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This Labor Day Looks a Little Different, But We Can Still Honor Workers

This year, Labor Day falls on Monday, September 7. Observed each year on the first Monday in September, the 7th is the latest date on which it can fall.

According to the U. S. Department of Labor, Labor Day is a “yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

A Brief History of Labor Day

Labor Day has been celebrated since the late 1800s. The first state bill to observe Labor Day was introduced by New York, although Oregon was the first state to pass legislation, in 1887. By 1894, over 30 states had passed similar legislation, and that year, Congress pass an act making the first Monday of September a legal holiday in Washington, D.C., and all territories.

The founder of Labor Day is somewhat in dispute, although sources seem to agree that it was a man named either “McGuire” or “Maguire.” Peter McGuire was general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, and a co-founder of the AFL (American Federation of Labor, now the AFL-CIO).

Matthew Maguire was a machinist and the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, NJ. Many historians believe that he proposed the holiday in the early 1880s, while serving at the Central Labor Union in New York.

The Mill Girls of Lowell

According to History.com, back in the late 1800s/early 1900s, the average American worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, for minimal pay. And despite some state restrictions, children as young as five or six worked in mills, factories, and mines for even less money than the adults.  Beginning around 1916, my own grandmother worked in the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, as did my mother and aunts a few years later. The National Park Service notes that the women who worked in the mills were known as the “Mill Girls of Lowell.” If you’re ever in the Boston area, you can visit the Boott Cotton Mills Museum and many other nearby exhibits, all part of the National Park Service. When my daughters were young, we had the opportunity to visit the park and exhibits with my mother; it was a fascinating experience and a wonderful opportunity for my daughters to learn firsthand about the hardships their grandmother, great-grandmother and aunts faced working in the mills.

As the AFL-CIO notes, “This year, Labor Day looks a lot different for many of us. The usual activities—the parades, backyard barbecues, and gatherings with friends and families—will be muted, postponed, or canceled altogether. But Labor Day always has meant more than just social events. It’s a day to honor and celebrate the contributions of America’s working people.”

So, even though this Labor Day might look a little different, you can still go to a park or have a cookout (with proper social distancing and other safety measures); just remember to take a moment to thank all the men and women who work so hard, every day.

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