Hampden Heritage

Archaeology, History, and Heritage in Central Baltimore

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


Blogger Bob Chidester said...

Class consciousness is one of the things that I find so fascinating about Hampden. Despite Bill Harvey's assertions in "'The People Is Grass'" that there's never been much labor activism in Hampden and that in the 1870s and 1880s the workers had an unwritten deal with the owners to behave as long as the owners didn't bring in "outsiders," the archival evidence clearly shows that in the 1870s and 1880s there was a ton of working-class activism in Hampden. I personally haven't been able to find out anything about the 1890s yet, but again from 1906 to 1923 there were a number of important strikes that took place. So the question for me is, how did this heritage get erased? I have some ideas, but I'd love to hear what other people think.

4:29 AM  
Anonymous Alex said...

I wrote a piece on paternalism and the development of Hampden. Happy to share. Just e-mail acsicsek AT hotmail DOT com

9:59 AM  
Blogger Dave G. said...

Thanks for the info. I'd love to know your thoughts. Maybe you can repost your piece as a guest blogger.

10:15 AM  

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