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Cincinnati, Ohio has a rich history as a city located along the Ohio River. Before the abolition of slavery in the U.S., it was an important stop along the Underground Railroad given its location along the Kentucky-Ohio border. Its river-side location also fueled its industrialization at a time when the steamboat provided one of the best means for transporting goods to other cities. In the mid- to late-19th century, Cincinnati became known for its production of candles, soap, leather, beer, and packaged meat, and later for its heavy metal and machine production. Cincinnati's growing workforce during the late-19th and early-20th centuries hailed from across Europe (including Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, and Russia), and also included freed slaves (and later ex-sharecroppers) and white Appalachians migrating from the American South.
This resource guide provides materials for those interested in learning more about the labor and working class history of Cincinnati and the state of Ohio. This guide includes links to digitized newspapers and other primary source documents, archives housing Cincinnati and Ohio labor history materials, popular and academic articles, books, videos, and experiential learning opportunities such as walking tours. The materials included in this guide will be interesting and useful to casual learners as well as serious students and researchers of Cincinnati labor and working class history. Prominent themes in the resources listed include labor as it relates to race and ethnicity, gender, culture and politics, urbanism, architecture and historic preservation, and Ohio state and U.S. national history.
Archives, directories, and guides
Multimedia & experiential learning opportunities
|The Labor Advocate, Cincinnati, Ohio (1912-1937)
|"The Cincinnati Labor Advocate first appeared in 1913 during the height of the Reform Movement in Ohio. Published by the Building Trades Council of Cincinnati, the weekly paper gave commentary on the struggles surrounding the implementation of Ohio’s new labor reform amendments. The initial motto of the Labor Advocate was “A Paper for All Who Toil,” but a later addition included “A Paper without a Muzzle for All Who Toil” to show its editorial independence. W.E. Meyers was the editor of the Labor Advocate in the initial years and kept the paper non-partisan in official political affiliation but staunchly pro-labor until it ended publication in 1937."*Ohio History Connection. "About The Labor Advocate," The Library of Congress, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88077379/.
|The Cincinnati Post (1881-2007)
|"As one of the first successful penny presses outside the East Coast, the Post was written primarily for blue collar laborers who had no time to read a newspaper in the morning. Its articles were written to be easily readable. In its heyday, the paper consistently championed good governance and labor rights. Though the Post considered itself politically independent, it historically tended to support progressive politicians relative to the Times-Star and Enquirer." To use this database, click on "NewsBank: Cincinnati Post (1882-2007)." Must have Cincinnati Public Library Card to access.*"The Cincinnati Post," Wikimedia Foundation, last modified 12 April 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cincinnati_Post.
|The Independent Eye (1968-1975)
|"The Independent Eye was founded in Yellow Springs, Ohio in February, 1968, by Alex Varonne with help from his wife, Jennifer Koster Varonne. The main purpose of the newspaper was to oppose the Vietnam War. The first four monthly issues were mimeographed pamphlets, and in June 1968 it became a broadsheet. Headquarters moved to Cincinnati in January 1969. First a monthly, later a biweekly, eventually a monthly (following an arson fire on Labor Day, 1970), it carried news of the war and of the war resistance movement. There were also stories about the people and events of Cincinnati and the surrounding area."*"Tales from the Archives: Digital Library Turns an ‘Eye’ Back to the 1960s-70s with Local Counterculture Newspaper," The Cincinnati Public Library.
|Labor History materials at Ohio Memory
|Digitized primary source documents
|"Ohio Memory has a huge amount of resources available on the state’s labor history, particularly related to some of the major manufacturers and industries that helped build the state we know today, as well as the various union movements that fought for the rights of every worker."*“Labor History is Ohio History!,” Ohio Memory, accessed 3 July 2022, https://ohiomemory.ohiohistory.org/archives/616.
|"Plan of the Cincinnati Labor for Labor Store" by Josiah Warren (1829)
|Primary source document
|"The Cincinnati Time Store (1827-1830) was the first in a series of retail stores created by American individualist anarchist Josiah Warren to test his economic labor theory of value. The experimental store operated from May 18, 1827 until May 1830. He sold things at-cost plus a small markup for his time. It is usually considered to be the first time alternative currency labor notes were used, and as such the first experiment in what would later be called mutualism. He also founded stores in New Harmony, Indiana and at Modern Times, Long Island. The store in Cincinnati closed in 1830 with Warren being satisfied he demonstrated running and managing a business without the "erection of any power over the individual". His theory — replacing money with time — was turned into an actual practical demonstration project. It was the first such activity, preceding similar labor notes in Europe by more than 20 years. At the time it was the most popular mercantile institution in Cincinnati"*"Cincinnati Time Store," Wikimedia Foundation, last modified 13 January 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cincinnati_Time_Store.
|"Workman's Hall" by Andrea Gutmann Fuentes
|"Workman’s Hall, also known as Workingmen's Hall, Arbeiter Hall, and “The Labor Temple”, was a gathering hall and union room for workers. It was built by German workers in 1859 and was located at 1314 Walnut St. in the Over the Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati, OH. It became a hub for union and socialist organizing in Cincinnati, and acted as the headquarters for dozens of labor organizations, including the Trades and Labor Assembly, Workingmen’s Party, the Knights of Labor, the Central Labor Council (a local affiliate of the American Federation of Labor), and many local industrial and trade unions. The Cincinnati chapter of the Populist Party, a national party which was founded in Cincinnati in 1891, also met at Workman’s Hall. The Hall was utilized by a diverse range of workers— men and women, adults and children, immigrants and native-born people. Hundreds of strikes were organized at and staged out of Workman’s Hall over the course of its existence. In 1920, it was the largest establishment of its kind in the United States. The building included a dance hall, several auditoriums, a union co-op store, a bath house, and an outdoor biergarten. The original building has since been demolished."*Andrea Gutmann Fuentes on behalf of Ohio History Service Corps . Workman's Hall. Clio: Your Guide to History. March 29, 2021. Accessed June 29, 2022.
|"12 moments in Cincy labor history" by John T. McNay
|"The Cincinnati labor community is nearly as old as the city itself and very much a part of the fabric that makes up this great American city. The labor movement includes both unions and individual workers taking actions to improve their lot in life. Its history in Cincinnati includes presidential visits, strikes with nationwide implications and, of course, beer. Through organizing, through education, through negotiations, and occasionally through strikes, the labor movement in the Cincinnati region has continually fought for respect, security, and fair compensation for workers. Here are a dozen important moments in the labor movement in Cincinnati – a sampling of the richness and diversity of a heritage that we all share."*Text quoted from the article.
|"They built this city: Historic labor jobs in Cincinnati" by Jeff Suess
|"History books don’t often report on the everyday workers who toiled to make a living. Cincinnati was a river town, a frontier town, a manufacturing town. That was possible because of the blood, sweat and hard labor of people who built this city, doing many jobs that are long forgotten. For the first few decades of Cincinnati’s existence, workers were either artisans or laborers. German immigrants had the money to purchase land and the skills to work in trades as butchers, bakers and tailors. Irish immigrants who faced discrimination for being Catholic were relegated to unskilled, dangerous labor such as digging the trench for the Miami & Erie Canal and laying railroad tracks."*Text quoted from the article.
|"After years of quiet labor, men in the murals are named" by Cliff Radel
|"Now we know who they are. After laboring for 80 years in anonymity, with no days off and no raises, the 35 workers on the industrial mosaic murals of Union Terminal have finally been identified. We know who’s who individually. We also know who they represent collectively: all of us. Solving these mural mysteries spanned eight months of research and stories in The Enquirer.The time was spent poring over photos, sifting through birth and death certificates, examining draft registrations, checking census data, conducting interviews and paging through yellowing newspapers. Emailed suggestions from 2,809 of this project’s readers also helped reveal the men in the murals. In this special section you can discover their names, their jobs, where they lived and when they died."*Text quoted from the article.
|"Gilded Age Cincinnati: Modern Cincinnati is Born" by Tim Burke
|"Cincinnati of 1850 was a city of 115,000 occupying a relatively flat six square mile basin along the Ohio River. It had no Fountain Square, Music Hall or any other public space we would recognize today and its existence was almost solely tied to the river with an economy largely developed around pigs and corn. So here is something to consider; when does the Cincinnati we know and love begin to emerge? When do the boundaries, institutions, and landmarks which define the Queen City today, begin to appear? I would argue the transformation took place between 1870 and 1900, a dynamic era of explosive though chaotic economic growth historians named the Gilded Age. After the Civil War, figures like Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller and JP Morgan began organizing larger business enterprises around a new form of ownership - the corporation. As the cornerstone of the new economy, corporations organized into giant monopolies and trusts wielding enormous political power and huge pools of capital to build the world’s largest economy by 1900. The economic vitality generated by technological innovation and the organizational genius of men like Thomas Edison and the other captains of industry created a national market tied together by a sprawling railroad network and massive manufacturing sector with cities at the center of it all. Industrialization was a catalyst for urban growth fueled by a new wave of immigrants washing over America’s shores to meet the demand for cheap labor by railroads, steel mills and dozens of other new and expanding industries in places like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit and of course Cincinnati."*Text quoted from the article.
|"Women in the Industrial Workforce"
|A short article about the history of women in Ohio's workforce.
|“Labor History is Ohio History”
|An overview of some of the labor history materials available through the Ohio Memory website.
|"The Politicization of the Working Class: Production, Ideology, Culture and Politics in Late Nineteenth-Century Cincinnati" by Steven Ross (1986)
|"Using Cincinnati, Ohio, as a case study, this essay will explore the complex processes which sparked the labour upheavals of the 1880s. In Cincinnati, the politicization of the working class developed in two interconnected stages. The events leading to and including the May Day strikes illuminate how a working class became politicized, while the ensuing struggles of the ULP describe how that new consciousness was used to vie for power. Although the politicization of the working class was partially caused by a number of external forces, we will focus mainly upon the ways in which new forms of production, common experiences of exploitation, and the ability of Cincinnati workers to draw upon and use culture, ideology and party politics led them towards the most dramatic and prolonged class challenge of the nineteenth century."*Steven Ross, “The Politicization of the Working Class: Production, Ideology, Culture and Politics in Late Nineteenth-Century Cincinnati,” Social History Vol. 11, No. 2 (May, 1986), p. 172.
|"Poor Men But Hard-Working Fathers: The Cincinnati Orphan Asylum and Parental Roles in the Nineteenth-Century Working Class" by M. Christine Anderson and Nancy E. Bertaux (2002)
|"In this essay, we use the unpublished reports and chronological admission and dismissal ledgers of the Cincinnati Orphan Asylum from the 1830s to the 1870s as a case study to examine the roles of working-class parents, especially fathers. Founded by white, Protestant, benevolent women in 1832, the COA quickly became an important source of aid for poor, white children in Cincinnati. Many, if not most, of these were children with living parents who had, at least temporarily, lost their battle with insecurity and sunk into desperate poverty. Although far from complete, and reflecting the concerns of the managers more than of the objects of their benevolence, evidence from the COA documents parents' involvement in arranging and ending separations, revealing the internal dynamics of working-class families. The enforced mutual dependencies of families in these precarious circumstances insured that either parent's illness or death, unemployment, alcoholism, or desertion could lead to temporary or permanent separation of children from their families. Not only individual circumstances, but also broader historical forces (epidemic, war, immigration, and changes in the labor market) had gender-specific effects on bonds within urban families teetering on the edge between respectability and poverty."*M. Christine Anderson and Nancy E. Bertaux, “Poor Men But Hard-Working Fathers: The Cincinnati Orphan Asylum and Parental Roles in the Nineteenth-Century Working Class,” Ohio History Journal. Summer-Autumn 2002 pp. 145-182.
|"The Historiography of Black Workers in the Urban Midwest: Toward a Regional Synthesis" by Joe William Trotter, Jr. (2018)
|"Focusing on Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Milwaukee, this essay explores the transformation of research on black workers in the urban Midwest from the foundational years of the early 20th century through recent times. While much work remains to be done, a century of innovative research on different time periods, topics, and themes provides an excellent opportunity to craft a regional Midwestern synthesis of black labor and working class history. The contributions of early 20th century scholars offer the first layer of evidence for this effort."*Joe William Trotter, Jr., “The Historiography of Black Workers in the Urban Midwest: Toward a Regional Synthesis,” Studies in Midwestern History. Vol. 4 No. 4. November, 2018. p. 2.
|Race and the City: Work, Community, and Protest in Cincinnati, 1820-1970 edited by Henry Louis Taylor (1993)
|"Set within the framework of the city-building process, this collection offers penetrating discussions of such topics as the impact of the 1841 Riot on John Mercer Langston, the process of ghetto-slum formation, James Hathaway Robinson's pioneering activity as a social worker in the African American community, the ghettoization of the Avondale community, and the significance of the Mayor's Friendly Relations Committee, created in the wake of the 1943 Detroit racial violence. Recognizing Cincinnati as a borderland between North and South, contributors consider the interaction between industrial society and the segregation-bound system of the upper South. Slavery as an adjacent social order played a major role in shaping the city's racial arrangements as did the presence of numerous abolitionists. Influenced by an urbanist paradigm, some of the selections are somewhat mechanistic, slighting the role of consciousness and agency. Nevertheless, much can be learned from these carefully researched and edited essays about the history of a major African American community."
|Workers on the Edge: Work, Leisure, and Politics in Industrializing Cincinnati, 1788–1890 by Steven J. Ross (1985)
|"Workers On the Edge tells the dramatic and often tumultuous story of 100 years of American life. The author takes us from Cincinnati’s artisan workshops to the modern machine age; from the optimistic promises of republicanism to the harsh realities of industrial capitalism. In so doing, Ross explains how American workers came to understand their role in American society and suggests the reasons why Americans today think of their nation as a classless society."
|Citizen Employers: Citizen Employers Business Communities and Labor in Cincinnati and San Francisco, 1870-1916 by Jeffrey Haydu (2008)
|"The exceptional weakness of the American labor movement has often been attributed to the successful resistance of American employers to unionization and collective bargaining. However, the ideology deployed against labor's efforts to organize at the grassroots level has received less attention. In Citizen Employers, Jeffrey Haydu compares the very different employer attitudes and experiences that guided labor-capital relations in two American cities, Cincinnati and San Francisco, in the period between the Civil War and World War I. His account puts these attitudes and experiences into the larger framework of capitalist class formation and businessmen's collective identities. Citizen Employers closely examines the reasons why these two bourgeoisies, located in comparable cities in the same country at the same time, differed so radically in their degree of unity and in their attitudes toward labor unions, and how their views would ultimately converge and harden against labor by the 1920s. With its nuanced depiction of civic ideology and class formation and its application of social movement theory to economic elites, this book offers a new way to look at employer attitudes toward unions and collective bargaining. That new approach, Haydu argues, is equally applicable to understanding challenges facing the American labor movement today."
|”United in purpose": a chronological history of the Ohio AFL-CIO, 1958-1983. by Raymond Boryczka and Ohio Labor History Project (1985)
|Description not available.
|Ohio Labor History Project Publications
|List of publications
|List of publications associated with the Ohio Labor History Project, initiated in 1975 to locate, inventory, acquire, preserve, and provide access to labor union records and personal papers of Ohio labor leaders and to conduct oral history interviews.
|“Labor History Resources at the Ohio Historical Society” by Dan Ashyk and Wendy Greenwood
|This article describes the labor history resources available at the Ohio Historical Society, now called the Ohio History Connection. It gives an overview of the Ohio Labor History Project, initiated in 1975 to locate, inventory, acquire, preserve, and provide access to labor union records and personal papers of Ohio labor leaders and to conduct oral history interviews.
|Preliminary Guide to Sources in Ohio Labor History
|This 47-page pamphlet lists over 350 sources relating to Ohio Labor History. It was published in 1980 by The Ohio Historical Society, now called the Ohio History Connection, as part of the Ohio Labor History Project initiated in 1975.
|Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council records, 1886-1968
|"The collection consists of minutes, labor newspapers, account books, scrapbooks, and miscellaneous materials. Collection covers the years 1886 to 1968. The collection documents the histories of the Central Labor Union (1886-1889), the Central Labor Council - AFL (1889-1960), the Greater Cincinnati Industrial Council - CIO (1944-1952), and the AFL-CIO Labor Council (1960-1968). The collection also documents the relationship of these labor organizations with the Cincinnati community."*Text quoted from website.Repository: University of Cincinnati, Archives and Rare Books Library.
|Labor Collections at the University of Cincinnati Archives and Rare Books Library
|"The University of Cincinnati Archives and Rare Books Library’s labor collections primarily originated from the Ohio Labor History Project. As a result of the Project, the University of Cincinnati received several major labor collections as a result of this effort, including the records of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council, the Cincinnati Regional Joint Board of the Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers, the Cincinnati Barbers' Union Local 49, International Brotherhood of Painters & Allied Trades Local 308, and several others. Collections of note unrelated to the Ohio Labor History Project include the papers of early 20th century labor activists John J. and James B. McNamara. The collection contains many letters from labor figures including Mother Jones, Samuel Gompers, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and others. Today, the Archives and Rare Books Library holds 175 linear feet of records related to the history of working people and/or the labor movement. They are open to the public and will scan material upon request. Finding aids are available on the web."*“Labor Archives Section Directory: Labor Archives in the United States and Canada,” Society of American Archivists, accessed 3 July 2022, https://www2.archivists.org/groups/labor-archives-section/labor-archives-section-directory-labor-archives-in-the-united-states-and-canada.
|Labor Collections at the Ohio History Connection
|"Labor-related manuscript holdings, microfilmed labor collections (including the papers of William Green), and union newspapers. Non-print holdings include oral history interviews, sound recordings, photographs documenting working conditions, strikes, conventions, and memorabilia, including buttons, bumper stickers, and posters. Includes the Little Steel Strike of 1937, the Ohio Right-to-Work Campaign of 1958, and the papers of George DeNucci and Leland Beard."*“Labor Archives Section Directory: Labor Archives in the United States and Canada,” Society of American Archivists, accessed 3 July 2022, https://www2.archivists.org/groups/labor-archives-section/labor-archives-section-directory-labor-archives-in-the-united-states-and-canada.
|The Sylvis Society collections at the Cincinnati Historical Society
|"Focuses on the history of the foundry industry, and includes The Molders Journal, 1863-1988, Molders convention proceedings, 1859 1988, minute books and financial records of expired locals. Non print holdings include badges and anniversary mementos. Materials document the 1866 and 1886 3-hour day campaigns and the producer and consumer cooperative movement revival."*“Labor Archives Section Directory: Labor Archives in the United States and Canada,” Society of American Archivists, accessed 3 July 2022, https://www2.archivists.org/groups/labor-archives-section/labor-archives-section-directory-labor-archives-in-the-united-states-and-canada.
|Over the Rhine Labor History Walking Tour
|"Think going to work is a drag today? Come take a deep dive into working conditions and labor organizing efforts in Over-the-Rhine around the turn of the 20th century. Participants will learn about workplaces including breweries, tailor shops, and cigar factories and nationally innovative and influential labor organizing. We explore labor conditions, including labor organizing and strikes, and how race, class and gender shaped opportunities for work. This tour begins at the NW corner of 12th and Elm Street."*Text quoted from website.
|Lick Run Greenway Heritage Trail: "Industrial Roots" and "Immigrants and Industry"
|Two stops on the Lick Run Greenway Heritage Trail in South Fairmont highlight Cincinnati's working class history. "The Heritage Trail is a series of educational signs that talk about the ecological and cultural history of the area and the Lick Run Greenway project. The trail winds through the Lick Run Greenway, but also expands into the South Fairmount neighborhood to capture stories about hillside vineyards, churches and schools, and bygone modes of transportation."*"Lick Run Greenway Heritage Trail Home." ProjectGroundwork.org. Accessed 2 July 2022.
|Race and the City: Labor, Work, and Job Opportunity (Community Conversation)
|Community conversation discussing the book Race and the City: Work, Community, and Protest in Cincinnati, 1820-1970, edited by Henry Louis Taylor. This conversation focuses on the theme of "labor, work, and job opportunities" for Black Cincinnatians during the 19th century.
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