Anna “Big Annie” Clemenc, the party was intended to boost morale and provide Christmas festivities for the children, many of whom came from families who were struggling to get by after many months of striking. The party was in the second-floor ballroom of the Italian Hall building in Calumet, but it was attended by people of various ethnic groups, including Finnish, Croatian, and Italian to name a few. There was caroling, a Christmas tree, oranges and other hard to come by foods, candy, and a visit from Santa Claus.  However, after the festivities began someone – to this day nobody knows who – yelled “Fire!” The cry of fire caused a calamitous rush for the narrow stairway down to the first floor. In the chaos people were tripping and becoming jammed on the stairs, leading to a horrific stampede.  People were crushed and suffocated. By the time all had calmed down 73 people, mostly children under the age of 16, had perished in the stairwell stampede. There was no fire.

The tragedy itself remains a focal point of the strike and still remains an event of much historical debate. The tragedy has inspired many historical texts, songs, stage performances, several documentaries, exhibits, and research. However, despite the attention paid to the tragedy, its aftermath, and its context within the strike, there is still much grief, uncertainty, and debate surrounding the Christmas party and the subsequent loss of life.

To commemorate the strike and the centennial of the tragedy the Village of Calumet will be hosting a vigil at the Italian Hall heritage site today at 3:30. 100 years later this local tragedy has not only found a way to reach into the hearts of those in the local community, but it still remains a bleak historical event of national significance as well.  In an age where workers’ rights are being challenged across the country, with right-to-work legislation weakening the labor movement and workers’ struggling to fight for fair pay and healthcare, the Italian Hall tragedy can serve as a somber reminder that we should not only mourn the dead, but also fight for the living.

Call for Papers for Retrospection & Respect: Michigan’s 1913-14 Copper Miners’ Strike

The dog's vest says "Don't go to Calumet or Hancock Mich, where all miners are on a strike. The reverse side of the vest discouraged people from going to break the strike in the Colorado coalfields.

The dog’s vest says “Don’t go to Calumet or Hancock Mich, where all miners are on a strike. The reverse side of the vest discouraged people from going to break the strike in the Colorado coalfields.

The following is a Call for Papers by the organizers of the 1913-14 Copper Miners’ Strike Symposium:

Retrospection & Respect: Michigan’s 1913-14 Copper Miners’ Strike

A symposium to be held April 11-13, 2014 on the campus of Michigan Technological University, Houghton, Michigan, USA.

The Michigan Tech Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections of the Van Pelt Library of Michigan Technological University announces a symposium to be held in Houghton, Michigan, April 11-13, 2014, on the occasion of the centennial of the cessation of the 1913-1914 Western Federation of Miners labor strike against copper mining companies in the Copper Country of upper Michigan.  The symposium is co-sponsored by the Archives, the Department of Social Sciences, and the Department of Humanities at Michigan Technological University, the Keweenaw National Historical Park, and the Finnish American Historical Archive at Finlandia University.  The symposium is being held in conjunction with the 2014 meeting of Finn Forum, a professional association of researchers who investigate northern European migration to the United States.

We anticipate paper submissions from a range of disciplinary perspectives in the following and other topical areas:  analyses of labor organization in the historical and contemporary American and European mining industries, the impact of historical European immigration on labor organization, the impacts of early twentieth century labor organizational practices and strikes on American managerial practices in mining and other industries, the impact of women’s activism on early twentieth century labor organization in mining and other industries, comparisons between labor activities and organizational practices over a range of mining commodities, the impacts of labor organizational and strike strategies on historical and current mining communities, contemporary remembrance and collective memory pertaining to labor/strike histories, as well as other topics connecting issues of ethnicity, identity, class, gender, and other cultural divisions to civic discourse and the historic struggle for civil liberties within industry.

Abstract submission is now open and will close on December 16, 2013.  Submitters will be notified of the acceptance of papers on January 16, 2014.  Please direct all inquiries regarding paper topics and presentation details to Dr. Sam Sweitz (srsweitz@mtu.edu).  We will consider proposals for mini-symposia, consisting of three to five papers, organized around a central theme or project as part of this symposium.  Please contact Dr. Sweitz regarding any such proposals.

Abstracts should be submitted via email to copper@mtu.edu, with the subject line “Symposium Proposal.” Abstracts should be no more than 250 words.  Accepted paper presentations will be 20 minutes in length.

The Michigan Tech Archives is offering funding for up to $750 through its Travel Grant Program for scholars to travel to the Archives to research its collections in order to submit a proposal for the symposium. Grant recipients whose papers are selected will be eligible for a second stipend to help allay the cost of travelling to the symposium in April. Please contact the Archives at copper@mtu.edu to apply for grant funding.

The conference proceedings will be published through Digital Commons @ Michigan Tech, an open access platform. The creator(s) of papers shall retain their copyright, but will agree to a non-exclusive license to distribute and preserve their work in Digital Commons @ Michigan Tech.

Today in the 1913 Copper Strike

The October 23rd telegram to Governor Ferris from Guard General Abbey. (Photo courtesy of the Archives of Michigan)

On this day in the strike Michigan National Guard General Perley L. Abbey sent the above telegram to Governor Woodbridge Ferris. It reads as follows:

Lawlessness broke loose throughout district today. Northwestern train windows smashed with rocks. 30 men broke into workmen’s home at Quincy. Row with deputies at Quincy. Paraders at Calumet armed with clubs. Three fights, 2 deputies badly cut up. 13 strikers arrested. 4 arrests near Ahmeek for shooting up workmen’s premises. 2 arrests at Allouez. Picketing throughout entire district.

Animosity and the accompanying violence show no signs of slowing down on this day in the strike.  According to the Archives of Michigan, “in the three weeks following this telegram, more than 400 people were arrested, and confrontations with the Waddell men continued. Parades led by local icon “Big Annie” grew in popularity as the strikers united behind their martyred comrades.”

Today in the 1913 Copper Strike

This is the first page of the letter urging the eviction of men living in company housing but supporting the strike that Haller sent to MacNaughton on this day in October 1913. (Photo is courtesy of the Michigan Tech Archives, Keweenaw Digital Archive)

This is the first page of the letter urging the eviction of men living in company housing but supporting the strike that Haller sent to MacNaughton on this day in October 1913. (Photo is courtesy of the Michigan Tech Archives, Keweenaw Digital Archive)

On this day in the strike Frank Haller, superintendent of the Osceola Consolidated Mining Company, sent the above letter to James MacNaughton, General Manager of the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company, the firm that owned Osceola Consolidated. The letter is a list of men from the Osceola mine location who were living in company housing while participating in the strike. Haller urges MacNaughton to evict the strikers: “Herewith please find lists of tenants who have made themselves obnoxious and undesirable since the strike began and should be evicted.”  A second page of the letter says “there are others at each location who are not working and may have to be evicted later; it would be well to start action on this list as soon as possible.”

Copper Country History Linked to by Daily Kos

"Papa is Striking For Us." A children's strike parade in Calumet, Michigan in October of 1913. (Photo courtesy of the Daily Kos.)

“Papa is Striking For Us.” A children’s strike parade in Calumet, Michigan in October of 1913. (Photo courtesy of the Daily Kos.)

The Daily Kos, an online political community that offers news, community involvement, and activism updates, posted an article today about early twentieth century labor conflicts, with a special feature on the 1913 Copper Strike. A labor parade organized by Big Annie, that included hundreds of striking miners’ children, took place on the streets of Calumet. The Calumet News reported that the children were themselves upon a strike when roughly 500 young students didn’t show up for school.[1]

In addition to the Daily Kos making mention of the 1913 Copper Strike, it also quoted directly from a previous post from this site, so this blog has seen a huge upsurge in traffic today. Solidarity!


[1] The Calumet News, October 7, 2013

Today in the 1913 Copper Strike

Underground photo of a massive piece of copper and miners at one of the Ahmeek mine shafts. (Photo courtesy of the MTU Archives, Keweenaw Digital Archives)

Underground photo of a massive piece of copper and miners at one of the Ahmeek mine shafts. (Photo courtesy of the MTU Archives, Keweenaw Digital Archives)

Guy Wilkins, a clerk in the supply office at the Ahmeek mine, was shot and seriously wounded this morning. Wilkins was on his way to work shortly after 7:30 in the morning when he was stopped by a group of ten men in North Kearsarge. His union card was demanded and when he replied that he was not a WFM member “the crowd set upon him.”[1] Wilkins started to run to avoid a confrontation, but as he ran away one of the men drew a gun and shots were fired. A bullet went through his body and left Wilkins in critical condition. At the time of reporting the injury was not fatal. This story is yet another example of the bitter community divisions and the ensuing violence that took place during the copper strike era.


[1] The Calumet News, October 6, 1913.

Quincy Smelter Tour

The Quincy Smelter site in Ripley, part of the Keweenaw National Historical Park but owned by Franklin Township, was open for tours last weekend. Although I’ve been busy hitting the books and writing the first chapter of my thesis (thus not updating this site very often), I was able to swing down and catch an afternoon tour last Saturday.  Below you will find a few samples of photos from that day.  For more information about touring the Quincy Smelter site please visit the Quincy Smelter Association’s blog. Tours are typically offered sporadically throughout the summer and fall.  The last time to see the tour this year is on October 12 from 12-4. Tours begin every hour on the hour. I hope to resume my “Today in the Strike” posts by next week.

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