Hampden Heritage

Archaeology, History, and Heritage in Central Baltimore

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Labor and anthropology

Check out Savage Minds for an example of anthropologists engaged in labor advocacy.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Class Consciousness part II

Finally, the second part of my piece on class consciousness:

The “suburban factory village” so idealized by the Sun (See Part I) began in the 1820’s as a series of water-driven grist mills in the valley of the Jones Falls about three miles upstream of the booming shipping town of Baltimore. In 1833, Lloyd Norriss and William Tyson advertised the sale of a 238 acre parcel on the Jones Falls. The parcel contained mansion house, a farmhouse, a tavern, and a brick and stone grist mill capable of producing 120 barrells of wheat per day (American 28 May 1833. Ten years later that Woodberry Mill was one of eighteen in the Baltimore area and at least three in the immediate locality. Another, White Hall Cotton Factory, was still water-driven (American 25 Sept 1843). However, by 1850, Gambrill Carroll and Co. - White Hall’s owners - had begun the conversion to steam drive. By this time, there were also 27 dwelling houses for mill workers erected on mill property (American 2 March 1850). While paternalism certainly already had a past in Hampden, here is its appearance in the historical record.

By 1860, Hampden-Woodberry hosted a large foundry and the area was sufficiently populated to warrant the construction, by mill workers, of a library (Sun 3 Oct 1860). In the early 1870’s the village had blossomed into a full-fledged mill town, albeit a rustic one. Simultaneously an apex of industrial development and a backward suburb lacking even paved streets, Hampden played host to no less than five steam-powered cotton duck, or canvas mills, and supported as many as 8,000 inhabitants (Sun 8 August 1872; 6 April 1874). It was in this condition that the Maryland’s cotton mill labor delegates found the town on the night of their meeting:

Saturday night, while everything was activity in Woodberry, the people on their several errands were walking up steep and unpaved streets and groping in the dark, the only light in the place being that coming down from the windows of the cottages. With 8.000 inhabitants, large churches of various denominations, a daily newspaper, public halls, numerous large cotton factories and engine works and stores of all descriptions, Woodberry, situated three miles from the heart of Baltimore City has no gas, little or not supply of water, and the most meager kind of communication with the city, to which of necessity one half of the population have business every day (Sun 6 Apr 1874).

At the meeting, laborers from textile mills throughout central Maryland began discussed the possibility of organizing in order to reduce working hours and increase wages. The gathering signals the beginning of real labor consciousness in Hampden-Woodberry. Throughout the 1880’s and 1890’s, organized labor gained strength, particularly under the auspices of the Knights of Labor, and won a series of strikes, culminating in a successful strike of 1918. However, by 1923, labor seems to have lost some of its strength. After a winning a lengthy strike in that year, mill corporations began the slow process of closing their operations and moving them south, drastically changing the character and economy of the neighborhood.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Paternalism and Class Consciousness in Hampden: A two parter!

Mill Housing 1920's
Originally uploaded by hamdpenarchy.
Even in its heyday in the 1870’s, Hampden’s system of paternalism was much romanticized. An August 1877 editorial, noting recent labor troubles in Baltimore -the Workingman’s Party had just held a platform meeting the previous day- advocated for the implementation of “something more than a money consideration” in the worker-capitalist relationship. “When you give men a root hold on the soil you make them conservative. They will be slow to strike, even when wages are reduced, if they have the consciousness of having been well-treated…a little suburban homestead of one’s own fosters the sentiment of local attachment…”(Sun 24 Aug 1877a).

In the same issue, the Sun’s publishers cited a local example – that of the Woodberry mills near Hampden. "…Controversies which exist between the employers and the employees in our midst make interesting a brief description of the system pursued in some of our suburban factory villages whereby such disagreement has been obviated. The system of all the cotton factories [in Woodberry] is similar in so far that the hands are colonized together in the vicinity of the works and that the more or less facilities for comfort are afforded by employers at as small an expense to the operatives as possible. All of the factories have erected cottages, which are rented to the operatives” (Sun 24 Aug 1877b).

The article makes particular note of the new “hotel,” complete with an organ and billiard table, that the James E. Hooper Co. to house unmarried women working in the mill. This image recalled the famous Lowell Mill Girls, supposed by many middle class Americans to be a model for a utopian paternalist industrial system.

In romanticizing the mill system in Hampden-Woodberry, the Sun author forgot that a mere three years since, Druid Mill workers had struck over mill owners’ failure to comply with a newly legislated ten hour workday for child laborers. Since child laborers represented the vast majority of the mill workers (the workforce of one mill is reported as consisting of 95% children), the new law meant that mills had to be shut down before the beginning of the eleventh hour, and despite the de facto end of the work day for adult laborers, mill owners persisted in running the mill overtime. The work stoppage, which generated “some little excitement” in the surrounding community, was cause for a meeting of 200 workers, who attempted to establish a strike fund (Sun 2 April 1874). While the mills restarted in less then a week, with mill owners acceding to worker demands, the incident was sufficient to spur labor leaders (not yet organized) from mills throughout central Maryland to meet in Hampden to discuss the new law and to consider forming a union (Sun 3 April 1874; 6 April 1874).

End of Part 1

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Plea for Help

In doing historical research on Hampden, Dave and I have been plagued by a persistent problem: There are very few, if any, primary historical sources pertaining to Hampden workers' experiences from their own perspective. We have newspaper descriptions of strikes and labor organizing meetings, the company newsletter from the early 1920s to illustrate life in the mills, and historical booklets from jubilee celebrations that were written (usually) by middle-class Hampden residents. But thus far, the only primary sources directly representing workers' experiences are the oral histories performed by the Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project, Guy Holliday, and Dave. While these are excellent resources to have, there are other kinds of primary sources that would just as helpful, especially the further back in time they go (the oral histories mainly cover life in Hampden from about 1910 forward).

So, I am taking this opportunity to ask our loyal readers to share any primary sources they may have about life in Hampden during earlier times. Such sources could include diaries, letters, family bibles and geneaologies, union meeting minutes, etc. If you have anything like this, and are willing to share them with us, you will have our undying gratitude, and will also have made a very important contribution to the history of workers in Hampden.